Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Terms of Surrender

Today’s debates over hydrofracturing (“fracking”) oil-bearing shales, the theme of last week’s post here on The Archdruid Report, have dimensions that go well beyond the world of ritual theater discussed there. To begin with, of course, a great deal of money is being made off the current fracking boom by assorted Wall Street office fauna, and their efforts to keep the gravy train rolling for their benefit doubtless have quite a bit to do with the remarkable disregard for mere geological reality to be found in so much pro-fracking propaganda these days.

That sort of strained relationship with fact is a sufficiently standard feature of speculative bubbles that it ought to be high up there on the checklist of any connoisseur of financial lunacy. Those of my readers who recall the details of the late housing bubble will doubtless think of the enthusiasm shown then for what were called NINJA loans—that is, loans given to borrowers who had no income and no jobs or assets, but who would one and all, so bankers insisted with straight faces, pay back those loans religiously out of the money they were sure to make flipping properties. The same logic doubtless governs the equally earnest insistence that the ferocious depletion rates that afflict fracked wells simply don’t matter, that kerogen shales like the Green River formation that have resisted every previous attempt to get oil out of them have suddenly transformed themselves into nice extractable oil shales for our benefit, and that the results of wells drilled in the best possible “sweet spots” in each formation must inevitably be repeated by every available wellsite in the region.

Here, as with the countless other examples that might be put on display by some Dickensian Spirit of Speculative Bubbles Past, the understandable desire to make a fast buck off other people’s cluelessness might seem to offer an adequate explanation for the bumper crop of fatuous twaddle that’s being pushed by the pundits and splashed around so freely by the media these days. Still, I’ve come to think that there’s more going on here than the passion for emptying the pockets of chumps that sets the cold sick heart of Wall Street throbbing, and indeed that there’s even more at work than our culture’s touching habit, discussed over the last two weeks, of reenacting the traditional morality plays of the civil religion of progress in order to console the faithful in difficult times.

Plunge into the heart of the fracking storm, rather, and you’ll find yourself face to face with a foredoomed attempt to maintain one of the core beliefs of the civil religion of progress in the teeth of all the evidence. The stakes here go far beyond making a bunch of financiers their umpteenth million, or providing believers in the myth of progress with a familiar ritual drama to bolster their faith; they cut straight to the heart of that faith, and thus to some of the most fundamental presuppositions that are  guiding today’s industrial societies along their road to history’s scrapheap.

Since the days of Sir Francis Bacon, whose writings served as the first draft of the modern mythology of progress, one of the central themes of that mythology has been the conquest of Nature by humanity—or rather, in the more revealing language of an earlier day, by Man. You aren’t Man, in case you were wondering, and neither am I; neither is Sir Francis Bacon, for that matter, nor is anyone else who’s ever lived or will ever live.  This person called Man, rather, is a mythical hero who gives the civil religion of progress its central figure.  Just as devout Christians participate vicariously in the life of Christ through the celebration of the sacraments and the seasons of the liturgical year, believers in progress are supposed to participate vicariously in Man’s heroic journey from the caves to the stars by purchasing hot new products, and oohing and aahing appreciatively whenever the latest shiny technological trinket is unveiled by Man’s lab-coated priesthood.

Man’s destiny is to conquer Nature. That’s his one and only job, according to the myth, and when Man’s not doing that, he’s not doing anything worthwhile at all. Read any of the standard histories of Man written by true believers in the civil religion of progress, and you’ll see that societies and eras that devoted their energies to art, music, religion, literature, or anything else you care to name other than extending Man’s dominion over Nature are dismissed as irrelevant to Man’s history, when they’re not critiqued outright for falling down on the job.

You may be thinking by this point, dear reader, that a belief system that likes to portray humanity as a tyrant and conqueror rightfully entitled to view the entire cosmos as its own private lebensraum may not be particularly sensible, or for that matter particularly sane. You may well be right, too, but I’d like to focus on a somewhat more restricted point: according to this way of looking at things, Nature is not supposed to put up more than a pro forma struggle or a passive resistance.  Above all, once any part of Nature is conquered, it’s supposed to stay conquered—and of course that’s where the trouble creeps in, because a great many of the things we habitually lump together as Nature are refusing to go along with the script.

Examples come to mind by the dozens, but one of the most significant and frightening just now is the collapse of the most important health revolution of modern times, the conquest (that word again) of bacterial disease by antibiotics. I’m not sure how many of my readers realize what an immense change in human life followed Alexander Fleming’s 1928 discovery that a substance excreted by bread mold killed most bacteria without harming human cells. A century ago, dysentery and bacterial pneumonia were leading causes of death in most industrial countries, killing far more people than heart disease or cancer, and the odds of living from birth to age five had an uncomfortable resemblance to a throw of the dice even in wealthy countries. Penicillin and the antibiotics that followed it changed that decisively, enabling doctors to stop bacterial diseases in their tracks. It’s because of antibiotics that I’m here to write this blog; the scarlet fever that had me flat on my back for weeks when I was seven years old would almost certainly have killed me if antibiotics hadn’t been available.

Outside the public health and infectious disease fields, most people remain serenely convinced that the relative freedom from bacterial disease that’s characterized the recent past in the industrial world is destined to remain fixed in place for the rest of time. Within those fields, by contrast, that comfortable conviction finds few takers. Penicillin, the antibiotic that saved my life in 1969, won’t even slow down most microbes now. Diseases that used to yield readily to an injection or two now have to be treated with complex cocktails of increasingly toxic antibiotics, and every year more pathogens turn up that are resistant to some, most, or all available antibiotics.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, at least for those who want to play the blame game. It’s been common since the 1950s for physicians to prescribe antibiotics for conditions antibiotic therapy can’t treat—for example, the common cold. It’s been equally common since the 1950s for livestock farms to give their animals daily doses of antibiotics, since (for complex biochemical reasons) this causes the animals to gain weight more quickly, and thus be worth more money at slaughtering time. Both these bad habits helped give bacteria the widest possible range of opportunities to develop resistance. Still, these and other contributing factors simply help feed the main issue, which is that bacterial evolution didn’t come to a sudden stop when Fleming started paying attention to bread mold.

I’ve commented several times in this blog that understanding evolution is crucial for making sense of the predicament of the industrial world, and the approaching end of the antibiotic era offers a solid example of the reasons why.  Evolution through natural selection is the process by which living things adapt themselves to environmental changes; it works through individual organisms, but its effects are not limited to the individual scale. In the case of the spread of antibiotic resistance among microbes, there are at least three patterns at work. First, microbes are being selected for their resistance to individual antibiotics. Second, as new antibiotics are brought out to replace old ones, microbes are being selected for their ability to develop resistance to one antibiotic after another as quickly as possible. Finally, the pressure exerted on the entire microbial biosphere by the pervasive presence of antibiotics in the modern environment is giving a huge selective advantage to species that have the ability to exchange genes for resistance with other species.

The results are being documented in increasingly worried articles in public health journals. A large and growing number of pathogenic microbes these days are already resistant to the antibiotics that used to treat them; new antibiotics brought onto the market start running into problems with resistant bacteria in a fraction of the time that was once necessary for resistance to emerge; and the transfer of antibiotic resistance from one species to another is becoming an increasingly troubling problem. The possibility of a return to pre-1928 conditions, when a simple bacterial infection could readily turn into a death sentence and most families buried at least one child before the age of five, is seeing serious discussion in the professional literature.

As already mentioned, though, such worries are falling on deaf ears outside the public health and infectious-disease fields. There’s a mordant irony in the reason why, though I suspect it’s not often relished outside of the peak oil scene and a few other places where the same logic appears. Faced with the prospect of the end of the antibiotic era and the return of bacterial illnesses as major threats to public health, most  politicians, like the people they’re supposed to serve, respond with an overfamiliar sentence:  “Oh, I’m sure they’ll think of something.”  The increasingly frantic efforts of researchers to find new antibiotics and stay ahead of the remorselessly rising tide of microbial resistance get no more attention than the equally frantic efforts, say, of drilling companies to find petroleum deposits to make up for the increasingly rapid depletion of existing oil fields.

In both cases, and in any number of others, the myth of progress is the most important barrier in the way of a meaningful response to our predicament.  According to the myth, we can’t go backwards to any condition encountered in the past; what Man conquers is supposed to stay conquered, so he can continue his ever-victorious journey from the caves to the stars. It’s unthinkable, in terms of the myth, that the supposed conquest of some part of nature—say, bacterial disease—might represent nothing more than a temporary advantage that the pressures of natural selection will soon erase. Thus when this latter turns out to be the case, those believers in the religion of progress who aren’t forced to confront such awkward realities in their work or their daily lives simply repeat the sacred words  “Oh, I’m sure they’ll think of something,” to invoke the blessing of the great god Progress on His only begotten son, Man, and then proceed to act as though nothing could possibly go wrong.

The difficulty, of course, is that an embarrassingly large portion of the territory supposedly conquered by Man over the last three centuries is showing an awkward propensity to ignore Man’s overlordship and do what it wants instead. The much-ballyhooed Green Revolution of the mid-20th century is another case in point. The barrage of fertilizers and poisons the proponents of that movement turned on agriculture won a temporary advantage over the hard subsistence limits of earlier eras, but it was only temporary. The reckless use of artificial fertilizers turned out to have drastic downsides, while the poisons drove insects and weeds into exactly the same frenzy of intensive natural selection that antibiotics brought to the microbial world. Insects and weeds don’t reproduce as quickly or swap genetic material with the same orgiastic abandon as microbes, but the equivalent changes are happening at a slightly slower pace; one of the dirty secrets of conventional agriculture is that herbicide resistance among weeds and pesticide resistance among insects and other agricultural pests are spreading rapidly, erasing the short-term gains of the Green Revolution while leaving the long-term costs in lost topsoil and poisoned water tables to be paid by generations to come.

Farmers faced by resistant weeds and pests, like physicians faced by resistant microbes, are turning to increasingly desperate measures to get the same results that their equivalents got with much less trouble. That’s exactly the situation that’s driving the current fracking boom and bubble, too. Back in the glory days of petroleum exploration and discovery, drillers could punch a well a few hundred feet into the ground and hit oil; now it takes hugely expensive deepwater drilling, tar sands extraction, or hydrofracturing of shale and other “tight oil” deposits to keep the liquid fuel flowing, and the costs keep rising year after year.

The implication that has to be faced is that the age of petroleum, and everything that unfolded from it, was exactly the same sort of temporary condition as the age of antibiotics and the Green Revolution. Believers in the religion of progress like to think that Man conquered distance and made the world smaller by inventing internal combustion engines, aircraft, and an assortment of other ways to burn plenty of petroleum products. What actually happened, though, was that drilling rigs and a few other technologies gave our species a temporary boost of cheap liquid fuel to play with, and we proceeded to waste most of it on the assumption that Nature’s energy resources had been conquered and could be expected to fork over another cheap abundant energy source as soon as we wanted one.

That follows logically from the myth, but it doesn’t follow in reality. Instead, the temporary advantage our species gained by exploiting all that cheap, easily accessible petroleum is being brought to an end by factors even more implacable than the constant pressure of natural selection on niche boundaries: the simple facts that a finite planet by definition only contains a finite amount of any given resource, and that deposits of every resource are distributed according to the power law—the rule, consistently true across an impressive range of fields, that larger deposits are much less common than smaller ones. Those factors are not going away; the fact that Wall Street office fauna are shoveling smoke about, ahem, “limitless amounts of oil and natural gas” from fracked wells, may make them their umpteenth million and keep the clueless neatly sedated for a few more years, but it’s not going to do a thing to change the hard facts of the predicament that’s closing around us all.

Seen in this light, the mythology of Man’s conquest of Nature bears an uncomfortable resemblance to a certain other campaign of conquest launched to the sound of blaring brass bands and overconfident pronouncements in the not too distant past. Like German civilians tuning in to news broadcasts from Berlin in the heady summer of 1941, people in the world’s industrial nations have taken in any number of proclamations about Man’s latest glorious victories in the war against Nature.  The conquest of disease, the conquest of hunger, the conquest of air and space and distance itself—is there any scientific or technological success, however temporary, that hasn’t been praised in those fatuous terms?—each had its fifteen minutes of fame as Man’s heroic legions of science and progress pursued their allegedly invincible Drang nach Sternen.

Some time ago, though, the content of the propaganda broadcasts began to change, though their tone did not. Nuclear fusion seems to have played much the same role in Man’s conquest of Nature that Moscow played in that other campaign, the goal that seemed almost in reach time and again, but never quite fell into the hands so greedily outstretched for it.  Other campaigns meant to push the frontiers of Man’s dominion further out into Nature’s unconquered territory have had equally mixed luck, and even the immense effort that put an American flag on the Moon turned out to have no more influence on the course of events than the rather less challenging campaign by an SS mountain battalion that put a  different flag on the summit of the highest mountain in the Caucasus range.

It’s what followed that relative stalemate, though, that’s of importance here. Beginning in 1943, the German civilians tuning in to those radio broadcasts from Berlin had to deal with an increasing burden of cognitive dissonance, as the heroic battles and triumphant victories breathlessly announced by Goebbels’ acolytes stopped moving eastwards on the map and started shifting back toward the west. The forces that had been sweeping everything before them in the suburbs of Moscow were now doing the same thing in the vicinity of Smolensk, with no explanation of the change.  Nor was there any clearer explanation to be had as Germany’s glorious victories shifted steadily westwards, past Minsk and Warsaw and Breslau, until nervous listeners in the Berlin suburbs, just before the broadcasts stopped for good, could hear the sound of artillery rattling their own windows.
The question that all would-be conquerors need to ask themselves, in other words, is what will happen if their planned campaign of conquest fails. None of the 17th-century thinkers who played a role in launching humanity on its assault on Nature seems to have posed that question, even in private, much less tried to think through the answers. I’d encourage my readers to have this in mind when the latest reports of glorious victories place these latter more and more often in territory that was supposedly conquered in earlier campaigns. I’d also encourage them, to push the metaphor a step further, to think about what terms of surrender might be demanded of us when Man’s grand attempt to conquer Nature ends in defeat—something we’ll discuss further next week.


You may have put your finger on one of the subtle reasons why so many people fight the idea of continuing evolution. Evolution is, as you note, nature's effective way of continually thwarting all Man's efforts to conquer it and keep it under control. But the Myth of Progress specifies that Nature, once conquered, shall remain under control forever.

8/28/13, 9:23 PM

Tom Bannister said...
So many cheesy movie lines one could invoke to illustrate your point in this blog. "Mr Vice president, if we don't act now its gonna be too late" (also the major in jaws...).

This also a of course a strong spiritual dimension to the act of 'surrender' which I'm sure you'll be well aware of. 'Surrender to what is, let go of your ego/ fictional mind induced view of reality etc etc'.

8/28/13, 9:37 PM

Thijs Goverde said...
Great post!
My dear SO works in a hospital, and she tells me that any pig farmer coming in with any ailment is immediately isolated, as there is a virtual certainty they are swarming with MRSA.

Meanwhile, the clowns we happen to have for government are eager to start fracking, because - please notice - it may provide us with as much as five more years of gas.
I don't know whether I'm proud of my people, who are apparently considered too smart to believe in 'limitless amounts of gas', or to weep with embarassment for a nation that elected such blinkered fools.
Fun fact: in a fit of honesty, the state secretary for economic affairs pretty much literally said: "We're mostly doing it because we could really use the money right now."
There is a party in the governing coalition that could still stop the frackers. It's headed by a guy who actually worked for Greenpeace. I know people who hope he'll do the right thing, but I'm not holding my breath.

8/28/13, 9:45 PM

Paul said...
"I’d also encourage them, to push the metaphor a step further, to think about what terms of surrender might be demanded of us when Man’s grand attempt to conquer Nature ends in defeat—something."

Needless to say the scenario will be bleak. But it won't come as a "grand-opening", or as "now we're defeated". It will come gradually. And the cause of defeat, as I believe it to be, is not of "an illusion of progress" (a concept philosophers use, quite alien to the common folks) but our failure to convince our fellow world-citizens (and their respective government) to listen to and act upon accordingly. In short, it will be OUR failure, instead of THEIR failure.

8/28/13, 9:49 PM

Thomas Daulton said...
Godwin!! Godwin!!

... ;) ... jk

This week I was listening to an interview by Tony Wright about his book, "Left in the Dark", which posits that prehistoric humans had much better left/right brain integration than humans do today, when the left-brain seems hugely dominant. (I will answer your question about terms of surrender, I promise!)

According to Mr. Wright and various pop-culture interpretations, even though both our hemispheres are involved in all mental tasks, the left-brain is basically the seat of abstraction, remove, theory, and mental distance. The left-brain looks for theoretical/mathematical laws and doesn't deal with the here and now, nor with the people and objects in front of your eyes. The right-brain lives in the moment and in the situation, observing and accepting and appreciating what is in front of your eyes without bothering to make abstractions, generalizations, or rules about those things.

Mr. Wright believes that what currently passes for human intelligence is a degraded form of the left/right-brain harmony that our ancestors used to have. When we moved away from our prehistoric diet, our brain functions decayed, and our modern mode of thought and civilization -- based on rules, abstractions, math -- is essentially a brain malfunction.

So back to your question. When the dust settles -- thousands of years after the resource wars, natural disasters, and Nature reconquering Man -- the terms of surrender may well include (a) greatly reduced population, living only in the most idoneous ecological niche that our species is adapted to; and (b) giving up what we think of today as "human intelligence".

The vision that leaps to mind when you ask your question, after I heard Wright's interview, is that of a human species that is content to live off the natural fruits of the land with a bare minimum of machination (and of course this implies a far smaller population). The ultimate post-collapse Man does not share with Modern Man the driving greed and ambition which makes us today not only want to grow and accumulate wealth in an endless linear fashion, but also to that end, to want to take apart the universe like a boy investigating a pocket watch or a transistor radio.

Unfortunately unlike the curious young boy with the radio, we do not have the option to get or buy another planet when we take this one apart and find we lack the knowledge to put it back together again properly.

Who knows, perhaps future post-collapse Man in my vision, with his brain harmony, will still understand language, still appreciate modern Man's art and literature, could amicably converse with modern Man if any survived. They may not be all that different from us in any measurable or tangible sense. But the post-collapse Man would simply lack the ambition and the urge to screw around with the building blocks of the world, because post-collapse Man would be too busy enjoying it harmoniously on its own merits to bother taking it apart. We wouldn't necessarily _lose_ the abstraction and understanding of greater principles, which our left-brain provides. That abstraction ability would instead find a more harmonious place among a better-integrated lifestyle, rather than dominating nearly every waking moment as it does today.

8/28/13, 9:59 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Robert, I think that's part of it. More broadly, though, there's a terror of time and change that pervades contemporary thought, and gives us all those images of the future in which nothing significant ever changes again -- I'll be talking about that down the road a bit, when I have a better sense of how to do so.

Tom, excellent. Catching that second sense of surrender gets you tonight's gold star.

Thijs, my father got MRSA during an otherwise routine surgery, and it nearly killed him twice. Not something to mess with! As for the five years of gas, I have to say I admire your politicians for their honesty -- purblind fools, sure, but it's almost comforting that they're willing to tell the truth about how little is going to be gained for poisoning the groundwater and all.

Paul, well, maybe. I think it'll vary quite a bit from place to place; here in the US, certainly, I expect quite a bit of scapegoat-hunting aimed at the wicked people who took away our bright shiny future, blah blah blah.

Thomas, all Godwin said was that as any internet discussion proceeds, the probability that the Nazis will be referenced rises to approximate 1. As for Wright, hmm. To be quite frank, his claims sound like the old myth of returning to Eden, dressed up yet again in a set of speculative scientific garments. What does or doesn't happen thousands of years from now is an interesting question; what I'm hoping to discuss is what's happening right now -- namely, the decline and fall of industrial civilization and its established civil religion of progress, and the replacement of these by dark age transitional societies on the one hand, and new religious forms on the other. We've still got plenty to talk about there!

8/28/13, 10:11 PM

Andrew H said...

Another interesting post.

Aaahh. Antibiotic resistance. Bacteria do have a great propensity to transfer DNA from species to species. Since this was considered a characteristic of sexual reproduction in bacteria I have been seeing more and more suggestions that applying species concepts to bacteria is a bit meaningless.

There is a potentially future good side to this exchange of DNA and that is what is gained easily can be lost just as easily. Antibiotic resistance is an added metabolic burden for a bacterium. In a future without large scale use of antibiotics, most bacteria are likely to lose their resistance eventually being outcompeted by non-resistant bacteria. Thus penicillin is likely to regain some or all of its lost efficiency. Hopefully we will still know how to produce it, at least in small quantities required for judicious but 'essential' use.

Just a small question. An oddity in your blog (and in Stars Reach) that has intrigued me for some time, is that the last paragraph in most posts are in a different font. It doesn't always correspond to a summary etc and the fonts are often different. So out of interest, is that intended or is it a quirk of your editing software? :-)


8/28/13, 10:18 PM

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...
Actually, I find your pessimism refreshing: it's reading this stuff
that makes me despair.
" I can’t help thinking that the idea that we will see the rapid onset of peak oil and economic collapse, at which point society starts to unravel, and desperately and reverently turns to a few enlightened souls who are fortunately bravely clutching a load of tatty books from the 1970s, and who are then able, from those curled and well thumbed xeroxed pages, to rebuild the world anew, is somewhat naive."
Actually, that is probably exactly what will happen, although the books may well be medieval herbariums.
"My first point here is that there are already plenty of green wizards in my community, people with a range of skills."
Yes, for a medieval economy.
"For me, resilience refers to more than the ability to not fall apart when catastrophe strikes, rather resilience is a desirable state in itself, something to strive for because, if done properly, it stands a higher chance of meeting our needs in uncertain times than business-as-usual does."
So, resilience is just pragmatism, rather than a state of soul or character.
"Ensuring clear communication, dealing with conflict, supporting people through the grief of the future not turning out in the way they had spent their lives so far imagining it would, is equally important. Are the green wizards also dusting off 1970′s self help manuals?"
What we need is group therapy. Moving out of "comfort zones".
Perhaps I am being crotchety, but in a system as "tightly coupled" as ours is (for the purpose of maximally screwing the planet, fellow man, & if possible, God's order itself), a future in which "man" re-enacts Oedipus Rex seems highly likely, indeed probable.

I think the "green" and liberal movements, "crunchy" though many of their constituency is, are living in a relatively artificial world, in which men are not subject to terrible thirsts and desires for things to excess, particularly status, comfort, and violence/sex. I estimate that as many as 50% of humans can be categorized as this way, with the remaining bulk (40%) prey to ideologies and blinkered worldviews. For their chance to succeed would require abolishing democracy, & making sure that the 10% or so of humans who are recognizably "virtuous" were actually Solonic or Platonic lawgivers, revered sages who ruled over villages, counties, nations, and Empires.

No, I think you have it, at the end of the day. There will be no "transition". I think they are still thinking of this thing as something that will be easily recognizable to the mass of people, early on, and that our "elites" will do the right things, in tandem with an informed citizenry.

8/28/13, 10:33 PM

Robert Martini said...
John Michael Greer,

Excellent summation of our near future trajectory. I would also be aware that an even more compelling case against progress can be made with the overall health of our society. It is estimated that over 50% of Americans will have Pre-diabetes and diabetes with an even higher obesity/overweight rate. Because of this the American life expectancy will actually start to drop. It would be easy to argue that the last 20 years of an american's life are much more miserable then they were in the 1970's and 1950's with higher rates of cancer, diabetes and autoimmune disorders. I would say to you and other listeners in the coming years keep your health at its best in these hard times.

As a college student a year away from graduating with a degree in environmental chemistry and quite a bit of federal loan debt (which I imagine will be inflated away eventually :/). I am trying to position myself in a core or much needed industry like water and waste water treatment. I am attempting to learn more of the practical low tech aspects of my field. I am avoiding grad school where one can find any number of students spending years researching such abstract things at the end of the diminishing marginal returns curve. I will have a wife soon but no kids. However, what else can I do besides move to a medium small town where I can attempt to; connect/create community, become more self sufficient, adapt to a simpler lower energy lifestyle? I am sometimes at a loss at the complexity of trying to set myself and my loved ones up to endure and thrive in such a fragile world. John, where can I find more information of what to pursue on a personal level in the realm of things I can influence? Is there a path you recommend between Apocalypse and Progress on a personal level?

Sometime I feel we are on the edge of a paradigm shift in attitudes towards progress and materialism that will only be breached by an economic crisis/discontinuity (dollar collapse?). It seems the economic language of money will be inadequate for making any sort of decision until this happens. How can you make good decisions in our temporary lull in chaos. For sure, If I would label anyone in the world a prophet it would be you. Thank you for your help!

8/28/13, 10:33 PM

Paul said...
Not withstanding any or many scapegoat-hunting, a good exercise of convincing will be much needed, anywhere. US is considered a much safer place for anti-establishment (or anti-established public/popular opinion) ideas by many people around the world (e.g. people living in China).

8/28/13, 10:46 PM

Andy Brown said...
Certainly, there are many who look, not to throw out the idea of progress, but rather throw out the triumph over nature part of it. (There's a long romantic tradition that turns on that very question.) Progress would be toward sensible sustainability rather than mastering nature for human benefit.

I have a feeling that Progress will be redefined (as the major religions have been multiple times) into something less dysfunctional. Jettisoning the conquest of nature is one obvious candidate for revision. Renunciation of consumerism, materialism and other forms of "too-much-ness" are other obvious ones. I'm sure I could think of others if it weren't so late at night here . . . .

8/28/13, 10:59 PM

Ares Olympus said...
Lately I've been stretching the gap between the Left and Right ideals of progress, the Left insistence that there's a government program for every problem, and the Right's insistence that there's a individual freedom for every problem, while neither side can touch economic growth as progress.

It seems like we have to give up the idea of freedom from irreversible consequences, something that disappears in periods of great expansion. Like the new reality (since 2005) that students can take out loans from private banks and have government protection for those loans against bankruptsy. So the system of "moneyed interests" has protected themselves from loss at the expense of the young (and foolish). And the housing boom and bust shows another example, underwater mortgages where self-interest should tell people to walk away, but there's still an irrational faith that "hard work pays off" and housing values will recover. And health care shows a third insanity, where the cost of one hospitalization can exceed a lifetime savings of an average person without insurance, and perhaps someday soon even our mortgage-free homes will be at risk, into forced sale to pay off unwanted medical debts.

Wendell Berry's ideal of "Sales resistance" offers one direction, but its only attractive if you realize debt is a luxury the average person can't afford, or at least the only debt that is secure is in mutuality of neighborliness.

My thought is we're approaching a time of "divergent success" where "following the rules" works for many, but not all, and the deck is still stacked against breaking the rules.

So if "freedom to learn from our mistakes" is a birth-right, and a necessity for some part of our life, I think "sales resistance" must try to draw the line, and label "deep end" in anything that has high personal risk like debt, and boycott those activities and find communal solutions to replace them?

At least that's a soft answer - we need to see big business and big government are not our friends, and when they make uncredible promises with irreversible consequences for failure, we need to stop giving up our responsibility for that.

8/28/13, 11:21 PM

Darren Urquhart said...
Hmm "surrender to Nature". Sounds a bit like a plea from a religious leader!

Living in Australia (it seems a number of your commenters do) Nature is never far away. In the sense of greenery, forest, oceans and rivers.

But a world without effective antibiotics? That type of Nature isn't so welcome.

Last week someone asked if we know of any "honest" economics writers. I would add Satyajit Das to the list. This article is a couple months old but he doesn't shrink away from the reality we face -

8/28/13, 11:48 PM

Leo said...
The reversal of antibiotics effectiveness will probably be a shock. When I had scarlet fever it took them a week to figure it out because none of the doctors had seen it.

Mind you, an equally large part of disease resistance of modern societies is from proper nutrition and health infrastructure, like sewers. That can play a larger role.

While a lot will be lost/ surrendered, at the end of it civilization will still exist. Won't be the same, but it'll be familiar.

I know there's wishes for a myth of Eden in some quarters. The description I heard was of no clothes (so restricted living areas) or tools. Which completely ignores how the human body has been shaped by evolution.

Our wrists have gotten far stronger to allow manipulation of tools, we don't have hair because clothes are far better (less energy cost and less lice) and our guts have shrunk since we predigest food (cooking).

Besides, the impression given is that we could be lazy, after-all nature takes care of everything for us with barely any work on our part. How is that any different from conquering it and making nature a slave.

Also finished the sequence on the disparate technologies in future militaries

8/28/13, 11:51 PM

Alejandra Rodriguez said...
There is a brilliant Austrian permaculture designer by the name of Sepp Holzer who over a forty year period has designed one of the most productive self sustaining landscapes on earth. I mention this because one of his guiding principles has been that nature is always correct you just have to observe and listen. As you have hinted in past blogs this may be one of the few responses capable of dealing with some of the issues soon to be "rattling our windows" Wendell Berry writes this about the final recognition between the returning Odysseus and his old Father Laertes.

Odysseus found his father in solitude spading the earth around a young fruit tree. He wore a tunic,patched,bound below his knees against the brambles.

The man dressed thus is a King but it is clear that Laertes has survived his son's absence and the grief and disorder as a peasant. In a time of disorder he has returned to the care of the earth. Odysseus finds him in an act emblematic of the best and most responsible kind of agriculture: an old man caring for a young tree.

Our best response is too be old men listening to and caring for young trees to better the chances of the ones that will follow.

8/29/13, 12:03 AM

KL Cooke said...
"A century ago, dysentery and bacterial pneumonia were leading causes of death in most industrial countries, killing far more people than heart disease or cancer, and the odds of living from birth to age five had an uncomfortable resemblance to a throw of the dice even in wealthy countries."

You probably can recall that in Ernest Thompson Seton's novel "Two Little Savages," the Raftans, prosperous farmer for the era, had produced something like twelve children, with only two remaining alive. When I read that as a boy it seemed horrible, but I gather it was not unremarkable in those days.

I can't help but wonder if the effect of antibiotic resistance on population overshoot will fall most heavily on developed parts of the world, where generations of congenitally unfit immune systems have "evolved."

By the way, I too have wondered about the typographical change at the end of each week's essay. My guess it is to add pith to the closing thoughts.

8/29/13, 12:39 AM

Bernd Ohm said...
Hate to nitpick, but it's "Drang zu den Sternen", not "Drang nach Sternen". The latter would be a "desire to have stars" (presumably to eat them), and I don't think that's what you wanted to say...
Greetings from Germany!

8/29/13, 1:08 AM

Bogatyr said...
DeAnander commented on last week's post: "What will happen to all the people with no useful skills, as the useless jobs dry up?"

So true. It hit me a few years ago that I didn't know how to do anything except 'knowledge work', and that I needed to do something about it. That's actually turned into a major challenge: if you realise in your forties that your life needs to be transformed... deciding how that will happen requires a re-evaluation of your identity. It's taken me a few years to even start shaping up a new vision of who I think I should be. I'm lucky that I'm in a position where that time has been available, and I'm still able to afford training and travel. A lot of people aren't going to be so fortunate. I think it's Dmitry Orlov who wrote that a large number of people will remain professional knowledge workers in their own minds, even though they now happen to earn their living by digging ditches....

More generally, I think that awareness of the end of progress is gradually seeping into public awareness here in the UK. I get the sense that economic analysis is somewhat more pragmatic, and less driven by ideology on this side of the pond (though there's still no shortage of cheerleaders for fracking).

Still, it's interesting to see warnings of Peak Oil and the end of progress appearing in newspapers that tend to the right. The Daily Telegraph's chief economic editor (and my fellow Welshman) Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has written about peak oil on a number of occasions, while yesterday's Financial Times carried an opinion piece by James Ganesh which quite bluntly pointed out that globalisation and technology have effectively ended growth in Western economies for good. No mincing of words at all.

BTW, I used to post as the Carp, but the process of personal re-evaluation I've been going through has led me to change my moniker...

8/29/13, 1:29 AM

Mean Mr Mustard said...

Back when I was Office Fauna, a few of my fellow cubicle inmates also saw the internal communications for the poor quality and largely counteractive propaganda it was. They used to think that insulting our intelligence would somehow motivate us. Instead, we enjoyed discussing, dissecting and occasionally challenging the Powers That Were in any open fora about their pronouncements.

One of my friends had a English facsimile of SIGNAL, the Nazi periodical, collated in hardback much like a Bumper Annual for the gullible. The parallels with our own internal heroic publications produced by a rapidly failing corporate entity were telling.

I think you may find that the Nazis did report on the minor setback of losing an entire army at Stalingrad. Even the SIGNAL had news content of sorts, with photos which could be interpreted two ways, such as the heroic German soldier pushing his motorbike while knee-deep in near freezing mud.

That's the thing with the better quality propaganda - you'll find elements of truth, but just need to learn to read between the lines.



8/29/13, 1:48 AM

wiseman said...
Well you were right about one thing, with the whole thing in Syria heating up and currencies like Rupee and Real depreciating I can hear another round of doomsday warnings about imminent global economic meltdown and world war. Right on cue like clockwork.

The fact that it's 99 years since WWI hasn't escaped the minds of some creative people either.

8/29/13, 2:18 AM

Marc L Bernstein said...
This post is like a well constructed piece of music with a theme and variations on that theme. --- An idea that might be worth pursuing at some time is a notion from anthropology pertaining to the survival and persistence of different cultures. It is possible that those cultures which have been dominant in the recent past and today have a fatal flaw which results in a dysfunctional relationship to the natural world. Perhaps the myth of progress itself is an outgrowth of a culture characterized in part by a particular kind of hubris, a sense that humanity is above nature, a special creation that is inherently more valuable than other creatures. An adversarial or antagonistic attitude towards nature by a culture can provide a short term advantage in the production of weapons, for example, but may ultimately prove to be self-destructive. --- The qualities which allow 1 culture to dominate other cultures are not the same qualities which allow a culture to persist sustainably within the natural world. This seems to be very unfortunate.

8/29/13, 2:20 AM

Avery said...
So many cheesy movie lines one could invoke to illustrate your point in this blog.

where traditions have disappeared
will have what it takes
so more men can live in it
until they can't anymore
Man against Nature
THIS (Spenglerian) FALL

8/29/13, 3:30 AM

Matchstick Warrior said...
Placed in such terms, this has to be one of the most poignant posts to date.
The same failed logic is currently being used in Britain to justify the needless cull of the badger population to combat bovine TB.
Suffice to say, as we all know well, some kind of change in general mentality is required comparable to that foisted upon us by Thatcher and Reagan.

8/29/13, 3:57 AM

Jeffrey said...
Temporarily conquering nature by removing predators (germs) and temporarily exploiting a new resource (oil) has temporarily given us 7 billion humans.

There will be an equally temporary inconvience as this anomally is corrected.

Before all of this we still had philosophers, artists, musicians, wanderers, sages and scientists.

I can't help but suspect that in a world of less guarantees and assumptions of conquering nature with omnipotence that ones ability to surrender fully into the task at hand, weather it be farming or philosophy, will happen with more gratitude and humility. Sorrow will also take on a new depth.

Better a life lived such than what we witness today, 7 billion little emporers and empresses swimming in shallow waters.

8/29/13, 4:33 AM

Alan B said...
Thanks for another thought-provoking post. Humans need to understand that it’s impossible to set up a system where we get our way every time. If the lion always wins, there will be no more gazelles, and ultimately, no more lions. If the gazelle always gets his way there will be no more lions, and ultimately, no more gazelles.

8/29/13, 5:08 AM

Phil Harris said...
In a similar story to your own, one of my older brothers was saved aged 5 or 6 years by an early experimental use of an antibiotic in wartime Britain circa 1941. It is likely in his case that he was saved by the sulphonamide developed by May & Baker in Britain prior to the mass production of penicillin. Sulphonamides as a class were originally discovered in 1930s Germany by Bayer. I find the Wikipedia article on Fleming to be a very useful introduction to the modern antibiotic story.

Distinguishing between antiseptics and antibiotics is part of that story. Various public health measures including clean water had already made a very large difference in childhood mortality, along with more direct anti-septic procedures in handling childbirth and surface wounds.

Note however, the story (in the Wikipedia article) of Fleming in WW1 seeing use of antiseptics directly on a wound surface making an underlying deep wound more hazardous, not less. This illustrates a general point that surface bacteria including our special intestinal environment are ‘our’ primary contacts with the living world. Bacteria and micro flora and fauna have their own signalling procedures of which ‘antibiotics’ are a part (soil bacteria have been a useful source of antibiotics). Mutual constraints within heterogeneous populations of bacteria are a very significant part of any healthy human (or other animal).

In all a very interesting discussion for Green Wizards and GW ‘medics-in-training’ going forward. Transmissible disease (infection), as you suggest, is threatening a nasty comeback on our civilisation’s home turf, but meanwhile, Progress in its ‘retreat from Moscow’ is actively promoting the ‘disease transition’ where the ‘Western Diet’ and related habits translate into epidemic chronic ‘non-infectious’ disease worldwide. This recent study in Africa illustrates a few points

I found the work of Holly et al in Bristol UK set an interesting scene (paradigms?) for cancer and diabetes
Phil H

8/29/13, 5:17 AM

RPC said...
I recently reread Johanna Spyri's "Heidi." One of the things that leaped out at me that I had missed as a child is the extent to which Death lurks around every corner. Heidi herself is an orphan, Clara is a cripple (polio?), Clara's mother is dead, the doctor's wife dies (offstage), Peter's father is nowhere to be found, Heidi's grandfather remembers nursing a fellow soldier through a slow death. And yet I get the feeling that Ms. Spyri intended this to a be a fairly normal, albeit interesting, lot of characters. It's also worth reading Hans Christian Andersen's "The Child in the Grave." This was life in the heart of western civilization, and may be again.

8/29/13, 5:48 AM

Justin G said...
While the rise of antibiotic-resistant bugs is scary, I doubt it would cause the return of earlier levels of infant mortality. My understanding is that modern sanitation and water treatment have more to do with the decline in infant mortality than antibiotics. Luckily, those seem less likely to be affected by microbial evolution.

It also makes me a little hopeful, as the technology necessary for both could be maintained with far lower energy inputs. While infectious disease would certainly be far deadlier with no antibiotics, cholera and the like won't be able to flourish without significant infrastructure decay. Of course, say hello again to tuberculosis, et al.

Even without antibiotics, I imagine the immense wealth of knowledge gained recently in physiology and microbiology would allow improved outcomes compared to previous centuries. My question, therefore, is whether alternative--or at least low energy--healthcare has seen the same kind of improvement that organic farming techniques have in the Industrial Age.

Of course, this whole discussion doesn't make my decision any easier. I'm currently using my GI bill to get a free education in chemical engineering, and I'm trying to decide whether to focus on energy or water...

8/29/13, 5:54 AM

Kyoto Motors said...
Thanks again Mr. Greer, for another thought-provoking post.
Here are my first reactions: "Temporary Advantage" could be a great title for a book on the petroleum era; the same title could be used for an analysis of economic bubbles...
Also, my whole family of three, when our son was an infant, contracted bacterial pneumonia, which is when I learned of the historical statistics to which you allude. It floored me to think how innocently we all could have met our end just like that...
Lastly, I know you don't always agree with George Monbiot, but there's a remarkable amount of sympathetic resonance found in his recent observations of the fracking hype in Britain:

Have a great and thoughtful day everybody. I look forward to checking in this evening.

8/29/13, 5:54 AM

George Keller Hart said...
Mr. Greer,

This is superb! I can't recall a more articulate statement of our species' predicament. I will try to get my circle of 150 persons, so to speak, to read your essay.

Thank you--

George Hart
Concord MA

8/29/13, 6:22 AM

Yupped said...
Great post, thanks. Years ago, when I first heard about MRSA and other hospital superbugs, I had a sort of cognitive dissonance reaction - how could untreatable bugs be found in hospitals, our very temples of healing? But five minutes contemplation of evolution and the incredibly rapid rate at which microbes mutate, in response to antibiotic stimuli found in hospitals, quickly yields to the head-slapping realization: of course that's where superbugs are going to breed, a modern hospital is the perfect evolutionary petri dish.

Implications are pretty scary. Like so much of our predicament, there are only two ways out: desperately keep running forward (more growth! more drilling! more research! more printing! more drugs! etc), or turn and face the tiger. This particular tiger, bacterial infection, I'm afraid will be worse than if we'd never started down the penicillin road. So much microbial mutation in so little time. There are some great alternatives (Stephen Buhner's Herbal Antibiotics: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria is a great source of natural wisdom). Anyone serious about managing their health for the future should be integrating the "herbal lifestyle" into their day to day life and diet. It's actually one of the easiest things to do if you are looking for a place to get started on changing your life, even for people who don't have land or garden space, since many of the plants can be wild-gathered. But natural plant remedies will only go so far: plants evolved their own defenses to microbial attack over eons and we've helped grow a lot of new microbes over the last few decades.

8/29/13, 6:57 AM

Odin's Raven said...
Even the victories may be Pyrrhic.

It seems that the wonder wheat of the Green Revolution contains toxic chemicals like gliadin, which is responsible for much of the obesity and diabetes and associated diseases now plaguing the western world.

See Dr. William Davis' book 'Wheat Belly'
Wheat Belly

"Dr. William Davis is responsible for exposing the incredible nutritional blunder being made by "official" health agencies: Eat more "healthy whole grains." The wheat of today is different from the wheat of 1960, thanks to extensive genetics manipulations introduced to increase yield-per-acre. Founder of the international online program for heart health, Track Your Plaque, his experience in thousands of participants uncovered how foods made of wheat actually CAUSED heart disease and heart attack. Eliminating wheat yielded results beyond everyone's expectations: substantial weight loss, correction of cholesterol abnormalities, relief from inflammatory diseases like arthritis, better mood--benefits that led to prevention of heart disease but a lot more benefits in other areas of health. "

8/29/13, 7:04 AM

Celine Kelley said...
Learning about bacterial evolution and antibiotic resistance (from my mother, a true case of flower-child-turned-venus-flytrap if ever there was one, but well educated in life sciences nonetheless) as a young teen is one of the first experiences I can point to that really illustrated the cognitive dissonance of modern life to me. A couple of excellent civics & history classes the following year sealed the deal. Thank you for spending some time on this, as all too often the media coverage either ends with "they'll think of something" or "this is a problem for South Africa/Myanmar/Russian prisoners" and ignores the fact that the "conquest of distance" makes it a problem for US, too.

My brother-in-law is in the US Army, based in the PNW. Several members of his unit, himself included, have recently been diagnosed with either MDR (multiple drug-resistant) or XDR (extreme drug-resistant) tuberculosis. They have not been quarantined, and apparently their situation is not terribly unusual for units like theirs who spend a large amount of time deployed to Asia and Africa. It's not just "their" problem anymore.

My apologies if this comment is a duplicate, whoever noted a few weeks ago that so-called smartphones are thoroughly designed for consumption, rather than participation, hit the nail ever so squarely on the head. Setting aside the difficulty of typing with one's thumbs alone, the mobile "browsers" included on such devices seem actively designed to discourage anything other than passive consumption of YouTube and other such timewasters.

8/29/13, 7:34 AM

Mark Boenish said...
Using the tired method of analogy to the nazis as a means of demonstrating how not to do things usually sets me off, but you did it so well here that all is forgiven. Comparing the American flag on the moon to the nazi battle standard on mount Elbrus is very amusing!

As to what sort of surrender old mother nature will demand of Homo Rapacious - I suspect the old broad can be just as cruel and inflexible as the Anglo-Americans were i.e. she will settle for nothing less then unconditional surrender!

8/29/13, 7:53 AM

irishwildeye said...
I can remember as a child in the early 1970s watching an "expert" on TV predicting that by the year 2000 we would have conquered infectious diseases. My mother who is an Irish country woman with very little formal education, but who remembered life before antibiotics, laughed at that idea and made a prediction of her own, that the misuse of antibiotics would lead us to disaster. Turns out she was right and the expert was wrong.

I also remember the moon landings and the predictions about bases on Mars. Also I remember the introduction of Concorde and predictions about super sonic airliners carrying us to the far side of the world in a few hours.

We didn't get the future we were promised.

8/29/13, 8:01 AM

ando said...

I certainly do enjoy reading along as you chip away at the denial and delusion that is the myth of progress. This morning I was reminded of BOC's line "History shows again and again how Nature points out the folly of man."

As a recovering alcoholic, I am alive because of acceptance and surrender. I look forward with more than the usual anticipation to the next post.

The good news: Green Wizardry arrived in the mail. I have good reading on hand.


8/29/13, 8:13 AM

Nate Walters said...
@ Andrew H

Good comment, you said exactly what I was going to say about antibiotic resistance. We are already seeing to some degree an increasing effectiveness of penicillin G, due to its infrequent usage.

8/29/13, 8:20 AM

Mean Mr Mustard said...

Further to my last on comparing internal corporate marketing to the efforts of the Third Reich, there's another important aspect. The leaders and senior people with most vested and at stake tend to believe their own propaganda.

Then Hagbard's Law means they are shielded further still from the truth. By now, I imagine the remnants of my former failing corporate Board are fielding imaginary armies from their bunker, while blaming each other for setbacks, or locked into Groupthink, unable to comprehend that they let the ground level expertise leave years ago. Army Group B now consists of Heinrich and the lad...

8/29/13, 8:54 AM

ganv said...
It would be very nice if our failed attempt at conquest of nature were to end as well as Germany's has. Right now, Germany is among the nicest places on the planet to live. Something about crushed hubris sometimes makes humans much better at living with each other. Of course getting here was very painful and the future remains uncertain.

Beyond your effective rhetoric, it seems that a large fraction of humanity has always been aware of the excesses of the 'Man triumphs over nature' rhetoric. Death is very real to most all of us, and has kept the triumphalist propaganda from being taken too seriously.

8/29/13, 9:40 AM

onething said...
I consider that the root problem that led to our current situation is spiritual. Human beings seem to operate with leaders and followers. I often see people saying things like "We need to do this, think that, stop being like this..." and I think, wait a minute, it is not the average person engaging in these acts, it is the few, the elite, those with real influence and decision making ability, while the masses of people would not consciously choose to do things like poison the local groundwater for thousands of years if they only had correct information. And those movers and shakers deliberately give them wrong information. In other words, those with the power tend very strongly to be sociopathic.

In this I see a confusion, wherein thinking people analyzing societal problems impute to the common man motives which in fact are not theirs, but those of the sociopathic elite.
It is not so much that people in general need to be less rapacious, as that they need to understand that the character and spiritual condition of their leaders is what really matters. It might be essential for human society to have an awareness that a certain small percentage of people seem to be naturally sociopathic, and that the personality traits of such people make them deceptive, manipulative, and greedy for power, status and luxury. In other words, it is not just that they happen to exist among us, but that they will disproportionately seek the very spots that they absolutely should not have. What happens is that after their destructiveness is seen, humans in general berate themselves for "our" shortcomings, when the fact that is lost is that some people are much more destructive than others, and that humans need to protect themselves from falling under their sway.

BUT - things are never simple, and the other side to the coin of bad leadership is that large percentages of the population are not wise, and are easily tempted by the various manipulations and lies of the destructive ones. To what extent do people get the leaders they deserve?

8/29/13, 9:50 AM

onething said...
I am not aware of anyone in regard to the questions of evolution who thinks that genomes don't have a lot of ability to change and adapt.

When big pharma loses its grip, some other modalities that may be very promising will hopefully be used, such as IV vitamin C and IV hydrogen peroxide, colloidal silver which is improving even now, and so forth.

If we can hold onto knowledge of sanitation, knowledge of birth control, and have good nutrition I don't believe we need go back to a high infant mortality rate.

8/29/13, 9:57 AM

luna said...
"Man’s destiny is to conquer Nature. That’s his one and only job, according to the myth, and when Man’s not doing that, he’s not doing anything worthwhile at all"

It seems this goes back right to the beginning of our species, in the popular view. In most of the studies of human evolution I've seen, it seems to be all about Man the Hunter - our first step in the conquest of nature, and the first step away from the apes. So all our adaptations like dextrous hands, big brains, upright posture, abstract thought, language, fire etc. are adaptations for "good hunting". Maybe less so in more recent studies, but in the earlier ones, very much so.

These accounts seem to overlook all the other complex skills required to keep a community of people alive - for one thing, an encyclopedic knowledge of plants and the importance of plant foods (what's poisonous, what's edible, what can be put to other uses, when is it in season, where can you find it, how to process the bits you can use, and the trial and error that must have gone on to work all this out, and then transmitted to the next generation). And other skills such the development of cooking, and making containers, clothes, shelter, boats, and many everyday tools unrelated to hunting, and the cultural glue required for all this cooperation. You just have to spend a little while on one of the "bushcraft" courses available these days to realise what our big brains and hands are used for - hunting is only one small part of it. And that you have to become part of nature and work with it's ways in order to survive.

The traditional view seems like a blinkered one that only sees a small part of the picture, by men in armchairs theorising about things, without experiencing anything. And it's about the evolution of Man, not "the human species, including it's women, children, old people" etc.

Not sure what my point is in relation to your post, but thought I would share my observation!

8/29/13, 9:57 AM

DaShui said...

I read as much as I could find on Norm Borlaug.
He was delay conflicted on his creation, he thought water would be the limiting factor on agriculture.And if everybody went vegetarian the earth could support 11 billion.

Also my coworker during the Cold War worked on bio warfare, he said the Chinese 2000 years ago were producing penicillin on tofu.

8/29/13, 10:01 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Andrew, there's some kind of glitch in the interface between my word processing program and the Blogger software that does that. I haven't been able to find any way to prevent it.

Matthew, perhaps my response to Hopkins' critique will cheer you up a bit.

Robert, well, I've been discussing personal responses here for the last seven years; you might find it entertaining to go back through the archives, and my latest book, Green Wizardry, is all about that as well. Might be worth a look.

Paul, that's ironic, as the US is becoming considerably less safe for dissidents these days.

Andy, I'll discuss in a later post why it makes more sense to chuck the whole concept of progress, and pursue less self-defeating ways of thinking about our relationship to nature and time.

Ares, any post by Berry is worth a close read, and this one more so than others -- many thanks for the link. I'd suggest, though, that we've been in a situation of "divergent success" (quite a euphemism, that) since about 1972; it's just that now the middle class is getting the short end of the stick, and are yelling about it.

Darren, oh, granted, it's very fashionable to have a nice tame simulacrum of nature around. The real thing, pathogens and all? Rather less so.

Leo, the back-to-Eden thing is simply another version of our old friend, the myth of apocalypse -- remember that one of the core elements of that myth is that after the rubble stops bouncing, the future will consist of your favorite fantasy, whatever that happens to be.

Alejandra, anyone who can quote Wendell Berry and Homer in the same breath is welcome here! And of course the image is quite apposite: Laertes had the great good sense to deal with his grief by doing something that actually mattered over the long term.

KL, I do indeed. I think you're quite correct that the impact of the end of the antibiotic era is going to be particularly harsh in the industrial world, not least because nobody takes simple infections seriously any more. How many people remember that a common cold often used to turn into bacterial pneumonia and kill you?

Bernd, granted, and I figured one of more of my German readers would comment on that. I was trying to make a pun on Drang nach Osten, of course -- and I wouldn't put it past today's corporate marketers to try to talk people into eating stars!

8/29/13, 10:11 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Bogatyr, if people in the UK are starting to wake up, good -- right now we're deep in denial on this side of the pond.

Mustard, funny! I'd noticed the similarity in my brief interactions with the office fauna world, too.

Wiseman, people are desperate for a nice sudden apocalypse, since it will spare them the necessity of dealing with the bitter decline that's taking shape around them. I've already fielded and deleted several attempted posts by people who wanted to insist that the upcoming intervention in Syria was by definition the end of the world. Plus ca change...

Marc, I'd say rather that the qualities that enable a society to flourish in a temporary glut of cheap energy are not those that enable a society to flourish in less extravagant settings. As I suggested in my book The Ecotechnic Future, all this can be understood as a form of ecological succession, and that suggests a return to something much less self-terminating as the excess energy runs out.

Avery, funny!

Matchstick, I wonder if there's any way to arm the badgers so that they can do some culling of their own!

Jeffrey, good. This is why I don't fixate on population, the way so many people in the sustainability scene do; there are four (and, as far as I know, only four) proven cures for overpopulation, and they ride horses. Granted, it requires an Herculean effort of detachment to cope with that reality when each of us can count on having one or another of those riders show up for us sooner or later, but the fact remains.

Alan, and if we don't understand this, Nature will remind us, again and again. She's a very patient teacher!

Phil, there were a lot of stories like mine. You'll notice that I spoke of returning to pre-1928 conditions, not pre-1850 conditions (which would put things back before basic sanitation).

RPC, that's what normal life is like. What we have today is wildly abnormal.

Justin, basic sanitation prevented one class of infant mortality. Antibiotics prevented another. The words "we can't go back" are just another religious invocation of the great god Progress, you know.

Kyoto, Monbiot gets it, except when he doesn't.

8/29/13, 10:25 AM

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...
JMG, there is an arresting term from one of the last of last week's blog comments, timestamped "8/28/13, 2:40 PM", from DeAnander: "the veneer economy". Perhaps you can at some stage in the coming weeks or months explore DeAnander's concept, and in so doing help to give his term the wide circulation it deserves?

It might be useful to learn from you about societies in history that were plagued with the veneer-economy problem and societies that were comparatively free of this problem. Can anything illuminating be said about feudal Japan, for instance, or about Byzantium?

The concept of veneer reminds me a bit of the case studies in Jane Jacobs's writings on cities and the wealth of nations. I think she would have said that the successful cities - the ones practicing what she, in a turn of phrase rather less arresting than DeAnander's, called "import substitution" - were for the most part successfully vigorous in their real economy, as opposed to the veneer. One of her examples of such success is Venice, in its period of construction and ascent as opposed to its period of decay and decadence.


Toomas (Tom) Karmo

near Toronto

www punkt metascientia punkt com

8/29/13, 11:10 AM

Roger said...
I think we're headed back to where things were not so long ago in the West ie agrarian societies where nothing was in abundance, not food, nor medicine, nor energy. These things are still well within living memory. A lot of Europeans, including my parents and relatives, lived in such conditions.

Both my parents lost siblings due to maladies that should have been easily cured but weren't due to a lack of money. They died as infants/toddlers, their condition made worse by nutritional deficiencies. I agree, JMG, I think as far as the future of medical care goes, we can look to the past for a likely direction, that is to say a lot of early deaths from a lack of medicine. My father said that, when he was a boy, he would see broken down old men in their sixties, utterly worn out by a life of toil, inadequate food and sickness. Losing your teeth because of wear and tear and a lack of dental care was the norm, which could worsen your physical condition and shorten your life. Welcome to the future.

In the old country there were also a lot of deaths in childbirth as most women could not give birth in a hospital or clinic. Some individuals, like my grandmother, would assist with births using knowledge picked up from her mother and other women in the village.

Nowadays we hipsters are mystified and amused by the up-tight attitudes about sex in so-called "traditional" societies. After all, we went through the free love era of the sixties, so now we occupy a superior vantage point, we're easy-breezy, liberated from the old collective straight-jackets, dismissive of nags and prudes. We're all relaxed and intellectual about our kids hooking up. I mean we can't supervise them all the time, right? We educate teens about safe sex and tell them to use condoms. So what's the big deal, right? It's part of growing up, right? We get vasectomies, ligatures, the pill, abortions. Needles and pills for a case of the clap (though with drug resistant strains that's getting dicey). So, mostly, no biggie. If worse comes to worse, there's drug cocktails to extend your life if you are HIV+.

Why the retrograde attitudes in traditional cultures? Imagine impoverished places where birth control, aside from abstinence, is unavailable or unaffordable. The same with abortions performed by highly trained doctors. No medicine if you get sick with an STD. Nevermind illicit sex, in this context, licit sex can have dire consequences. Pregnancy means danger to the mother and another mouth to feed neither of which are trifling matters.

And so, from the peasant farmer's point of view an unmarried, pregnant daughter is not a "problem" to deal with, it's a calamity. Who will marry the girl now? Who will support her and her child? The unborn's father? What's to be done? A "shotgun" wedding? It's a real option. So is a murderous inter-clan feud. A trip to a non medically trained abortionist, before her condition becomes obvious, may be an appalling option but it too is an option.

In the developed world we're generations removed from widespread hunger and deprivation. But there are places where dire poverty is the norm. And in such places a girl's chastity, a wife's faithfulness is paramount. One more child to feed in a family can cause hardship. Hardship from one more child that may not have been fathered by the woman's husband is utterly intolerable.

In my parents' old country, while women had to be conscious of their own dress and deportment and highly circumspect in their dealings with the opposite sex, consequences didn't just accrue to the female. And while so-called "honour" killings of insufficiently compliant or misbehaving girls and women weren't unknown, some dandy fooling with other guys' wives or daughters risked his life (and no joke). However, it was the unfaithful wife, the unmarried, pregnant girl or unmarried mom that became radioactive, their character being forever suspect.

8/29/13, 11:11 AM

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...
JMG, I wonder if one of the traits our triumphalist, hero-worshipping culture shares with the triumphalist, hero-worshipping Dritte Reich is a neglect of the tragic dimension in life. The idea that life has a tragic substrate was vivid to the Greeks and ancient Hebrews, and persisted to an extent in the Roman West through the Stoics, triumphalist and hero-venerating though the Western Romans also were. The idea was front and centre in the very best of Elizabethan English stage drama.

One of the dark points about the Reich, at least as we hear it in Lord Haw-Haw's farewell broadcast from around 1945-04-30, was its perverse failure to apply the necessary insights on hubris and cosmic justice, even at its end.

The stories we currently tell ourselves, like the stories of the Reich, neglect the concepts which are the building blocks of tragedy - the hubristic "tragic flaw" amid nobility of character; the inevitability of retribution for hubris; the horror, and above all the pity, stemming in a healing way from the theatre audience's contemplation of a moral order that brings hubristic idolaters down by their own hands and brains; and the possibility that the idolatrous tragic protagonists can themselves, before their extinction, have a moment of redeeming moral clarity, in which they themselves accurately understand their fate to be the working of cosmic justice.

As a Catholic, I hold a tragic analysis of human history to be only a part-truth. But is it a part, which we have to accept even when we go beyond it in considering the full theology of Easter. Tragedy is, so to speak, the indispensable algebra that has to be mastered before the adolescent maths student can embark on Univariate Analysis, or the indispensable five-tables-of-conjugations that have to be mastered before the aspiring adolescent classicist can safely be turned loose on Catullus.


Toomas (Tom) Karmo

near Toronto

www punkt metascientia punkt com

8/29/13, 11:13 AM

Roger said...
JMG, begging you indulgence once again, to finish my last comment:

An unmarried mother in our society can still make a go of it. Here people can re-boot their lives. A much taller order in other - not so rich - places, the wide variety of income support programs and lifestyle and career choices being non-existent.

Now imagine our own society's encroaching impoverishment, our own transformation from urban and industrial to rural and agrarian. I suspect that we'll re-acquaint ourselves with the old peasant ways and their burdensome behavioural strictures. A lot of the certitudes and postures that marked us, in our own minds, as progressive and enlightened will IMO come in for major revision.

8/29/13, 11:14 AM

Steve Morgan said...
"KL, I do indeed. I think you're quite correct that the impact of the end of the antibiotic era is going to be particularly harsh in the industrial world, not least because nobody takes simple infections seriously any more. How many people remember that a common cold often used to turn into bacterial pneumonia and kill you?"

This reminds me of the news blurb I saw the other day about a measles outbreak in Texas. It appears that not vaccinating children is all the rage among many in the US. Line that up next to the frequent beach closures due to E Coli blooms from farm and sewage overflows into rivers and lakes, and it sure looks like we're asking for it (a la "Here, horsey horsey...").

As for the terms of surrender, the list is long and distinguished, and is only likely to be shortened by people who aren't trying to conquer anything working very hard to preserve what we can of our civilization's prior triumphs. Sanitation without industrial chemicals is a good candidate that's already come up in this week's conversation, and of course our host has made a few things on his list well known. Also on the terms of surrender looks to be the fostered sense of self in our culture that's emotionally attached to cheering on Progress. The deeper you dig into the relationship between peak oil and religion, the more clearly I see why you focus so much of your work on theurgy.

8/29/13, 1:30 PM

Mary said...
JMG and Leo, fortunately for some reason strep continues to be susceptible to penicillin, so we still can prevent scarlet fever with quick intervention. Leo, the most likely reason your doctors didn't recognize it is because these days they aggressively treat strep infections. That is because the two potential sequelae -- scarlet fever and rheumatic fever -- are so harsh.

Strep is an anomoly, though. MRSA is so commonplace now, it is no longer the big fear. Now we are looking at vancomycin resistant staph (VRSA) which is picking up its resistance genes from people infected with vanco-resistant enterococcus (VRE). Running out of antibiotics and time!


8/29/13, 2:42 PM

Enrique said...
John Michael,

Your observations about the increasing trend towards anti-biotic resistance reminded me of Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance. In his view, there are subtle energy fields which he calls morphogenetic fields. These influence a great many different types of phenomena, including living organisms. Patterns of development which become well-established tend to influence succeeding generations through these morphogenetic fields, and the better established and more prevalent a pattern is, the more strongly the influence is felt down the line and the more deeply a particular form becomes entrenched. He cites numerous examples as evidence from biology, chemistry, crystallography, the behavioral sciences and so on.

So viewed from the perspective of morphic resonance, it’s not just genetic influences, it’s also the case that as anti-biotic resistant strains become more common and comprise a larger and larger percentage of the population, the more those strains influence the development of future generations of pathogenic microbial species, including related species, by influencing the relevant morphogenetic fields.

Incidentally, the concept of morphic resonance and morphogenetic fields ties in rather nicely with traditional occult and esoteric teachings as well, which is probably one of the reasons why the scientific establishment hates it so much even though Sheldrake has provided quite a lot of evidence to back up his hypotheses.

8/29/13, 3:08 PM

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...
Gee whiz. I screwed up my latest post.

I meant that to be an assertion, not a question. My intent was to type "But it is a part, which we have to accept even when we go beyond it in considering the full theology of Easter". As the Demon of the Keyboard would have it, my fingers subverted my intent, typing instead "But is it a part, which we have to accept even when we go beyond it in considering the full theology of Easter."

That most excellent parody of English history textbooks, 1066 and All That, has among other things a (contrived, comedic) publisher's erratum: "For 'pheasant', read 'peasant', throughout."

A little grimly,
but rejoicing also today
in a YouTube parody of Lord Haw-Haw
(the one by the Western Brothers,
perhaps from around 1939 or 1940:
"He's all rather County/
And very well off/
This Oxford and Cambridge/
And Teutonic toff";
"Lord Haw-Haw the humbug of Hamburg/
The hee-hoi-ing high-browing Hun./
Oh attaboy, Attila."),

Toomas (Tom) Karmo

near Toronto

www punkt metascientia punkt com

8/29/13, 3:25 PM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

@Steve Morgan--I was not vaccinated for measles, mumps, or chickenpox because those vaccines did not exist. Being exposed to those three diseases was a normal part of childhood and most children who caught them recovered.

The late-adult rebound of chickenpox, shingles, is excruciatingly painful and can cause permanent neuropathy. A shingles vaccine is currently available and I took it because both my parents came down with shingles in the same week and one of them was in pain for the rest of his life because of it.

I was vaccinated for whooping cough, smallpox, and (later) polio, standard practice for middle class children in that time, and I'm glad of it.

The vaccine for cervical cancer seems like a good idea to me, though it's early days yet. But it gives me pause that so many different vaccines are injected into the immature immune systems of young children over a relatively short period of time. There may be some golden mean between too much exposure to pathogens and too little. If I were a parent, I would not necessarily want my children to receive every vaccine that is available.

8/29/13, 3:35 PM

John Michael Greer said...
George, thank you!

Yupped, herbal treatments for infection are definitely an option -- and they're one of the things we'll have left when antibiotics are a dim memory -- but they're not a panacea. Antibiotics became so popular after 1928 precisely because they were much more effective than the plant-based treatments that were used in those days.

Raven, victories against nature generally are.

Celine, er, are they doing anything to keep these people who are infected with drug-resistant TB from communicating that very dangerous disease to others? If not, we could be a few years away from a ghastly epidemic for which there will be very few treatments.

Mark, thank you. Yes, my bet's on unconditional surrender as well.

Irishwildeye, given the choice, I'd trust an Irish country woman with little formal education over a TV expert any day.

Ando, now there's a blast from the past!

Mustard, okay, that one just about got tea on the keyboard. Good.

Ganv, we can always hope that the same post-hubris phenomenon will work on a larger scale.

Onething, there I disagree. We get exactly the government we deserve; the criminal idiocies of those in power simply project onto a larger scale the petty cruelties and selfish acts of the people they rule. As for childhood mortality, please don't fall into the trap of convincing yourself that something can't happen because you don't want it to happen. Having lost a child, I know how appalling it is to imagine a future where most families have that experience -- but that's the human norm, you know.

Luna, excellent! You get today's gold star for catching that. Prehistory is subjected to massive mythologizing in modern industrial culture, and "Man the Hunter" style blather is a fine example. I should probably do a post on the invention of "the primitive cave man" in 19th-century Europe one of these days.

DaShui, granted -- you can make small amounts of raw, unpurified penicillin and use it for extreme cases with good effect. You'll notice that this didn't prevent China from having very high infant mortality until Western antibiotics came into use.

8/29/13, 3:36 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Toomas, I'll consider a post on it.

Roger, there are a variety of ways to handle the challenges of health care, pregnancy, and childbirth in impoverished low-tech settings; the traditional Western customs you've sketched out are among them. I wonder, though, if the very high rates of sterility our chemicals and radioactive waste are likely to leave behind for many generations may drive certain changes in those customs; that was the presupposition behind some of the cultural mores I invented for my ongoing blog/novel Star's Reach.

Toomas, yes, I think that's a major part of it.

Steve, good. Very good. All of this has my earlier discussion of theurgy and thaumaturgy as its unstated foundation -- though you probably realized that yourself already.

Mary, that's interesting to hear; I didn't know that strep was still vulnerable. Too many other things aren't.

8/29/13, 3:43 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Enrique, yes, I'm quite familiar with Sheldrake's work -- it didn't hurt that all the way through A New Science of Life, I was noting the parallels with Eliphas Levi and Dion Fortune! He may be right -- his experimental results deserve a great deal more attention than they've been given -- but whether morphogenetic fields are involved or not is less immediately important here than the upshot, which is that bacterial evolution never sleeps.

Toomas, oddly enough, I read your post the way you meant it, not the way you wrote it!

8/29/13, 3:48 PM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

Dear Toomas, I agree with what you wrote about the importance of being aware that life has a tragic dimension. I think that a world religion isn't mature unless it includes this or something analogous in its teachings.

More generally, if a religion has lasted long enough to have a historical memory of operating in various situations, it may have something in its toolkit which is useful in current conditions.

8/29/13, 3:55 PM

onething said...

Have you read The Descent of Woman?

8/29/13, 4:11 PM

Leo said...
First up, on the bottom paragraph being a different size. I found that sometimes highlighting the entire piece and setting to the default font and size worked. Otherwise it had to be re-written in blogger.

The Eden myth doesn't particularly differ from a techno-utopia where robots do everything. The end result is often the same, the end of work and everything done for us, it only differs in the aesthetics.

On the antibiotic resistance, I remember reading that some hospitals now use bleach as a disinfectant instead of antibiotic wipes. They switched because bleach reduces the life-span of equipment. Don't know why they can't use alcohol wipes instead, probably a good reason.

I know there are some ways of beating microbial evolution, its just a bit harder to pull off. Algae have a coating that disrupts quorum sensing for bacteria, stops them forming colonies. They can't evolve resistance because doing so fatally disrupts their survival strategy. Their looking to use it as a anti-fouling coating on ships.

Another way would be to get start using evolution. There are viruses that specialize in infecting bacteria, there was some research into using them to treat infections. Unfortunately since it was something the Soviets looked into, research was dropped when the USSR collapsed and is only being looked at now.

@ Mary

They told me why it took so long to figure out. The reason it took a week was that was when a doctor in his 60s (the others were in the 20-39s) came back from holidays. He immediately diagnosed it as scarlet fever, he was the only one there who had seen it.

They though it might had been something else that was similar. It was named after a Japanese doctor, name sounded like korizima disease.

8/29/13, 4:11 PM

Yupped said...
Agree completely that there are many things herbal medicine will not be able to do. Not even close in some areas. Antibiotics is one great example, cancer treatments and surgical care are others, etc.

But one of the legacies of industrial healthcare (both medical interventions and chemical sanitation, etc) is that it has allowed and encouraged us to forget about the basics of preventive health and self-care, which were really foundational to traditional medicine (whether chinese, indian/ayurvedic, european herabalism, native american, etc). And these preventive health and healing traditions worked in deep understanding of and in concert with the natural world.

For example, most of us have lost touch with the basic rules of taking care of our diet and nutrition (understanding the digestive process, knowing what spices and herbs to use to optimize it and build up immune resistance, adjusting to seasonal food availability, eating local plants that can best help us fight local infections, etc). First we lost the accumulated knowledge of gnerations, then we lost the actual diet as globalization and fast food did away with traditional foods. So now, as we face the future, we need not only to re-learn how to grow more food locally, but also how to squeeze the best health and nutritional outcomes from it. There are some encouraging things that happened over the last few decades. For example, scientific studies have been able to verify some herbal remedy efficacy (proving scientifically what generations of grandmothers already took for granted), and so quite a few people still know that garlic is good for heart health, etc. But, generally, I see this aspect of reviving the local/seasonal diet as more challenging than growing the food in some ways.

8/29/13, 4:50 PM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

@Matchstick Warrior--Good heavens, are they trying to exterminate wild badgers and leave a badger-sized hole in the ecosystem? Exterminate wild badgers and reintroduce them from a captive breeding program? Replace them with Canadian badgers? Or just reduce their numbers?

Bison who venture out of US
national parks into cattle country are shot for the same reason. If it were up to me, we would phase out some of the ranches and give the bison their range back, but families that have been ranching since 1870 don't agree. It'll happen by and by anyway.

The western U.S. has native animal populations harboring plague, leprosy, and rabies, but those don't make cows sick. AFAIK we have no programs to put a bounty on squirrels, armadillos and skunks.

8/29/13, 5:06 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Robert Martini,

Quote: "I am trying to position myself in a core or much needed industry like water and waste water treatment."

Even science involves having to sell something (whether it be yourself, an idea or a product).

Water, I'd be onto selling rain water harvesting systems in those areas which are currently being fracked. Drinking from ground water sources just doesn't happen here much because of the build-up of salt in our aquifers. It is a very old and worn out land mass. Interestingly, they have been speculating recently that the salt originated from rainfall rather than inland seas. Australia is an old country and it only takes a little bit of salt with each rainfall to build up a huge quantity.

Mind you, it doesn't stop irrigators from pumping it to the surface. This has disastrous effects on river systems especially in dry years when the concentration of salt is higher.

If you were really clever you might even be able to get the whole lot sold on the basis of fear and subsidised somehow too by public or industry funds. There's a lot of money sloshing around. Possible...

Treatment of wastewater and converting it into soil isn't a commercial proposition because people generally don't like to think of their excrement as a fertiliser. Our host could probably say more on that matter and probably far more eloquently than I.



8/29/13, 5:13 PM

Ventriloquist said...
So now . . .

Off topic but onto the current crisis . . .

The UK Parliament has decided to reject the drums of war on Syria.

The US is going to have to go into this pretty much alone (possibly including the French, shame on them).

The Russians have warships and submarines in the area.

The Chinese have stated strongly their opposition to the US bombing Syria.

What Possibly Could Go Wrong Here?

Could this be the start of what JMG imagined a few weeks ago as the trigger of the denouement for America?

Stay tuned.

8/29/13, 5:47 PM

latheChuck said...
In contrast with the pills and injections that used to work so well against diseases, I suggest four "therapies" that are easily overlooked (because they cannot be sold). 1. Thermo-therapy. When I've had a finger scratch or hangnail start to redden, swell, and throb, I've soaked it for a ten or so minutes in a cup of hot water. Think of it as a very localized, extreme fever. Heat kills germs. 2. Photo-therapy: exposure to sunshine synthesizes Vitamin D in our skin. Vitamin D is important for disease immunity. But the typical doctor advises the typical patient to avoid sunshine to prevent skin cancer. (The typical patient assumes that if a little is good, a lot is better, so it's not terrible advice.) 3. Nutrition: know what (and how much) you NEED to eat, and eat only that. 4. Don't poison yourself with alcohol, smoke, crystal meth, STDs, etc. 5. work a little exercise into your daily routine (e.g. hanging laundry up to dry, wiping down the shower stall, washing dishes, walking for transportation, gathering food from a garden, etc.)

Alas for capitalist medicine, there's no way to turn a profit on basic disease prevention as enumerated above. It's so simple, and so much not-what-anyone-wants-to-hear.

By the way, it was noted above that "colds" rarely proceed to bacterial pneumonia any more, but that might be because doctors do prescribe antibiotics for viral infections. "But antibiotics don't cure viruses!" Of course not, but they can keep bacteria from taking advantage of a virus infection. (I've had this conversation with my family doctor.)

8/29/13, 5:55 PM

Zachary Braverman said...
I've long been boggled by how the population at large ignores the increasing bacterial resistance problem.

I live in Japan, where my wife is a doctor. For cultural reasons, Japan accounts for a huge percentage of all antibiotics prescribed worldwide. My wife is not as clueless as 99% of Japanese doctors, so she is constantly amazed and appalled at how Japanese doctors routinely prescribe the most powerful wide-spectrum antibiotics for the common cold. They do this both because it makes them more money, and because patients here demand something, anything, to make them feel better, and explanations of how antibiotics don't work against viruses just don't cut it when the doctor across the street is willing to prescribe what is effectively a placebo.

Even doctors, the supposedly educated class, care not one tiny whit about increasing resistance. Sad and pathetic, but true.

8/29/13, 6:05 PM

latheChuck said...
Just speculating here, but I've noted that many traditional practices include conscious control of breath. In yoga, of course, breathing is a part of the process, as it is in Tai Chi. Chanting a prayer together is a noisy way to breathe. Medieval monks chanted with melodies, and Lutherans sing hymns in 4-part harmony. I wonder whether energetic breathing is itself therapeutic, for the respiratory system.

Come to think of it, even those who only "attend worship" at the ball games stand up and yell a good part of the time. It may be an adaptive behavior.

8/29/13, 6:07 PM

Steve in Colorado said...
This isn't an original sentiment around these parts, but I think that a major part of the problem is the complete failure on the part of contemporary culture to deal with aging and death. If we can't deal with it on an individual, we certainly can't deal with it on a societal level. But I find this especially ironic, because the New Atheists are among the loudest of the Great God Progress's cheerleaders... and they regularly accuse religious folks of "just believing in God because they're afraid of death"!

8/29/13, 6:09 PM

Bilaal Abdullah said...
240I read the Archdruid Report every week, but this week was really excellent. Many people know and/or sense the the depth of our malaise; however, few can articulate it so well thereby making effective action possible.
My mother survived Scarlet Fever as a child without the benefit of antibiotics...something for which she always considered herself to be particularly blessed.
There are significant numbers of people who recognize the insanity of over-using antibiotics as there are significant numbers of people who understand that the current extraction of difficult/high cost hydrocarbons is an indication of the end of the Age of Cheap Hydrocarbons.
Hopefully, this knowledge will gain enough traction to allow for some communities/polities to start implementing sensible policies.

8/29/13, 6:13 PM

latheChuck said...
Part of our predicament is the tragedy of the commons, looked at from a slightly different angle here. We usually regard the exploiters of the commons as short-sightedly greedy, but anyone who attempts to responsibly defer exploitation (without seizing control of the commons) just ends up standing aside as it is exhausted just as quickly, for someone else's benefit. When resources are really scarce, foregoing exploitation just means that you starve first.

8/29/13, 6:35 PM

Art Myatt said...
As the conquest fails, an early effect is seen in the bankruptcy of Detroit. Here's a news story that uses "collapse" in a directly descriptive sense:|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|p

8/29/13, 6:38 PM

Shining Hector said...
Just gotta interject here about antibiotics. I see the line trotted around about legions of faceless doctors uneasy about antibiotic resistance, and I gotta say I just don't see it in practice. To contest a few points:

Scarlet fever is caused by strep. In all this time, strep really hasn't developed much resistance to penicillins, they are still the standard of care for empiric treatment, even before the resistances come back. The medicine your doctor gave you as a child is probably close the same one I'd empirically prescribe to a child with scarlet fever today (amoxicillin). No one would raise an eyebrow if I even went with old-school penicillin for grins. Penicillin is still quite effective and the antibiotic of choice for multiple types of infections.

Staph is trickier, granted. The MRSA (methcillin-resistant staph aureus) that's been the topic of countless anguished Newsweek, etc. articles, with ominous suggestions that doctors everywhere wake up sweating at night thinking about it? Honestly we just assume assume anything that might be staph is MRSA and treat accordingly until it's proven otherwise. There are multiple quite effective IV and oral choices available. VRE, VISA, etc. that's resistant to the current IV antibiotic of choice, vancomycin, is supposedly out there somewhere, but honestly it kinda has bogeyman status to me personally I guess as I haven't seen it, much less seen it cause a serious threat to a patient's health.

We've come to take antibiotic stewardship quite seriously, actually. I'm sure there's still yahoos out there handing them out like candy, but it's not the standard of care anymore. It's working, too, in my community at least, we're already starting to see a decline in Cipro resistance for urinary tract infections, as doctors have eased up on overprescribing. Antibiotic resistance tends to decrease a bug's overall fitness, so when we ease up the selection pressure towards it, it will fall off.

I have exactly one patient I can think of who is colonized with a bug that frankly scares me. She's colonized with a bug resistant to all but one IV antibiotic, and I worry about what happens when that one runs out. She's indeed a victim of people throwing antibiotics at her for anything. I can at least understand it as she's demented, and we usually err on the side of caution in those cases as the patient can't provide a reliable history. In the big picture though, modern medicine has already extended her expiration date at least a decade, and she's currently puttering along happily, surrounded by family that love her, and it will most likely be one of the other ten medical conditions that does her in eventually. I wouldn't call her a failure story no matter what the future holds for her.

8/29/13, 6:40 PM

trippticket said...
"It’s because of antibiotics that I’m here to write this blog; the scarlet fever that had me flat on my back for weeks when I was seven years old would almost certainly have killed me if antibiotics hadn’t been available."

Would it be worth your profound brilliance to rid our ranks of so many ill-conceived sex trophies?

I hate to say it, but the evolutionary biologist in me figures he'd get the insight eventually, one way or another, and without so many random oil-nourished souls defiling the biosphere, perhaps it would be sooner rather than later...and maybe even first-hand.

8/29/13, 6:43 PM

trippticket said...
There was a time in the not-too-distant past when you proclaimed that energy descent would separate us from the salvation of industrial era healthcare (more my interpretation than your words perhaps). Being an herbalist, and one who is permitting his two children to face the microbial community head-on, with their own weapons, I dismissed out-of-hand your uncharacteristically shallow take on the subject.

Just as co-evolutionary dances reward all of the dancers, diseases that accompany the industrial age need not be an issue in a non-industrial age. There's a reason why heart disease and cancer (and automobile accidents?) have taken over as the primary killers instead of pneumonia and TB. They are the diseases that our current condition favors. But certainly no less sinister. At least a bacterial pathogen has to outcompete its host in order to kill it. A drunk driver need only drive enough heft at a fast enough velocity in the wrong direction.

Maybe dying of a bacterial infection isn't so awful in the end.

8/29/13, 7:27 PM

Greg Reynolds @ Riverbend said...
Hi John,

Nicely put.

We here in the upper midwest, the vertibale breadbasket of the nation are seeing a very difficult growing season.

Record low temperatues are followed 2 weeks later by record highs. Too wet gives way to too dry.

Nothing much likes to grow in those conditions. Perhaps our ancestors should have spent more time domesticating weeds.


8/29/13, 7:35 PM

Ray Wharton said...
Terms of surrender? I am starting to make reparations payments, in compost currency, knowing that Nature won't accept Dollars at their current level of preinflation. Deposited 14 yards of soil in a garden for local flowers and vegetables today. It was all bound for the land fill, and after mixing the parts together, wood chip and grass clippings mostly, but after some help its good soil, fit to grow life in the harsh high desert climate of Colorado.

I am hoping to start paying on this most important reparations debt while I still have the resources to make a big dent in it. Sure there aren't enough resources to fix the big problem, but so much is being waited because there is no demand in the public for the resources that can make a modest difference. It may not save health care, but a large enough payment of compost to the Earth now might keep a few more calories circulating available in the ecosystem for some time. And because there are tons of ridiculously powerful machines all over the place moving huge amounts of biomass, its a huge power amplifier.

I wonder what other early payment plans for the reparations are available to we turncoats on the 'hero'?

8/29/13, 7:42 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Leo, I hope they don't start borrowing algal gimmicks -- that'll make it more likely for the bacteria to find a way to evolve around that, and put the algae in danger.

Yupped, not to mention the fact that in an impoverished deindustrial society, "eating right" may have to take a back seat to getting enough to eat at all, and even that may not be easy for many people.

Ventriloquist, well, we'll see. It was intriguing to watch the House of Commons balk at being America's lapdog yet again...

LatheChuck, all these were known and practiced before 1928. Do they work? Yes...sometimes.

Zachary, thanks for the info!

LatheChuck, indeed it is. Back before antibiotic therapy, t'ai chi was often prescribed in China as a treatment for tuberculosis; in a significant number of cases, it seems to have worked. Still, "a significant number of cases" still amounts to a dent in the death rate, and not much more.

Steve, yes, I've noticed that! I've watched a lot of atheists go into hard denial when it's suggested to them that our species will check out long before the end of the universe.

Bilaal, I hope so.

Art, thanks for the link.

Hector, I gather that you're not a public health or infectious disease specialist. You might check out the far from faceless authors of this study, or this one, or this one -- and I could go on for pages. They say you're wrong, and their qualifications to make that statement are impeccable. And yours?

Trippticket, I also use herbs and alternative medicine, and I know their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Of course fewer people will die of heart disease once antibiotics go away -- heart disease is primarily an ailment of the middle-aged and elderly, while infectious diseases tend to kill at all ages, leaving fewer people to live long enough to get heart disease. Now of course something's going to kill each and every one of us sooner or later, and I don't propose to judge which death is more unpleasant, but I'd encourage you to do some research into family life in the pre-antibiotic era, when herbs were standard healthcare, and most families still buried at least one child before the age of five.

Greg, we did -- where did you think most grains and vegetables came from? Still, point taken -- with the climate in chaos, getting the harvest in is going to be a much chancier proposition.

Ray, heck of a good question. A lot of human biomass may end up added to that compost in due time, I'm sorry to say!

8/29/13, 8:59 PM

Tony said...
I've seen a number of recent articles and scientific papers on the ancient Nubians, who were discovered to be consuming not-insignificant amounts of tetracycline antibiotics in their beer on a regular basis. Looking at their bones, they were consuming an average dose over their whole lifetimes saround that which is now given as a long-term dose to combat very bad acne! It turns out that their grain stores were full of a particular soil bacterium, which 2,000 years later would be isolated by scientists and used to produce tetracycline.

One wonders if their beer was used as medicine or if they wound up with their own antibiotic-resistant ailments such that the beer was just another drink and had no antibacterial effects. Still, the fact that these people existed and bacteria seemingly had to re-evolve tetracycline resistance from scratch this century gives me hope that the 'end of the antibiotic era' could be a temporary set of reparations we have to pay before some kind of 'truce' better for us than *full* surrender could be negotiated...

-Tony B

8/29/13, 9:01 PM

Dagnarus said...
As to the terms of surrender. In my view terms of surrender don't actually make sense here. This is because I don't think that there was ever even a war. Sure, we might have battled against microbes, and the whale, and our fresh water supplies, and our top-soil. But to say that Man went to war against Nature in it's totality. That just seems like delusions of grandeur. After all, we did "battle" with Nature by using a gargantuan supply of fossil fuels (provided by Nature), and using it to manipulate matter and energy (using Natural laws). When did Nature do battle with us then? When she decided not to give an infinite supply of extractable hydrocarbon? When she decided that top soil shouldn't spontaneously replenish itself with nutrients? When she decided not to provide functionally limitless supplies of water, impervious to our industrial run off? In my view surrender ultimately must mean realising that we have been, and always will be constrained by and reliant upon the natural world.

After reading your post I drew an interesting parallel between the corporate Man of the religion of progress and the Church being the corporate body of Christ in Christianity. It occurs to me that the mythic narrative offered to me by my former Christian sect which saw my life's meaning in terms of building a small but integral part in building Christ's expression on earth, as paralleling the mythic narrative offered to me in the progress religion in which each person can collectively taking part in the building up of man until he eventually takes his throne as an immortal, omniscient, omnipotent God sitting upon his throne amongst the stars. The main difference seems to be that my Christian sect seemed to have a much more active role for me. Unfortunately I'm not knowledgeable enough about late medieval Christianity to know whether there concept of the Body of Christ was picked up by Progress, or whether the reverse happened.

8/29/13, 9:19 PM

Andrew H said...
Hi again,
An interesting point that this article prompted me to remember concerns my wife who was a nurse in a former life. In her training, more decades ago than I care to remember, part of the duties of a nurse was to keep the wards clean. Wards had concrete covered with vinyl or linoleum floors, walls were painted with gloss paint, and the rooms contained only the essentials. They had general cleaners but nurses were expected to scrub everything clean with antiseptic more or less every day. Woe betide any who brought in dirt etc on their shoes.
Now the philosophy has changed and wards have carpet, dusty decorations hang everywhere and cleaning is superficial by poorly paid workers who don't understand the difference between tidy and clean. Just about everyone is pumped full of antibiotics to keep the bugs at bay.
I read an article the other day where a hospital medico has been having great success in controlling MRSA etc. The solution. Reverting to a reliance on cleanliness rather than antibiotics. The only problem has been cost of labour.
I suspect that that approach will become rather more common in the decades ahead.

8/29/13, 9:53 PM

Shining Hector said...
Wow, indeed, those were written by academics with impeccable credentials, whose views carry much greater weight in the halls of power and public influence than a lowly practitioner like me could ever dream of. Why, their credentials are likely almost as good as all those world famous economists, who are a regular topic of discussion around these parts.

All I can really tell you is what I see and do. Antibiotic resistance is a known problem that we routinely take into account, work around, and try to avoid making worse. We're holding the line, mostly successfully. Although professionally I'd still pretty much qualify as a whippersnapper, I've given empiric antibiotics to hundreds of people suffering from provable bacterial infections, and have yet to lose a patient to a "superbug". Nor do the practicing infectious disease doctors I know wet their pants about the very idea of them.

As an aside, I would like to know these legions of scientists scrambling frantically to come up with new antibiotics and losing the battle you mentioned, though. Word on the street is drug companies don't make new antibiotics a big priority because unfortunately you take them and then get better, when repeat business is where the real money is.

8/29/13, 10:19 PM

Emmanuel Goldstein said...
After antibiotics, we may see a return to more desperate and dangerous cures. 25 years ago, I worked with an old man, "Mr. Al," who contracted spinal meningitis as a child in the 1920's. Antibiotics were not even on the horizon. His doctors got his spine as straight as they could and shot X-rays down the length of his spinal cord. It saved his life in the short run, but he had nerve conduction problems for the rest of his life.

Economics may further complicate the picture. New antibiotics like Avelox and Zyvox cost thousands of dollars for a course of treatment. If/when insurance goes away, they will be mostly unavailable.

At the other end of the money spectrum, injectable Penicillin G was manufactured by only one company on earth (Wyeth). In the early 2000s, Wyeth stopped making it for a couple of years, for economic reasons. Pen G very reliably treats neurosyphilis. Few other antibiotics will. Within a year, people began to die of complications of neurosyphilis again as Pen G supplies ran out and no other manufacturers stepped up to the plate to make it. Wyeth eventually began to make it again at a somewhat higher price.

Versions of this scenario continue to play out in drug manufacture. Tetracycline, for example, is no longer available in the USA. We are already seeing periodic unavailability of certain drugs for political/economic reasons, so it is not just the resourcefulness of microbes that promotes the spread of drug resistance.

8/29/13, 10:49 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Tony, that's fascinating. I know that the ancient Egyptians considered beer an essential item of diet -- the workers who built the pyramids (who were not slaves, by the way -- there are surviving payrolls) were issued rations of bread, onions, and beer. It hadn't occurred to me that the beer might also have been medicinal, but who knows?

Dagnarus, well, it was a metaphor, anyway. As for the possible Christian roots of the mythology of Man, that's a fascinating question; I'll see if I can find time to look into it.

Andrew, and of course that's also an issue. I know half a dozen people who ended up very sick because the hospital where they got treatment didn't even practice basic sanitation. I wonder what the ghost of Ignatz Semmelweis would say about that...

Hector, anecdote is not data. The papers I cited, and hundreds of others I could have cited if I'd wanted to take the space, argue that your personal experience doesn't justify dismissing what qualified experts in the field consider a massive and worsening crisis.

Emmanuel, ouch. If tetracycline is no longer available in the US, we may be in deep trouble -- last I read, though I may be out of date on this, that's still the best treatment for Yersinia pestis, aka the organism that causes bubonic plague. The US has substantial reservoirs of plague in ground squirrels and several other species in the dryland west, and there are an average of seven human cases a year in the US according to the CDC. It's occurred to me more than once that plague outbreaks might have a significant role in the decline in global population, once social order and resource availability decline to the point that effective public health countermeasures are no longer available.

8/29/13, 11:46 PM

Somewhatstunned said...

Ventriloquist, well, we'll see. It was intriguing to watch the House of Commons balk at being America's lapdog yet again...

Yeah wasn't it! My first thought on hearing that last night was "thank goodness for that" - I doubt if I was the only one in the UK. I'm sure we'll grab back onto the US coattails soon enough though.

8/30/13, 12:31 AM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

@Ventriloquist--All day I've been trying to figure out what Obama is up to. He is ordinarily cautious and deliberate, especially when dealing with people who can shoot back.

Until about a week ago, our President was dragging his feet over any military intervention in Syria. Yet within the last twenty-four hours, he apparently has told the U.N. that the weapons inspectors had better wrap up early and get out of Dodge, because something nasty is coming their way.

Why the U-turn? Behaving this way reminds everyone of the run up to the Iraq war. Especially since Obama could have wriggled out of his "red line" commitment simply by following the Constitution for once and asking Congress for a declaration of war.

Since this guy is known for his emotional self control, the only way I can make sense of it is that it's not Assad he is worried about. Perhaps he received intelligence that Al Qaeda is about to get its hands on some of those chemical weapons.

If preventing that is his objective, the State Department is probably sending back channel assurances to the Russians, the Chinese, and any other power that thinks it has a dog in this fight. Meanwhile our Secretary of State harrumphs about how morally awful Assad is for doing what the U.S. was happy with when Saddam Hussein was doing it to Iranians.

8/30/13, 2:20 AM

Danil Osipchuk said...
I found occasionally a very rare kind of a book - a scientist openly shares his thoughts about lack of progress in
modern physics. Not directly related to the current post, but very enlightening. I can not remember the kitchen of modern science being exposed so frankly anywhere.

Lee Smolin. The trouble with physics: the rise of string theory, the fall of a science, and what comes next
Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2006. ISBN 9780618551057 0618551050

8/30/13, 2:40 AM

Kyoto Motors said...
From what I understand, even just a hundred years ago, some 90% of the Western population was directly involved in agricultural production. Early mechanisation and later the green revolution ushered in a relatively rapid shift toward urbanisation. While lots of poor farming-class workers would take on jobs in factories, a not insignificant segment of the population was able to “move on up” by seeking education and specializing. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say “thus penicillin” and so many breakthroughs and discoveries that have marked the 20th century.
Specialization is the sub-plot, if you will, of the petroleum age, and we’ve taken it to the nth degree along the trajectory of diminishing returns and over the peak of Hubbert’s Hill. If by necessity some 80% of us return to farming jobs (perhaps kicking and screaming?) over the next hundred years, Nature will have had her say. What will the specialists’ priorities be? Our wish list of things to do will be long, but we may be short on the talent pool side of the equation. It seems to me that, following an Archdruid’s lead, one could do well to reduce or eliminate their dependence on powers-that-be and the mysterious “they” for their medical and agricultural security. All the same, it’s daunting in my present situation living in a big city, landless and “specialized” in the arts!

8/30/13, 4:08 AM

Rita Narayanan said...
I have few points to make on Industrial economy and the Arts/Humanities itself.

i am writing this from having a perspective from a country that is not the industrial west, so here goes.

Industrial capitalism has provided the means for modern liberalism to take root in the democratised sense of the term. JH Kunstler is spot on when he writes quite bluntly about what de-growth will bring.

rural and small town India may be simpler than the big bad brutal Mumbai(Bombay) but it does not provide the freedom and anonymity that often breaks down boundaries.Despite recent events here it definately provides more freedom to women.

Social liberation in a rootless and revolutionary fashion without the moral ethos to back it often results in actual regression.I actually think materialistic civilisation is a gift of modern social liberalism. When all boundaries break down money is not just a fact but also a culture that rules and buys respectability.

8/30/13, 4:21 AM

Phil Knight said...
A lot of human biomass may end up added to that compost in due time, I'm sorry to say!

Perhaps we will form the basis of the next formation of fossil fuels.

Wouldn't that be ironic?

8/30/13, 4:54 AM

Alice Y. said...
The example you chose of the futility of 'conquering Nature' is one close to my heart. It happens that antibiotic production occupies an intersection between my studies of antibiotic production genes in their context in communities of soil microorganism (during my PhD) and my green wizard dreams. I have begun a blog to publish some of my thoughts about the possibilities for future sustainable antibiotic production, and I would encourage anyone with relevant background or skills in microbiology, chemical engineering, pharmacy, chemical biology, scientific history, and so on to pursue the possibilities of small scale amateur production of antibiotics.

Perhaps terms of surrender could consist of a broad acceptance of the understanding that we are metaphorically a kind of tick that can begin to study the dog, and try not to irritate her into scratching us off? I hope to get to the stage where I can write a paper on my blog to enter your competition later this year.

8/30/13, 5:28 AM

trippticket said...
Just a (sorry, not so) quick note on bubonic plague (as sort of a microcosmic example of much of what's being discussed this week):

The plague organism relied for cellular entry of its host on a molecular "doormat" - an active transport tag in the cellular membrane. Any given human in Europe at the time could be homozygous for possession of the doormat (and soon dead), heterozygous with half the doormat tally (and sometimes recovered), or homozygous for absence of the doormat. The last option was a genetic "defect," a pair of them actually, but these "defective" people went on to repopulate post-plague Europe, and passed that lucky mutation on to a large percentage of the folks reading this string.

HIV gains cellular entry in exactly the same way, so we descendants of plague survivors are just as genetically immune to HIV as we are to bubonic plague. Lucky us.

That said, most of the crowd diseases we're talking about came from, well, crowding, and living in close proximity to our domesticated livestock, as you know. As painful as losing a child might be, and you have my deepest sympathy, believe me, a far less populous world, perhaps one populated with ecotechnics that gained some lasting sense of the curses, as well as the blessings, of agriculture over the millennia (and of course adopted horticulture in response), will also be a far less diseased world.

I'm not sold on the idea that keeping a larger percentage of people alive temporarily, by all means available, is a good thing when it almost guarantees a much greater calamity down the line. You seem to agree, but then you consistently argue in favor of that system.

Of course this is a larger historical perspective as opposed to one on the verge of losing its grandfather to COPD-induced pneumonia. The immediate effects hurt, no doubt, but your perspective is surely panoramic enough to have a feel for the silver lining in energy descent with regards to health.

And our infant mortality rate in the modern industrial U.S. ain't all that great either, since you brought it up...

Cheers. And great post by the way. One of my favorite yet.

8/30/13, 5:43 AM

Kyoto Motors said...
I hear you. “Man” is perhaps but a mere flea on the hindquarters of Nature. But from the perspective of the flea – a quixotic colonialist conquistador – the illusion of being at war is palpable. Metaphors that frame it as such abound in Western culture, and were a matter of official policy for many a government while First Peoples, entire species as well as ecosystems all around the world were wiped out or reduced to a shell of their former selves… My question is, will Man take this illusion to the grave in his futile, losing battle?

8/30/13, 6:06 AM

Celine Kelley said...
JMG - I'm not intimately conversant with the details, I know they're being medicated and treated on the Army's dime, and that's about it. What precise form the treatment takes is unknown to me, but last I heard he was still living in his off-base apartment. Considering the extreme quarantine reactions others diagnosed with the same malady in the US in recent years, though, I doubt they're taking it lightly.

8/30/13, 6:59 AM

Paul said...
JMG, US is a tiny fish in the pond, compared to China...
News on HRW

8/30/13, 7:17 AM

dax said...
As someone who comes from the Caribbean, which has been described as being in the West but not of it, you're hitting on something I always noticed here in the States. Back home there is a healthy bit of skepticism about progress. I always chalked it up to the fact that our experience of technology is that it's always breaking down, and that our historical memory is that we've vacillated between being part of the world economy and thriving, and being abandoned and ignored for long stretched at a time.

Now I also realise that our attitude towards Nature is shaped by our experience of hurricanes. You would be hard pressed to find a person down there who *ever* believed that Nature would one day be conquered by humankind. We've seen too much to believe that.

What I have noticed, though, is that, whereas my generation always had in the back of our minds that we may one day have to go back to the old ways, the people who've grown up in the last thirty years or so really haven't learned the skills (and attitudes) they would need to do so. I'm from a more prosperous island more closely tied to the US economy - which has been a great ride, but I fear will cost us in the long run.

I just thought I'd share.

8/30/13, 7:34 AM

Janet D said...
I really enjoyed this post. I have been following the antibiotic-resistance bug news for a couple years now. Someone else mentioned Stephen Buhner's book, Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-Resistant Bacteria. It is not for beginning herbalists, but the first part of the book could be enjoyed by anyone, and I think you, especially, JMG, would like it. He summarizes how the superbugs came to be and the research that shows the "intelligence" of the bacteria in terms of how they develop resistance and how they communicate it to other bacteria, even those bacteria that are not related in any way to themselves. It is FASCINATING. Definitely challenges the "superior-human" myth that underlies modern society. We battle recurrent MRSA skin infections in our household. We finally bagged all the antibiotics and clinical washes and have had excellent results using herbal essential oils. Of course, given the work that is involved in creating EOs, I'm not sure they will be an option in the long-running future, but Stephen's methods do not involve EOs, and they are also very effective (just not as easy as buying that EO bottle). Getting children to take them, though, would be a nightmare....I fear you are right when it comes to the future & losing more children....

8/30/13, 8:11 AM

cromberg said...
"We are behaving like rats that have discovered a granary ... happily multiplying, and blissfully unaware of the coming famine."
-Garrett Hardin

8/30/13, 8:25 AM

Roger said...
JMG, a poster (an evolutionay biologist and herbalist) remarked that he is "permitting his two children to face the microbial community head-on, with their own weapons...". Which sounds to me like his little ones were never vaccinated.

No doubt, an intense course of studies in an academic setting and a lifetime of work in a particular field gives one a perspective one otherwise wouldn't have. My own mis-education wasn't in a scientific area so I'm at a disadvantage in that sense. No doubt one so trained and immersed on a day-to-day basis would have access to results of research that would buttress such a decision as to vaccinate (or not) or to acquiesce (or not) to a doctor's prescription for pharmacy dispensed medication. So far be it from me to judge.

I'm not a scientist and, as you say JMG, anecdote isn't data. But I have a question and this is assuming the poster's kids were never vaccinated. I wonder if the poster is old enough to have lived through a polio outbreak. Polio is no joke. In my hometown there were kids that were sickened by it. Some seemed to recover reasonably well. Others ended up disabled. A kid that lived down the street from us caught it and had a terrible time. He eventually got up out of bed but couldn't get around without crutches. He died some years later in his teens.

And so, when the vaccine became available, people got off their duffs and got vaccinated. There were no naysayers that I ever heard. You know what? Ever since, polio hasn't reared its ugly head. Not in my home town nor in any in this country. At least that I'm aware of. A good result I would say. The only people suffering are the ones with the lingering effects of their earlier illness.

OK, all I know is what I see in the news but the news hasn't reported any outbreaks for decades. Yes, this is non systematically gathered data without the imprimatur of a big-time research university. And maybe we're going back to pre-vaccination days anyway. But why rush it?

What I'm saying is there are different kinds of perspective. Scholarly papers give you one kind. However, real life illuminates issues in a way that jargon encrusted studies will never do. The poster says, "Maybe dying of a bacterial infection isn't so awful in the end." Yes, given the alternatives, maybe it isn't. But has the poster ever witnessed such a death?

One last thing: we seem to assume that pre-industrial people took the deaths of infants/toddlers in stride ie that it was fully expected that if you have five, you lose one. Well, no they didn't take it in stride. At least my own grandmothers didn't. They mourned the loss of their little ones to their dying day. My sympathy to you for your own loss.

8/30/13, 10:59 AM

peacegarden said...
This post is one of my favorites yet. Thank you for providing such lucid and thought provoking essays

Stephen Buhner has written several other books that may be of interest: Sacred Herbal Beers, The Secret Teachings of Plants, The Lost Language of Plants, and Healing Lyme.
In the first part of The Lost Language of Plants, he tells a story about himself and his grandfather, tasting “wild water” for the first time. Buhner has a way of helping me to “get” what we have been missing; a thing I experienced as a child visiting my grandparents at their farm but lost somewhere along the way, that sense of curiosity and wonder, that “belonging” to all that is. I am recovering it little by little, as I immerse myself in the art of herbal healing. Just being in the presence of these plants changes how I see everything.
We have been separated from that “belonging”, taught to fear nature, to embrace the idea that we are not part of it, but almost arch enemies, needing to arm ourselves with antiseptic hand sanitizers.
One thing that I am grateful for; how very easy it is for small children to be immersed in the magic of the forest, the plants and critters living there, the sensorial splendor of the simplest encounter. They haven’t been tainted yet, as my oldest son exclaimed to me about his daughter…things that make you go hmmm…

8/30/13, 11:53 AM

talus wood said...
Hi John,
"swap genetic material with the same orgiastic abandon as microbes"

is it abandon or intent I wonder? Stephen harrod buhners latest book is quite interesting regarding this.

8/30/13, 1:04 PM

Robert Mathiesen said...
Deborah Bender writes:

"All day I've been trying to figure out what Obama is up to. He is ordinarily cautious and deliberate, especially when dealing with people who can shoot back."

Aren't you assuming here that the President is always a free agent, free to choose between policy options as he thinks best? I am sure that back in Late Antique Rome, your average Roman in the Forum thought, too, that the Emperor was always a free agent . . .

However, every later Emperor had always to reckon with the Praetorian Guard. In theory they were his protectors, but in practice they were sometimes his executioners -- and not always with a dispassionate eye to the best interests of the Empire, either.

I have long thought that Washington, DC, has been approximating the same sort of situation. Some of the more puzzling decisions of this or that president in the recent past may have been made under pressures too great for even a sitting president to resist.

Maybe this has just happened again with respect to Syria.

We'll never know for sure. However, it feels historically inevitable that sometime in the future the White House will become just a very "comfortable prison" for the president and his family, and that the president's autonomy will then be as much illusion as reality.

8/30/13, 1:13 PM

thriftwizard said...
A quick aside; personally, I find the different font & font size of the last paragraph very useful. I generally have to read & run, and it makes it very easy to find the end of one post & the beginning of the previous one, and locate the comments.

As a mother of 5 young adults, I feel astonishingly privileged that I've been lucky enough to see them all grow to adulthood & launched, in their very different ways, out into the world. But anxious that, with the best will in the world, that (mostly) they & their peers are appallingly ill-equipped to deal with anything but what they have come to see as "normal" 1st-world conditions. It's an uphill battle to convince them that this isn't how it's always been, or always will be...

Thinking about beer, symbiosis, nutrition & medicine; historians always seem to equate the development of "civilisation" with the development of writing & numeracy, although the development of architecture & urban drainage systems might also be worth considering, as might the domestication of small hunters enabling the storage of grain. But the development of art of fermentation, both to make beer & also bread, making those grains more nutritious and easier to store long-term, and possibly also combatting some of the potential disease-causing organisms & parasites in what people were drinking, seems to me to be one of the keys to how we've got to where we are now.

There are a lot of things missing from our bland & circumscribed Western diets, most of them very, very tiny & quite possibly fizzy!

8/30/13, 2:42 PM

Shining Hector said...
Hmm, I'm getting the vague sensation I'm trying to out-Archdruid the Archdruid. Maybe I should consciously accept that and just go all the way. Anyway, let me explain things in a slightly different way.

The hue and cry about antibiotic resistance? Guess what, it worked. The academics made their point. We know it's a problem. Resistance is in the back (if not front) of our heads when choosing an antibiotic. Public health departments keep yearly tallies of resistance patterns in the area, and empiric treatment for likely pathogens is based on them. Dispensing antibiotics solely for patient peace of mind is discouraged. Broad spectrum antibiotics should be reserved for when they are appropriate. The resources we use to guide treatment are pretty consistently in line with these principles. No need to belabor it further.

Remember what you've said about ignoring negative feedback loops in apocalyptic fantasies? What specifically comes to mind is the assertion that governments likely won't curl up in a fetal position and plunge us all into permanent Hobbesian anarchy at the first whiff of trouble. Well, don't these multi-drug resistant superbugs fated to cull everyone's children sound a bit like the Third Horseman? Also vaguely of the Grey Goo apocalypse.

But anyway, implicit to the narrative is that doctors will make no changes to their practice, which I can tell you is not the case. Beyond that, I get the sense that these bugs would need to develop an, I don't know, almost malevolent taste for otherwise healthy human flesh. Let me explain.

The people who I've seen die from infections generally fall into 2 categories. Some were holding onto life by a thread anyway, and the bug tipped them over. I'm thinking the very young, the very old, the immunosuppressed, the really, really, really, I mean really chronically ill (we're really astonishingly good at keeping people alive even if not well and in a general state of misery). The second group would be those with incredibly fast-spreading infections, like necrotizing fasciitis. What's rather interesting is that the people in both groups did not generally succumb to the wrong choice of antibiotic. They generally died with the proper antibiotic prescribed. Antibiotics don't so much purify you of pathogens, they largely give your body enough breathing room to do it's thing. If your body has no fight left in it, or the infection spreads so quickly it completely overwhelms your ability to fight it, you're pretty much just out of luck, bucko. I've seen people die of infection, but not had the cinematic revelation of "ESBL" as the eventual cause of death as we all helplessly sat on our thumbs while infection ravaged an otherwise salvageable patient. If someone's headed south, we don't even wait for sensitivies, we change our approach, and when it can work it does.

I guess that's pretty anecdotal, sure. But what exactly is the chain of events required for superbugs to rampage across us all? First condition, we refine, and refine, and refine these bugs to be resistant to everything that exists. Ok, I know of at least one example of that. Problem is it's basically just set up camp in the bladder flora of an old lady and seems for most part content to just sit there and chill. Her family isn't all perishing like flies even though they have to have been exposed to it. So then these superbugs need to spread wide and far and set up camp in the big wide world. Yeah, ok, the existence of community-acquired MRSA put that as a possibility. Then all these scattered bugs need to stack up resistance after resistance, after resistance. We've got quite a few classes of antibiotics, you know. Then they have to hold on to these resistances, at the same time outcompete all their non-resistant bacterial brethren that make up the earth's flora to become the primary form of life on earth. Or something like that. Anecdotally, you know, they're just not quite following the script.

8/30/13, 4:45 PM

Stonymeadow said...
related to the general theme of magician states, and also honest financial commentators...
from bill fleckenstein, hedge fund manager who saw the tech bubble, and the housing bubble, in his latest commentary re: a financial times article:


Around here we call them 'wish doctors'

Speaking of trapped central bankers, an Aug. 22 article in the Financial Times by Gillian Tett, headlined "Central bank chiefs need to master the art of storytelling," concluded with what I thought surely had to be a spoof.

"The next Fed chair also needs to be a masterful storyteller and cultural analyst, who can read social sentiment, shape norms, (re)create trust and persuade us all to think in a manner that suits the Fed's economic goals, without us even noticing.

"Somebody, in other words, who can cast spells with both their spreadsheets and words. In short, what is needed is nothing less than a monetary shaman."

But then I realized which newspaper she was writing for, and that she was deadly serious.

It's a crying sham
I think Tett’s soliloquy perfectly captures how far the pendulum has swung from the gold standard -- and that it can go no further in this direction.

What we need, in her view, is someone who can make us believe that reality is different than it is. This is an absolutely priceless vignette to save for the future to illustrate how detached financial thinking has become from anything resembling common sense. Of course, the joke is on her, as she doesn't realize that what she wants is exactly what we already have: charlatans who have no shame.

financial times link is:

8/30/13, 5:36 PM

Richard Larson said...
Using the German propaganda experience as comparison is interesting and right on. I will be more sensitive to the coming barage of good news!

I recently heard something about the bacteria in our bodies that might be revelant to your weblog topic. That people who stay within 2 miles of where they were born enjoy a longer life. It was explained the bacteria in your body becomes conditioned to the local bacteria, this close relationship having some affect.

As opposed to the international traveler "enjoying" a shorter life.

8/30/13, 6:28 PM

Clarence said...
mary, jmg and others; in the rush forward, sometimes things are left behind. or seen as backward when some shiny new idea comes around. type 'copper doorplates resist infections' into your favorite search engine. going back to simple proven methods may help in the long descent of health care.

8/30/13, 6:36 PM

trippticket said...
Howdy, Roger! Answering your concerns pointwise: 1)Your take on my children's vaccination status is astute. Not vaccinated in any way.

2)No, after my "immersion" in my field of study, I believed almost the exact same thing most of you do: vaccinations good, irresponsible parents bad. It required a personal revelation about our status as humans almost 5 years ago to turn that perception on its head.

3)There are tons of similar stories to go around, both anecdotal and empirical. They have nothing to do with my genome.

4)There were also a lot of people vaccinated against polio that didn't need it. Again, built-in genetic immunity to crowd diseases we temperate Eurasian farmers evolved around. Native Americans probably needed the vaccine.

5)The news may not have, but the CDC did recently. Or rather, announced a cancer epidemic associated with something like 90% of polio vaccinated-people in some third world country. It sounds so ambiguous because it was pulled and squelched the next day, never to be seen again (and for obvious reasons), as far as I can tell. I'd love to get my hands on it again. I'm not rushing anything except a return to sanity.

6)I'll second that! Real life, first-hand experience has given me almost all of my insight into the way things work, quite at odds with just about anything I "learned" from a big-time research university like the one I attended. My advice: spend four years on a Weston Price Foundation website instead.

7)I realize that a deep and calculated evolutionary perspective often comes across as cold. I get that. Because in the current Disney environment it is. When Bambi dies we feel bad for such a cute little fawn, not taking into account that Bambi's death might be better for the species as a whole. Same for vegetarians: it's easy to feel bad for a big brown-eyed cow as an individual, not really understanding that our alliance with cows as a food animal has been an enormous boon to the species - multiplication far beyond their pre-alliance numbers, protection from predators, manicured forage, medicine, if you want to count that as a boon...

I kill a lot of the meat I eat, and it's always hard to do, but it's ultimately much harder on everyone and everything else when people just eat meat packages they purchased from the supermarket. In the end there will be a lot more people eating no meat at all because this sort of system removes you from your impacts, and therefore your sense of responsibility to them.

If I lose a child to some "preventable" disease because of my bad decisions I will kick my own ass for the rest of my life, I assure you, whether I deserve it or not. But my children are bigger, stronger, and smarter than most, and I think our curious approach to the world has a lot to do with that. If nothing else, their immune systems are probably much more experienced than those of their peers. I hope we've done the right thing in the end, and I certainly think we have.

And last, but not least, the hardest part of all this vaccination business is that "they" need to be vaccinated against us a lot more than we need to be vaccinated against "them". Although it's a lot easier on folks like us to flip that around. And a lot more profitable...

8/30/13, 7:27 PM

Moshe Braner said...
Although vaccines were mentioned in this discussion in the context of people's recent resistance to using vaccines, I think another aspect needs to be discussed. Bacterial evolution makes our antibiotics ineffective after a fairly short while. In contrast, vaccines seem not to suffer that fate, except when it comes to pathogens (such as the common cold) that mutate rapidly for other reasons. Moreover, vaccines are possible for many viral diseases, while antibiotics only work against bacteria. Finally, vaccines may be something we can keep well into the great descent, being that they are not resource intensive, thanks to the amazing capacity of our immune systems to amplify the signal introduced by a tiny amount of vaccine (or pathogen).

Regarding "I wonder if there's any way to arm the badgers so that they can do some culling of their own!", that brings to mind the constitutional rallying cry "I reserve my right to arm bears!".

8/30/13, 7:41 PM

Paul said...
@Shining Hector "The people who I've seen die from infections generally fall into 2 categories."

Not so. The most dangerous situation of superbugs is that they breed comfortably in hospitals not of world-class hygienic standard (which situation may be rare in US and advanced industrialized countries, but not uncommon in less fortunate places). In HK, from time to time we have cases in which a HK citizen got emergency but minor treatments at a hospital of some small city in China ended up getting superbug!

"Only the paranoids survive" seems a more sensible approach to the case of superbugs.

8/30/13, 8:08 PM

KL Cooke said...
"I should probably do a post on the invention of "the primitive cave man" in 19th-century Europe one of these days."

Definitely should do that one. As a boy in the 50's I spent a lot of time in the Field Museum in Chicago. They had excellent dioramas (in terms of artistry), one of which involved primitive cave men, informed by the above mentioned tradition. They looked like hairy morons.

8/31/13, 12:18 AM

Bogatyr said...
Deborah Bender wrote: "All day I've been trying to figure out what Obama is up to. He is ordinarily cautious and deliberate, especially when dealing with people who can shoot back".

A friend sent me a link yesterday to a story in which people on the ground in Syria are claiming that the Saudis had supplied sarin to local anti-regime forces; the fighters who were transporting it didn't know what it was, mishandled it, and it off accidentally.

I wasn't previously familiar with Mintpress, so I don't know how reliable it is. Would the Saudis be involved in this sort of thing? Who knows - but we know that they've actively undermined US policy in Egypt. Times are changing; old alliances are falling apart as crises of energy, food and imperial power force a re-evaluation of interests.

Given the way US policy has been run in recent times, it would not surprise me if Obama was hastening the bombing of Syria in order to fix the narrative that the regime was responsible in the public mind, and thus be free to kill the story about the Saudis. The alternative would mean being forced to have a public debate about the relationship with Saudi Arabia...

Of course, I have no knowledge either way. It's clear, though, that major issues about the West's relationship with the Middle East are bubbling up and will have to be faced soon.

8/31/13, 1:57 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

Excellent points. I'm disturbed by how much antibiotics get incorporated into the industrial food system. Not good and it won’t end well.

There is none of that stuff going on here! I am literally surrounded by animal manures of all sorts.

"Big daddy" wallaby has moved in and he ain't afraid of two people, dogs and a burn off. Oh no, he's the boss around here. Except for... I bought a very high lumen torch a couple of days ago to see who was eating the rhubarb at night and there is one massive wombat lurking around. Baby wombat that was orphaned, and survived last summer on donated apples has been moved on to the roadside (not good). Anyway, I was trying to work out what was going on down in the herbage.

I've recently discovered that the sugar gliders which were happily over wintering in the chook house in previous years have been kicked out by rats and mice.

I'm estimating that about 1/3rd of the food was/is being consumed by said rodents. That is about 1kg of free range grain per day (at about AU$1/kg). The little blighters have really nice healthy looking coats too. I got some good photos and will write an article once I work out how to capture them and feed them to the chooks.

Meanwhile, they are out smarting me. They even have learned how to kick over the traps to get the beef jerky. Evolution in action. Back to the topic at hand though, all I can say is that many years of university and I'm outsmarted by rats and mice...

This week I recycled the wind turbine tower into a free standing solar panel mount. You can see some photos here:

Free standing PV mount

Scroll to the bottom of the link for the photos.

If anyone has any suggestions about rats and mice, I'd be more than happy to receive them and trial them here. The food and water is already off the ground, but I noticed that the field mice could jump up and onto the grain hopper. Outrageous!!!!



8/31/13, 3:55 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi you lot,

Meanwhile, parents are refusing to get their children immunised because of unfounded fears (which have since been discredited).

This sort of thing is now reaping rewards as there was a recent outbreak of measles (of all things) on a Qantas flight...

Seriously, germ theory won't last more than a generation or two. Has anyone ever given any thought to how much energy a sewage pumping station requires?

Meanwhile I just ate some really yummy winter potatoes cooked in the wood oven which had earthworms crawling over them only a few hours ago when I upended the tub.



8/31/13, 4:29 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

Quote: ""Man the Hunter" style blather is a fine example. I should probably do a post on the invention of "the primitive cave man" in 19th-century Europe one of these days."

Please do that. Seriously, if we all ate kangaroos every night, there would shortly be no kangaroos. I struggle to understand why people don't get that and would appreciate your insights.

I enjoy playing the chicken game with some friends who want to keep chickens and eat one a week. They also want to rear their own chooks.

The game entails saying to them, they'd need at least 10 dozen chooks to achieve this on a long term basis - and then we do the numbers and they end up being a bit horrified.

Eggs are good, but chickens are expensive to eat. It never surprises me when I read about northern hemisphere mid winter feasts and what they truly mean.

When you can't feed em, you might as well eat them.



8/31/13, 6:00 AM

Kyoto Motors said...
I took the point about antibiotics and bacterial diseases/ infections as an example like industrial agriculture. The dangerous assumption takes it all as permanent and settled.
It’s worthwhile reminding ourselves of the danger even in the midst of prevailing abundance. So,
Shining Hector,
I take some comfort in what you say anecdotally, and hope that the superbug scare is more of a bogey man than an imminent threat.
But returning to a slightly different thread of thought – because it applies to most, if not all forms of specialization that our civilization has been able to afford – I take the cautioning about antibiotics as a matter of availability. Since it doesn’t take a superbug to kill someone with pneumonia, what’s crucial is that production know-how, supply and supply chains remain intact. At some point, these things may be enough of a challenge to worry about. Hopefully a superbug isn’t added to the mix.

So maybe “They’ll think of something” is completely moot since, in this instance “They’ve already thought of something” – we do have an array of tools in the toolkit. But will every one have access to the tool shed equally?

On a tangent, it’s surprising how many people have expressed “They’ve already thought of something” with respect to energy, believing that “free energy” is waiting in the wings.

8/31/13, 6:15 AM

Kevin Anderson K9IUA said...
This week's discussion was on my mind when I gave blood this morning at the local Red Cross office. Not that I was worried about infection. Instead I was wondering if we've reached, at least in the U.S., "peak blood donation" or such.

Twenty years ago, when I first started donating blood, I could give twice a year and no one pressured me to do more. Now, I'm getting phone calls and post cards as soon as I get within seven days of being eligible again, asking to already schedule my next donation. The plea is always now that hospitals are desperately short on blood. I know as O+ I'm popular, and I want to be helpful, but this constant pressure is also getting wearisome.

Is population getting too large in proportion to the people who can donate? Have operations and treatments that require blood gone up that much? Has the ratio of blood types needed in the population changed? Are more and more people becoming ineligible to donate due to all the restrictions? I can't help but wonder what has happened.

8/31/13, 7:38 AM

Joyce said...
The "terms of surrender" have been very well described in Margaret Atwood's dystopian trilogy: "The Handmaid's Tale," "Oryx and Crake," and "MaddAddam."

8/31/13, 8:36 AM

Robert said...
Re Syria - According to Doctors Without Borders Saudi supplied rebels may have been behind the chemical attack in Damascus.

It never made sense to me that the regime would cross Obama's red line and use chemical weapons. A false flag by the rebels on the other hand makes a lot more sense.

8/31/13, 9:13 AM

Unknown said...
JMG from Tom A. Several weeks ago a commenter referenced “History as a System” by Jose Ortega y Gasset. I looked it up and found it a most interesting read. I was especially intrigued by his reference to the idea that faith in reductionist science was dying and this was written in the late 1930s.
Then I read “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes. This is a chronology of the last 150 years of nutrition science and the public policies that have evolved. It is clear form Taubes writing that what we are being told by national health authorities about low fat diets being heart healthy and that we need to lower cholesterol for heart health are not supported by good science. Most of the national nutritional health advice seems to be based on egos and ongoing conformational bias rather than good science.

Considering Gasset’s reference to the dying faith in science in the 1930s and Taubes’ detailed description of how our national nutritional policies are not based on reproducible science tells me that American culture has been struggling with how to make good use of science for some time. Worst of all it seems to me that we are losing that struggle.

Since I was educated in the 60s to believe in science in ways that have clearly not worked well for me and therefore I am finding it necessary to change how I approach much of that information I am curious as to your views on what it is going to take to change this approach to knowledge on a national level. Or is it too late and our only hope is individually and in small communities to effect that level of change.

Tom A

8/31/13, 9:15 AM

Dennis D said...
In response to the comment about copper door plates, I did google the subject, and they also included copper alloys, such as brass. I immediately thought of my time in the military, where all the senior NCO's seemed to have the opinion that everything should be brass, and all brass should always be polished brightly. Now a military barracks is crowded, and a wide number of people with varried backgrounds and recent travels exchanging microbes. The traditions of polishing every surface that could be would remove a lot of these pathogens, as hand oils left a blotch on the brass. Those epidemics linked to military bases may have had a breakdown in these traditions?

8/31/13, 11:09 AM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

Dear Cherokee Organics, you might get a barn cat.

That's not a sure fire solution. Some cats are not mousers, some mousers won't tackle rats, and cats that are effective hunters may kill animals you don't want them to (like wild birds) or get in trouble by attacking something that kills them. However, if you have enough unwanted rodents to keep the cat busy, and the cat is a sporting cat, he or she will take care of your pests and provide leftovers for the chickens.

Bonus: some cats catch rabbits.

Where I live, free range rural cats sometimes wind up as lunch for a coyote or a large owl. If you have predators like that, you might have to protect the cat as well as feed it (well fed cats are just as avid hunters as cats who hunt from necessity).

8/31/13, 1:26 PM

Kyoto Motors said...
I am intrigued by your analysis; please elaborate. And please explain to those of us in N.A. what a chook is?!

8/31/13, 2:56 PM

Rita said...
@ Roger--not every earlier culture had identical attitudes about premarital sex. In some cultures the perceived danger of ending up with an infertile and (under Christianity) undivorceable wife meant that marriage was delayed until the future wife became pregnant. Obviously this violated strictures against premarital sex, but a farmer needs children. Also, children in non monetized economies are not just an expense. Every mouth to feed comes with two hands to work, is an old saying. If children are weeding, watching the geese, keeping an eye on a younger sibling and not costing hundreds of dollars in day care and school supplies they are less of an economic burden.
On the subject of polio, I am part of the last polio generation. My ex (who is 12 years older than me) an author of my acquaintance and one of my best friends all contracted polio as children. I also remember the newsreels of rows of victims in iron lungs. I seem to recall from some long ago class that the epidemics of the late 19th and early 20th century were partly caused by better sanitation. As the professor explained it, in more primitive conditions young babies and children would get polio and either die or recover completely. Better sanitation meant that infection was delayed until later childhood or young adulthood, a time of life during which the virus is more likely to cripple victims who survive. Not sure whether this idea is supported by more recent research.

8/31/13, 3:59 PM

Rita said...
This comment does not relate directly to this week's post, but I have noticed a pattern in comments to earlier posts that interests me. There seems to be a very Hobbesian trend in some people's thought--an assumption that if civic order breaks down the natural result will be the war of all against all that the philosopher Hobbes believed had been the state of natural man. I was just reading an article about the homeless in Sacramento's local alternative paper (Sac News and Review). The first thing that struck me was that the homeless interviewed talked of forming "families" of unrelated individuals who camp together and protect one another. This is what people do. Some people are loners either by choice or because they are not tolerated by their fellows. Some will form predatory bands, outlaw groups who will prey on others. But most people will, I believe, form groups for mutual aid, companionship and safety.

@Deborah--one reason drs. give so many vaccines at one time is that they can't rely on all parents returning for the required visits. I don't know if this is a problem in nations with subsidized health care.

8/31/13, 4:10 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi you lot,

When I was in primary school, one of my classmate’s parents had contracted German measles (rubella) when she was pregnant. The kid in question was a bit off and if you asked him whether he thought that vaccination for this disease was a good idea, he'd probably have quite strong opinions as I'd reckon it seriously impacted his life.

If you don't get vaccinated then you are simply outsourcing responsibility for your health and hoping that the system will come along and patch you up and/or also hoping that the herd provides immunity for you and yours to these diseases.

It is a gamble which you may or may not win and you just never know.

I grew up in a house where my mum had both herpes and hep-b and I've had to think long and hard about these issues.


8/31/13, 5:24 PM

latheChuck said...
On the topic of suppressing rats... I once had rats living in/near my compost bin. (My mother had composted some fatty bones during a visit, and I guess that was all it took to invite them in.) I bought a pair of spring traps (traditional mouse traps, doubled in every dimension), baited one with peanut butter mashed into cotton string tied around the paddle, set it out by the bin one afternoon. I went out to check it the next day. It was gone! A few days later, as I was working around the area, I came across the relocated trap and the disgusting, maggot-ridden partial carcass of a rat. This is an example of what NOT to do.

So, learning from my mistake, I threw out that filthy trap, and set the other one just before dusk. I checked it just an hour or two later. A rat was inert but intact, no worse to handle (wearing gloves) than a plush toy. I buried it in the garden, and put the trap away for the night. Every night for the next two weeks or so, I'd set it out after dinner, and bring it in (full or empty) before going to bed. After catching 5-6 adult rats, there were apparently no more to be had, and no signs of their presence (and none since then).

The moral of the story, I think, is that I tried to never let one rat learn from the misfortune of another. Also, if a rat was reluctant to take fresh bait on Monday night, it might be more eager to take it on Tuesday night, having had Tuesday morning to regret "the one that got away".

Of course, I had a relatively small number of rats to worry about. Taking one rat a day, or even ten per day, might fall below your maximum sustainable yield, unless you also create rodent-proof grain storage. Habitat destruction is much more effective than harvesting in driving a species to extinction.

By the way, peanut butter alone got licked off without springing the trap. With peanut butter worked into string wrapped around the paddle, the rats would tug on it.

8/31/13, 7:07 PM

latheChuck said...
Re: metal door plates

When we constructed an addition to our church, I noticed that the old push-plates and handles had been solid brass, but the new ones were stainless steel. People like the "stainless" aspect of the steel, but if I recall correctly, microbes will survive for a much longer time on steel than they will on copper or brass. Steel may be easier to clean, but who cleans it?

Speaking of church, and microbes, do you suppose (addressing the group, here) that the act of gathering once a week allows us to fine-tune our immune systems with mild exposure to whatever's "going around"? (I won't try to argue for the existence of God with anyone, but, pragmatically, if going to church is a behavior that has evolved to promote survival, that's "reason" enough for me.)

8/31/13, 7:16 PM

latheChuck said...
Not related to any particular item in this week's post, but as I was cooking my breakfast this morning, I felt lucky to have electricity on demand. "What else could I use? It'll be hours before the sun is hot enough for cooking (even if I had a solar stove)." But if I could use yesterday's sunshine to distill some alcohol, I could burn the alcohol to cook my eggs, oatmeal, or pancakes. So, I searched for "solar alcohol distillation", and among the copious references, this one caught my eye:‎

Appropedia! This could be a complement to the Green Wizards' Forum. It appears to have academic support, too, since many of the projects appear to be engineering-school student projects.

8/31/13, 7:22 PM

rr™ said...
@cherokee organics re:mice - I put a five gallon bucket (with a layer of grain in the bottom) in a climable corner of my chicken coop - mice jump in and can't quite jump out - they later get dumped amongst the chickens which is a brutal end as they are eaten alive. I've caught as many as 19 mice at once. If you've got some real jumpers you could somehow extend your cylinder. Once they're captured they work for you. ;^)

8/31/13, 7:40 PM

Robert Martini said...
@ Cherokee Organics
I appreciate the advice. I am sure rainwater harvesting would be a great thing and very necessary many years down the road. However, that is something I could get into as a hobby and would not make use of an environmental chemistry degree. I know there collapse of civilization is not pretty or convenient, but I want to be able to at least use my degree for something? :/

John Michael Greer,

What do you think will become of all this extra knowledge of college degrees and the debt load incurred to get them. Will there be debt slavery or will people be able to walk away from that debt? I would hope all the stuff I learned in college would be meaningful to my future?

8/31/13, 8:36 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Stunned, who knows? It was a British politician who said that his country had no friends, only interests; maybe there are quiet overtures being made to the Chinese...

Danil, I read that when it first came out -- an excellent book. Thanks for the reminder; I should read it again.

Kyoto, true enough -- I wrote about that at some length in a post a while back.

Rita, that may well be true.

Phil, ironic? Nah, a useful contribution to the next intelligent species on this planet...

Alice, excellent! I'll look forward to your paper.

Trippticket, nah, I'm not arguing in favor of the system. I've discussed my extreme ambivalence to today's health care system in earlier posts such as this one. My point is simply that existing health care modalities, for the time being, can do things that alternative methods can't -- though the reverse is also true -- and a lot of people are going to die when the existing modalities either stop working or stop being effective.

Celine, I hope not. Tuberculosis was a leading cause of death in this country a century ago.

Paul, granted, but we're working on it.

Dax, thank you! That skepticism toward the claims of the missionaries of progress is likely to be an advantage in the years ahead of us.

Janet, I've got many of Buhner's books, including both editions of that one. Essential oils are actually fairly easy to make at home, so long as you have access to the plants and know how to do steam distillation, which is not that hard. Might be worth considering!

Cromberg, no argument there.

Roger, the entire vaccination issue is one that has attracted heated passions on both sides; you'll notice that I didn't mention it here, precisely for that reason.

Peacegarden, thank you. I don't have Buhner's book on Lyme disease, but the others? You bet.

8/31/13, 9:40 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Talus, I don't know -- I've never been able to get a microbe to explain. ;-)

Thriftwizard, no argument there. Having largely been raised by a Japanese stepmother, I learned the advantages of some fermented foods early on, and of course then there's beer!

Hector, if you're going to try to out-archdruid me, you might start by learning one of my basic rules, which is to identify and discount binary thinking -- in this case, the binary between the business-as-usual reassurances you're offering and the gray goo-style apocalypse you've mistakenly assigned to me. Of course you're holding the line; thirty years ago, your predecessors were doing so with an abundance of effective antibiotics and no resistance in sight; thirty years from now, as present trends continue, your successors will be holding the line by hoarding the handful of antibiotics that still work for the most critical cases, and they'll still be able to point to the fact that it's mostly the weak and vulnerable who die, just as you have -- it's just that in their time, there will be more of these.

The logic you're using is the same as that of petroleum drillers who insist that since they're still keeping liquid fuels flowing to market, peak oil can't happen. Here as elsewhere, a snapshot of current conditions is much less useful than an overview of the broader trajectory. Of course physicians are doing their best to counter the rising tide of antibiotic resistance, and will continue to do so, despite your claim, that's an inherent part of the narrative -- just as it's an inherent part of the peak oil narrative that we'll keep drilling all the more frantically as production falters and prices go up. Meanwhile, just as every tank of gas you use hastens the day when it's all gone, every antibiotic you prescribe puts additional selection pressure on the microbial biosphere -- which is why microbes develop resistance to new antibiotics in a fraction of the time they used to, and exchange of immunity from one organism to another appears to be becoming more common.

That's what peak oil analyst Rune Likvern calls the Red Queen's race: you have to run faster and faster just to stay in place. It's an increasingly common situation across the board in modern industrial society -- and while in theory, you can just keep on running faster and faster, sooner or later it's statistically inevitable that you'll trip.

Stonymeadow, oh man. That's priceless. Thank you for the link!

Richard, fascinating. Sometimes it cuts the other way, though -- I know people who had to get out of the place they'd lived for years because of an increasingly dangerous allergy to the local fungal populations.

Clarence, true enough! Thanks for the reference.

Moshe, true, but as mentioned above, vaccines are a sufficiently incendiary topic that I don't intend to get into that here.

KL, they're supposed to look like hairy morons. They're the exact equivalent of the souls writhing in eternal torment in those medieval paintings -- they're what the religion of progress claims to have saved you from being.

8/31/13, 10:04 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Cherokee, the ordinary house mouse can jump six feet straight up from a standing start. They're remarkable creatures. Snakes and ferrets come to mind as possible countermeasures...

As for those midwinter feasts, exactly. Families counted on raising a mess of livestock during the green and growing months, then slaughtering them once autumn turned hard toward winter, eating heartily, and salting, corning, or drying the rest of the meat to keep it fit to eat for the lean months to come.

Kyoto, the whole "free energy" thing to my mind is the last word in deliberate self-deception. It takes very little research to find out why none of the schemes will work, but if you do that, you have to accept that your whole life is going to have to change, and those who aren't willing to do that convince themselves that there's limitless free energy basically because they want it to be true. Sad, but predictably popular.

Kevin, I don't know, but I do know that a lot of people aren't eligible these days due to one or another bloodborne organism. It would be interesting to do the research and find out what's up.

Joyce, I read "The Handmaid's Tale" but haven't touched the other two -- I'll give 'em a look.

Robert, the account I heard was that some of the rebels, who didn't know what they were handling, got clumsy or stupid and gassed themselves. Still, I suppose it might have been deliberate.

Unknown Tom, if you want to lose all faith in the objectivity and value of science, the history of expert opinion about nutrition is a good thing to study. I haven't read Taubes' book, but I did enough research of my own at one point to end up shaking my head at the sheer unadulterated nonsense being pitched by all sides in some very public discussions.

Dennis, fascinating -- certainly the militaries of an earlier time were absolutely fastidious about having everything polished, scrubbed and cleaned, and the horrific death toll from disease in war may have helped inspire that.

Rita, very true indeed. Human beings are social primates; it's hardwired into us to seek the security of a group, and an age of crisis isn't going to stop that -- quite the contrary, a tightening of group loyalties and boundaries is pretty much guaranteed as we proceed down the curve.

LatheChuck, three for three. On the subject of solar distillation of alcohol, it's surprised me that nobody in the hill country, as far as I know, has caught onto the fact that a solar still doesn't produce smoke for the revenuers to scent, and gives a steady, even heat without hot spots. If and when they do catch on, I wonder if the product will be renamed "sunshine"!

Robert, I don't expect debt slavery as such, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if the US government sometime soon passed a law allowing people to get out of student debt in exchange for, say, a four-year hitch in the armed forces. I wouldn't encourage anybody to go to college at this point, not unless they have the money free and clear and don't mind having much of it wasted.

8/31/13, 10:24 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Greg Reynolds,

Welcome to agriculture down under style.

Your current farmers are in the process of selecting for improved weeds. I've read reports that what you call pig weed is in fact what we call amaranth and I include amaranth as part of my diet here. The interesting thing about the plant is I have read anecdotal reports that in the US it has evolved resistance to the chemical round up. Evolution in action.

On a surprising coincidence, I actually spread around seeds of green amaranth about the place today, there are, seriously no shortage of seeds with this grain and it survives summers which are like the back blocks of hell.


9/1/13, 3:00 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

Thanks. I'm slowly starting to understand the rhythms with which life moved in times gone past.

As a general observation, it is those that have been lucky enough not to suffer loss that are some of the least empathetic.

From my point of view they take their luck for granted, but as you well know, time catches up with all.

You have my sympathy.


9/1/13, 3:11 AM

Phil Harris said...
OK, you are a very tough cookie, ;) and I am glad you were saved from a bacterial accident in childhood to continue a robust and useful life. :)

I think though you are being a bit tough on Hector.

Antibiotic resistance to my certain knowledge was being talked of as very serious problem 30 years ago - especially in hospital 'hub' situations, and concerns were raised over transmission routes via livestock. I think nevertheless you are correct to point to 'trajectories' and to Red Queen scenarios across the board when we consider the benefits conferred by industrial civilisation. (I appreciate your careful calibration. You were correct earlier to point out to me that you were talking about pre-1928 and not about pre-1850 hygiene.)

We all lose to the Red Queen eventually, but some measures, policy or individual can cut out the need for much high-end palliative maintenance. You get by even in the USA not using a motor car (a palliative measure needing wider acknowledgement as the beginning of an adaptive attitude, I guess). And I think that data shows that a healthier lifestyle, or even sometimes a relatively cheap pill, can usually help keep us all individually and collectively out of hospital and reduce high-level expenditures. Would that an old friend of mine suffering repeated hospitalisation for Heart Failure - well, he could drown on his carpet at home as an alternative - had not been in denial about his hypertension well over a decade back. It is not easy, as I know in my own case, to come to realise that what we take to be our 'normal' life can be what is snookering us.

PS Trillions of bacteria have their uses if we can approach them with care. There are caveats, but as a treatment in coeliac disease the success of fecal transplant appears to help illustrate an important point or two about protective ecology.

9/1/13, 4:19 AM

Michelle said...
Today's sermon was on Journeys, which I found apropos. (the content of the sermon less so than the notion of Journeying being generally one-way) The Scripture from Jeremiah was also apt: Thus says the LORD: “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?" (English Standard Version) I do think part of our misdirection is spiritual, whether one is Christian or any other faith. We have certainly gone after worthlessness....

9/1/13, 9:08 AM

Bret said...
Hi JMG, and thanks for all you do. I'm finding myself carried away with enthusiasm by Jeremy Grantham today, feeling that he is perhaps among those best suited to contribute to the articulation, negotiation and execution of specific terms of an appropriate surrender. I'm linking to a recent interview and if you have the time to look at it, I'm wondering if you can comment at all on whether my thinking is blinkered, I'm being snookered or I'm otherwise missing the boat in my enthusiasm. Thank you sir!

9/1/13, 9:33 AM

Bret said...
Sorry to post twice, but this is a written piece by Grantham so can be gotten through a lot quicker than the interview. I feel like he is as awake to the realities as a money manager could be asked to be, and calls it like he (and you) see it.... but is it still a siren song? (By which I mean -- is it feeding a nonadaptive delusion on my part to want to go work for the likes of him? Or is it a reasonable way to pay the bills while I try to find ways to downsize those bills -- and the overlarge ecological footprint they represent -- over time?)

9/1/13, 9:57 AM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

There's already a law forgiving federal student loan debt if the debtor works for a nonprofit agency for IIRC ten years. The government currently offers veterans financial assistance for higher education, so doing it in the opposite order isn't much of a reach.

9/1/13, 11:59 AM

Shining Hector said...
Thanks for the consideration. The role of adversary comes a bit too readily to me, and given your bad experiences with my profession, it's remarkable you show the amount of patience you do.

I do know quite well how the religion of progress is behind most of the expectations of what I do. If I were a more prudent individual, I should have run away from questioning it the moment I made that connection, but it's not in my nature. Hopefully I'll make peace with it all eventually, for the time being I just feel terribly non-reassuring to patients and colleagues when I try and point out what modern medicine really isn't very good at and probably never will be. We can't deliver a life free of disease, depression, and discomfort, and valiantly going through the motions like I've been taught to do usually just makes me feel like a charlatan and I try and avoid it.

Still, there's still quite a lot I can offer, even if it's not everything. To try and wind up what I meant earlier, I still think you overestimate the impact of the selection pressures of antibiotics. It really is a big wide world out there, and our misguided attempts at conquering nature in the antibiotic realm were perhaps a bit more limited in scope than we tend to think.

Hospitals definitely collect bad bugs, since that's where the antibiotics are. I do advise everyone to avoid the hospital/ER whenever possible for that reason. Don't go there if you're just sick and want to feel better, go if you're dying. Still, all these horrible bugs set to destroy us all don't seem to significantly affect the average lifespan of hospital employees as far as I know, and I know our routine sanitary precautions aren't THAT good. Wouldn't we be dropping like flies if they were all poised to conquer humanity?

Chronically ill people who are incapable of eradicating infections and routinely infused with antibiotics to keep the pathogen load acceptable tend to develop resistant strains. Still, their caretakers, etc. don't seem to catch them. Probably because the main culprits are otherwise normal environmental flora that anyone with a normal immune system comes into contact with on a daily basis and fights off.

You know the serious infections that afflict young children that might have killed them before antibiotics? In my anecdotal experience, these pathogens tend to have pretty clean resistance profiles. My guess would be they tend to be picked up from the environment more than making the rounds from antibiotic infused kid to antibiotic infused kid, and last I checked we weren't spraying the earth with amoxicillin, crop duster style.

The pathogens that depend on humans as their main host are out there, and probably the greatest cause for concern, as resistance passes from human to human, picking up resistances along the way. It is a well-known issue with HIV. HIV, syphilis, and most of the stuff you should vaccinate your kids against come to mind. Maybe they will be the ones that end up killing us. Still, they typically have a pretty narrow form of transmission, otherwise the human race would have been wiped out by syphilis long ago.

9/1/13, 1:28 PM

onething said...
One aspect of the immunization question I have not seen mentioned is the possibility that immunizations are a trade that involve some risk and loss.

Most people have probably heard that they are suspected of causing autism. I tend to doubt that, but they could be a contributing cause.
The harm that vaccines may be doing could come from the fact that the microbe enters the body in a way that does not occur in nature, the additives (mercury, formaldehyde, aluminum and adjuvants) and the possibility of something coming from an animal source. One such is the simian oncovirus #40 which is pretty much known to have contaminated some batches of polio vaccines. Most vaccines are developed using animal tissues. In other words, some people are going to get cancer because of their polio vaccine. It stands to reason that doing the above to your body could stress the immune system, although again, I suspect that it takes multiple insults for most people to succumb. Unfortunately, our industrial chemical laden society provides them. Vaccines provide some immunity but it is not a natural immunity and does not last. Now they are revaccinating adults against DPT.

Certainly autoimmune diseases, allergies and asthma as well as autism are rising steadily and we don't know why, but we do know some populations such as the Amish are unaffected. I listened to a radio program once in which a doctor who had an upper middle class progressive patient population that does not vaccinate stated that out of 5,000 children there were none that had autism or asthma. I was shocked as it had never occurred to me to link vaccines with asthma. Of course those upper middle class yuppies and the Amish have superior nutrition and avoid chemicals, so it is not simple.

It seems to me therefore that a reasonable approach would be to restrict vaccines to those diseases that really harm and kill children. Chicken pox does not qualify, nor measles. I don't know why one day old infants are given their first of three shots against hep B when it is not a contagious or childhood disease and the immunity is thought to last about 12 years.

If it is so that there is a health loss and/or risk with vaccines, it obviously makes sense that repeated vaccinations will increase that risk. One can take a tiny bit of poison, even mercury, and it might be worth it not to die of pertussis. But I think that excessive use of vaccinations might qualify as another attempt to battle nature without understanding the full implications.

9/1/13, 8:43 PM

Bret said...
Oy! I'm getting annoying... last post here -- one of the many books Grantham has read is a recent one I don't know if you have seen; it's "Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail" by William Ophuls, I am reading it and it's really, really densely packed with a well organized synopsis of much (not all!) at the heart of the Greerian predicament. Hope someone else here gets as much pleasure from it as I am, and hope also that someone else here finds it at least somewhat comforting that a man who manages $100 billion is taking this kind of thing to heart...which is to say, someone on Wall Street, I think, has a heart far less cold or sick than the norm. OK, finito.

9/1/13, 8:43 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Cherokee, one of the small gains that will likely come with the massive losses to come is that more people will have to come to terms early and often with their own mortality, and that of those they love. It's a hard lesson, but one of the basic ingredients of maturity.

Phil, oh, granted -- there are quite a few things that could be done, starting with an absolute ban (enforced by large fines) against the routine use of antibiotics in animal feed as a growth stimulant. The question is whether any of them will get done. I note that late last year, England's chief medical officer (the equivalent of the Surgeon General here in the US) was still vainly pleading with physicians to stop prescribing antibiotics for colds and flus, which they don't help -- and Britain has socialized medicine and could presumably stop the practice by government edict at any time!

Michelle, no argument there. The enthusiastic pursuit of the utterly worthless may be the most characteristic thing about today's industrial societies.

Bret, heck of a good question. How do you tell what's actually going through the mind of a man who manages billions of dollars, and makes more or less depending on what rumors are circulating on Wall Street minute by minute? If you're considering going to work for someone like him, just remember that it's a real challenge to enter the rat race without turning into a rat...

Unknown Deborah, I didn't know about the nonprofit thing. I was thinking about the GI Bill when I suggested that that might be the price of student loan amnesty, though.

Hector, one of the things that I hope the Long Descent will restore to the healing professions is a less overwhelming sense of entitlement on the part of patients! Still, I'd point out again that a snapshot of current conditions isn't necessarily any more useful in your situation than it is in, say, petroleum production -- the fact that you can get gas at every gas station, albeit for a higher price, doesn't mean that peak oil won't be a far more drastic problem down the road; in the same way, the fact that hospital orderlies aren't dying like flies just at the moment is not as relevant over the longer term as it might seem.

Do you happen to have access to stats on MRSA skin infections outside health care settings, by the way? I haven't been able to track down numbers, just comments in official publications that they've become common since the 1990s. That's the sort of creeping public health failure I'm suggesting: a slow increase in cases every year, putting more burdens on an already crumbling health care system, loading costs onto society, and increasing the death toll a little each year. Tuberculosis, which was one of the three top causes of death a century ago, is increasingly resistant; here again, it's not a pandemic that's the thing to worry about, but the slow tick upwards in cases that can't be treated by antibiotics.

Onething, of course there are tradeoffs. That said, once again, I'm not really interested in discussing the pros and cons of vaccination here, as that's a subject that attracts far more heat than light these days.

Bret, I have a copy of Ophuls' book -- it's been on the to-read pile for a good deal longer than it should have, largely because of the research I've had to do for the novelization of the "How It Could Happen" scenario. Still, it looks quite solid.

9/1/13, 10:40 PM

KL Cooke said...
"...drug companies don't make new antibiotics a big priority because unfortunately you take them and then get better, when repeat business is where the real money is..."

Anti-depressants, dope, that sort of thing.

9/1/13, 11:00 PM

wiseman said...
To add to your observations about diet and nutrition science, (if it can be called a science at all) there is a small scale industry out there which just recycles traditional knowledge and turns it into academic papers and diet advice stuff.

For years the medicinal properties of honey was questioned saying that it's just sugar and now suddenly everybody is researching it.

It was also known that your feelings can affect your health, hence the almost universal stress on meditation, therapy and the support of community, something which was called bunkum by over enthusiastic practitioners of science. Only recently have scientists realized that grief and bereavement can literally kill you.

9/1/13, 11:42 PM

KL Cooke said...
"If by necessity some 80% of us return to farming jobs (perhaps kicking and screaming?) over the next hundred years, Nature will have had her say. What will the specialists’ priorities be?"

Even among farmers you'll find specialists.

See this.

9/1/13, 11:49 PM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

JMG, the loan forgiveness program I cited is fairly recent and not widely known. I think it's good social policy because jobs in the nonprofit sector usually don't pay well and people cannot choose low paying jobs if they start their working lives heavily in debt.

There was and may still be a program by which young general practitioners have medical school debt erased if they practice for a few years in underserved rural communities. This was the premise for a TV comedy series called Northern Exposure, in which a New Yorker goes into exile in an Alaskan village.

9/2/13, 1:55 AM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

An afterthought on loan forgiveness for work programs. I think the two I mentioned are all right, but there is a point where arrangements of this kind shade into indentured servitude, and I'm not sure where to draw the line.

Indentured servitude with a decent chance of surviving the term while relatively young and in good health is better than debtor's prison, or having to sell one's children to pay off farming debts, or hereditary debt slavery. Not being forced into debt in the first place is best.

Our government also has a law reminiscent of the late Roman Empire, by which foreigners can earn U.S. citizenship through military service.

9/2/13, 2:57 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Deborah,

I used to have a cat from the time it was a kitten until she made it to 16 years of age and she left quite an impression on me.

There is quite a lot of bird life here from small fairy wrens all the way to the wedge tail eagles during the day and owls at night. Cats unfortunately are incompatible with that situation. Also, the dogs used to eat her faeces which I was personally very uncomfortable with.

PS: I finally had a batch of mead that tasted like beer and had an alcohol/volume% of 8% rather than the usual 12% to 18% (depending on time left to mature). Somehow, I suspect that it became contaminated with bread yeast - that is the current theory anyway and I’m open to advice. It has since been banished back to the demijohn for further experimentation!



9/2/13, 3:16 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Kyoto,

I’m unsure what you mean by N.A too! North America?

Obviously lost in translation.

A "chook" refers to either a hen or a rooster, but usually a hen.

Generally it is the roosters that get eaten, but if you want to breed chickens in a sustainable manner, you have to maintain a number of roosters to ensure genetic diversity. Roosters don’t produce eggs and are a general nuisance in any flock of hens, let alone having several of them (which I tried years ago).

Years ago, I purchased chickens that were OK at first but later prone to death. On reflection, the chooks were mildly inbred as they had other unusual traits.

Chickens in organic settings require a minimum of about 16 to 20 weeks of growth before they are worthwhile consuming. In commercial settings this is much lower, but I don't want to think about what goes on there.

So, you are starting to get a picture of the numbers if you choose to eat a chicken a week from your flock. The question really becomes, at what point do you tip over into becoming a commercial egg and chicken producer at that sort of volume?

I have some friends that crow (no pun intended) about getting $5 chickens from the supermarket and I can't even understand how that is possible without undue cruelty.


9/2/13, 3:37 AM

Adrian Skilling said...
An excellent tying together of several issues!

Your final few words on "surrender" are well worth pondering.

The emotional part of this is what the Dark Mountain project is all about. At a personal level it could well be accepting the death of a young child (even imagining this deeply saddening) and suppressing your anger at the medical profession who are not all powerful.

I think that once a retreat is accepted, by the population at large, followed by politicans we'll be through the worst. Its the situation of the next decade or two that worries me, with increasing desperate efforts to keep it going (as you describe). This dysfunctional response will bring misery and high costs to our and future generations. We see that with soaring medical and fuel costs, with money being diverted from sensible long term measures and the increasing impoverishment of the poor.

9/2/13, 5:51 AM

August Johnson said...

Just got your Green Wizardry book a few days ago. Fantastic! You’ve outdone yourself here. You are also right on with your recommendations of books, I find it interesting that of your lists at the end of each chapter, I own at least 30% and up to 50% of the books listed! Hopefully the Green Wizards web site will be back up soon, I’ve been waiting to post since it went down.

Yesterday afternoon was real good on 20 meters, signals were booming in to here in northern California from the MD and Washington DC area.

9/2/13, 6:37 AM

Kyoto Motors said...
Mr. Greer,
A quick question (completely unrelated to the current post):

I really appreciated the many posts you wrote a while back on the history of the colonization of the U.S. The material only left me hungry for more. Was this ever transformed into a publication that I am unaware of? By that token, where can I go for a comprehensive list of your writings? I know I have at least one book ("Not the Future We Ordered") that does not appear on the RedRoom site... Perhaps there are others?

9/2/13, 7:01 AM

trippticket said...

JMG might not want to talk about such a polarizing subject, but I certainly appreciate your post! I don't have nearly as much to lose;) Thanks for taking the time to lay out some solid, non-partisan ideas.

It's plainly obvious which side of the debate I come down on, and I take a lot more heat than this for my position. I'm not a religious person, but I generally have to claim to be one in order to make it OK for my children to go to school. Sad, especially when I consider a devout belief in the vaccine cult to be by far the more religious position.

Personally, I tend to favor the gravity and nuance of 3 billion years of co-evolution with our microbial companions over a century? of man's tinkering, which rarely turns out well.

One of the most common trends I've seen in science in my 40 years is the overturning of almost ALL of our conventional scientific wisdom. And it's not as if butter, sugar, salt, and sunshine weren't thoroughly demonized in their time. I've spent my whole life laughing about that one. Reckless as I was eating those natural whole foods and basking in the life-giving warmth and radiation of our local star...


9/2/13, 7:03 AM

trippticket said...
From Lyndon Johnson's statement upon signing the Wholesome Poultry Products Act of 1968:

--President Theodore Roosevelt stated a principle which has survived the test of time: that "No man may poison the people for his private profit."

Ahem, I think you mean no "poor" man may poison the people for his private profit, Mr. President.

9/2/13, 7:06 AM

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...
On a lighter note, but more practical, I built a chicken coop last year, & obtained a dozen chickens from the local feed store. I raised them in the off the ground coop, with a heat lamp (which is cheating, I know, but no mama hens around). They all grew to be teenagers, & we lost 5 of them to neighborhood dogs that would follow kids over from their yards. I instituted a strict dog ban (prerogative of ruling sovereign, to protect his vassals), and the remaining seven have become very savvy, staying close to the house. They still won't roost in the coop: they always go to the elderberry bush on the fence, so we have to put them up at night. But I built a nesting box on the side, and one chicken regularly uses it. We get 2-3 eggs a day right now, which isn't bad. It's been an incredible morale booster to have even small success like this. My kids know a lot more about chickens than I do. And I made 3 & 1/2 gallons of elderberry wine so far this year. The South ain't what it used to be - although most people I talk to seem to think something big will happen sooner, rather than later (in their lifetimes). The lure of Yankee dollars has by and large proven too much, so far, for the old South. That's one of the reasons I am thinking of moving north and west.

9/2/13, 8:01 AM

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...
I wonder if guilds could be a way to revive education, both technical and classical/liberal?

9/2/13, 8:04 AM

buzzy said...
As an aside in the vein mentioned by Emmanuel, there is not merely the issue of older drugs being discontinued due to lack of profit. Antibiotic development is not half as profitable for drug companies as developing drugs for life-long conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and increasingly cancer. All the public health gnashing of teeth about needing new antibiotics will not induce most drug companies to divert significant portions of their R&D budgets to drugs that cure someone in 7-21 days, meaning they have to make back the R&D budget plus profit on a much smaller number of dispensing events. This accounts for the VERY high cost of newer antibiotics as well as the embarrassing lack of new options in the R&D pipeline vs. new chronic cancer and diabetes treatments. We could perhaps continue the Red Queen's race a bit longer, long enough to actually put effective prescribing restrictions in place and ease into the post-antibiotic future without potentially massive die-offs right away, but as it stands the slope is quite steep.

9/2/13, 8:52 AM

Renaissance Man said...
I'd just like to observe my own personal experience of the degree to which this myth permeates the entire culture.
I suspect you've never gone through the interview process for some standard corporate job, wherein one will be asked a variation of the inane question:

"Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?"

An honest answer is I actively try NOT to imagine any sort of career path, because
1) life has been so full of surprise twists that I always end up in situations so very, very far from anything I could have imagined that I find planning anything beyond this week's grocery shopping has been a colossal waste of time and effort, and
2) because if I don't have a fixed image of "success", I can't later feel depressed by failure to achieve it.
...but I digress.

This question is code for, 'are you eager to progress (there's that word again) up the ladder of promotion?' This is important in an interview, because anything but some variation on 'I'd like to be a ' (just one slot below whoever is giving the interview, because you don't want to say 'I'm hoping to take away your job') means you are not focused on "success" as defined by this myth.

Despite the fact that everyone is well aware that in a hierarchical structure at each higher level there are fewer positions (and even fewer people really competent to fill them), yet everyone is supposed to be eager to be that person. (Hence the misunderstanding that "anyone can be President" does not mean anyone could do the job.) I suspect the cognitive dissonance this produces manifests as the callous disdain towards people who have "failed to live up to their potential" -- a phrase that appears in early elementary school -- and which implicitly permits poor people to be socially marginalized and disregarded. Thus partly explains the welfare system in practice.

This myth, thus expects each us to desire 'conquest', that is, to expand our power, to increase our social prestige and wealth, hence our growth-for-growth's-sake economics, and thus the vast majority of our "leaders" became leaders precisely (as you indicated in earlier posts) because they follow the script better than others.
No one is asked to remain in some position because they do it well, nor respected for choosing that path. Everyone is expected, explicitly or implicitly, to be seeking to "get ahead" to 'advance' to... well... to progress in a career. (N.B. "career": (v). to move swiftly along; rush in an uncontrolled way)
There is almost no explicit accommodation within the social or economic structure for someone who would rather simply excel at a task than eagerly seek continual increase, even though the increased pay and the increased status, also comes with increased stress and time-commitment.
The terms of surrender demanded of us will be to give up this eternal quest for more and start behaving like a member of the community of life on Earth.

9/2/13, 10:11 AM

Dan Craig said...

Thanks for an ever escalating in excellence series of blog posts that I read carefully.

Question; plea; suggestion:

Is there any way to make your reply to a comment appear in the comment or just below it? The way it is now is that your comments appear in a bunch isolated from what you are replying to and a reader has to scroll up and down looking for the original.

If the commentator's name is unusual, I just copy it and hit "search".

If it's a common name, it's awkward.

9/2/13, 10:24 AM

John Michael Greer said...
KL, among other things. One of Matthew Wood's recent books comments that much of the health care industry has lost interest in curing diseases -- the slogan these days is "managing health," which means giving you drugs that keep you alive but keep you having to buy drugs for the rest of your life. And then they wonder why people are abandoning mainstream health care for the alternatives in droves...

Wiseman, true enough. No doubt some big pharmaceutical company will shortly try to patent honey and sell it for US$1000 a dose!

Unknown Deborah, no question -- such things can be very useful, very corrupt, or a little (or a lot) of both.

Adrian, down the road a bit we'll be talking about what would be involved in a mass abandonment of the myth of progress. It could be very, very messy.

August, I've got an email in to the site manager at -- still waiting for a response. As for 20 meters et al., I've certainly been getting W1AW clear as a bell of late -- and am looking forward to doing something a little more active in the near future!

Kyoto, funny you should ask. I just finished reviewing page proofs on the book based on those posts, Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America, which will be released by New Society next spring. (As soon as they start advance sales, I'll post something here.) As for a complete list, here's a list from Goodreads, and here's one from Shelfari.

Trippticket, nice.

Matthew, it's those small successes that lay the foundations that matter. As for guilds, maybe, but those require certain prerequisites. I've got some ideas on the subject, but those will have to wait for that sequence of posts.

Buzzy, good. That's a specific example of a much larger problem, which is the mismatch between the incentives we currently use to motivate investment and the places where investment is actually needed. That's going to need a post of its own one of these days.

9/2/13, 10:36 AM

Bogatyr said...
I posted this a few days ago, but it doesn't seem to have gone through...

Kyrgyztan: Alternative medicine tries to fill healthcare gap

For all the discussion of resistance to antibiotics, the process of manufacturing and delivering medicines of all kinds is long and complex.

In Greece, pharmaceuticals are unavailable because pharmacies can't afford them. Here in the UK, we almost ran out a few years ago because they come into the country by air, and all shipments stopped when Eyjafjallajokull erupted.

Modern medicine apparently collapsed in Kyrgyzstan with the fall of the Soviet empire. Catabolic collapse in the West means the same may happen to us.

9/2/13, 11:27 AM

Ing said...
"Wiseman, true enough. No doubt some big pharmaceutical company will shortly try to patent honey and sell it for US$1000 a dose!"

hush, now.

although, perhaps if there were a large interest on the side of bees producing honey it might help mitigate the large interests that are busy interfering with pollinator health.

9/2/13, 11:40 AM

Hal said...
On the subject of raising meat birds:

I'm not wanting to be argumentative with Cherokee, who has a lot more experience than I on the subject, but I suspect he is working under unstated self-imposed constraints (as are we all in the alt ag field, otherwise we wouldn't be alt.)

My experience was a one-time experiment I did raising 25 Cornish Cross broilers up to game hen size (actually, they ended up being quite a bit larger than game hen size.) I will give a thumbnail sketch of the numbers below, but the abstract is that I was able get them to that size in about 10 weeks at an outlay of about $50. If you eat a bird a week, that would be about a half year's worth.

Now it sounds like Cherokee is culling from a mixed-use flock. I was raising the most productive meat bird out there, and was willing to feed them. They required about a bag and a half of commercial feed, which would have been lower if it had not been early spring and too cold to put them out till later than I would have liked. They only spent 2 weeks in a movable pen, and the feed use went down during that time, though they were at their maximum size. I think there are also birds available now that use less feed, though the time required is longer.

I know feeding is not exactly permaculture, but it's widely practiced by Salatin and others in the pastured poultry field. Also, I would argue it's a great way to import fertility if your land needs that (and whose doesn't?)

Now, I was able to improvise pens, etc, and was given waterers and some other gear. The cost is only for the birds themselves (~$1.25 each) and feed (2 25# bags at about $10, though that cost has risen last cpl years.)

Anyway, I would not discount the ability to feed yourself a little supplemental meat, in a fairly "sustainable" way, depending, of course, on where you draw the line on that word.

9/2/13, 12:00 PM

Marcello said...
"If by necessity some 80% of us return to farming jobs (perhaps kicking and screaming?) over the next hundred years, Nature will have had her say. What will the specialists’ priorities be?"

Kyoto, I doubt you are going to see city dwellers being used en masse for farming (some will, but not huge majorities). Most likely excess urban populations will be whittled down rather than re-employed and I suspect it will happen by the usual combination of war, disease and starvation. Where I live there was not enough land (well, not under existing social arrangements at any rate, but humanity is what it is and will never improve substantially) to support everyone already a century ago. Population has doubled in the meantime and quite a lot of the finest farmland has been paved over.
Even with youth unemployment reaching 40% and oil at 110$ it still makes no economic sense to send city dwellers to replace combine harvesters in the countryside; for whatever manual work such as picking that is not mechanized desperate immgrants coming by the boatloads are amply sufficient.

By the way, news like this make me think that we might not have a century:
When expired foods are on the table one can't help but wonder how long it will be before even in some western countries people will start to whack each other over a loaf of bread.
Phases of stabilization à la Russia in the 2000s might be luxuries we won't enjoy.

9/2/13, 12:42 PM

Chris G said...
I just heard a very interesting fact about the Biosphere in Arizona that I think fits the surrender overall theme, and particularly, the paradigm of surrender to nature... well, not really - yet - but still, an exceptional concession to nature.

In the Biosphere, the trees have to be held by strong, heavy wires to the roof because they've never grown strong enough to hold themselves up, as there is no wind to resist in their bubble.

there seem to be bubbles everywhere in the present industrial civilization: attempts to be "insured" against the vicissitudes of nature. Such "insurance" then turns out to need to be held up by puppet strings. Or if it's a pretend garden in the desert and the puppets are trees, giant cables are needed.

9/2/13, 1:12 PM

LewisLucanBooks said...
@ Kaoto Motors - Book about the history of the colonization of the U.S.. You might try ...

"The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America" by Bernard Bailyn. 2012.

The title is a little misleading. It includes all the other people besides the British, who colonized North America.

Got it from my library. Dense. A real door-stop of a book. But, fascinating and engaging.

9/2/13, 1:25 PM

Bret said...
Well, JMG, you may not have read Ophuls' latest yet, but I've now gotten through it and it turns out he's read practically all your books relevant to this blog, and has given your thought a very respectful place in the contemporary decline canon.

Doubt that'll induce you to bump it to the top of your to-read list, but the quality of the book itself might, IMHO! Very solid.

And just to circle back to Grantham one last time, as I continue to read what he's published I'm finding that he is anything but a quick buck ripoff artist -- he's really intensely concerned with the long run. A serious thinker among thieves, I reckon.

9/2/13, 6:23 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi latheChuck,

Thanks for the advice. 7 mice so far (happy chooks), whilst the canny rats are setting off the traps and taking off with the loot. It's a bit Monty Python as they look at me and you can see them thinking, "now go away or I shall taunt you a second time!".

Hi rr,

Nice one. I modified the bucket arrangement by adding some water whilst letting the grains float on the surface of the water. This has scored 2 of the 7 mice plus the girls get some mildly fermented grain.

Hi robert,

No stress. I was thinking more along the lines of using the funds from that activity to pay for something that you did want to put your education to.



9/3/13, 4:05 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

Thanks. They are jumpers and climbers for sure. I've been wondering whether they take shelter in the chook enclosure from the owls and the food is a bonus. The owls are always around here as you can hear their calls most nights. It is fascinating that the owls are so hard to spot, but announce their presence to all and sundry!

I have an irrational fear of snakes and the local one is the second deadliest in the world.

Eastern brown snake

Fortunately, they have very poor eyesight so you can simply stand still and they'll think you are a stump or something else and move on. It is like the bees, in that you have to calm yourself and relax when they are in your hair foraging for pollen thinking that you are just a very big flower! Not always easy to do.



9/3/13, 4:20 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

Ooops! Forgot to mention... Food to my mind is simply another expression of energy, which is what I was thinking about with the mid-winter feasts. Animals are a good way to store that food energy.

Also, a few people mentioned susceptibility to fungal infections. I just wanted to point out that because we literally are what we eat, fungal infections generally thrive in an acidic environment. If people are having troubles with fungal infections (and also yeast infections), if they reduced their acidity, they may just find that their bodies get those pesky infections under control.

To reduce acidity in your body, try eating more basic ph foods such as leafy greens.

I twigged to this because of the conditions with soil, as acidic soils favour fungal growths and basic soils favour bacterial growths. The ph of the foods that are produced are a reflection of those soils. Compost is generally basic and you use it to grow leafy green vegetables. Whilst on the other extreme, tree crops are happily fed with mulch which is quite acidic.

It is really hard though to eat too much basic food, so this is not a real worry.

Most industrial food is highly acidic because the acidity is used as a preserving agent. Have a look at the ingredients on the label and you'll see food acid.

All the more reason to eat a wide variety of fresh food and cook from scratch.



9/3/13, 4:41 AM

Ursachi Alexandru said...

A little update on what's happening here. :)

9/3/13, 6:45 AM

Zach said...

Good catch.

You don't need to go back to medieval theology for the answer(*) -- the Church as the earthly Body of Christ is an explicit image used by Paul (see I Corinthians 12). So it predates modern mythology of collective Man by quite a bit.

I think explicitly invoking the "conquest of Nature by Man" mythologizing has fallen out of popularity in the last few decades, although it seems to me that's only partly because of abandonment, but mainly because it can be assumed and therefore unstated.

If you're interested, C. S. Lewis's little book The Abolition of Man very specifically addresses the invocation of "Man's Conquest of Nature" (and it's ultimate impossibility).


(*) Not that I want to discourage you from doing so if you are interested!

9/3/13, 7:41 AM

Phil Knight said...
Anybody familiar with phage therapy?

It was the primary Soviet strategy against bacterial infections and diseases. The USSR considered phages to be far more effective than antibiotics - during WW2 the Red Army would spray entire columns of troops with phages before and after battle.

9/3/13, 9:38 AM

Phil Harris said...
JMG wrote
"Phil ... I note that late last year, England's chief medical officer (the equivalent of the Surgeon General here in the US) was still vainly pleading with physicians to stop prescribing antibiotics for colds and flus, which they don't help -- and Britain has socialized medicine and could presumably stop the practice by government edict at any time!"

Not so simple ... most British 'General Practioners' (primary care physicians - local doctors) are contracted as self-employed businesses. Their clinical judgement is accountable to their own professional body, which has the power to take away their licences after a legal process.

The 'socialist' government Minister charged with negotiating the post-WWII health settlement - the creation of our NHS - was quoted as describing his method of bringing on board a reluctant profession: "I stuffed their mouths with gold".


9/3/13, 1:38 PM

Phil Harris said...
@ Cherokee Organics
Here in England, when our kids were small and we saw the occasional genuine Field Mouse in our house, he was very different from the usual house mice. We called him 'Kangaroo Mouse' :)

Phil H

9/3/13, 2:43 PM

Enrique said...
John Michael,

Looks like Obama’s latest exercise in “democratic imperialism” and R2P warmongering is generating quite a backlash from one of the most unlikely of quarters…
Perhaps there is hope yet…

9/3/13, 5:13 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

Adversity has been an occasional boon travelling companion of mine and she has taught me much too. Have you ever wondered whether such a thing could ever gain critical mass and be large enough to impact a culture? I would have thought that the Aboriginals here would have travelled through such a stage as a culture.

Today the weather has been decidedly odd:

Balmy weather continues

Just like we had a record breaking heat wave in March, so too do we have a heat burst in September...

Hi Hal,

Well done on your chook raising experiment. My mates who are intending to raise the chooks described my flock as a "motley collection". I'm unsure whether this was a compliment, but you are correct in that it is a mixed flock.

A mixed flock is valuable because different birds lay at different times of the year, so that only on a few days of the year am I without fresh eggs. The end of winter is a problem though as I eat more eggs than they lay, so storage becomes important.

Unexpected surprises can also occur too as two of the new silkies decided that they would go broody at that time too, when they would otherwise be on the lay.

The numbers I mentioned include enough hens and roosters to reproduce themselves and also a large enough flock to maintain genetic diversity. Birds more so than other species, are very intolerant of inbreeding, so that is a definite no - no.

As to that commercial feed, I wonder whether you are referring to pellets? They are very protein rich and I'd be wondering about the source of that protein?

Hi Phil,

Your observation about the motor vehicle was insightful and interesting. Very thoughtful.



9/4/13, 3:34 AM

Tyler August said...
Lovely imagery in this post, but terms of surrender? Like many commentators, I doubt anyone will be in much shape to dictate terms.

Also like many commentators, I'd probably be dead a couple times over by now if not for antibiotic treatment-- having the red tendrils of a staph infection slowly crawl up a limb is a mortifying experience. Unfortunately, I seem uncommonly susceptible to cellulitis, so it will probably get me in the end. I am holding out hope for bacteriophage treatments-- even the small research lab at our hospital has begun culturing viruses, though apparently the application they were actually able to get funding for is an acne cream. (That said, the acne cream has paid for the infrastructure that can be turned to quite rapidly generating a custom phage treatment for just about any bacterial outbreak.) Phage treatment is much lower-tech and easier to maintain than antibiotic production, to say nothing of antibiotic development. Sure, at the lab here they've got the process automated to speed things up, but that's all just frills. Really, all you need is culture medium to grow the target microbe, porcelain filters to isolate the viruses, and an autoclave to keep it all clean. I have been assured by the principle investigator at this lab that XDR TB is in principle treatable by virus, and that getting the phage treatment into the lungs can be done with apparatus simple as a perfume-bottle atomizer. Apparently anti-TB phages are beginning to see use in identifying TB cultures, but I don't know of any human trials yet. Phages are also used for Y.pestis cultures, and some in vivo testing has been performed on mice.

Another oft-forgotten pre-antibiotic treatment is serum. That's what Balto was bringing to Nome-- they didn't have an antibiotic for Diphtheria back then. Serum treatments are injections of antibody-rich blood plasma from a human or animal which has been infected with the disease that needs treated. Works on bacteria and some viral infections (including Ebola), but of course is rather expensive. Horse-serum was shown to be effective in treating plague during the turn-of-the-century outbreaks that lead to the identification of Yersinia pestis as the plague bacillus.

All this is to say that as long as a certain level of social cohesion is maintained and the knowledge is not lost, we could maintain a good defence against many infectious diseases. The bigger question is where and whether that level of civilization can be maintained.

9/4/13, 10:11 AM

RPC said...
As an aside, there were several mentions of "returning to Eden" in the comments. I thought I'd note that the Bible actually states, "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." Eden sounds a lot more like pre-Columbian Amazonia than the idyllic paradise of popular imagination. I like the idea that we're put here to work and that our work is to take care of the world.

9/4/13, 11:21 AM

Shining Hector said...
JMG, the MRSA data you're asking for might not be out there unless someone specifically did a study, as we don't routinely culture them outpatient. If there's an abscess that's drained that can be cultured and often is, but garden variety cellulitis really can't be cultured effectively even inpatient, so we don't bother, just treat empirically. I do know community-acquired MRSA is an issue. The MRSA rate of staph infections is about 30-40% in the nearest hospital to me, granted a lot of that is from the kinds of folks who end up in the hospital a lot. It's high enough we don't even bother with penicillins/cephalosporins, unless someone has no risk factors at all for MRSA, and even then if it's a serious infection we'll generally err on the side of caution.

9/4/13, 1:25 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Hal --

Pastured Cornish Cross broilers raised the Salatin et al way are not sustainable in any meaningful sense of the word. They get the large bulk of their calories from fossil-fuel based feed, even if you pay twice as much for organic feed (still uses fossil-fuel powered farm equipment). My essay about this very topic from a few years ago:

And as you can see it drew quite a lot of ire, mostly from people who were making money off of raising pastured poultry. Money is good at making you see what you want to see. It remains ny far my most frequently read blog post after all these years.

Sustainable animals are fed things that humans can't or won't eat and that are grown without large-scale involvement of fossil fuels. Range, pasture, forage, bugs, etc.

Cherokee --

Most commercial chicken feed gets its protein from soybeans and animal byproducts. So you may well be feeding chickens to your chickens when you use these.

When I am not starting chicks I only use a little bit of pelletized feed to lure the birds into their coop at night. Until our last rooster evidently became a dud, we were able to let the hens raise their own chicks for many years, pretty much entirely on forage. Our egg yield is way below what commercial operations expect but it is usually all that we need and often a surplus.

9/4/13, 3:08 PM

latheChuck said...
Cherokee- If the rats are stealing the bait without setting off the trap, then maybe you haven't secured the bait to the trap trigger sufficiently. If one gets caught, and the rest safely eat the bait, then maybe you need more traps. If they're springing the trap without getting caught, then they're smarter than my local rats. If they're springing the trap, getting whacked by it, and going on to clean out the bait, they're much stronger than my local rats.

9/4/13, 6:43 PM

latheChuck said...
This is marginally relevant, but too important to ignore. (These facts have been gleaned from a careful reading of the Mainstream Media.) Fact #1: Tokyo Electric Power workers are allowed maximum exposure of 100 milliseiverts per year.
Fact #2: The radiation-measuring equipment issued to these workers measures up to 100 mSv per hour.
Fact #3: Workers have been reporting radiation levels of up to 100 mSv around the waste water storage area.

Let's pause for a moment. If you're carrying a meter which hits its limit at 100, and as you step forward, or wave your sensor wand, you see it hit 100, by what numbed sense of self-preservation do you NOT GO GET A BETTER METER?

When, just last week, they brought in a meter that would read up to 10,000 mSv/hr, they found levels of 1,800 (today, reported up to 2,200). Without protection, four hours exposure at 1,800 mSv/hour is probably lethal. OK, so they did have protection, and it's not hard to protect against beta particle radiation, and they probably didn't camp there for four hours, so I'm not afraid for their immediate health.

But what condition of psychological pressure, intellectual or educational deficiency, or wishful thinking allows someone to pretend that a measurement at the limit of an instrument's range is trustworthy?!

(Note: if you sense an excited tone in my writing, it does NOT reflect personal anxiety about the effects of Fukushima radiation on North America.)

9/4/13, 7:07 PM

Hal said...
This is probably too late to get into a discussion, and maybe we should take the conversation to GW Forum. I was not claiming the method I used was "sustainable," whatever that means. It was an experiment to see what I could learn about the basic needs of meat birds.

Now, protein production, especially meat protein, is always going to be more "expensive" in energy or whatever other terms you want to use. Everything you put into an animal is going to have to come out of some piece of the earth somewhere. But on the other hand, we can't live on carbohydrates alone. So some of us are probably going to concentrate some of that grain production into meat. Of course, there is a loss in the process, and if any loss is intolerable by your definition of "sustainable," then that's not going to leave much.

Sure, there are a lot of good meat animals that can be quite productive on what is essentially waste products from a farm. Chickens are one of those. And, yes, the Cornish Cross is a pretty high-maintenance animal. I do know there are better meat birds for pastured poultry these days. I have also been told by the woman who was mentoring me in my experiment that some pastured poultry growers these days are feeding exclusively on forage and cracked corn. Still a significant input, and no doubt affects yield, but far less resource-intensive than the packaged feed I was using.

Anyway, I believe that a lot could be done to optimize the process compared to what I did. Growing the birds during a better time of year would have enabled them to be on pasture sooner. Feeding with corn and peas, which are pretty easy to grow here, would have also been an improvement. Heck, by mid-summer I cull out about half my purple hull peas, but the birds would not object to curcuillio eggs or larvae, I'll bet.

There's also the issue I alluded to in my post, that of importing fertility. Well, this is certainly not sustainable in the long run, but most farmers and gardeners I know have done it, at least in the early stages of their operation. Never hauled in a load of manure or gin trash? Then you get a medal, I guess. It seems to me that, during this transition time, an excellent way of importing fertility would be in the form of feed, be it hay, corn, rabbit pellets or what have you. You can then turn that into a product you can sell to offset your costs or even support yourself while building the health of your land. The only reason I didn't go forward with broiler production was the investment of time and money I would have had to put into the processing end.

9/4/13, 9:15 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Hal -- sustainable (a word you used, which is why I used it) has an actual meaning, it's not just a piece of jargon that we can define to suite our own desires (like "Green"). It means capable of being sustained. Which means not dependent on the depletion of a non-renewable resource, or a resource that renews more slowly than we use it. Feeding animals the conventionally grown grains as the bulk of their diet isn't sustainable by any meaningful definition.

About importing fertility -- the alternative to this is concentrating fertility. Animals that feed on range and forage do this really well. They roam over your land and accumulate nutrients, then concentrate them in wherever they spend the night. You use the litter from their sleeping quarters to enrich the places you grow nutrient-intensive crops. Pasture and range do not need to have fertility imported in most areas unless it is overstocked and you are drawing too many nutrients out of it. And mass importation of fertility increases nutrient leaching from the land, which winds up in streams, lakes, and groundwater.

People managed to keep livestock and grow crops for about 8000-10000 years without feeding animals large quantutues of grain or importing fertility en masse from distance sources. These are innovations of the fossil fuel era. Sure there were famine and crop failures then. And there are now, too.

9/5/13, 4:30 AM

Bob the Blogger said...
Your writing is genuinely transformational, in the sense it forges new world-views and belief systems.

As some other people have commented, for me a sense of relief and acceptance came with the long term outlook you described in this post. The way I see it:

1. Either we are bits of random, self aware protoplasm on this probably unremarkable planet for 70 years or so, then poof we're gone and well . . . so what?


2. Our consciousness is part of a larger energetic/consciousness entity/continuum and will return for, probably uncountable, rounds of learning here, or somewhere similar. So for this particular go-round, well . . . c'est la vie I guess.

Personally, I've had enough glimpses of something akin to 2 to choose that as my belief system.

The thing about this particular place though, is that we are so inexplicably awful to each other, other sentient lifeforms and our habitat. That I find is the most daunting issue.

Every single spiritually-oriented teaching entreats us to “love thy neighbour”, yet when the crunch comes, we do anything but that. Paradoxically, most of our leaders seem to embody the worst of our traits.

If this is a learning crucible, the lessons are very intense, but don't seem to sink in. We've been going round in circles for millenia. This guy has an interesting take on why that might be

Anyway, again thanks for the reminder to detach from outcomes, given that attachment to any particular outcome is the major source of pain.

What will be will be and all we can do, is what we can do.

Somebody mentioned the www.mybigtoe website a few posts ago and I'd like to say thanks for that. He's arrived at the same conclusions as many other 'esoteric' teachings, albeit from a different direction with a different and interesting perspective. Interestingly he also referred to Jane Roberts' Seth material, which pops up frequently in this area.

To pay it forward, for those that don't know offer free (donate if you want) courses in Vipassana meditation. A blocker for many people may be that the initial course is 10 days and you can't talk. Hah! Just turning up to do that is transformational in today's 'always on' context.

One great thing about Vipassana is that you should be able to experience first hand the other continuum per option 2 above.

P.S. The interstellar thing never could be done by conventional modes of travel. It would have to be through inter-dimensional/anti-grav type movements. Just before the aliens who abducted me inserted their anal probe, they told me that's how they did it.

9/8/13, 12:41 AM

Hal said...
Hey, Bill. I totally agree with your definition, that's why I put "sustainable" in quotes in my first post. If it's not sustainable, well, it won't be sustained in the long run.

Sadly, my life at this time makes use of a lot of ultimately unsustainable things. Being stuck in the same matrix that most of us are, I'm trying to learn long-term solutions and make my little piece of ground a little bit better.

If I have learned a little thing that might help someone else provide for a little of their animal protein while lowering the impacts, getting them involved in the process, and improving the fertility of their lands, I count that a plus. I would hope that they pay attention to the issues such as you raised, also, because there are a million ways it could be improved.

9/11/13, 11:40 AM