Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Perched on the Wheel of Time

There's a curious predictability in the comments I field in response to posts here that talk about the likely shape of the future. The conventional wisdom of our era insists that modern industrial society can’t possibly undergo the same life cycle of rise and fall as every other civilization in history; no, no, there’s got to be some unique future awaiting us—uniquely splendid or uniquely horrible, it doesn’t even seem to matter that much, so long as it’s unique. Since I reject that conventional wisdom, my dissent routinely fields pushback from those of my readers who embrace it.

That’s not surprising in the least, of course. What’s surprising is that the pushback doesn’t surface when the conventional wisdom seems to be producing accurate predictions, as it does now and then. Rather, it shows up like clockwork whenever the conventional wisdom fails.

The present situation is as good an example as any. The basis of my dissident views is the theory of cyclical history—the theory, first proposed in the early 18th century by the Italian historian Giambattista Vico and later refined and developed by such scholars as Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee, that civilizations rise and fall in a predictable life cycle, regardless of scale or technological level. That theory’s not just a vague generalization, either; each of the major writers on the subject set out specific stages that appear in order, showed that these have occurred in all past civilizations, and made detailed, falsifiable predictions about how those stages can be expected to occur in our civilization. Have those panned out? So far, a good deal more often than not.

In the final chapters of his second volume, for example, Spengler noted that civilizations in the stage ours was about to reach always end up racked by conflicts that pit established hierarchies against upstart demagogues who rally the disaffected and transform them into a power base. Looking at the trends visible in his own time, he sketched out the most likely form those conflicts would take in the Winter phase of our civilization. Modern representative democracy, he pointed out, has no effective defenses against corruption by wealth, and so could be expected to evolve into corporate-bureaucratic plutocracies that benefit the affluent at the expense of everyone else. Those left out in the cold by these transformations, in turn, end up backing what Spengler called Caesarism—the rise of charismatic demagogues who challenge and eventually overturn the corporate-bureaucratic order.

These demagogues needn’t come from within the excluded classes, by the way. Julius Caesar, the obvious example, came from an old upper-class Roman family and parlayed his family connections into a successful political career. Watchers of the current political scene may be interested to know that Caesar during his lifetime wasn’t the imposing figure he became in retrospect; he had a high shrill voice, his morals were remarkably flexible even by Roman standards—the scurrilous gossip of his time called him “every man’s wife and every woman’s husband”—and he spent much of his career piling up huge debts and then wriggling out from under them. Yet he became the political standardbearer for the plebeian classes, and his assassination by a conspiracy of rich Senators launched the era of civil wars that ended the rule of the old elite once and for all.

Thus those people watching the political scene last year who knew their way around Spengler, and noticed that a rich guy had suddenly broken with the corporate-bureaucratic consensus and called for changes that would benefit the excluded classes at the expense of the affluent, wouldn’t have had to wonder what was happening, or what the likely outcome would be. It was those who insisted on linear models of history—for example, the claim that the recent ascendancy of modern liberalism counted as the onward march of progress, and therefore was by definition irreversible—who found themselves flailing wildly as history took a turn they considered unthinkable.

The rise of Caesarism, by the way, has other features I haven’t mentioned. As Spengler sketches out the process, it also represents the exhaustion of ideology and its replacement by personality. Those of my readers who watched the political scene over the last few years may have noticed the way that the issues have been sidelined by sweeping claims about the supposed personal qualities of candidates. The practically content-free campaign that swept Barack Obama into the presidency in 2008—“Hope,” “Change,” and “Yes We Can” aren’t statements about issues, you know—was typical of this stage, as was the emergence of competing personality cults around the candidates in the 2016 election.  In the ordinary way of things, we can expect even more of this in elections to come, with messianic hopes clustering around competing politicians until the point of absurdity is well past. These will then implode, and the political process collapse into a raw scramble for power at any cost.

There’s plenty more in Spengler’s characterization of the politics of the Winter phase, and all of it’s well represented in today’s headlines, but the rest can be left to those of my readers interested enough to turn the pages of The Decline of the West for themselves. What I’d like to discuss here is the nature of the pushback I tend to field when I point out that yet again, predictions offered by Spengler and other students of cyclic history turned out to be correct and those who dismissed them turned out to be smoking their shorts. The responses I field are as predictable as—well, the arrival of charismatic demagogues at a certain point in the Winter phase, for example—and they reveal some useful flimpses into the value, or lack of it, of our society’s thinking about the future in this turn of the wheel.

Probably the most common response I get can best be characterized as simple incantation: that is to say, the repetition of some brief summary of the conventional wisdom, usually without a shred of evidence or argument backing it up, as though the mere utterance is enough to disprove all other ideas.   It’s a rare week when I don’t get at least one comment along these lines, and they divide up roughly evenly between those that insist that progress will inevitably triumph over all its obstacles, on the one hand, and those that insist that modern industrial civilization will inevitably crash to ruin in a sudden cataclysmic downfall on the other. I tend to think of this as a sort of futurological fundamentalism along the lines of “pop culture said it, I believe it, that settles it,” and it’s no more useful, or for that matter interesting, than fundamentalism of any other sort.

A little less common and a little more interesting are a second class of arguments, which insist that I can’t dismiss the possibility that something might pop up out of the blue to make things different this time around. As I pointed out very early on in the history of this blog, these are examples of the classic logical fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam, the argument from ignorance. They bring in some factor whose existence and relevance is unknown, and use that claim to insist that since the conventional wisdom can’t be disproved, it must be true.

Arguments from ignorance are astonishingly common these days. My readers may have noticed, for example, that every few years some new version of nuclear power gets trotted out as the answer to our species’ energy needs. From thorium fission plants to Bussard fusion reactors to helium-3 from the Moon, they all have one thing in common: nobody’s actually built a working example, and so it’s possible for their proponents to insist that their pet technology will lack the galaxy of technical and economic problems that have made every existing form of nuclear power uneconomical without gargantuan government subsidies. That’s an argument from ignorance: since we haven’t built one yet, it’s impossible to be absolutely certain that they’ll have the usual cascading cost overruns and the rest of it, and therefore their proponents can insist that those won’t happen this time. Prove them wrong!

More generally, it’s impressive how many people can look at the landscape of dysfunctional technology and failed promises that surrounds us today and still insist that the future won’t be like that. Most of us have learned already that upgrades on average have fewer benefits and more bugs than the programs they replace, and that products labeled “new and improved” may be new but they’re rarely improved; it’s starting to sink in that most new technologies are simply more complicated and less satisfactory ways of doing things that older technologies did at least as well at a lower cost.  Try suggesting this as a general principle, though, and I promise you that plenty of people will twist themselves mentally into pretzel shapes trying to avoid the implication that progress has passed its pull date.

Even so, there’s a very simple answer to all such arguments, though in the nature of such things it’s an answer that only speaks to those who aren’t too obsessively wedded to the conventional wisdom. None of the arguments from ignorance I’ve mentioned are new; all of them have been tested repeatedly by events, and they’ve failed. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been told, for example, that the economic crisis du jour could lead to the sudden collapse of the global economy, or that the fashionable energy technology du jour could lead to a new era of abundant energy. No doubt they could, at least in theory, but the fact remains that they don’t. 

It so happens that there are good reasons why they don’t, varying from case to case, but that’s actually beside the point I want to make here. This particular version of the argument from ignorance is also an example of the fallacy the old logicians called petitio principii, better known as “begging the question.” Imagine, by way of counterexample, that someone were to post a comment saying, “Nobody knows what the future will be like, so the future you’ve predicted is as likely as any other.” That would be open to debate, since there’s some reason to think we can in fact predict some things about the future, but at least it would follow logically from the premise.  Still, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone make that claim. Nor have I ever seen anybody claim that since nobody knows what the future will be like, say, we can’t assume that progress is going to continue.

In practice, rather, the argument from ignorance is applied to discussions of the future in a distinctly one-sided manner. Predictions based on any point of view other than the conventional wisdom of modern popular culture are dismissed with claims that it might possibly be different this time, while predictions based on the conventional wisdom of modern popular culture are spared that treatment. That’s begging the question: covertly assuming that one side of an argument must be true unless it’s disproved, and that the other side can’t be true unless it’s proved.

Now in fact, a case can be made that we can in fact know quite a bit about the shape of the future, at least in its broad outlines. The heart of that case, as already noted, is the fact that certain theories about the future do in fact make accurate predictions, while others don’t. This in itself shows that history isn’t random—that there’s some structure to the flow of historical events that can be figured out by learning from the past, and that similar causes at work in similar situations will have similar outcomes. Apply that reasoning to any other set of phenomena, and you’ve got the ordinary, uncontroversial basis for the sciences. It’s only when it’s applied to the future that people balk, because it doesn’t promise them the kind of future they want.

The argument by incantation and the argument from ignorance make up most of the pushback I get. I’m pleased to say, though, that every so often I get an argument that’s considerably more original than these. One of those came in last week—tip of the archdruidical hat to DoubtingThomas—and it’s interesting enough that it deserves a detailed discussion.

DoubtingThomas began with the standard argument from ignorance, claiming that it’s always possible that something might possibly happen to disrupt the cyclic patterns of history in any given case, and therefore the cyclic theory should be dismissed no matter how many accurate predictions it scored. As we’ve already seen, this is handwaving, but let’s move on.  He went on from there to argue that much of the shape of history is defined by the actions of unique individuals such as Isaac Newton, whose work sends the world careening along entirely new and unpredicted paths. Such individuals have appeared over and over again in history, he pointed out, and was kind enough to suggest that my activities here on The Archdruid Report were, in a small way, another example of the influence of an individual on history. Given that reality, he insisted, a theory of history that didn’t take the actions of unique individuals into account was invalid.

Fair enough; let’s consider that argument. Does the cyclic theory of history fail to take the actions of unique individuals into account?

Here again, Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West is the go-to source, because he’s dealt with the sciences and arts to a much greater extent than other researchers into historical cycles. What he shows, with a wealth of examples drawn from the rise and fall of many different civilizations, is that the phenomenon DoubtingThomas describes is a predictable part of the cycles of history. In every generation, in effect, a certain number of geniuses will be born, but their upbringing, the problems that confront them, and the resources they will have available to solve those problems, are not theirs to choose. All these things are produced by the labors of other creative minds of the past and present, and are profoundly influenced by the cycles of history.

Let’s take Isaac Newton as an example. He happened to be born just as the scientific revolution was beginning to hit its stride, but before it had found its paradigm, the set of accomplishments on which all future scientific efforts would be directly or indirectly modeled. His impressive mathematical and scientific gifts thus fastened onto the biggest unsolved problem of the time—the relationship between the physics of moving bodies sketched out by Galileo and the laws of planetary motion discovered by Kepler—and resulted in the Principia Mathematica, which became the paradigm for the next three hundred years or so of scientific endeavor.

Had he been born a hundred years earlier, none of those preparations would have been in place, and the Principia Mathematica wouldn’t have been possible. Given the different cultural attitudes of the century before Newton’s time, in fact, he would almost certainly become a theologian rather than a mathematician and physicist—as it was, he spent much of his career engaged in theology, a detail usually left out by the more hagiographical of his biographers—and he would be remembered today only by students of theological history. Had he been born a century later, equally, some other great scientific achievement would have provided the paradigm for emerging science—my guess is that it would have been Edmund Halley’s successful prediction of the return of the comet that bears his name—and Newton would have had the same sort of reputation that Karl Friedrich Gauss has today: famous in his field, sure, but a household name? Not a chance.

What makes the point even more precise is that every other civilization from which adequate records survive had its own paradigmatic thinker, the figure whose achievements provided a model for the dawning age of reason and for whatever form of rational thought became that age’s principal cultural expression. In the classical world, for example, it was Pythagoras, who invented the word “philosophy” and whose mathematical discoveries gave classical rationalism its central theme, the idea of an ideal mathematical order to which the hurly-burly of the world of appearances must somehow be reduced. (Like Newton, by the way, Pythagoras was more than half a theologian; it’s a common feature of figures who fill that role.)

To take the same argument to a far more modest level, what about DoubtingThomas’ claim that The Archdruid Report represents the act of a unique individual influencing the course of history? Here again, a glance at history shows otherwise. I’m a figure of an easily recognizable type, which shows up reliably as each civilization’s Age of Reason wanes and it begins moving toward what Spengler called the Second Religiosity, the resurgence of religion that inevitably happens in the wake of rationalism’s failure to deliver on its promises. At such times you get intellectuals who can communicate fluently on both sides of the chasm between rationalism and religion, and who put together syntheses of various kinds that reframe the legacies of the Age of Reason so that they can be taken up by emergent religious movements and preserved for the future.

In the classical world, for example, you got Iamblichus of Chalcis, who stepped into the gap between Greek philosophical rationalism and the burgeoning Second Religiosity of late classical times, and figured out how to make philosophy, logic, and mathematics appealing to the increasingly religious temper of his time. He was one of many such figures, and it was largely because of their efforts that the religious traditions that ended up taking over the classical world—Christianity to the north of the Mediterranean, and Islam to the south—got over their early anti-intellectual streak so readily and ended up preserving so much of the intellectual heritage of the past.

That sort of thing is a worthwhile task, and if I can contribute to it I’ll consider this life well spent. That said, there’s nothing unique about it. What’s more, it’s only possible and meaningful because I happen to be perched on this particular arc of the wheel of time, when our civilization’s Age of Reason is visibly crumbling and the Second Religiosity is only beginning to build up a head of steam. A century earlier or a century later, I’d have faced some different tasks.

All of this presupposes a relationship between the individual and human society that fits very poorly with the unthinking prejudices of our time. That’s something that Spengler grappled with in his book, too;  it’s going to take a long sojourn in some very unfamiliar realms of thought to make sense of what he had to say, but that can’t be helped.

We really are going to have to talk about philosophy, aren’t we? We’ll begin that stunningly unfashionable discussion next week.


The February 2017 Kanto Green Wizards will meet at the Asakawa Kompira Shrine on Sunday, February 5. People will start showing up at 11:30 a.m. this time because of a concert later, but most come at about noon. The Kompira monthly picnic is potluck, so please bring something to share.
To get there, go to Takao Station on the JR or Keio line and exit through the south exit (which apparently means going through the Keio part of the station). The small mountain that Asakawa Kompira Shrine crowns is directly west of the station (in fact, the train tunnels under it). For a map, see: .
I am told that the Google map is practically invisible on small, hand-held screens, so it would be best to confirm the location before coming out. But nearly everyone in town knows where the Kompira Shrine is, so if you get lost ask. (It's not the prominent golden UFO thing --that's to the south of the station.)
The forecast as of this morning is for snow in Yamanashi Prefecture, which I have to traverse to get there, so I probably won’t make it. gives a 90% chance of rain in Hachioji, but because they are having the Setsubun Festival, I expect folks to show up anyway, especially since Ikeda-san will open the shrine. The TV Tokyo feature is also drawing lots of interest, and I expect lots of people to show up once the weather is warmer. It will be more like a family gathering this time, but dress for rain! I’ll update this in the TADR comments here and on the Green Wizards site if I get notice of cancellation.

2/1/17, 7:19 PM

Angus Wallace said...

Newton was certainly a very special person. Not only did he imagine things that no one else did before -- he invented a completely new maths to describe them -- Calculus. Leibnez (a German contemporary of Newton's) was also an incredible genius (who independently invented calculus and was persecuted by Newton for it). This suggests that Newton, genius though he might have been, was not as unique as some imagine.

On a related note, I listened to a very interesting radio broadcast recently, comparing events today to The Gilded Age in the USA in the late 19th century:

Cheers, Angus

2/1/17, 7:38 PM

Violet Cabra said...
There appears to me an important difference between the sorts of figures that come in the spring/summer and winter of a culture. Using the example of Isaac Newton and the Scientific revolution, it is easy to imagine that if Newton hadn't defined the scientific paradigm someone else would have. Spengler has some great thought experiments in this regard; what if the French had the first Faustian empire rather than Spain or if Goethe hadn't been born? He concludes that the lifecycle of the civilization would be fulfilled through its inmates in some deeply mysterious way, independent of individuals. Perhaps it can be said that there is a certain notational space in a culture that will be explored with its own internal logic regardless of particular people.

If we take a figure, however, in the winter it appears to me to be meaningfully different kettle of fish. If, say, St Patrick hadn't been born it is easy to imagine all Classical literature being lost. There may simply not have been other historical actors primed to do what he did, especially given the utter contingency of his colorful life. Our knowledge of Classical literature is utterly dependent on him and in a way personally entwined with his character. In the preservation of culture it could be said that things will only be saved by people who care, and people may not care, in fact most don't, and the few who do can have enormously disproportionate effects on the future

2/1/17, 7:43 PM

David said...

Long time lurker, first time commenter. Just wanted to thank you for expanding my horizons quite a bit with your work...would never have known about Spengler et al or investigated the philosophical foundations of magic without you. I've been interested in philosophy as a result of becoming obsessed with Zhuangzi in college, and my question to you has to do with polytheism. Philosophers these days often treat the question of the existence of "God" (singular) but there is nary a peep about the existence of "gods," plural, and this seems to leave a gaping hole in most philosophical speculation. Since you obviously believe in a pantheon of gods, I have roughly a million questions about that works, exactly. What is a god "made of?" Do gods exist prior to human beings believing in them? I gather there's a sort of "spiritual ecosystem" parallel to the "natural" environment in which gods exist? Finally, is the "One" or "Godhead" precisely the same as YHWH? I've done a bit of research and apparently YHWH was originally a member of the "Divine Council" who got "promoted," and may have had a consort in Asherah? Sorry to spam you...feel free to answer as many or as few of those as strikes your fancy. And I'm aware you wrote a volume called "A World Full of Gods" which probably addresses some of these questions, but I haven't got my hands on it yet.


2/1/17, 7:44 PM

Justin said...
It seems to me like what it means to be human is to be imperfect (the story about Adam and Eve can be argued to be about just that). After all, a bird or a fish or a tree is always a perfect example of its species within the limitations imposed by its genetic and environmental situation. A human, not so much (unless free will is an illusion).

I find it interesting that many successful religions have a physical center. Mecca and Rome are the obvious ones, but I'm sure the Asian religions and many indigenous belief systems have a physical center. We often speak of a moral compass, and I wonder if that's because the brain structures that currently help us through moral dilemmas are built atop navigation systems - which explains why so many make pilgrimages to Rome or Mecca or Uluru. Some Norse pagans believed that they shouldn't even look at the mountains their dead lived in without washing their faces first. Clearly, ideas like this are rooted deep in our psyche and likely evolved out of the mechanisms that got us back somewhere safe every night so the things that live in the dark wouldn't eat us.

In an era of breakdown and climate change there are likely to be many new holy sites.

2/1/17, 7:44 PM

Doc Tim said...
I fully agree that there is excessive fail that a Deus ex machine, wiz bang fix will come to our rescue, but I do think your case that new is usually not better is overstated. Watching old movies from my childhood, many of our goods are significantly better. Take cars as an example. In the past very few cars made it past 100k miles. And even with its propensity for mind sucking apps, our smart phones which can give us access to all the worlds info is pretty astounding. Perhaps the issue is that our expectations don't keep up. I view us in a time of competing exponential. Many things are in fact improving rapidly, but our problems also increase. As long as the progress curve stays ahead of the problems curve things are rosy.

2/1/17, 7:48 PM

pygmycory said...
It looks like I must add 'Decline of the West' to my list of books to read. I'm currently waiting for 'Overshoot' to turn up via interlibrary loan.

2/1/17, 7:48 PM

Patricia Mathews said...
Re: "conflicts that pit established hierarchies against upstart demagogues who rally the disaffected and transform them into a power base." Ave, Clodius! And his merry gangsters.

2/1/17, 7:55 PM

James M. Jensen II said...
This is similar to the answer I was considering, which was going to be phrased in terms of your Law of Cause and Effect: that every effect has causes of the same scale and at least one of the same kind as the effect.

Within that framework, it becomes clear that while an individual can indeed play a significant role in redirecting the forces of history, they can only do so if the forces are predisposed to go that way anyway and are merely being held back by countervailing forces. Otherwise, an individual simply isn't big enough to change things.

In our present circumstances, the forces that push against decline are already too weak to stop it. At best an individual might hope to slow things down and avoid the absolute worst possibilities, something that a turn from neoliberalism on the part of world leaders would hopefully do. Stopping decline at this point is just not going to happen.

2/1/17, 8:03 PM

John Roth said...
@Angus Wallace,

While Newton was a central figure, as he said himself, if he saw farther than others, it was because he stood on the shoulders of giants.

For a quick read on some of the fallacies and actual truths about Newton, you might go here: . (the Renaissance Mathematicus.)

2/1/17, 8:04 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Angus, exactly. Calculus was the next logical step in the development of European mathematics; it didn't have to take the precise form it did -- I'm told that Newton's and Leibniz' versions were somewhat different -- but a mathematical form that broke movement down into infinitesimals was going to happen, and Newton and Leibniz just happened to get there first. Similarly, Darwin and Wallace both independently hit on the theory of natural selection -- again, the next step.

And thanks for the link about Gilded Age politics. I should do a post sometime about the old theory that the history of the Western world did a hairpin turn sometime around 1950 and since then has been running with all the signs reversed (environmental protection a cause of the left rather than the right, and so on.) By that figure it's the equivalent of 1883 now, and so the Gilded Age should be roaring!

Violet, I'm not sure I agree. One problem is that we know so little about the process by which Ireland converted to Christianity that it's by no means certain that St. Patrick did it all himself -- he may have simply been the one who got remembered. Another is that much of classical culture was also preserved in Byzantium, and even more in the Muslim world, and came to Europe from both of these sources.

David, yes, you probably want to pick up A World Full of Gods! Most of your questions, though, presuppose knowledge about gods that human beings don't necessarily have. What we know for sure is that people routinely have the experience of interacting with the superhuman and apparently disembodied intelligent beings we call "gods" -- these events are one of the things usually called "religious experience" -- and can interact with these beings by way of traditional methods such as prayer, ritual, and ascetic or ecstatic practices. What are these beings? What are they made of? How do they relate to one another? All interesting questions, but it's worth remembering that we may have no more capacity to understand the answers than, say, the dust mites crawling on your clothing have of understanding your career prospects or your thoughts while reading this comment!

Justin, I'm far from sure birds and fish are any more perfect than we are. Certainly I've known some very imperfect cats, goats, and chickens. As for holy places, first, you're quite correct that they also exist in Asian cultures -- if I ever have the chance to visit Japan I want to go to Koyasan, the monastery-topped mountain where the founder of Shingon Buddhism (the sect to which my Japanese-American stepfamily belongs) established his teachings, and where according to tradition he remains in meditation waiting for the arrival of the future Buddha. (Think of Merlin in his crystal cave and you know the story.) Vine Deloria Jr. has written forcefully about the role of place as a spiritual theme in Native American religion, and it's very common in the religions of the world. Of course, since we're moving into the historical phase when new religions tend to spring up and take root, new holy places are a pretty safe bet...

2/1/17, 8:04 PM

James M. Jensen II said...

It's worth noting that the word "perfect" comes from Latin roots meaning "fully made" suggesting it wasn't originally meant to apply to natural things, which are born, as the roots of "natural" suggest.

Evolution muddied this quite a bit: is a chicken really a perfect chicken, or is it an imperfect dinosaur?

2/1/17, 8:08 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Doc Tim, when you say that movies now are "better," don't you mean "conform more closely to our expectations"? As for the benefits of limitless information, a very strong case is being made by a number of authors that one of the core reasons that we remain paralyzed in the face of world-wrecking crises is information overload. More is not necessarily better -- and the signal-to-noise ratio on the internet is remarkably low, and sinking...

Pygmycory, I'd encourage that, but you'll want to take your time with it. It's not a book to try to read in a hurry.

Patricia, yep. I'm not sure if the current example is Clodius or Crassus! ;-)

James, yep. Notice also that an individual who wanted, for whatever reason, to hasten decline might have no better luck, as momentum works both ways.

2/1/17, 8:09 PM

Bryan L. Allen said...
Being within the Caltech community (well, next door, but still it says "Caltech" on my paycheck) I've lost track of the number of times I've heard or read words from one of the many many smart people around here how ideas seem to come to a ripening, and it is oftentimes a matter of some mystery (and some noticeable amount of competitive striving) who gets credit for any particular idea or breakthrough. For every Kip Thorne or Richard Feynman there seem to be several more minds who would have expressed the same idea, eventually.

Though he's not won the Nobel Prize as many of his contemporaries have, Freeman Dyson is an absolutely astonishingly smart guy, who said in one interview (Google the string and y'all will find it): "It's true of almost every great idea that you really don't know afterwards where it came from. Our brains are random, that's of course nature's trick for being creative. I have identical twin grandsons, they have all the same genes but they don't have the same brains: they develop independently. So these two identical young men have totally different brains, all the internal structure is essentially random. And that's how our minds turn out to be so powerful: they don't have to be programmed, they can invent things just by random chance. I think that's where [great ideas] come from. All really good ideas are accidental. There's some random arrangement of things buzzing around in somebody's head, and it suddenly clicks."

Hah, I remember you mentioning the power inherent in randomness on your other blog a while back... :-)

As always, best regards!

2/1/17, 8:09 PM

The Geographist said...
Well-timed post for me; my local used book store just called me up a few days ago saying they had an abridged copy of 'Decline of the West' in. Eagerly waiting to wrap up the novel I'm on now and dig in! Doubt I ever would have known about Spengler without your writing Mr. Greer, thanks for the introduction.

Thinking about our civilization in particular, could caesarism just as easily begun during the world wars era? If so, where would we likely be today? (I know, I'm probably spoiling the book a bit).

2/1/17, 8:19 PM

Raymond R said...
Here is a thought experiment: suppose, miracles of miracles, a new source of cheap power is discovered. In the current political economy, what would be likely outcome? Under current conditions where a small elite control the political and economic levers of society, the vast majority of any benefits from a new power source would flow to that elite, possibly even cementing their dominance for a while. The cost of the wonderful new technology would be born by the rest of society, although it might provide them with new tools to overthrow their oppressors when the time was right.

I generally agree with your view of the cyclical nature of civilization's ups and downs. Someday our great cities will be one with Nineveh and Tyre, lest we forget.

Thank you for another thoughtful post

2/1/17, 8:20 PM

Ray Wharton said...
Very eager for the dive into philosophy! it is an important turn to be able to take when it becomes apparent that there are unrecognized imps flubbing up thinking and talking. Fairy tails speak well enough about the utility of naming your imps. Like the logical fallacies, learning them boils down to learning names for especially notorious and busy imps who are apt to make weak arguments be misjudged as strong.

I know that Jordan Peterson has become known my a large subset of the commentary here recently, Spengler's observation about the fading power of ideology and the rising power of personality has some reliance to his thinking. Peterson is acutely horrified by the actions of the Ideological state, most especially in a Marxist forum, but to some degree in any form of material rationalist. Body counts from history more that fit this sense of horror. A degree of his politics currently has to do with opposition to the rise of ideology, specifically Utopian ideology especially Marxist, in the political fringes of our own era. There is some cause for this alarm, though I am less alarmed than he is and Spengler is why. I think that it is more likely that personality cults will be the basis for politics of raw power in the coming era than the cold faith in ideology, based on Spengler. Either way these are 'interesting' times, and I think that even Neo-Liberalism is a non-marxist Utopian political ideology, and if stressed sufficiently it has the potential to manifest as horrible a form as Marxism... indeed several times it has come with in sight of the mark. Still of the two the Neo-Liberalism, for its many short comings, I think is the less broken of the ill-born twins; aware of the chance that the trials of peak resources could reverse that judgment harshly.

More likely than Neo-Liberalism fully evolving into a Global Cultural Revolution, as it does in Glen Beck's nightmares and the dreams of the most past loathing of its supporters, is it dying short of that metamorphosis at the hands of the Orange Julius.

I make that aside referencing Mr. Peterson so as to advance another point. The folks most distressed by Orange Julius seem to be misusing cyclic history. Acting as though he were a repetition of a Fascist or Ideological dictator; therefore responding as though to the rise of a horrific ideology. Bannon is the fall guy for the 'this is an ideology of hate' argument. This is a false positive of one cycle which misses a different pattern. There is a distinct lack of ideology, and a distinctive lack of Jungvolk on Orange Julias' side.

"Brutus" would be a more likely final hurrah of Ideology before the age of personality takes definite hold, if such a think came to pass.

The Personal Era I don't think is likely to be safer than the Ideologue Era, but how might the errors of the eras differ in kind?

2/1/17, 8:20 PM

Ozark Chinquapin said...
The part of the Trump/Caesar similarity that I'm having trouble with is the different timing relative the the peak of their respective societies. Caesar came to power while Rome was still on the ascent, hundreds of years before Iamblichus's time. I've considered similarities between our era and Hadrian's, wall building in both cases coming from a shift from expansion to maintaining existing borders. But then I've also thought the parallel is with a later time, as Hadrian's time was still comfortably within the Pax Romana.

What time period in Roman history would you consider the closest parallel to our time now? I'm thinking it's sometime in the late second or early third century, before the crisis period that started in 235, but I don't have nearly the depth of historical knowledge that you do so am curious about your thoughts. Iamblichus's time seems considerably further along in decline than ours is, and religion at the moment seems to be declining, not resurging as in Iamblichus's time.

What would you say caused Caesarism to reign at such an earlier point in the Roman empire than in ours?

2/1/17, 8:26 PM

andrewmarkmusic said...
We really are going to have to talk about philosophy, aren’t we?

Oh, goodie! I don't know if you can stomach the 2.5 debacle that was Sam Harris/J.Peterson!

What's the fact of the truth of the bloody matter!

2/1/17, 8:36 PM

ChaosAdventurer said...
I am looking forward to next weeks stunningly unfashionable discussion, bring it on.
And perhaps in it we will find the deep meaning of your new word, flimpses, that I assume is some new view of future glimpses, or a typo. I know what is probable, but I like the idea of a new word we can have fun with.

Andy, Adventuring in Chaos in Toronto.

2/1/17, 8:38 PM

A Rat in the Walls said...
Do you have any new predictions regarding the regarding the Second Religiosity? I think Spengler wrote that we should look to the religious forms of the Springtime, and that the coming religions would thus somehow resemble Gothic Christianity. But how?

The other day I met a young man from Minnesota who is a member of a Protestant ministry. His is an "end times" ministry, dedicated to preparing the world for the Rapture. He has regular spirit experiences, and, seeing that I was receptive, told me a great deal about them. He encounters angels of the Lord and demons who take on various shapes, and has more than once seen the throne of Christ. A very interesting and very nice young man, and I didn't see any reason to share my experience that what constitutes "truth" for spirits and gods isn't necessarily the same as "truth" in an objective sense, and visionary experiences shouldn't be treated as journalism. Regardless what struck me was his dedication and energy, and it occurred to me that, in the United States, I've mostly seen that level of religious creativity from the far end of the Nondenominational Protestant spectrum. These things hardly resemble the Christianity of the Gothic era, as far as I know. But on the other hand I have a sense that there might be a traditionalist movement picking up speed among both very liberal and very conservative Christian denominations. But on another other hand, here on the Left Coast the universal religion is a kind of self-worshipping liberalism, dressed variously in Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, or abstract New Age drag. Anyway, what do you think?

I picked up my copy of The Decline of the West about two years ago and have slowly worked through it ever since. I remember being confused and more than a little bit skeptical about him referring to Cecil Rhodes as "the first man of the new age." Two years later, it makes perfect sense.

Google ate my old account with my real name
And I can't figure out how to change the username on this one
But I like the Lovecraft reference

2/1/17, 8:40 PM

Lorenzo - said...
Unfamiliar realms of thought: here we come! I have truly no conscious recollection of a more enjoyable learning experience, involving a teacher, than my Wednesday nights reading these posts + some of your published work for the past few years.
Thinking now that it might be very fruitful indeed if I were to undertake some kind of regimen to read up on everything since that most relevant, May 2006 post.
As it's been always the case when I comment, I'm compelled to wholeheartedly thank you for your teachings.

Thank you

2/1/17, 8:41 PM

Shaun said...
A theory open to comment:

The individual receives cultural "programming" at the beginning and to a certain extent throughout the individual's life. These include broad and deeply rooted notions of value, beauty, and moral rectitude. And yet, s/he retains a certain reflexive capacity to "auto-program," to receive feedback and make adjustments to ideology, behavior, etc. This can occur within a variety of constellations of thought/behavior/relationship. One's perspicacity is a function of the ability to integrate signals-- to receive signals from varying sources within a variety of constellations (and to filter out noise), to cross-reference these multivariate signals, accept feedback relative to behavior, and to make necessary adjustments to align with one's "programmed" values. This process is, similar to "broader" processes such as the history of civilizations, cyclic. The life of individual itself is a microcosm of the broader process within which it is embedded. We similarly are an amalgamation of chemicals, "human" cells, bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and abiotic materials, all receiving signals, reacting, cycling.

In this winter phase of civilization, we are "old" before we breathe our first breath. We are tasked to function under the tremendous weight of accumulated cultural signals and apparently contradictory information. Under threat of competition for ever-scarcer resources, we are admonished to choose an exclusive model or ideology through which to interpret this expanse of (mostly) noise. The ability to cross-reference and integrate signals of varying types is thus suppressed and our collective insight (intuition) and wisdom (prudence) erodes.

2/1/17, 8:48 PM

Mister Roboto said...
A germane quote from Sir Isaac Newton: If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.

We really are going to have to talk about philosophy, aren’t we? We’ll begin that stunningly unfashionable discussion next week. I would be doing a "happy-dance" right now if my almost half-century-old knees would allow me to do such a thing!

2/1/17, 8:52 PM

SweaterMan said...

Tangentially related to your comment on today's topic but I've always been proud of my bumper sticker that reads "dARWin" to acknowledge both Charles Darwin AND Alfred Russel Wallace as the co-founders of current evolutionary theory. Never had it made into one of those fish-with-legs stickers though. If anyone was to make one though, I'd be glad to have one!

2/1/17, 8:55 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Let S be the state of a civilization. Let f(S) be the function that determines the response of that cililization to its state, S, to yield the next state of that civilization, S' :

S' = f(S)

And finally, let S be constrained in some way; i.e. there are limits to what a civilization can do or be.

Given a setup like this, you will very likely find that S winds up displaying cyclic behavior. For an extremely simple example, represent the state of a civilization by a positive integer. And define the function f, as just doubling that number:

S' = S*2

But, S must be constrained to be a single digit, so if S' would be two digits, we drop the first and use only the second (final) digit, the "ones place."

So say we start our civilization out at 3. Remember this number is not a quantitative representation of anything, it is just used for demonstration purposes.

So the next state of the civilization, S', equals 6

Next we double 6 to get 12, but we reduce that to 2 (single digits only; there are limits)

From 2 we then get 4, then 8, then 6 again. And now we hit the cycle 2, 4, 8, 6, 2, 4, 8, 6, 2, 4,...

Sure its is a riduclously simple behavior, but this is the sort of process that creates cycles all over the universe.

So why does a deterministic model relate (kind of, approximately) to human societies? Probably because our brains evolve much much more slowly than our culture. So every generation, the brains that are responding to their circumstances and triggering the changes that will define the next stage of civilization, are pretty much the same brains every time. f(S) is defined by our inherent cognitive and emotional functioning, and it doesn't change very fast, 10,000s of years at a minimun, 100,000s of years for anything pretty big, millions of years for real overhall.

Just be sure you never hit 5... Game Over.

2/1/17, 8:57 PM

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...
I have been to Koyasan (though only for one night). I've also visited the first five temples on the Shikoku henro trail. If you never make it to Japan physically, there are actually some good books in English about Koyasan and the Shikoku henro trail which can be used for armchair travel. One of them is available for free online - Echoes of Incense by Don Weiss.

I've also hiked a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, and read a lot of books about it. One of the things which strikes me is that, in spite of the Shikoku henro trail and Pacific Crest Trail being so different (one is Japanese, one is American, one is religious, one is secular, etc.) there are a lot of similarities - for example, the practice of o-settai is just like the practice of 'trail magic' (as in, a lot of PCT people describe 'trail magic' in the very same terms that Shikokun henro people describe o-settai). Since you used to live in Ashland and you live not far from the Appalachian Trail right now, maybe you have first hand experience with 'trail magic.

2/1/17, 8:59 PM

Gordon said...
Sir John Glubb, in his "The Fate of Empires" also charts out these constants in the course of an empire's life. He gives it a 200-250 year lifespan, being approximately 10 generations. Of interest, he notes many similarities between empires at the end of their lives. As an example, he points out that both Rome and the Caliphate, towards the end, were in many ways ruled by women, while their capitals were infested with foreigners and other rent-seekers. His most useful illustration was that of the Caliphate in Baghdad. Towards the end of its power, women were filling posts such as in law and academia that were traditionally the strongholds of men. 50 years later, a woman couldn't walk the streets without a male escort without risk of being accosted.
This is not to say that there are issues with women gaining power, just that it is a symptom of an empire's age. Young empires are very masculine and dominated by masculine men. Old empires are not, and are far more friendly to women. Then, for various reasons, they pass from the scene (often conquered by younger, more vibrant empires.)
William Strauss and Neil Howe also plot out this scenario of the life of an empire in "The Fourth Turning", which shows a strong generational rhythm to history. They note that the Roman "saeculum", or a very long lifetime of some 80-100 years, is the normal span of 4 generations. Within this span, you have a Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, and a cycle of events happens like clockwork. I will point out that in the span of the "lifetime" of the United States, we have had three major "fourth turnings": The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Depression/WWII. Needless to say, we're not only due for another one, but we're in the midst of it as we speak.
As an historian, I have long noted the rhythms of history, but with Glubb on the one hand, and Strauss and Howe on the other, it falls into place.
(I must admit a huge failing on my part though, of not reading Spengler yet. I shall blame my professors for not beating me over the head with volumes of his works! Sadly he wasn't terribly popular in the late-70's/early-80's, so there is that...)
Thank you for the marvelous discourse that you provide every week. Visiting here is definitely a highlight for me!

2/1/17, 9:02 PM

Brian Bundy said...
Does anyone here know of books written about the historical cycles in native american cultures? As a kid in the pacific NW, native cultures were portrayed as wise managers of Eden living entirely in harmony until white men (proceeded by small pox) arrived. I'm looking now at maps of their settlements in the Bellingham area where I live currently and even with my healthy adult cynicism it's hard to discredit the vision. Villages consisted of a few communal houses each home to some 40 or so people. Bellingham is a city of 80,000 now. From information I can find it seems like the region may have housed 2-4 villages of a few hundred people at most. In a part of the world where food literally swims up stream to you, how did their population stay under control? How did their cycles play out. Was it appreciably different from western civilization. Is that due to agriculture or some other factor? Was there a cultural restraint or is the vision of the noble savage just part of our mythology? I recognize that the lack of written history makes it a difficult study, but it seems worthwhile to learn from people who managed to occupy the same area for hundreds of generations without turning it into a desert. I suppose the root of my question is if the cycles we're discussing are inevitable in any human culture, or if they are a direct consequence of agri-culture. If so, are other forms of culture more stable?

2/1/17, 9:04 PM

Ray Wharton said...
Life is very repetitive. That is essential to the possibility of using language. Nietzsche observes that logic relies on the fact that we can treat separate incidents as functionally similar. Put another way the very possibility of rationality, at least in the form we know and love, relies on the fact that events in the universe are effectively repetitive. Like cows. A cow being born doesn't just happen once, it happens dozens of times, not exactly the same, but so similar that we can distinguish cows from non cows with nearly perfect consensus.

Also, those things that repeat, don't just repeat as having the same shape or form again and again. The repeat having the same 'unfolding' or plot... not precisely the same, but similar enough to trigger the same recognition.

Basically, if Civilizations are a 'thing', something worth talking about at all, it would be shockingly strange and unusual for them not to have a recognizable pattern of unfolding. Though there are two counters worth considering. The first, and by far most likely is abortion; that is to say that something disrupts the plot before it gets very far along so fundamentally that it never goes further. But, for something as large as global Civilization to be killed prematurely at this point, which certainly possible, would take an external disruption of abnormal scale. Something one in several million years. Which while possible, isn't likely enough to dwell on. The other case would be some kind of emergent behavior; which I think is what the progressives are faithing about. When I consider emergent behavior in my imagination (sorry that I have flown away from my more principled start) it doesn't emerge 'all horns and thorns, sprung out fully formed, knock-kneed and upright' but instead manifests repetitively and vaguely, almost tentatively, until such time that the pattern has established itself as something with staying power. No doubt our civilization, in its glorious oddity, has spat forth some emergent behavior, but an emergent behavior exceptional enough to phase shift the patter of Civilization to a difference of kind I don't see evidence of at this time. Some of our technology might have seemed arguable 60 years ago, but today the technologies which may very well distort the wave form of Civilization future are not, in my eyes, mature enough to change our civilizations general pattern.

I would argue that Writing was a technology which sufficiently distorted longterm human patterns to fundamentally distort the rhythm of human culturation, but even so significant a change still fell vastly short of making the shift to an immortal utopia. I suspect, for what it's worth, that radio, phonograph, rifle, and certain agricultural discoveries might, if they can evolve into a endurance form, joining writing as a phase shifter of long term human culture. But even if this guess is accurate, it is very very unlikely they would make a Culture or a Civilization immortal or utopia. Quite the contrary, for several cycles of the Year of Civilization they are more likely to be disruptive and invasive as cane toads in Oz.

2/1/17, 9:05 PM

patriciaormsby said...
JMG, you are the only person I know who uses "beg the question" in the original sense. Hopefully this week's post will remind a few others. It's a useful term on its way to obscurity. Most folks will look at you in puzzlement if it doesn't seem to jive with the current meaning of "demand, in whining tones, an answer." In its absence, I suppose "circular argument" will still do.

I was reminded this week of a cartoon in B. Kliban's "Whack Your Porcupine" (1977, only $2.95) of an old guy looking out his window at the stars, saying "There goes that rotten Halley's comet! It makes me sick! I want to vomet!"

I love how each week's topic here is so often a surprise, and it is good that you grab opportunities to talk about these things as they arise. People tend to tune out if the content is predictable. There is quite a lot this week that I want to copy and send off (with attribution) to relatives who are now pointing fingers all around, saying, "What will you tell your descendants when they ask you why you didn't help stop Trump?" Then again, they too are playing their own particular role in the historical cycle. I doubt hysteria has a happy ending, and probably ought to just shut up and let them rant without making myself into a target.

@Lewis Lucan Books, off-topic, but thank you for your reply in last week's comments! Aokigahara is part of my neighborhood (anything I can reach on foot in less than a day). It is haunted and yet haunting. I could rhapsodize about the ancient path that bisects it from Lake Shoji, where followers of the Fuji Sect would purify themselves before climbing. Loving hands built a road to suit royalty, stacking up basalt.

@JMG, I hope fate grants you an opportunity to visit Japan. Lots of folks here would welcome you.

2/1/17, 9:16 PM

johnhavey said...
When you lean toward cycles you are likely to lean as well toward fractals: cycles within cycles. These historical cycles take place within cycles of climate and extinction. But the interesting thing is not if they happen, but rather at what degree they are happening. Will the economic crash be a modest recession or a Greater Depression? Will the Sixth Great Extinction be an historical event or the end of history, or the end of us?

2/1/17, 9:17 PM

Ben Johnson said...
JMG - I agree that a cyclical pattern of history makes a lot of sense, and the specific examples you cite make sense. Newton perched on the shoulders of giants, thus, he set the stage for modern (Newtonian) physics.

However, you've also argued that the course of Western history would have resulted in now industrial revolution (as we know it) had the winds not favored William of Orange's fleet in 1688. Indeed, with an absolutist on the English throne, and one of the progenitors of modern Western liberalism crushed in 1688, would the Western world not have passed into the autumn phase almost two centuries earlier? Or, taking the weather out of the equation, if William had been weaker of resolve, might Europe (and by extension, North America), have turned the wheel much quicker?

2/1/17, 9:25 PM

Mark Hines said...
"Most of us have learned already that upgrades on average have fewer benefits and more bugs than the programs they replace, and that products labeled “new and improved” may be new but they’re rarely improved."

JMG, My wife experienced a classic example of this just today. She has had for several years a program called Roboform on her computer that automatically fills in the user name and password on any site requireing it. This keeps you from having to remember all the passwords. Well, just yesterday, Roboform did a major upgrade, which was supposed to be an improvement. But what it did was it erased all her secure logins and kept her unsecure ones. She had to go back in and spend time getting new user names and passwords for her financial, and membership sites and others. So New and improved isn't always better. The old version worked just fine for her without any glitches.
Just thought you would like an example.
Keep up the good post.
Love your book Retrotopia. Have read it several times.

2/1/17, 9:45 PM

Jay Cummings said...
I kind of love when you try to throw off your readership at the end of your posts. You know perfectly well by now, we read your blog precisely because you speak intelligently about things like philosophy. Dive deep, it's what we want.

2/1/17, 9:56 PM

Karl Ivanov said...
Great post as usual. In a comment last week, you said, “You might be interested to know that I've thought through how I would react if something were to happen to prevent the Long Descent and give our civilization the kind of "long tail" that, say, ancient Egypt or traditional China had, some thousands of years of relative stability; I think I'd deal with it pretty well.” That is actually a question I have been wanting to ask you for a long time, because while your arguments have resonated deeply with me, I have been afraid of acting on them due to the nagging, irrational part of my brain that says, “but what if it's not worth it? What if they do think of something?"
That has been ringing increasingly hollow, and if I could go back and do things differently, I think I would. Even so, I have to pose the question to you- would you feel your life was wasted if they did “think of something?”
I will say, I don't think that your ideas are wasted effort, whatever our civilization's fate. They have enriched my life at any rate. But still.

2/1/17, 9:58 PM

NomadicBeer said...
this post is whetting my appetite for more - I hope I will learn a lot in the following weeks. Philosophy is one of my (many) weak points. I am an extreme reductionist, which is useful in navigating modern life but can be a hindrance when digging through history and philosophy.

@Violet Cabra: I think your idea is important, and it make sense to me. Going up on the energy curve there is a lot of room for trial and error and a lot of discoveries will be made given time.
On the way down both energy and time are in short supply so being in the right place at the right time can make all the difference.

@Doc Tim: I think it depends on the timescale you are talking about. For example I have a car that is almost 30 years old and it runs with no problem. The engine is simple enough that it can be fixed with a couple of tools. Most of today's cars have so many moving pieces that they suffer minor failures all the time.
The other thing to keep in mind is that different technologies reach their peak at different times. For cars it was probably two or three decades ago. For computers ten years ago (my latest laptop from work already started to lose hardware components after three months). There might be technologies that are still on the positive side of the improvement but how many? I can give you a long list of worsening things, starting with houses, medicine and government.


2/1/17, 10:02 PM

Karl Ivanov said...
I personally only have two major quibbles with your perspective on the future. The first is, I have not seen the math done myself. You stated in a previous essay that in order for industrial civilization to exist, it must have an energy resource with an EROEI of at least 11, while the best wind can do is 7. So- all we have to do is get wind power up to 11? Or some combination of wind, solar, and hydro, to add up to an EROEI of 11? I can’t say that you are wrong to say that this is not possible. I just want to know where your numbers come from. It certainly makes sense to me that solar panels don’t make solar panels at the moment, nor is any other renewable resource produced without the use of fossil fuels, and that because of that reality, transitioning requires advanced investment. Many people I have argued with can be led up to acknowledging this much (well, not economists- they scream “Malthusian!” as if that settles the argument) but, having got that far, they are always sure there are still enough resources left for us to make that advanced investment. How can I demonstrate to them that this is not the case?
The second has to do with the historical theories from which you draw your ideas. The previous theories of cyclic history were all based in agricultural civilizations. I think it's fair to say we have no idea what cycles humanity went through during the hunter-gatherer phase, all though it's also fair to guess that that age did have cycles of its own. If the 'technic revolution' is indeed as big a deal for our species as the agricultural revolution, this throws a bit of a wrench into the certainty of cyclic history. This isn't to say that progress is going to fix everything, simply that we have no idea what a civilizational cycle in a technic society looks like.

2/1/17, 10:04 PM

heather said...
Darn,I was hoping your speculation about the length of Caesar's fingers would make it in to your description of him here. I snorted out loud at that bit late in last week's comments.

I am looking forward to the upcoming discussion of philosophy. I also hope you return to explore the alt-center political concept. I am coming to think that knitters-together of our frayed and rapidly further-fraying society are badly needed, and I wonder if those of us who are gaining experience through this blog community at looking for larger patterns and alternatives to dualistic thinking might not be good candidates for those roles. A master course from you in practical civics, complete with hands-on homework challenges, might be just the thing to kindle a movement. I like Violet's concept that the few people who care about preserving a culture can have a disproportionate effect on the future. It seems that the alt-center political culture,if that's what we're going to call it, needs preservationists sooner rather than later.

--Heather in CA

2/1/17, 10:19 PM

greg simay said...
Hello John,
A few thoughts inspired by your current and past few blogs:
1) An excellent book about the taboo subject of class in America is Paul Fussel's excellent "Class". Though it dates from the 80's it's still an insightful guide. In my view, Fussell identified two American classes that were intellectually vigorous: the "upper proles" of skilled craft workers and the "upper middles" of professionals. In Dmitry Orlov's terms, the upper middles of lawyers, high-level managers, digerati, etc. have allied themselves with the technosphere. The skilled craft workers, at least potentially, can be allied with the biosphere and would, at least potentially, be in a better position to survive the shrinking of the technosphere. So you have two competing "natural aristocracies" though the craft workers have, by and large been deprived of a proper education when it comes to politics, etc. In the 18th century there arose a group of self-described "mechanics" who, inspired by Newton, did their own experiments rather than rely on authority. Your blog is facilitating communication among the neo-mechanics who are doing their own personal experiments that are causing them to lok at this world with fresh eyes.
2) Perhaps Trump vs the establishment is, in the context of this century, the early stirrings of a "biosphere" party rebelling against a "technosphere" party?
3) Perhaps the next religious awakening will take consciousness seriously as something more than something reducible to phyiscal phenomena? A philosopher like David Chalmers is a good place to start.

2/1/17, 10:25 PM

heather said...
It's a good thing we are heading into philosophy next week. I can't imagine what a "perfect person" would even mean.
--Heather in CA

2/1/17, 10:28 PM

Keith Huddleston said...
Does the cyclical methodology say anything about how tolerant/intolerant the new religiosity is likely to be?

The examples I can think of show the stakes to be very, very high for picking the winner. Or . . . is the real danger is staying with a clear loser too long?

As as aside, my sense of faith is extremely non-dualistic, really close to Daoist, but I have no desire to be burnt, nor to take hemlock. . .

Just trying to figure out if there can be any informed strategy for this part of the wheel's turning.

2/1/17, 11:14 PM

brett rasmussen said...
On the subject of some new energy source like a thorium molten salt reactor, for example, coming to our rescue, I tend think of it as a no-rescue rescue because even if it was cheap and had a high net energy it would not save us from our predicament. It may allow us to continur along the path we are on for a little bit longer until some other limiting factor besides energy brought us to heel. In other words, even if we find a virtually endless energy source we will still mismanage our affairs so badley as to destroy ourselves.

On the matter of Gaius Julius Caesar, he was the subject of a lot of negative propaganda by his political opponents, especially after his death. Referenses to a high pitched or effeminate voice, homosexuality etc should be taken with great caution, this type of school yard level criticism is quite effective and tends to have good staying power but is not necearily accurate. We see these techniques used in today's politics eg Donald Trump aka Donny tiny hands.

2/1/17, 11:18 PM

Kevin said...
Whatever new religions may happen to develop in the decades and centuries ahead, I hope they won't be as anti-intellectual as Christianity and Islam proved to be in their early phases. Their histories appear to me to be chequered with violence, intolerance and cultural vandalism (for instance, the systematic destruction of other cultures' religious and artistic artifacts) to a remarkable degree. Is this typical, according to your reading of history, or something of an exception?

The historical role you sketch out for yourself, modeled along the lines of Iamblichus, reminds me of a concept developed by Morris Berman which he calls the "New Monastic Individual" (NMI), meaning someone who quietly sets about to help conserve some aspect of their dying civilization that they value, typically at a modest scale, alone or in participation with like-minded others.

When young I wished to be one of a wave of artists in some new renaissance, a cultural transformation - maybe a transition to the kind of world we might have had if we hadn't blown our energy resources out our tailpipes. But as you and Berman seem to suggest - and I think that the observable evidence by and large supports your contentions - now it appears that the role of anyone desiring to do something creative or constructive is liable to be more like that of Iamblichus. This realization comes as something of a shock, and calls for serious recalibration.

2/1/17, 11:39 PM

RogerCO said...
I'm very much looking forward to some help getting to grips with Spengler; I have found The Decline of the West quite difficult reading and have stalled about half way through, putting it aside for the past 9 months for works more accessible to my current state of understanding.
I find it is often difficult going back to sources of ideas - the language and cultural context can seem impenetrable and I guess that is why much philosophy consists of commentary on earlier philosophers.
Thus Arne Naess is much easier to read than Spinoza and certainly what an Archdruid of our time has said here about his understanding of Spengler seems to make sense to me - teasing those ideas out from the original is hard work and I thank you for your help.

2/2/17, 12:17 AM

DoubtingThomas said...
Fortunately there's plenty of logical fallacies to choose from. Ad hominem, Ab Absurdo and the use of emotive prejudicial language are quite popular on the Internet. You are not immune to their allure yourself. Spengler has his critics. Your choice to ignore those critics doesn't automatically invalidate them. That's just your choice. Prejudicial motivational assumptions are not evidence. I find it intellectually dishonest to use such tactics to dismiss inconvenient details. I appreciate you want to stay on message but those tactics are quite obvious and do you a disservice. You are obviously a clever well read intelligent man, I don't see why you stoop to them.

You keep trying to deny the role/effect of innovation & chance in our civilisations. Claim unspecified litanies of failures. As you have used in comments yourself before, "What makes you think that the universe will deliver innovation / chance on your schedule/lifetime/area?".

Funny thing is, Spangler overlooking innovation doesn't have to invalidate your pet theory, but ignoring the effect and attempting to use the tactics above does weaken your defence. Spengler defined money as being the dominant power in our age and considered blood as the only power strong enough to overthrow money. Personally I lean to a translation of "love" to the term blood rather than 'family, race, ethnicity'. A rise in consciousness provoking more love of our fellow man could change things for those carried along with it. Those who chose not to might just fade away. We ( inc you ) don't know. Spengler, some pal of Hitler until he fell from favour, had a theory and 30 years later Philosophers like Adorno critiqued Spengler. Decades later so do I.

I'm afraid that this weeks post doesn't shed any new light. I was looking forwards to a revelation.

You said last week your theory had some validation. Have you had those validations peer reviewed or is it just your personal score keeping? The effects of congnitive dissonance, confirmation & selection bias strike us all.

It's ok, I'm not expecting an answer. I've decided to move along. Overlooking the unsubtle attempts to condescend is a chore. I learned while here so all is not lost. I understand we are post peak oil and that it will progressively cause changes to society. I also understand now why Trump won. So thank you.

Your preferred predictions are clear but I'll let the future unfold as it may and focus on futures with different attributes to those preferred by yourself. I'm not a follower. I even avoided reading your blog timeline in time order to prevent being carried along. I've bought several of your books as payment for your educational services so Thank You again.

2/2/17, 12:24 AM

John Michael Greer said...
First of all, to all who are cheering the coming discussion of philosophy, thank you. We've got a long strange trip ahead.

Bryan, Charles Fort used to say that it steam-engines when steam-engine time comes around. I suspect he knew what he was talking about.

Geographist, Caesarism did begin between the wars; I'm sure you can name some of the Caesars. It generally takes several rounds before it finishes overturning the corporate-bureaucratic state. This is round 2.

Raymond, good. Very good.

Ray, "the Orange Julius" is a keeper. The differences between the age of ideologies and the age of personalities -- that's a complex matter, and will need a post of its own in due time.

Ozark, I'd draw the distinction differently. Rome wasn't anything like as dependent on the exploitation of nonrenewable resources as we are. If we had an economy that could continue indefinitely without running out of raw materials and trashing the biosphere, the convulsions immediately ahead would lead to a plateau of uncertain length, or perhaps more than one such plateau broken by short dark ages and eras of recovery. Since our civilization chose a much faster track to ruin -- it's not the only example of the type, btw; the Mayans did the same, by exploiting their vulnerable soils to the point of collapse -- the stages pile up a bit on the Winter end of things.

Rat, the Second Religiosity doesn't always bring in repetitions of Springtime. Sometimes it brings in exotic new forms -- think Christianity in late Roman times; sometimes you get weird mutations of the local faith instead. It's anyone's guess whether Christianity in some new form will become the dominant faith of our Second Religiosity, or if some other emergent faith or group of faiths will do so.

Shaun, as we'll see shortly, it's even more complex than that. Each individual has some habits of representation that are hardwired in biology, some that are culturally inculcated, some that are the product of personal experience (especially in childhood), and these are automatic in nature. Under some circumstances an individual can learn to change the latter two here and there, and there are known ways to mediate such changes, but they're not easy. Since our understanding of the world depends utterly on how we represent it to ourselves, such changes amount to transformations of the world -- more on this soon!

SweaterMan, glad to year it.

Bill, nice. That's rather reminiscent of Stephen Wolfram's work, you know.

Notes, thanks for this. I have a short book by the American occultist Manly P. Hall on his trip to Koyasan -- he was a serious student of Shingon Buddhism, among many other things, and integrated its teachings into his philosophy in some intriguing ways. I'll consider finding some other books!

2/2/17, 12:30 AM

Les said...
JMG, it was back in 2015 that Andy Brown introduced us to the German word “Verschlimmbessert”, meaning to make something worse by improving it.
I humbly submit “kaputtreparieren“ meaning to break something by repairing it.
Funny how when I introduce this concept to people stuck in the old paradigm, they agree that whatever doodad they just bought disappointed them and that it seems like a trend. Then next week, there they are in the queue waiting to buy the latest iWhatsit.
Also, thanks to your and Jessi‘s smack upside the head last week, I finally updated The Edible Forest‘s web site – looking back, maybe we have achieved something after all. And so much more to go. Boredom‘s never an issue around here…

2/2/17, 12:45 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Gordon, Glubb, Strauss & Howe, and Spengler are all dealing with cycles of different lengths, though they nest neatly within each other! Spengler's dealing with cycles around a millennium in length, in which art, science, and culture are as important as politics. I definitely recommend reading him, and if at all possible the full two-volume version. He was a great favorite of the Beat poets, if that's any incentive.

Brian, the only Native American cultures that had the classic cyclic phenomena were the urban ones. All the urban Mesoamerican cultures -- Aztec, Toltec, Mayan, etc. -- followed the usual patterns, and there's evidence that the mound-building cultures in the Mississippi Valley did also, though we don't have as much evidence there. Non-urban cultures go through much gentler fluctuations, and don't have the sequence of long steady rise followed by decline and fall. Compare what's known about non-urban Native cultures with the Mayans, the best-documented (since we can read their writing) of the urban Native cultures, and you can see a lot about how that works.

Ray, the reason I don't worry too much about emergent behavior is that we've used our shiny new technology to make mistakes that were old before the Pyramids were built. Eventually some new mode of human society might emerge that has a different arc through time, but despite our machines, we're acting just like a bunch of Babylonians...

Patricia, by all means send it around! If it slows down the histrionics at bit, that would be welcome. I hope I do get to Japan someday; there are a lot of places I'd like to visit, and people, too.

Johnhavey, you figure that out by seeing how the cycles mesh. This cycle of economic ups and downs produces ordinary recessions, but when it combines with this other cycle, you get deep ones, and so on.

Ben, in that case we would probably have had political centralization a lot earlier, as happens in most but not all other civilizations. For that matter, if the industrial revolution had started in France rather than Britain, Europe would be a single French-speaking nation today with rural backwaters where people remember other languages. There's a lot of room for variation of detail within the cycles; something will fill this or that slot, but it needn't be the same shape as the one that did so before. More on this as we proceed!

Mark, if I put up a website and asked people to post examples of that sort of thing, it would crash due to sheer traffic.

Jay, oh, I'm not trying to chase people off. I'm just giving everyone a chance to draw in a deep breath.

Karl, if they do think of something, the things I've chosen to learn and teach still mean that I have, and will continue to have, a richer and fuller life than I'd have had if I'd embraced the frankly bleak lifestyle of the technology-dependent couch potato, or what have you. So I'm quite comfortable either way.

The EROEI requirement has been calculated several times; I'll have to chase down the sources, though. As for the differences between technic and agricultural civilizations, if we ever get a mature technic civilization -- one that doesn't depend on self-terminating cycles of resource extraction and pollution -- that may indeed be different. We don't have one of those, though, and so far our civilization is following the standard track.

2/2/17, 12:47 AM

Jay Dee said...
It's possible to take the deconstruction of the unique genius theory of history a step further by describing it as an ideological artifact of historical writing. History is a narrative form and needs characters to inhabit its stories if they are to be readable. Add to that an ideological preoccupation with individualism (characteristically American, but since spread to the rest of the west at least) and you're all set. Albert Einstein is the paradigmatic example: you need a flamboyant man with an interesting haircut* to be the leading man in your story of the new physics. It'd be an interesting meta-historical project to track the transformation of characters in historical writing from the exemplary individual (ie. secular saint) to the Promethean genius of high modernism.

*Ha! There may be hope for our gracious host yet! ;)

2/2/17, 12:59 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Heather, funny. Don't worry, I haven't dropped the alt-center concept. I'd encourage you to explore it on your own as well, though.

Greg, it's been a long time since I've read Fussell's book, and I don't know that I can comment on it on the basis of my very thin memory of it! As for the Second Religiosity, it won't care about philosophers; like other religious movements, it'll take its impetus from raw religious experience, and proclaim itself in the language of faith and salvation rather than that of reasoned discourse. That's why it has such power when reason has run itself into the ground.

Keith, nope. That depends very much on fine details of cultural style.

Brett, I won't argue about the no-solution solution. As for Caesar, there was plenty of propaganda on all sides, to be sure, but everybody I've ever met who had the kind of facial and neck tension you see on his statues had a high shrill voice, so I tend to take that much seriously.

Kevin, Christianity and Islam were mildly anti-intellectual in their very early phases, profoundly pro-intellectual in their middle phases, and took on their present opposition to rationalist materialism in the culture wars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Remember that Christian monks and Muslim scholars were responsible for preserving nearly the entire corpus of classical science, logic, and mathematics! A lot depends on how effectively people like me succeed in bridging the gap between the fading age of reason and the rising tide of new religious movements, but it's absolutely standard for religion to be the main force for cultural and intellectual preservation in a dark age, and I don't see that changing.

RogerCO, I'll keep that in mind. It might be worth going through Spengler in detail in a series of posts, but we'll see.

DoubtingThomas, you keep on demanding that a single short essay should contain the kind of documentation normally found in a book; if you want the failures as well as the successes specified, you might read through the archives, where I've talked about them at length. You also keep insisting that I dismiss the role of innovation and chance in human history, which is really rather odd, in that I discussed at some length in this essay the role that innovation plays in history, and I've discussed chance at great length as well. That they're part of the cycle, rather than an exception to it, doesn't deny them a place.

Talking about motivations is not necessarily a fallacy, when arguments are repeatedly used to support an obvious preexisting agenda. For example, if it's possible, as you suggest, that some unexplained change in consciousness will provoke more love for our fellow man, isn't it just as possible that an equally unexplained change in consciousness will provoke less love for our fellow man? If not, why not? Of course we both know the reason: faith in progress demands one and not the other.

That said, if you don't find these essays of interest, then by all means find something more to your taste. The internet's a big place, and it's a lot easier to find people who support your point of view than mine, you know.

Les, a nice bit of German. I'm still trying to think of a way to talk about what I suppose should be called iFailure, the way that technologies that supposedly fill human needs actually fill abstract representations of human needs and leave the needs themselves untouched, but that's going to require quite a bit of discussion.

2/2/17, 1:08 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Jay Dee, good. Very good. Yes, and that's something we'll also have to talk about; the thing is, to get there we're going to have to apply a screwdriver and some wrenches to the entire concept of history, and see what's under the shiny box that surrounds it.

2/2/17, 1:09 AM

KL Cooke said...
Violet, you are always one of the better participants here.

2/2/17, 1:15 AM

nuku said...
@Doc Tim,Re “cars are better“:
Depends of course on what one means by “better” and by “the past”. You’ve chosen one aspect, longevity. You didn’t specify a reference date, i.e, are you talking about cars from the 30’s, or later? On some measures, older cars are IMHO “better“. For instance, ease of repair by the owner, simplicity (no electronic modules), cheaper. I had a 1974 Toyota HiLux pickup that I could repair and tune myself. It got reasonable gas mileage and when I sold it after 10 years of use, some of it on rough roads hauling full loads, it was still going strong with 200k on the clock.

2/2/17, 1:16 AM

Gabriela Augusto said...
Dear JMG,

one can not tire to thank you, and the forum for the weekly dose of rationality and common sense so severely missed in these troubled times.
That said, I do disagree with you in one point: there is something special an unprecedented about our civilization when compared with all the others we know of: its size and scale. In the improbable event that our civilization would collapse in the next hour or so, the event would be acutely felt by billions of people across the world, and would be a life changing event to everyone except a few thousands scattered here and there.
The failure of such a vast and complex system as never been registered before, and whereas the thing is unfolding by the book so far, we can not know what will be the consequence of failing of the next thread. I do hope we have more three or four generations to deal with this, but I would not be surprised if some "minor" war or social convulsion somewhere, would send us back to the countryside much sooner than expected.

2/2/17, 2:09 AM

Iuval Clejan said...
The reason I object to the determinism of the cyclical historians but not to the many laws of physics or the one law of biology (evolution) is because life is more flexible than inert matter and humans even more flexible than most animals. Some of us have the ability to learn from the past and model the future, the ability and desire to get out of boxes once we can see them and better yet, once we understand the nature of their walls. So if we really understood the nature of Empire and had the desire to not repeat it, why would we be doomed to repeat it? I don't buy the argument based on a fundamentally selfish human nature, as it has been shown that we have just a fundamentally cooperative and even altruistic nature. The problem is how to give a competitive edge to groups that choose decentralization and altruism over groups that choose Empire.

2/2/17, 2:14 AM

Mean Mr Mustard said...

Your predictive powers exceed Nostradamus, who only dealt in vague quatrains... Not only did you call it for Trump over a year ago, but earlier, you also noted the possible stark choice, well before he emerged to take over the GOP.

"The hardest of all political choices, though, comes when the conflict lies between the bad and the much, much worse—as in the example just sketched out, between a crippled, dysfunctional, failing democratic system riddled with graft and abuses of power, on the one hand, and a shiny new tyranny on the other. "

Here's my rather obvious prediction - I don't think he, due to his fixed winner/loser mindset (or any in his authoritarian clique) will ever gracefully relinquish power. You now have an Emperor for Life. And that imposition, in turn, will provoke the domestic insurgency you have repeatedly warned of.


2/2/17, 2:19 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

I look forward to being schooled in philosophy. Out of sheer curiosity: is this series of essays forming the core of any forthcoming books?

I'm reading Jason Heppenstall's (a commenter's here) excellent dystopian future fiction book: The Seat of Mars. I'm quite enjoying the story which is a dark satire and am also learning much about Jason's part of the UK. I recommend the book. Then next up is your book "Retrotopia" which needs no introduction here, but I also recommend that book to all too. Then a book on manure by a contrarian farmer going by the name of Gene Logsdon, the title of which will not pass your blog moderation process - don't blame me, I didn't name it - he started it! Hehe! Then, I will begin reading about Song Lines. I really needed a break after reading Overshoot twice in rapid succession. There really does need to be some sort of initiation process by which a person can absorb the contents of a book like Overshoot and not be majorly bummed out by the content. I don't reckon many people are up for the implications of the contents though and it is quite a confronting tale which has profoundly changed my worldview.

I'd imagine philosophy has a similar effect on people? Maybe? Dunno. The thing I'm looking forward to about your essays is that acknowledging different understandings of the same world that we all inhabit can maybe provide a more flexible worldview? Dunno. But I do see many people stuck with a single narrative and when it doesn't work, they double down on the belief systems or the efforts to support that narrative, and well, to be honest, there are better and easier approaches. They might not like them though, is my gut feeling! Dunno. It sure is going to be complex.



2/2/17, 2:34 AM

Phil Knight said...
I wonder if, in political terms, we would have arrived at Caesarism by the 1950's, if it wasn't for Hitler having been so extreme and unbalanced.

I think Hitler's legacy might come to be seen as having given Liberalism an extra 70-80 years of artificial life. It's interesting that he is still the bogeyman that liberals conjure up to ward the undecided away from the populists.

2/2/17, 2:43 AM

Bob Wise said...
Thanks for reminding me of the definition of "begging the question." I knew it was a logical fallacy, from a mandatory semester course in logic half a century ago at UF, but had forgotten exactly what it meant. I just knew it grated on my ear every time a writer used that phrase to mean "suggests the question.." Have to read Spengler again.

2/2/17, 2:55 AM

DiSc said...

I generally approve of your view of decline taking a long time, possibly centuries, and not a few years, or seconds, Hollywood-style.

I do make my own argumentum ad ignorantiam, though, that things might still worsen all of a sudden and in a spectacular fashion after all: the modern world has nuclear weapons. There are claims that a single nuclear exchange could cause a nuclear winter and hasten the demise of iPads considerably.

Also, you seem to equate our present situation with Rome's at the time of Caesar: if Roman history is a good measure, and if we do not nuke ourselves to oblivion, we still have three centuries before actually collapsing.

I compare our situation more with the fourth century: the system was already collapsing in the third century (the 1930s), but was temporarily saved by a new US-centered international order, just like the Roman world was temporarily saved by Diocletian.

Obama would be a sort of new Constantine, blood-thirsty and vaguely idealistic. The Edict of Milan is the new NATO, where all Western countries function essentially as American-controlled territories.

A new Alaric is about to be born among those peoples that the Empire fought, but failed to integrate (any of the desperates pushing on the European borders).

From here on it is pretty much all downhill, and it is over within a century.

2/2/17, 2:57 AM

MichaelK said...
Dear JMG,

I'm warming to you and your style, even though (sorry) I do think a little bit of 'editing' might improve things a bit on occasion. But, I'm inclined to think that Steven King needs a good editor too! Your stuff does have an almost 19th century scale, scope and pace, which is good for real readers, but most of my students wouldn't get very far. Not your fault. It's the times. Inspired by you, and my young hipster friends, I've grown a long beard as well, which is much admired by the ladies.

You make lots of good points. The idea that the world is a big wheel and it rotates is linked to obervation. So much does go and come back again, repeating endlessly. Night follwed by day, the seasons, the movement of the Sun. This is, of course, linked to agrarian societies. Modern industrial societies broke the wheel of fortune and set us on a course towards the... stars. We're chained to that rocket I'm afraid. These are, obviously, the wheel and the great engine racing along a track towards a brighter and better future always just beyond the horizon, just models. You are correct, challenging the dogma of progess, gets some incredibly strong reactions from people. This I think has a lot to do with how successful industrial and tech society appears to be, almost 'magical.' What, could possibly go wrong?

Too long, sorry.

Newton was also an... alchymist, and was obssesed with the super-natural and had a lot of very strange views and attitudes, which isn't meant to detract from his genius or achievements.

Caesar seems to have outraged a lot of conservative aristocratic opinion in Rome. He was criticised for wearing his tunic too low and open, whatever that really means. I think he may have been playing a long game, creating a network that would prove useful in the future whilst at the same time diverting attention from what he was really doing because an open campaign was a very dangerous thing to do in Rome.

Essentially Caesar wanted to 're-connect' the people of Rome to the structure and ideology of the state once more. In many ways he was a... populist. Ordinary Romans saw him as their champion and friend, whilst the aristocrates saw a threat to their rule. Was Caesar a democrat? Probably not as we'd understand things. He was a very successful military commander, which shouldn't be over-looked. So he was very popular with the army and the common people, both of which he needed if his 'reform progamme' was going to be successful. In some ways he resembles a kind 'proto-fascist' leader, a bit like Cromwell or Bonaparte, and for some of the same reasons.

Caesar saw the growing chasm between the the aristocrats and the people, the 1% and the rest, as a threat to the effecacy of the army and the state, going forward. And I suppose he was right, after Caesar there was civil war and the Republic was replaced by monarchy and full-on aristocratic rule, which, arguably led towards the decline of the Roman Empire.

2/2/17, 3:04 AM

Phil Harris said...
O man of his times! Could we have done more? They used to say of the fallen in the Great War, there would have been more poetry, more science, and more music. Or Keats might not have died from TB when barely more than a youth.

So, I propose a rhetorical question. If a certain JM Greer, AD, had been 25 years earlier, what difference? Yeats was already there well before; the Celtic fringe of Empire had probed visions; a Golden Dawn had looked to the East further back than Rome or Hellene. Tolkien had played history with the tropes of good and evil. Already, Spengler, Toynbee, had responded to global reach and provisionally synthesised the fruits of industrialised 19thC scholarship. Glubb had been in the military cockpit.

Two of the main rhetorical assumptions at the ADR have been, firstly, the great curtain that is Climate Change and secondly the practical and resource limits to industrial expansion (let alone ‘individualism’). A third might be the ‘missed opportunity’ when America might have got it.

When a new reality hove in sight in America and an honourable man from old tradition and family (peanut farmer) stepped up, there was a brief window of opportunity, or so JMG might have thought. America – and, we see of course the World - blew it! “We are three or four decades too late to go down that path now” – I might paraphrase slightly.

O, the word that might have made the soil fertile again!

PS. Bill Pulliam is back! I cannot judge his mathematics, but looks positively Pythagorean from my angle.

2/2/17, 3:37 AM

Mary said...
@Keith Huddleston,
I'll hazard a guess. Given the context of population overshoot, resource depletion and, unlike the Mayans, no unoccupied place to migrate to start over, I expect the new religiosity to be intolerant to the point of genocide.

We see it already happening in regions with few resources and high poverty.

As a member of an unprotected minority I've noted that intolerance from neighbors and co-workers has morphed since the election of 2000 from verbal assaults, exclusion and ostracism to incursions on my property and attempts on my animal's lives.

Once population levels decline sufficiently, then it could shift to something more supportive. I don't expect to be around long enough...


2/2/17, 3:55 AM

beetleswamp said...
Sometimes I'm a little ashamed of myself for not being more skeptical of your ideas, but as far as I can tell you've consistently provided the most inclusive model for our collective trajectory over the past few years simply because you are one of the few who considers historical precedents beyond the past 3 or 4 decades. All I could come up with is that you seem a little too optimistic sometimes, but the little sprinkle of horror here and there in your writing puts such concerns to rest.

Your mention of philosophy really made my ears perk up, though. Can't wait to unpack that tea set.

2/2/17, 4:16 AM

. said...
JMG, I think you were saying last week that universities might be about to notice how reliant they are on federal funding. Trump just tweeted this about the Berkeley 'antifascist' riots against this blogger called Milo who they claim is a fascist:

"If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?"

They might have to choose between their right to permit violent no-platforming for people they deem to be fascists vs. funding their own university. That could get very interesting!


2/2/17, 4:30 AM

Dylan said...

I was just getting back into Spengler, Chapter 1, last week. With a sense of almost mystical apprehension I read his description of Cecil Rhodes as the forerunner of a new kind of Western man who would eventually be calling all the shots- in short, a businessman with an oversized ego- about a hundred years after Spengler's time.

Another neat thing is that although Spengler knew that a world-empire dominated by a single Western power was on the horizon, at the time of his writing (mid-WWI) it was still an open question whether that power would be German or American (he uses both as examples of the 'winter' or 'civilization' tendencies in a culture's late development).

I'm fascinated by his assertion that his philosophy (the morphology of history) would be THE LAST original development in Western philosophy- thereafter it would only be possible for Westerners to look at philosophical developments as symbols of developmental stages, rather than as pressing 'problems' to be solved. (Because by his lifetime the problems pertaining to Western thought had all been discovered). That's how I interpret this prediction at least, in light of the way the history of ideas was discussed in my undergraduate courses.

For me, at this moment, this feels like a thought that's too big to get outside of and have a look at. I hope this is what you'll be addressing next week?

2/2/17, 5:43 AM

Jeff said...
Your argument is too deterministic for my taste, but you probably knew I would say that.

2/2/17, 5:43 AM

Robert Carran said...
One thing that people who insist there is going to be some abundant energy source discovered miss is this: even if there were such a thing as "zero point energy" (which is, of course, nonsense), it wouldn't change the fundamental reality that we live on a planet with limited resources and space. In my view, an easy and abundant energy source available to all would be disastrous.

And in the current freak out among the well meaning liberals I know about the train wreck that is Cheeto in Chief, I consider it my roll to point out that opposing Trump is a game of whack-a-mole that drains energy from what we really need to be doing: collaborating on a local level to grow our own food, provide our own energy, housing, healthcare etc. It seems to me that any energy spent fighting this empire only legitimizes it.

When I was active in the Occupy Asheville movement years ago, I realized that it was fundamentally flawed in it's strategy. For example, there was a group organizing a trip to South Carolina to protest Duke Energy building a nuclear plant. I suggested that rather than drive down there, burning a bunch of fossil fuels, making signs, and yelling at buildings, we could spend our time and energy creating a solar panel collective so we could stop paying Duke to fight us. I got some resonance on the idea, but no action. That's about when I gave up on the movement.
On a practical note, I'm even beginning to wonder if solar panels are too complicated of a technology to be a viable long term solution, considering what's to come.

2/2/17, 5:49 AM

Bob Brown said...

It seems to me that one things is very different this time. We, in developed countries, have burnt through natural resources globally at a rate unlike any past civilizations. And have become accustom to having those resources at our fingertips while becoming more and more disconnected from the natural world.

How does that fit with the cycles of history? Is it only a matter of scale?



2/2/17, 5:54 AM

Chris Hope said...
Those who deny the cyclical nature of history seem to ignore the likelihood that some unforeseen event may only postpone the decline rather than reverse it, or stop it. If, for example, we discovered some new concentrated energy source it might buy us some time, but eventually the new energy source would hubbard and we'd have to deal with it, probably much the way we are dealing with peak oil. On a human scale of time, a few hundred years may seem like forever and for those of us living now, it is, for all practical purposes. The cycle may be disrupted, or postponed, but that's not the same as proving history is linear rather than cyclical.

2/2/17, 6:57 AM

Ray Wharton said...
Concerning the difference in important of individual figures at different points in cycles.

The Cultural phase of a civilization is very dynamic and easily subject to incorporating novelty into its own its character, while as it ages the gaps open for novelty to be added become mor and more 'self defined' meaning both defined by the particular civilization and defined by the pattern of civilization. For example, if we assume that there is a general niche that Civilizations oft have, shaped like Newton or Pythagoras as the case may be, the niche is also unique to the degree that only Nixon could go to China, Pythagoras and Newton if switched couldn't have filled each others rolls. Newton was so western he was even born of Christmas for Christ sake (we might suppose).

When the thing being grown is less manifest, like in dark ages, the individuals can be seed bearers, a common type, but what particular seeds are brought and the after-touch of the hand that plants the seed is projected on large. The same general patterns of Civilization apply, such that no seed bearer can just fluke up a seed stock that produced perennial Newton-niches, or some other unbred beast. But, when a forest is freshly burned, which keystone seeds arrive first can make a fundamental long term difference, like the difference between Newton and Pythagoras repeated on every tree crown. Not that these differences yet show any signs of being predictable, but considering how very few civilization we have observed and in what low resolution, we are many civilizations too early to have strong empirical grounds for knowing what aspects of the character of a civilization might be predictable; and that even assumes so herculean work in record preservation and epistomology for such questions to be explored beyond the hypothetical.

I can the concept, along with Seedbearers, and Green Wizards, Spengler's Greenhouse.

2/2/17, 6:59 AM

Michael Robles said...
Hello all!

I was wondering if you have heard of the concepto of Black Swan. I am guessing you have. Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He is the author of Black Swan. Paraphrasing, it says that worldviews are changed 180 degrees after highly improbable events of high risk occur. The name comes from the account that black swans where, well unthinkable, to Western Culture. Until they where found living in Australia. If you have the chance you might enjoy reading such book.

I was wondering if some event, say the extinction of pollinators, could mean that many fruits and vegetables that depend on them could cause a severe distress on human nutrition, thus compromising severely a long descent that takes a multi-generational time-frame, but rather a messy one.

The history of biology is full of examples of species extinction that leads to an unpleasant collapse of other populations. Some being faster than others. So I wonder if Theory in Cyclical History takes into account the biologic-material reality of humans as animals that rely on the health of extended natural communities.

Oh, that reminds me I saw this super cool video of how wolfs shape rivers. As wolves move herds of herbivores into specific grounds it allows the growth of forests with stop the erosion and build up water channels that becomes rivers. No humans without water, so no humans without wolves!

Hope you are enjoying some wonderful deep breaths of pure air, and some sunshine to brown your skin.

2/2/17, 7:12 AM

Gavin Harris said...
For those who would like to view Spengler's "Decline of the West", an on line copy can be found freely here ( Note: I heartily recommend buying the book. Reading a physical book is a great pleasure and, more importantly, still possible once the rolling brown outs arrive. But if you are cash strapped, or just want to see if it is a book that you want, then check out the on line version.

I for one am happy with the move into philosophy, I was actually on earlier today researching the works of Hannah Arendt, following a BBC Radio 4 program discussing her life and works this morning.

Regarding the cyclicality of history and civilisations, those that attempt to deny those cycles and claim "its different this time" are fighting against fundamental human nature. Even those who say, "well if we're aware of it, surely we can change it" are going to fall before it. Several psychological studies have looked at the distribution of psychopathic personality in positions of power and they have regularly turned up the fact that prevalence of people who score highly on that scale increases as power increases. e.g. the percentage of politicians or of senior company executives who score highly on the psychopathic tests increases, often several times over the national average. Such people are attracted to wealth and power, are typically short term thinkers, in that they want to get that power as fast as possible, and they want to both retain and grow that power. They are also lacking in empathy with other people and tend to act to remove anyone competent enough to be a competitor.
i.e. over time the powerful gain more power and wealth, are blind to those who they deprive of it and remove those who would temper their activities. which is why they end up getting overthrown by the masses led by an equally psychopathic personality, in this case often one who is a demagogue.

As you argue, as history cycles it creates "roles" for people. As in your example, as we change from Rationality to Religiosity, we have a role for people who can make sense of that change and explain it to people - whether they want to listen or not. It doesn't matter which actor steps into that role, and they may be good or bad at it, the role exists because the change exists. Its going to be a matter of luck whether you get Laurence Olivier or Sylvester Stallone stepping forward. Given the breadth and size of any civilisation, I would expect several people to step into such roles. While efficiency would seem to indicate that someone who performs the role better will be more likely to succeed in that role, blind luck is probably a stronger influence. :)

2/2/17, 7:39 AM

Nastarana said...
Dear Gordon, I was a generation ahead of you, late 60s early 70s, and we didn't read Spengler either. For us, it was all Marx all the time, and one's private life to be managed by reference to the imagined precepts of Herr Fraud, all well mixed with young adult hormones, a toxic stew which I now believe left many in my generation permanently intellectually challenged. I credit a course I took in Economic History with reminding me of the importance of common sense and that theories have to be grounded in some kind of observed reality.

2/2/17, 7:46 AM

kabobyak said...
I agree that we can't predict either a uniquely splendid nor uniquely horrible future. However, one factor in the equation of predictability would be what is unique to history, at least for the last seventy-five years, and that is the presence of tens of thousands of nuclear warheads and hundreds of nuclear power stations around the globe. If the probability is high that social or state instability will likely occur in it's various expressions (revolution, civil war, election of demagogues, etc.), I would argue that the probability would be pushed closer to the "uniquely horrible" position. Not to predict that it will happen, but that the threat is great enough that we should work to minimize it.
It seems to run parallel with the "bright future of progress" narrative, that many view the nuclear danger as over or at least under control. As Soviet archives have been opened, we have learned how close we may have come to that "uniquely horrible future" (search "Stanislav Petrov"). As NATO pushes to Russia's borders with troops and missiles, there is almost no discussion in western media or government hearings as to the wisdom of this bellicose saber-rattling; we hear only groupthink as to "Russian Aggression". Those who would like to see a more open debate on such a critical issue (e.g. Stephen Cohen) are rarely seen in the mainstream media.
I must say it was brilliant strategy by those with an interest in a new cold war ( fantastic levels of weapons, profits, and career security) to successfully bring into the fold many "liberals" and "progressives", exploiting the disgust with all things Trump, by ramping up unproven or truly bizarre claims about throwing the election for Trump. For many who were in the streets opposing the Bush wars, the CIA has been transformed into a benevolent and trustworthy institution.

2/2/17, 7:51 AM

Nastarana said...
Dear Patriciaormsby, it is by no means certain that the president will complete his first term, or that he will be still alive in 2020. Certain elite, I use the term advisedly, factions (neocons, Clinton Inc. being among them) want their grand war, they want it now, and they are not about to let a little thing like loosing a general election stop them. The convenient belief that the nation state already resides in the dustbin of history allows believers to pay no attention to that antiquated ritual called elections. Opiate of the masses, don't you know? Your descendants, gazing out over a planet of which a fourth to a third has been turned into nuclear waste may well ask why did you not get behind President Trump when you had the chance.

2/2/17, 8:01 AM

J Gav said...
JMG, It's almost as if I'd been expecting this one, and with some anticipation I might add.
Does history repeat itself? "Yes," said Jean Baudrillard, "but it stutters."
How does time move? "Vous êtes victimes du temps," wrote Paul Valéry, "L'heure n'existe pas."
Yes but, assuming it does move, would that be in a cyclical or linear fashion?
It's been some while since I read Spengler but what remains of a brief 'take-away' would sound something like this: Cyclical, not linear. Look for broad tendancies and repetition over time, preferably without neglecting context when discussing a specific culture or civilization.
As I'm sure you're aware, Spengler was roundly savaged, not only by philosophers like Heidegger and Popper, but also economists such as Hayek and von Mises. As I recall, the main accusations concerned his supposed over-reliance on (misuse of?) analogy, and, more generally, his unabashed historicism. However, in Greek, if memory serves, 'analogia' simply means 'proportion.' It seems Spengler was proposing an examination of history which not only assigned meaning to a time and place but also sought to provide a way to situate those times and places in a bigger picture?
In any case, and I'm not sure why, while reading this post I found myself thinking of something you wrote here last year. It pointed to the confusion so frequently encountered nowadays in the way the notions of "facts, values and interests" are treated.
Looking forward to next week's post. I wouldn't be at all surprised if you got some comments doggedly resorting to the 'straw man fallacy.'

2/2/17, 8:04 AM

johojo37601 said...
Spengler did the heavy lifting on the cyclic theory of history you discuss, but because of his own circumstances seemed to see Germany as the active focus of history in the West. Later, in the 1950's, Amaury de Riencourt turned Spengler's ideas toward a stimulating interpretation of the USA as focus of crisis during the latter phase wherein a thousand years of Western cultural ferment settles into decay of a now-aged civilization. I suggest de Riencourt's "The Coming Caesars" as introduction to such American focus of Spenglerian cycles. (By the way, I prefer the original by Amaury de Riencourt, not the so-called "co-authored" version someone recently put together because of a lapse in the original title's copyright.)

2/2/17, 8:17 AM

Dammerung said...
So many people were still talking about me in last week's edition that I want to note that yes, I'm still here; no, I haven't killed anyone yet; and yes, I'm still reading your comments. Words do still pass here. Nevertheless, I can't help but notice that none of the Kurds spend their time trying to argue the finer points of the Hadith while the Islamic State (so called) lays down covering fire for their retreats.

If there's going to be a mad scramble for power then there's simply going to be one. What's the point of casting heroes and villains in such an environment? If a lot of people are going to die in a competition for resources, then I have just as much right as anybody to define my own motivating values and fight for my own conception of what the future should look like. Antifa seems to want Nazis more than anybody, so let's give the people what they want and send them the invoice with postage due. Those who made straight white men into the villains of history should not now find themselves surprised that we intend to play the role to the hilt.

As for a Second Religiosity, I always felt I showed up a little early to that party, but I must admit that JMG has well beaten me to the punch. I wonder how much of it is upbringing and how much of it is innate. I've undergone spontaneous alterations in consciousness that convince me that there's more going on in life than the conventional paradigm wants to admit, and it seems to have happened in spite of my religious upbringing rather than because of it. What I would really like to see is the foundation of something like white Shinto. To re-enliven the natural world with spirits. Spirits of the mountain, spirits of the river, ancestor spirits, so many spirits you can't throw a rock without disturbing half a dozen. Combine that with the theological complexity and syncretism of Mahayana Buddhism, and you've got yourself a real religion on your hands. I'd really hate to see something as stodgy as Christianity retake its crown but maybe it can't be helped given its long history as the spiritual foundation of the West.

2/2/17, 8:31 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
JMG, and Bryan Bundy re Native American cultures and cycles:

(To those who may be Native People reading the following, I do not want to sound as a white know-it-all, but offer it as part of my endeavor to come to understand Native American cultures and beliefs in a genuine way as opposed to “Euro” stereotyping, lying, and generally misrepresenting.)

Two good books I’ve been reading lately are The First North Americans: An Archaeological Journey, by Donald Fagan, and An Archaeology of the Soul: North American Indian Belief and Ritual, by Robert L. Hall.

While these works do not explicitly discuss cyclic time/events/history in the sense being discussed here, they do draw from archaeology, history, old ceremonialism and comparisons among cultures to the extent that one can begin to grasp a sense of the diversity of cultures, and not only how they survived, but how they evolved and changed. While I agree that the urban cultures of Meso- and South America (and the Mississippian) did display more overt, sharp cycles of decline and fall, the non-urban cultures also went through cycles, and indeed, through periods of rise, decline and fall. The old peoples seemed to be very aware of this—again, intellectualized in the same way we might do, but fully taken account of in oral histories and ceremonies based on astrological movements of planets combined with a mythos-based, practical knowledge of the natural world. A common concept of time and change seems to have been of continuity threading through cycles nested within cycles. (How the arrival of the horse disrupted plains cultures is an interesting story in itself.)

Also, urban/non-urban seems to me to be too sharp a dichotomy, at least in North America, because of the way tribes and villages organized themselves, the way life was so entirely governed by the seasons and the way ceremonialism and ritual worked to draw groups together and then disperse them.

Also worthy of note and something I’ve mentioned before is the prophecy of the seven fires, which presents ages in human society, and how each age influences the next in ways that are not strictly cause and effect. Some say we are in the age of the Seventh Fire now.

I think that North American culture is deeply influenced by the histories of the cultures that were on this continent prior to the arrival of the Europeans (dragging along Africans). I suggest that a reading of Spengler should be tempered with a knowledge of American history (of the last 15,000 years) because Europe is partly a story of indigenous peoples developing and striving against each other, whereas, our story is that of invaders bringing a culture with them and it turning into something different. American culture is not necessarily synonymous with western culture (in the classic sense), in my view. Which of course does not obviate Spengler's larger idea of historical cycles being discussed here.

2/2/17, 8:36 AM

Jerome Purtzer said...
JMG- Great Post! Thanks. I'm sure you've heard of the Hills Group, a group of oil field engineers who discuss the rapidly falling EROI of the FF economy. Their calculations seem to dovetail perfectly with your theories of Catabolic Collapse. Their calculations also model the Australian Government funded study in the early 2000's, that Australia subsequently tried to repress because the conclusions might cause wind spread panic in the populace. The major conclusion was that after 2017 nothing that people might do with unconventional oil, or attempts to squeeze more out of legacy fields would overcome the overall decline rates and EROI worldwide.

2/2/17, 8:55 AM

Dan Mollo said...
With regards to the idea of innovation as a driver of change that doubtingthomas has brought up, whenever someone argues this I always bring up the fact that though innovation can indeed create new and unique ways of organizing society, performing physical tasks, thinking about the nature of reality, etc., there are hard limits on how far this can go.

Constructions of social interactions in a society, complex or otherwise, will always be limited by the human need to form social groups which are constantly in a state of in-group cooperation or conflict while simultaneously conflicting or cooperating with out-groups. Ibn Khaldun is useful here, as well as some of the ideas that have been built upon him by Cliodynamics (without the relentless quantification of data, I should add. I do not find that useful.) This constant balance between cooperation/conflict, although able to create large, cohesive societies, can also just as easily destroy those societies. Works that look at the cycles of history provide in-depth examples of this (Vico, Spengler, Toynbee, etc.), which you have been writing about for over 10 years, so of course I do not need to mention them here. To the point, this precludes the idea that society is always going in one direction.

There are also hard limits on technological innovation due to the fact that any new innovation is limited by available energy inputs. At present, I think people too often mistake innovation with imagination. Though I can imagine a machine that can spirit me away to the furthest reaches of the universe, I can not in reality create a machine that can actually do this, and not because I lack the necessary skills to build one. There is most likely no physical way anything like this can ever be built because of resource and energy constraints. At present, current innovation of existing technology is generally just a more clever way of using existing principles to do something slightly different, and usually with a higher energy cost (the "smart" phone is a good example.)

Finally, with regards to thinking about reality, I think the scientific method is perhaps one of the greatest innovations of mankind, but of course even this has severe limitations. The scientific method is useful where appropriate, but does a poor job in many other aspects of human life, such as religious or spiritual thought. How can anyone realistically use the scientific method to explain the existence of a god or gods, who are completely beyond the scope of our limited perceptions? There are ways to bridge the gap, but science is definitely not one of them.

I feel like I am preaching to the choir here, and I don't really have the voice for it, but when someone claims innovation, I have to offer a retort.

2/2/17, 8:58 AM

Jordan said...

It's essays like this on the long view that keep me coming back to the Archdruid Report, even when I disagree with or am angered by some of your other posts on current events.


2/2/17, 9:15 AM

Seaweed Shark said...
This was a well-turned essay, a pleasure to read and as always, I find your work enlightening and something to reflect upon. Having buttered you up I shall now perpetrate criticism. I see two problems with your approach that, as far as I can tell, you have never addressed with care.

1. Spengler and Toynbee both propounded theories of history grounded in something like metaphysics. Spengler is deeply grounded in concepts out of German romanticism: the ineluctable personalities of civilizations, the mystery of historical appearances, and so on. Toynbee attempts a much more British-empiricist approach but despite his vast marshaling of historical data, he also grounds his historical cycles in the mysterious irreducible emergent qualities of large groups of humans acting over time, essentially a very sophisticated version of "what goes up must come down." I own and treasure the works of both these great writers, but Neither of their systems appears to have anything to do with resource depletion. Spengler says nothing about it, and Toynbee only mentions it in his last writings, in an "oh, that too" kind of a way. This seems to set up a situation in which you can't have it both ways: if the USA is failing because of resource depletion, that's just a technical problem and yeah, some smart person could come up with a solution, as many smart people are attempting to do. If the USA is failing due to the mysterious metaphysical forces of rise-and-fall, then oil and gas depletion don't have much to do with it, and this rather crimps much of what you've argued on your blog, though admittedly only tacitly in this essay. I've never seen you address that challenge: if you have, please let me know.

2. You never have clarified the time frame. In this essay you talk as though the current populist US President and some current political donnybrook can be mapped onto the history of the Roman Empire. If I remember right, when Julius Caesar was killed, the Roman Republic may have been effectively dead but Roman civilization still had several hundred years to run; its creative phase may have ended but by some accounts its great days of power were still a century in the future. But leaving that aside, I'd like to ask, if you had been living in 1932 -- well into the great depression and with populist movements on the rise -- and you had been reading Spengler, whose work had recently come out in English, would you have foreseen the next 50 years of US global dominance? How about if you had been living in 1865 in a nation wracked by recent civil war, not yet completely put back together, and with a president many considered a populist demagogue recently assassinated, would you have seen the massive economic growth of the coming decades? Despite your admirable and impressive grasp of history, your overall argument seems very much grounded in the historical period that happened to intersect with your own existence, especially in the years 1970-2005. Who would have guessed that those few decades would be the turning point of all human history?

Forgive me if I have missed it, but I haven't seen you address either of these, which don't seem to me to be fluff arguments to be dismissed with a wave. Best wishes and thanks for your engaging and inspiring efforts.

2/2/17, 9:48 AM

John Crawford said...
Good posts the past two weeks. Pursuing the "Second Religiosity" idea further I found a reference to an earlier post of yours which is next-up on the quick read list.

I have just started your recent book "Dark Age America" and, though only a chapter or so in, have found it very much to the point. It is refreshing to see the quick analysis of the environmental on the ongoing decline of our civilization.

After that well, it looks like I will have to read Spengler for the first time.

Nice job, thanks...

2/2/17, 10:10 AM

C.M. Mayo said...
Some of things you say in this essay helped me to clarify an argument in an essay of my own. So thank you. And in general, thank you. Your essays are a pleasure to read.

2/2/17, 10:26 AM

Violet Cabra said...

Thank you for your response, John Michael Greer. It helped me realize that I've been subscribing to the belief in the historical trope that one person can make all the difference. From an ecological standpoint that is, of course, absurd. one population can make all the difference, and an individual is not separate from that. So St Patrick may be the symbolic person coming to us 1500 years later, but is clearly not the only historical actor who acted equivalently

Shifting my thinking on this matter is frightening, as it is clearly something inoculated in me, perhaps when my parents read A Wrinkle in Time out loud to me as a young child, but it is also enormously liberating. The Historical Figure has such an unreasonable amount of pressure; the pressure of the mythos of history. To eliminate that mythic pressure, to accept that there are others carrying equivalent seeds into the future, is to help personally balance my psyche and remove a terrible and dread burden from my inner life. My actions are still something I can regard as important and meaningful, but no longer have to be horribly stilted. I'm utterly grateful that you choose this subject for this week; if historical models are simply tools we use to apprehend the past I might as well choose one that allows me to be effective, still do the things I love, and be more inwardly balanced.

2/2/17, 10:33 AM

Paulo said...
Very enjoyable post. I am reminded of my old Philosophy prof who invited me into his discussion forum about the time I started reading and posting to The Oil Drum. I simply did not have enough time for both and declined, but now, (after 10 years) I am returning to my roots, I guess. I am quite excited about it, to be honest. Talk about full circle!!

This apparent Decline is similar to Dudley Warner's mis-attributed statement, "Everyone complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it". I share the misgivings of many, I sense the disconnects, but will continue to make up my own mind. I might call it my version of 'critical thinking' with a dash of self-confidence tossed in, but I remain wary. It is a fine line between cynicism and 'going along', and I sometimes wonder if it even matters? So, just like the weather problem, I always ask myself, "What's next for me and mine"? Some answers might be, "go to a good place", "collapse ahead of the rush", or as my daughter used to say when she was 3, "Don't worry don't panic".

Last week I responded that the 'Serenity Prayer' might be a decent first step. In fact, it is probably one of my final solutions to this Decline. I have already done the relocation. I have rebuilt the energy efficient home. I have helped my children become established in their own lives. We have built up our gardens and work our woodlot. We have become more than debt-free and maintain our health. We are 'of community'. But the fact remains, I sense The Decline and see it unfolding, everyday. The Decline is as obvious to me as The Weather, and there isn't too much I can do about it beyond what we have already accomplished in our family.

Rather than Spengler, I choose Thoreau for understanding. In particular, I find these two sentences particularly meaningful. "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary."

To live in the moment, to live deliberately, and to be grateful, for as Thoreau said, "living is so dear". And I also do not wish to 'practise resignation' and do not believe it is necessary. Okay, The Decline is upon us. Our leaders are now coarse people and have been so for generations. Our leaders are now plundering kleptocrats. Our civilization is in obvious planet-destroying overreach. I can't fix it and to dwell on the situation without personal solutions at hand is to invite depression inside. It will ruin my life and take away my serenity. To lose my belief in gratitude is for me, sacrilige of the highest order.

I do not pretend to have the answers. However, I do know that it is wrong to accept what is unfolding as anything other than wrong and disgusting. Imagine, a President who once used a cigar to penetrate a young intern is lauded as succesful and trotted out to campaign for his wife as a 'positive'. Imagine, recent Presidents also caught lying, cheating, or protecting oligarch thieves and thought to be even better than the current newly-elected version. Now, we have the genital grabbing coarser version, whisking into events in a private jet with gold plated seat belts and toilet handles; a President who tells the desperate populace they are, "tremendous", "really great" and "wonderful". And of course all our common enemies are, "really bad dudes", "terrible people" and "really really bad people" conducting "carnage", "So Sad"!!!. Oh My God. Is there anything left we can do other than pray?

2/2/17, 10:41 AM

Nancy Shirley said...
Discussing philosophy is fine by me. I have a B.A. in Philosophy that I got in 1976. (I also have a B.S. in Computer Science that I got in 1982.)

Which Spengler edition(s) would you recommend me buying? On Amazon it was hard to tell which one to pick.

2/2/17, 10:45 AM

PhilipW said...
EROEI is a very blunt measurement; like GDP it erases many important details of what is actually happening. Crucially it completely omits any qualitative information about WHAT is being achieved by the energy expended. So while it's obvious that all renewable energy sources will have an EROEI much less than fossil carbon, our ability to achieve the same, or more, with less energy is improving all the time. While much of this efficiency gain is currently being wasted, the potential is there for us to run a recognisable civilisation on a tiny fraction of our current energy use, if and when we have to.

So far humanity has progressed through three major phases, the hunter-gatherer- clan phase, the agricultural city/state and now into the very early stages of an industrial-technic global civilisation. Each was and will be subject to cycles; notably accelerating and each growing shorter. The Romans managed a thousand years or more, the British Empire several centuries, the American version will barely manage 60 years. I predict there will be no great or enduring neo-Chinese Empire, the cycles are now too short to allow it to fully form.

In my view history does not so much repeat as rhyme. Rather than endless closed circles, it moves in fat lazy and open-ended spirals. As each loop overlaps in time we can recognise patterns from the previous cycle, but equally when viewed orthogonally the underlying shifts and displacement is plain. Trump's America is not the same as Ceasar's Rome, however tempting the pattern is. They may be in a similar phase, and there is much instruction in observing this, but they are not located in the same place.

Crucially, as suggested above, we are transitioning from an era of nation-states and empires into an era of planetary connectedness. I use this phrase to contrast with the usual notion of capitalist 'globalisation', free-trade and all the now familiar toxic consequences that fall from this. Yes the fall of the great fossil empires will be noisy, painful and protracted, but at the same time and in response to these changed circumstances ... we will evolve different modes of thinking and acting in order to survive.

Survival in this turbulent world will be about two things; using available resources effectively and remaining strongly connected both socially and politically. The isolated and inefficient will not endure. All the core problems we now face are global in nature, and demand global thinking, connections and actions to overcome them. There is nowhere 'safe' to retreat to, every family, community and nation jostles on a crowed planet throbbing with the constant movement of information, capital and people. Certainly much of this movement is grossly inefficient and will fade away, but the shifts it has wrought inside of our collective imagination is permanent.

Just as agricultural civilisation, despite one horrendous disaster after another, never fully reverted back to hunter-gathering and eventually fully supplanted it, equally it is reasonable to suggest that this global civilisation will inevitably overlay the one before it. Probably the process will be equally painful, but this time I expect it will be a whole lot quicker.

2/2/17, 10:46 AM

Troy Jones said...
@DoubtingThomas, "A rise in consciousness provoking more love of our fellow man could change things for those carried along with it. Those who chose not to might just fade away."

I honestly don't know how anyone could look around at the world and conclude that this is happening or on the verge of happening. I suppose one could simply shrug and say "well, anything's possible". But that hardly seems productive.

2/2/17, 10:48 AM

sv koho said...
wow JMG, The second religiosity???? Why did you choose that term to apply to the current train crash we are seeing here at the end of the latest flailing empire? The secular cycles idea is very seductive and appealing and I admit to having fallen under its spell You have stimulated me to go looking for Spengler' work on the subject. I read some Toynbee but that was back when Nixon was dodging brickbats. I did enjoy Peter Turchin's work Secular Cycles which was nicely detailed and if you happen to have missed it I will supply a helpful link: I really am enjoying the twists and turns of your blog. Also The Fall of the Roman Empire by Michael Grant has some unique explanations of why that dynasty crashed which is missing from most expositions on the subject.out of print however.

2/2/17, 10:49 AM

pygmycory said...
@JMG, as you've said, knowledge and ideas from previous civilizations can survive and then be used by the next one. Ie. Greek plays and the separation into tragedy and comedy still being known and used today, or the idea of writing, or roman numerals and so on. If several cycles where something is saved from previous cycles build on each other, wouldn't this tend to lead to each successive civilization having more ideas and knowledge than the previous one?

Of course, a lot depends on how deep the intervening dark ages are. We haven't got very much from the mycenaean bronze age, and much of what we know seems to have come via archaeology rather than history, or via Egypt which didn't fall so far.

Any ideas on how much of our knowledge of greece and roman ideas will survive the coming dark age?

I must admit that I find the idea of multiple layers of half-forgotten civilizations piled on top of each other ten thousand years from now fascinating and enthralling. What there is so far is pretty interesting, but I think humanity has a future beyond the end of industrial civilization. Barring divine intervention, biosphere-killing asteroids or the like.

2/2/17, 10:49 AM

RPC said...
JMG, you replied to Doc Tim,"Doc Tim, when you say that movies now are "better," don't you mean "conform more closely to our expectations"?" You misunderstood his argument - he was talking about automobiles, not movies. As one who still repairs his own, I can vouch that a modern (say, post 2000) automobile lasts easily twice as long with far less maintenance than the late-1960s vehicles on which I learned the craft. That said, I feel there's an optimum and we're passing it; the new trend of an automobile as rolling entertainment center is profoundly misplaced. Someday soon a live update to an automotive system is going to lend a whole new meaning to the term "blue screen of death!" (Your useful distinction between tools and prostheses also applies here.)

2/2/17, 10:51 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
Correction re my comment above!

I wrote: The old peoples seemed to be very aware of this—again, intellectualized in the same way we might do, but fully taken account of in oral histories and ceremonies based on astrological movements of planets combined with a mythos-based, practical knowledge of the natural world.

I meant to write: The old peoples seemed to be very aware of this— not, perhaps, intellectualized in the same way we might do, but fully taken account of in oral histories ...

2/2/17, 10:54 AM

James M. Jensen II said...
I forgot to mention in my original comment that I'm looking forward to a discussion on philosophy. Hopefully I'll be able to contribute something to the discussion, given that it was a pet hobby of mine for several years.

As I think I've mentioned on here before (a long while ago), my own philosophical leanings are pretty solidly pragmatist with a side of Aristotle. More generally, I'm sympathetic to any school of philosophy that tries to avoid the pitfalls of excessive intellectualism, such as excessive use of jargon, obsessive interest in issues that have no practical value, or an arrogant sense of superiority toward outsiders.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing where you begin your discussion. There's a LOT of philosophy out there.

2/2/17, 11:02 AM

H. Bustos Domeq said...
Interesting post, as usual. I'm sympathetic to the cycles of history thesis, but I do have a few questions about it. Something I've often wondered about, especially with Vico, is if it would have been possible for someone to propose such a theory before enough history had accumulated to allow those cycles to be perceived? I understand that the Greeks thought time was cyclical, and St. Augustine had a kind of idea of historical cycles in City Of God, but Vico's theory was so much more, well, historical. Which indicates to me that the cycles in question are an example of our species learning from its own cultural past and refining its ideas based on that past. There are technologies around now that are unlike anything in the past - the printing press is a good example, or double-entry bookkeeping, or washing your hands - and don't require oil to work. And there is just more knowledge available in general. It's true the signal to noise ratio on the Internet tilts towards noise, but there is signal. And libraries. All this is just to say that the word 'progress' has come to mean something very specific since the 1960s, but we can reject the more facile neoliberal versions of progress without reject the whole idea that just the existence of more and more past inevitably changes the way the cycles will cycle in the future. More Hegel than Spengler, you could say, especially since philosophy is afoot. In any case, thanks for your work. Always worth reading.

2/2/17, 11:14 AM

Unknown said...
To JMG, a quick reaction to "it might be worth going through Spengler in detail in a series of posts": I hope you do consider it.
I struggled through the two volumes. It was a struggle--it requires prior knowledge that I felt I had just barely enough of, as well as a will--and it was wholly worthwhile.
Much of your work, like Spengler's, is stuff I want to share with everyone but have learned not to. Every so often, though, I read something of yours and think, Ooh! This one I can share. Your pieces here about Nietzsche and Burke happen to be two like that, and sharing them has been productive. You really do have a way of synthesizing and communicating challenging ideas in ways that end up in people actually thinking a bit. So if you decide that a reading guide to Spengler is a good enough gamble to warrant your time, I for one will be looking forward to reading and sharing it.
(This idea brings to mind James K.A. Smith's How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, which Smith recently wrote after teaching Taylor's A Secular Age and realizing his students, 20-year-old undergrads, were resonating with unusual passion with this dense, 900-page tome. Whether people are similarly ripe for Spengler I don't dare guess.)
Thank you, as always, for all you do.

2/2/17, 11:34 AM

LewisLucanBooks said...
Dear Mr. Greer - In the Vast Panorama of History, where does FDR fit in? American Caesar? I seem to remember that some considered him a "traitor to his class." And, he was nearly brought down by a big business coup in the late 1930s. From the couple of books I've read about it, it seems it was a narrow thing, mainly thwarted because Gen. Smedley Butler didn't want to play. I seem to remember that the whole thing was swept under the carpet, due to the big names involved.

On the other hand, I think FDR had a pretty firm grasp on the eventuality of WWII ... and knew he'd need those business men, further down the line. He was nothing, if not pragmatic. But I digress. Sorry.

Original questions: Where does FDR fit in? American Caesar? Lew

2/2/17, 12:13 PM

UserFriendlyyy said...
DoubtingThomas seams to be a proponent of Carlyle's Great Man Theory of History. Your rebuttal is straight out of Spencer.

2/2/17, 12:22 PM

Robert Denner said...
I am not sure if this has ever been brought up.. First thank you for this blog. I can't believe I haven't read it before. I've seen it around for years, but the name threw me off..

Anyways, back to my observation. I believe many are trying to take these ideas of birth to death in regards to our modern civilization based on countries. Like England gave way to the United States, etc.

I would posit that what we have been dealing with since the formation of the East India Trading Company is a philosophic idea, one that transcends any one country. Of course it originated in England, but the baton was passed to the US following WWII and one could draw a line out that China might be the next standard bearer.

So in that light does the theory still hold? Are we having mini rotations of the theory with the US now, but under the larger umbrella of "the system" that has been in place for hundreds of years now. A system that seeks to keep this "conveyor belt of wealth" moving from the east to the west as you put it ?

Just something that struck me while reading this and just started reading Decline of the West.


2/2/17, 12:49 PM

Nastarana said...
Dear Dan Mollo, I think a little refection might convince you that the poster you mentioned is an advance scout for the We Came, We Saw, We Transformed America!!! crowd. Our gracious host, an equal opportunity offender, has now managed to ruffle yet another set of feathers, just like he said he would. For "create new and unique ways of organizing society", read open borders migration, and, it goes without saying, according to this faction, that the influx of Best and Brightest from all the world will bring about a creative ferment which will stop those pesky historical cycles in their tracks. Never mind that migration has never had that effect before, and that the two known civilizations with long tails, Egypt and China, were also highly homogenous societies. It would seem that certain playas among various factions are finding this humble blog to be something of an embarrassment.

2/2/17, 1:39 PM

Philip King said...
John Michael -

Appreciate your blog very much, and enjoyed meeting you at the Age of Limits conference in Pennsylvania.
My thought about whether future industrial civilizational declines will be relatively gradual, as you believe, or relatively sudden is that you may be underestimating the likelihood of massive "sub-system" global ecological collapses - e.g. ice sheet melting, water and pollution, agricultural and other resource production crashes, large scale wars, etc. These would tend to be "sudden" on the scale of human civilization and history. I'm pondering the difference between a 20-70 year time frame vs. a longer one - say 100-200 years.

2/2/17, 1:43 PM

Ploughboy said...
On the point several posters have raised about modern cars being "better"...

We might ask, appropriately: "Compared to what?" And expectations are indeed up for scrutiny.

If your expectation is your automobile should be easily repairable by your average shade tree mechanic then so-called progress is running in the opposite direction. Heaping lots of complexity on a mechanism that might make it more reliable and longer running, but which guarantees that when something does go wrong with it you are going to need a degree in writing code to diagnose it and specialized micro processors to repair it? Not so much an advancement, no. You could substitute any number of modern tools and appliances that have been "new and improved" to the point the complexity becomes a problem in and of itself.

When I was student, living hand to mouth, I had an 1980 Chevy (The infamous X car) that was less that 100% reliable, and I found many work-arounds to keep it on the road. I had an electric motor-driven radiator fan with a fusible link that cost something like $100 for a mechanic to replace...clearly a prohibitive amount. When it failed I hotwired the contacts by running some lamp cord through the firewall to the dash and mounted a toggle switch...VIOLA! Once had an old 70's model gas gauge sender unit failed, and my gauge was thereafter a notched stick! Back when we still had vehicles with carburetors, I once fixed a sticky float valve with a piece of string tied around the intake throttle body. These kinds of appropriate technology hacks are less and less available for vehicles today, and so many of our other products follow suit.

2/2/17, 1:53 PM

Renaissance Man said...
FWIW, we very occasionally engage in some lively debates at work. Aside from sports and pop culture, the most popular political topics are:

- How the U.S. Empire is going to decline & fall. Fast & sudden? Dissolve into civil chaos slowly over time? What will be the probable consequences (hordes of desperate liberal refugees streaming north seeking sanctuary)?
- When the next Financial crash comes, how bad will it be? Will those at the top manage to keep the pretense going for a few more years and another round? or is it going to lead to critical dislocation or something in-between?
- Is the current POTUS going to start a hot shooting war or provoke internal civil chaos? Both? Neither? Will he find a way to maintain order? How are the masses of ordinary Americans going to behave, given such a violence-prone culture?
- The best way to cope with our own economic degradation, which is so tied to the U.S. economy, & how that's going to play out.
- As things degrade here, bug out or dig in? Retire out to the countryside & farm, go live on a boat in the Caribbean, or cope while staying in the built-up area? Preferred job when tech goes away.
- The next 800lb Gorilla: China or Russia? Probably not India.

Note the things we are not debating (i.e. there is no denial or counter POV):
- The inevitability of cycles of history and the decline of the U.S. Empire.
- The inevitable collapse of U.S. power and its ability to enforce asymmetric balance of trade agreements.
- The inevitability of resource depletion (especially fossil fuels) and consequent disruption of our current economic & living arrangements. (There is some discussion as to whether some sources of renewable energy will remain viable over the long-term to maintain at least some technology & creature-comforts.)

As far as I know, I'm the only one who reads this blog, but there is apparently lots of other factual information out there that points in the same general direction as you do.
These discussions don't include everyone, and they don't include the senior management, but the age range goes from 20s to 50s.

2/2/17, 2:37 PM

Armata said...
DoubtingThomas said:

A rise in consciousness provoking more love of our fellow man could change things for those carried along with it. Those who chose not to might just fade away.

The New Age crowd and the Holy Church of Perpetual Progress™ has been saying that for decades and there is not one shred of evidence to back it up.

Spengler, some pal of Hitler until he fell from favour, had a theory and 30 years later Philosophers like Adorno critiqued Spengler.

Spengler was harshly critical of Hitler. His last book, the Hour of Decision, lampooned the Nazis, which got him into serious trouble. As a result, Spengler spent the last few years of his life under house arrest. Hardly a “pal of Hitler”, as you falsely claim.

Also, Adorno is hardly a credible voice, on this topic or any other. I know he’s wildly popular with the radical Left and the campus activists these days, but as William Lind points out, he was one of the founding fathers of Cultural Marxism, the post-modernist Left and the political correctness movement. Lind is a highly respected military and political analyst who is generally credited with coining the term “fourth generation warfare”.

At this point, it looks to me like you are trolling. You and your fellow-travelers on the far Left can believe whatever you wish to believe. Lie to yourselves all you want. The rest of us who haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid or have liberated ourselves from the lies of the Cult of Progress are the ones who are going to win this war. Praise Kek!

2/2/17, 2:54 PM

Armata said...
As a follow-up to my previous comment, here is William Lind’s essay on the origins of Cultural Marxism and Political Correctness.

2/2/17, 2:56 PM

Patricia Mathews said...
Re " Where does FDR fit in? American Caesar? Lew"

Gaius Marius?

2/2/17, 2:58 PM

SMJ said...
Bill Pulliam said:

"... our brains evolve much much more slowly than our culture. So every generation, the brains that are responding to their circumstances and triggering the changes that will define the next stage of civilization, are pretty much the same brains every time."

In other words, the one thing we can be sure of is that as a species we won't learn from history for a good long while.

Unless evolution isn't just random mutations, rather, there is some kind of feedback / feedforward in evolution...?

2/2/17, 3:01 PM

onething said...
Re Brian Bundy 2/1/17, 9:04 PM, I am interested in all those questions, and it is one reason I find Daniel Quinn's works so useful. I know, JMG, that you did not like his books, and it may very well be that he is a bit over the top, nonetheless there are very important distinctions between a society that does not "lock up the food" versus ones in which you develop hierarchy. In my opinion, what civilization does is create hierarchy, authority, and accumulation of wealth, which is a fundamentally different way of relating to each other and to natural resources. And this is still true even if the people are not always good. In fact, another layer of questions I have in addition to the several that Brian Bundy brought out, is about what people are like when they are living tribally. I guess it sort of seems like the old canard that all Chinese people look alike - we tend to think of the various tribal people are being all of a type and interchangeable. But I'm sure that is ignorance. They must have had those who were smart and those who were creative and those who made thoughtful and wise decisions, as well as those who were fickle or promiscuous or easily offended and given to violence.

Of course, that does not mean that a tribal or horticultural people cannot overrun their resources. But they often do not. Perhaps they did, and learned their lesson.

At the least, those societies seem surely not to have had the kinds of cycles that Spengler writes about. What sorts of evolving they did have, I'd like to know.

I'm very, very ambivalent about civilization. It seems like a form of mental illness, or perhaps spiritual illness and yet I would like to have writing and the pursuit of knowledge and so on.

2/2/17, 3:08 PM

Mean Mr Mustard said...
JMG and all,

Another seer of visions...?

“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”

Carl Sagan, 1995


2/2/17, 3:18 PM

Justin said...
JMG, what I meant by perfect is "the best they can be given their genetics and their circumstances" - perfect conduct not total perfection. And of course, goats, cats and dogs are all the product of imperfect people. Nature would never make a pug after all.

Also I realize that just about every religion has holy sites, what I think is interesting about Islam especially is Mecca. I'd have to find the phrase, but again I'm back to Evola and somesuch about "the high peaks of Tradition".

2/2/17, 3:31 PM

Armata said...
I am looking forward to the coming discussion of philosophy. I remember you had also talked about doing a series discussing the parallels between Wagner’s Ring Cycle + Parzival and the civilizational cycle and possibly a series on de-industrial warfare. I for one would love to read both.

I am currently re-reading The Decline of the West and am on Volume VII of Toynbee’s A Study of History. Next on my list is Glubb Pasha’s four volume history of the Islamic world from the origins of Islam to the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

2/2/17, 3:33 PM

Tyler August said...
Admit it: you're headed for philosophy because you're sick of moderating 500 comments a week. (I jest. I too am looking forward to it... and am reminded that Spengler never made it to the top of my read later list. And now my library has discarded his volumes. Drat.)

@Doc Tim,
I personally believe the pinnacle of the automaker's art were the subcompacts of the 1990s. The Geo Metro / Suzuki Swift, the Honda Civic, and their like. Why?
Their handling rivaled 70s sports cars*. Their efficiency, especially the lean-buring Honda engines, are virtually unrivaled to this day. Their longevity is attested to by the fact that there are still many on the road.

*I'm told. I have never driven a 1970s sports car. From the mechanicals, I can believe it, though.

For a white shinto, maybe try Volkisch paganism? The Icelanders, who held onto more of the Heathen worldview than any, seem to imbue hill and dale with spirit ; so I suspect there's room under Odin's high seat posts for animism. The Landvættir suggest they may have been there from the beginning.

2/2/17, 3:36 PM

Varun Bhaskar said...

I wanted to post this last week but was unable to get to an Internet connection on any of my days off, but since this weeks article is a continuation of last weeks my post is still relevant.

I randomly picked up Dune Messiah last week and read till the point where Scytale talks about the Tleilaxu’s successful creation of a kwisatz haderach, ultimately revealing that their kwisatz haderach killed itself. More accurately he says the kwisatz haderach created a selfdom that brought about its end. Over and over the theme from that book is that to know the future is to be trapped by it, and that seems to be the position that we, your readers, are in.

By studying the cycles of history we’ve pretty much established there is no way to change the grand patterns or turns of the wheel, but by studying the details we know we can manipulate the arcs to a small degree. Take the end of the British Empire as an example. Toynbee figured out the grand pattern and was in a position where his superiors actually listened to what he had to say. Here was a great figure in the right place, with the right material, in the right political environment to redirect the course of the arc. The pattern fulfilled itself, but arced toward a softer end.

What struck me about the very lively discussion from two weeks ago is that there still seems to be a portion of your regular readership that seem to believe that knowledge equals power. Whereas the better way to put it is that knowledge points the road to power.

You have handed us the ability to change the course of arcs, and we are now trapped by the consequences of that knowledge. If we want to change the course of a major arc, then that would mean accepting the consequences of leadership and becoming a demagogue or even warlord. If we choose the path away from power, then we are trapped with the consequences of watching the arcs complete their course.

Ain’t pretty in either direction, and both are a trap in their own right.



2/2/17, 3:43 PM

Lilith Aurora said...
Thank you for another thought-provoking post. I read your blog every week, but rarely comment. The coming shift in our culture away from rationalism probably bothers me more than anything else I see ahead of us, and I'm not sure how we'll navigate that. I do think you do a play a role in helping some of us come to terms with it, and for that I'm grateful.
To me, the world does appear to be going a bit crazy, and if this is just the beginning, I guess we're all in for quite a wild ride!
I would also suggest that some of the resistance you face is a stale form of Romanticism, that very philosophical bent we will see rising to dominance and being renewed in some interesting ways.

I struggle with the frustration...all the challenges we're facing would be so much more manageable if we could just keep our heads! But, I'm getting a feeling there will be less and less people listening to 'reason' or giving any heed to scientific process; it's going out of fashion. There will be fire, instead.

2/2/17, 3:49 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Gabriela, but you haven't offered any reason to think that our civilization could collapse over the next hour or so. One consequence of the scale and complexity of contemporary industrial civilization is that it's highly resilient against short term disruptions, because its industrial plant, resource base, and other basic systems are spread over most of the planet, and subject to a diversity of economic and political systems with an assortment of firewalls between them. That won't spare it the consequences of more gradual changes, to be sure, but it makes the fast-crash hypothesis very difficult to sustain.

Iuval, and yet we do repeat it, over and over again. That fact -- and I'd encourage you to study history if you doubt that it's a fact -- suggests that there's something amiss with your presuppositions.

Mustard, that's one possibility, but I don't think it's a large one. The guy's 70 years old, and he's just been elected to one of the most unforgiving jobs on the planet. My working guess for the most likely option at the moment is that he'll either die in office of natural causes sometime in his second term, or retire from sheer exhaustion at the end of that term.

Cherokee, I have no idea yet. Some sequences of posts are planned as books from the beginning; others just happen -- my forthcoming book The Retro Future was assembled after the fact. As for Overshoot, I get that -- it's very strong stuff. I didn't find it a bummer, but then I was already clear on the shape of the mess we were facing when I first read it back in 1982.

Phil, we arrived at it in the 1920s and 1930s, and then got a breathing space in which the corporate-bureaucratic plutocracy reentrenched itself. It may well be that Herr Schicklgruber's follies played a large role in making that breathing space happen; I've noted already that his most important impact on cultural history was that he made antisemitism unfashionable in most Western cultures for much of a century.

Bob, you're welcome -- and the misuse of the phrase grates on my ears too.

DiSc, historically, sudden catastrophes are actually good for societies in the long term. Look at the Black Death -- a third of the population of Europe dropped dead in a few ghastly years, and the result was the Renaissance and the Age of Exploration. A nuclear war would likely do the same thing, as you'd end up a generation down the road with a lot fewer people and nearly the same resource base. As for parallels with Roman history, it's important not to try to force too close a fit. Spengler's theory is that you have a fixed sequence of stages, followed by a "hang time" that can be decades, centuries, or millennia in length, depending on circumstances. The Roman world had about four centuries of hang time; ancient Egypt had thousands of years; our civilization, due to its waste of its resource base and disruption of the biosphere, has entered on the decline and fall process sooner than most (though there are comparable cases).

2/2/17, 5:21 PM

Wendy Crim said...
I actually think cars from the 60s and 70s seemed to last a long time. And movies are terrible now. Also, give me a decent local radio station from the 40s any day over my smartphone. But, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. As always, really enjoyed today's post. Reminded me of the read and re read Heresy of Technology Choice, one of my favorites. Looking forward to the coming philosophy talk. Thanks for all you do!

2/2/17, 5:38 PM

John Michael Greer said...
MichaelK, I write the way I like to write, largely because lengthy, thoughtful, discursive essays are also the sort of thing I like to read -- but there's another factor. Style reflects content; there are things you literally can't say, in any meaningful sense, in the kind of stilted journalistic prose that's popular these days. Since I want to say those things, and also to communicate the style of thinking that gives them their context and meaning, I need to use a style that corresponds to my subject.

Phil, if I'd been born 25 years earlier, in 1937, I'd likely have been a minor name in the ecological side of the Sixties movement and something of a mover and shaker in the appropriate tech scene of the 1970s, and would then have had to face the failure of my life's work when the Reagan-Thatcher counterrevolution swept into power in the early 1980s and foreclosed on our civilization's last real chance to avoid disaster. (For what it's worth, I'm glad to have been spared that.) I suppose it's just possible that one more voice might have made a difference, but that's in the realm of might-have-beens at this point.

Beetleswamp, I've got some enticing flavors of tea, too -- a good strong Schopenhauer black, a smoky Nietzsche, and a delicate Schumacher green, among others. ;-)

.Mallow, that's a politically astute move on Trump's part. For a very large number of Americans, UC Berkeley is the summary of everything that's wrong with American education and the cultural and political far left, and stripping it of federal funding would be met with resounding cheers in much of this country.

Dylan, we'll get to that, but it's going to take some time to reach the vantage point from which Spengler's comment makes sense. We'll be starting where Schopenhauer started, if that's any kind of a useful hint.

Jeff, why, yes -- at this stage in the historical process, someone always pops up to say that. ;-)

Robert, excellent! You get tonight's gold star for perspicacity. The US left these days is so busy being against things that it's forgotten to have any kind of positive agenda of its own, thus guaranteeing that it will never achieve more than a certain amount of drag on a process going the way it doesn't want. As for solar panels -- if you mean solar photovoltaics, almost certainly yes. Solar thermal technologies (water heaters, solar box ovens, passive solar heating, etc.) are quite another matter, but they require rethinking lifestyle issues, and of course nobody wants to do that nowadays.

Bob, other human societies have made themselves fatally dependent on nonrenewable resource bases that they proceeded to exhaust at a breakneck pace. That's what happened to the ancient Maya, for example: topsoil depletion and climate change caused by deforestation did to them what fossil fuel depletion and climate change caused by air pollution is doing to us. So our predicament is a known variation on the usual historical cycle, and can be modeled fairly readily by paying attention to what happened to other examples of that variation.

Chris, excellent! Yes, exactly -- and statistically, of course, there's likely to be a roughly equal number of chance events speeding up decline as there are slowing it down.

Ray, good. Spengler talks at some length about the interplay between the unique features of each great culture and its predictable features; its history unfolds in a familiar rhythm, but exactly what fills each of the standard niches depends on subtle factors not subject to prediction. Your example of ecological succession is germane: it's not always possible to figure out which pioneer plants will get to a burnt-over area first, but once they arrive, the usual processes of succession can be counted on to unfold in the usual way.

2/2/17, 5:42 PM

Asher the Basher said...

Anything more you wish to write about Spengler is okay with me!

Bit more reporting from the science and business world as well for you and everyone else. Firstly, this very recent academic paper on the latest Solar EROEIs. There's quite a hot debate going on about this.
This rebuts an earlier paper suggesting the EROEI of solar in higher latitudes was less than one! (But, I must admit, I believe even Charles Hall had issues with that study.) The authors of this paper claim instead 7-8 when taking into account extended system boundaries (as they must). Solar might be improving, but we're not there yet.

This still suggests a lean future and the problem of needing to be in a latitude closer to the equator for solar to work while having the conflicting problem of climate change most affecting the same area. And it's also worth noting that they exclude battery storage in their methodology! As soon as you add lithium storage, this value of 7-8 drops dramatically--possibly to about 2 from prior numbers I've seen (but that is my own speculation).

As well, since HSBC released their report suggesting the next energy crisis would start from late 2018, we've had OPEC and Russia cut back production to try to keep prices around $60. (Above $60 is about where academics suggest the price starts to significantly weigh on the global economy.) Some analysts have speculated whether OPEC is agreeing to cut back to cover declines in production--they don't usually stick to the plan so well! Trump is opening the oil taps but his related policies will effectively lead to a tax on gasoline for Americans and decreased demand. And the oil industry is scrambling to add automation to reduce costs. All of this means the next energy crisis might just be pushed back a year or so. Very difficult to say because none of the analysts agree! Many are 'bullish' on oil as if the rising price is a good thing rather than a symptom of our own decline.

And global oil supplies have dropped to an EROEI of about 15 now. The EROEI for fracking in the US is believed to be even lower: maybe 10-11. Any wonder that funding for the Arts is drying up given this as Charles Hall suggested it would when we reached 14?

2/2/17, 5:44 PM

Armata said...
As powerful as the mythology of Progress is in our civilization, I suspect that deep down inside, a great many people realize it’s a temporary thing that is coming to an end.

Look at American popular culture these days. The most popular TV show right now is Game of Thrones, based on George RR Martin’s "A Song of Fire and Ice" novels. The series portrays a pseudo-medieval world of rival warlords fighting tooth and nail for the throne after the previous imperial dynasty was overthrown. Very Spenglerian, if you ask me. The motto of the series is “Winter is Coming”, which also has very strong Spenglerian overtones.

Look at the popularity of the historical drama series Vikings (loosely based on the life and times of Ragnar Lodbrok), as well as shows like Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy, which portray the emerging barbarism rising from within our culture. Toynbee was right when he said that most other civilizations import the barbarians that do them in, while we breed our own as well.

Medieval fantasy films like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies are still hugely popular, as are films set in the Classical World and Medieval Europe, such as 300, Troy, Alexander, Braveheart and any number of movies about King Arthur and Robin Hood. The local chapters of SCA and Amtgard in my area are thriving (you should see how many people turn out down at the local municipal park on Saturdays and Sundays for the weekly Amtgard events), while games like Magic The Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder and Warhammer are still a big hit with many young people.

2/2/17, 5:45 PM

tideshift said...
Thank you for another excellent, thoughtful essay.

A topic I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on...

The strange cognitive experience of being a person who's been struggling with these issues and coming to terms with them for 10 years (in my case), 20, 30 years in many other peoples' cases, now surrounded by people only just beginning to consider the unraveling of things - because Trump surprised them - but excited to share their newfound interest in political and social engagement.

I'm not saying this well...a result of being very confused by having so many formerly contented/oblivious friends suddenly signing online petitions to their Congress-critters and sending them to me to sign too.

On some level, I think I was supposed to be preparing for this too, to be in an emotional place to support newcomers to the downslope perspective, but I'm off balance. I just keep being frustrated and angry that they seem to think their not being aware of things means everyone wasn't aware of things. So I'm looking for ways to regain my equilibrium and continue doing my own local work (mostly micro journalism with a mini-newspaper on a 168-hour news cycle and homesteading) without using up a lot of my emotional energy being annoyed at Henny Pennies running around suddenly seeing the sky falling and being annoyed with me for not being surprised and panicked with them.

I know it's only been a couple of months since Trump's election, and both my formerly-complacent friends and I will adjust to the new dynamic. Just acknowledging the weirdness, I guess.

2/2/17, 5:59 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Michael, I've read Taleb's book, and enjoyed it. I'd encourage you to read Spengler's at some point, because he discusses the interplay of chance events and historical cycles in quite some detail. As for sunshine, er, thank you, but we don't get much of that in the north central Appalachians in February!

Gavin, I'm far from sure I buy the psychopathy theory, but you're right about roles, of course. At each point along the historical cycle, the opportunities that exist for individuals are constrained by choices already made; the world is never a blank slate, and each of us grows up subject to powerful shaping forces from culture and history that make us what we are. Can we do something original nonetheless? Sure, but only within the constraints of our culture and our time.

Kabobyak, as I've written at length in previous posts, I think it's quite possible that some mushroom clouds and some reactor meltdowns will help punctuate the decline and fall of our civilization. Sudden events causing lots of deaths are a routine concomitant of decline, you know. I won't argue, though, that it's intriguing to watch people who claim to be liberal loudly calling for conflict with Russia and defending the integrity of the CIA -- a classic example of the dissolution of ideology in favor of personality, of the kind that usually happens at this point in the cycle.

J Gav, Spengler got savaged by almost everybody, because the future he portrayed flies in the face of all the fondest beliefs of our culture. I would argue that most of the criticism directed at him either unintentionally or deliberately set up straw men to belabor, and fixated on buzzwords such as "historicism" rather than grappling with the serious morphological thinking that underlies his project. More on this as we proceed.

Johojo, I haven't read de Riencourt; clearly I'll have to remedy that at some point.

Dammerung, if you want to engage with the spirits of the land, there are plenty of ways to do so; given your political leanings, probably folkish Asatru would be the most congenial option for you, as a lot of the other options (including the kind of Druidry I practice, btw) welcome people of all skin colors. As for Christianity, well, classical Paganism had the same kind of presence in the ancient world, and where is it now?

Adrian, thanks for this. Of course other, non-urban Native American societies had their own less extreme cycles of rise and fall, which have been identified in other non-urban societies around the world; there seems to be something about the urban form that shifts the cyclic process into overdrive (I've suggested one mechanism for that in a three-part post here, here, and here.) It's the cycle of civilized, urban societies I'm mostly discussing here, since that's the cycle we're caught up in; still, you're right that there are less drastic cycles, and a broader view might be useful in some contexts.

2/2/17, 6:04 PM

Unknown said...
"Modern representative democracy... has no effective defenses against corruption by wealth..."

No defense? Ha Ha, that is funny - Modern Representative Democracy dragged Wealth out in the alley and broke her nails in the rush to get Wealth's pants unzipped....

Seriously, I'll admit I do not know my way around Spengler. Does he account for the (limited) effect globalization might have in slowing the decline down? No, I don't think China can or will save us, but somebody has to buy Asia's output or it will be more than the fall of the West.

2/2/17, 6:10 PM

Jim Irwin said...
JMG, I look forward to reading your blog every week....admire your scholarship of history and current events, one aspect of history that you have not written about very much is how variable the earths climate has been in recorded history...see the dark ages, the little ice age etc and the simple observation that just about all prosperous epochs in human history have been unusually warm in the northern hemisphere... this is what has allowed us to prosper, cold epochs were horrendous for humans, from an extremely cynical perspective, we have burned hydrocarbons for fuel and there will soon not be much left so we better hope that it gets warmer....the same perspective holds for all mammals, when it was warm mammals prospered, when it was cold they did not, big picture is that we are in an interglacial optimum climate right now and it is not going to stay that way... we better hope it gets warmer...also you do not seem to recognize that the warmer climates in the past did not lead to decline in the number of species, but rather the opposite...mebbe it is stormy and windy and sea levels rise but warmer is better....

2/2/17, 6:16 PM

August_Moon said...
"there seems to be something about the urban form that shifts the cyclic process into overdrive ..."
This is an interesting read (although somewhat narrow in scope):

2/2/17, 6:21 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Jerome, yep. That's one of the things that's behind my dismissal of the handwaving about fracking.

Dan, excellent! A very solid summary. I hope my other readers are taking notes.

Jordan, trust me, some people are just as angered by my posts on the big picture as you are by some of my posts on politics. I try to be an equal opportunity offender!

Shark, hmm. It seems to me that you're pretty thoroughly misstating the basic arguments of both authors. Spengler doesn't ground his arguments in metaphysics; he engages in a certain amount of metaphysical speculation on top, but his argument is explicitly based on morphology, not metaphysics. He's doing exactly the kind of thinking that led to evolutionary theory: here are pervasive similarities, how can we construct a model that accounts for them? As for Toynbee, there you're frankly even further off base, because he defined, in vast detail, a specific cause for the failure of civilizations: leadership failure caused by predictable social transformations within the ruling minority of each civilization. I encourage you to read volumes IV, V, and VI of his unabridged A Study of History, where he deals with this specific theory of causation in encyclopedic detail.

You're quite correct, as it happens, that neither of them dealt with resource depletion, or for that matter with the disruption of the biosphere due to environmental pollution. That's a place where both models can be improved, and I've tried to do that with my model of catabolic collapse. What I've tried to show, though, is that resource depletion and environmental pollution fit neatly into the cyclic theory of history, providing an explanation for one thing neither Toynbee nor Spengler really managed to account for -- the varying survival times of civilizations once they pass through the roughly thousand-year process of emergence and stabilization. It's very common, as I'm sure you know, for successful theories to be refined and extended by the labors of later scholars, and that's what's going on in my discussions here.

With regard to your second point, I challenge you to quote me a single statement anywhere on this blog, or in my writings, that supports this claim of yours that I think the period from 1970 to 2005 is "the turning point of all human history." Hint: you won't find one. I've written at some length about that period because decisions made during it have had a significant impact on the period from 2006 to 2017 -- in other words, the period during which The Archdruid Report has been appearing. Obviously I can't know what I would have thought if I'd been born at some different time, so your rhetorical jabs are beside the point. When you claim I've never clarified the time frame of my predictions, by the way, here again you're falsifying my position; I've pointed out many a time that we're in the early phases of a long ragged decline lasting one to three centuries. That's hardly difficult to understand, and I admit I'm rather taken aback by the way you've distorted what I've said so many times, in so many words, here and elsewhere.

John, thank you. Yes, the sequence of posts on religion and the book After Progress that came out of it drew fairly heavily on Spengler's thesis of the Second Religiosity.

2/2/17, 6:29 PM

Justin said...
JMG, I nearly spit coffee all over my desk this morning when I saw Trump's Berkeley tweet. If that wouldn't be a way to secure re-election.

There was another tweet by another twit that I found interesting:

Sarah Silverman is a Californian comedian who claims to know better. The idea of the 'I'm with her crowd' - most of whom, until 3 months ago, believed that only the government should be armed so as to better deal with criminals - winning a civil war is well, precious.

Doesn't she know that the military, police and civilian gun owners mostly voted for the Orange One? Does the berkeleyite left not know this?

2/2/17, 6:37 PM

John Michael Greer said...
C.M., you're welcome and thank you!

Violet, understood. The notion that one person can transform the world is very deeply rooted in our culture, and it's not entirely untrue; like most damaging beliefs, it's a half-truth. Each of us can change the world, but how we can change it is determined by our cultural and historical context -- and of course it's also true that in a world in which everyone can change the world, no one person gets to change everything! It can be a real struggle, though, to break through the binary between "you can change everything" and "no one can change anything," and grasp the many ways in which we all, to use a New Age term, help co-create the future.

Paulo, and that's just it. Decline is like the weather. Specifically, it's like the weather in a temperate climate, where summer turns to stormy, blustery autumn, and then to the bitter cold and snow of winter, no matter what you do or don't do about it. You can take constructive action -- put in insulation, make sure you've got plenty of food and firewood, and the rest of it -- but that's not going to make winter go away any sooner than the cycle of the seasons permits.

Nancy, I'd encourage you to get the two volume Windham Press edition, not one of the abridged editions. Spengler deserves to be read slowly, at his full length, not chopped up as even the best abridgments do.

PhilipW, the argument that you're making is one of the standard flavors of the faith in progress I've anatomized and challenged so often here, right down to the three-part taxonomy -- hunter-gatherer society, agricultural society, industrial society -- filling the usual roles in the mythology of progress. (This taxonomy leaves out a couple of very widespread modes of human ecology, by the way, but we can let that pass for now.) Your claim that history is transitioning to a new state of "planetary connectedness" is unproven at best, and has uncomfortable parallels in the past; educated Romans in the second and third century CE, for example, were just as sure that the spread of the Empire meant the transition from the national consciousness of earlier periods to a new and enduring age of universal peace. History shows what happened instead.

By the way, hunter-gatherer societies thrived quite successfully alongside agricultural ones until the industrial-colonial system squeezed them out and left the handful of surviving groups we have now. (As industrial civilization finishes its decline and fall, I expect hunter-gatherer societies to reemerge in places that are unsuited to agriculture, village horticulture, or nomadic pastoralism.) It's also happened rather more often than once, especially in the New World, that urban agricultural societies have collapsed and given way to far simpler hunter-gatherer, village horticultural, or nomadic pastoral human ecologies. The insistence that progress is irreversible -- that Cthulhu always swims forward, if you like -- is a faith-based claim, not a reflection of historical fact.

SV Koho, "the Second Religiosity" isn't my term, it's Spengler's, and it refers specifically to the resurgence of religion at the twilight of the age of rationalism that every civilization goes through. I've read the Michael Grant book, btw -- a very solid piece of work.

2/2/17, 6:56 PM

blue sun said...
My greatest fear before Trump got elected was that he would not follow through on his promises, and now that he's started to actually follow through on them (and I'm pinching myself like so many of your neighbors), my greatest fear these past couple weeks is he will be assassinated.

You're playing your hand quite coyly, but I couldn't help but notice you mention how the original Caesar was assassinated by wealthy elites.

You don't have to answer whether you think that will happen to Trump, but if it does, do you believe the mold he has cast will only be reinforced even more strongly (by others who come after) ?

I was wrong in my prediction of him not following through on his promises, so I hope I'm wrong in my prediction of his assassination, because it would either whip us back to the Clinton/Bush/Obama status quo for a time, or a new Trump will arise (who will know he or she will have to be ruthless and violent to avoid the same fate).

It sounds to me that your position is, no matter what happens, the Trump(/Caesar) phenomenon is unstoppable at this point. If it's not him, it'll be someone else promising the same things (in regards to jobs, trade, immigration, etc.).

2/2/17, 7:01 PM

August Johnson said...
I'm going to have to agree with those who disagree that cars today are to be considered "better" than those of the past. Today, yes they go longer without repairs, but once they need repairs all bets are off. Way off... Just ask anybody who's had to pay for one of those repairs. Back in the 1970's I had a 1971 VW Bus, there wasn't much on that I couldn't repair or maintain myself with very few tools and nothing in the way of electronics besides a basic voltmeter. I even re-built the engine myself, only sending the case out for boring, all the rest of the work done myself, in my apartment parking lot. I could pull the engine and transaxle out by myself in 1/2 hour using only basic hand tools and a simple cart. And parts were dirt cheap. Now I'll agree, as long as it's working, the modern vehicle seems better, however once you have problems, the picture changes very quickly. Do the work your self? Fat chance!

I knew a retired couple in the 1970's that took their VW Camper all over South America in the 1970's, nowhere were they ever stranded, unable to get repairs.

Today you need 100's of thousands of $ of equipment just to do repairs. Not to mention the cost of the parts. I won't detail the one electronic module failure that disabled the windows, wipers, interior lights, 4WD, AC and other functions on my 1997 Ford Pickup. ONE MODULE. And things have gotten lots worse since then.

Remember, the Ford Model T came with a basic set of tools to do most types of repairs needed, almost anywhere.

I'll make the same claim for Ham Radio equipment, I can still easily repair a receiver or transmitter from the 1940's, 1950's, 1960's or 1970's, even though parts haven't been made for decades. I can substitute a tube for one I can't get (billions were made that are still available) rewind a coil or transformer, etc. However if the specialized custom parts aren't available for a 1980's and on radio, you have a doorstop. Sometimes you can still find a junk radio with the part you need, but often that's the part that's also dead in the parts radio.

2/2/17, 7:06 PM

Alfredo Vespucci said...
Thank you JMG for your writings, which I find enjoyable, stimulating and interesting.
When will we get to , as Lennon put it, " no need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man"? It seems to me that the cyclic behavior of civilization as stated by Spengler and Toynbee is linear from an "evolution of the soul " perspective. As the masses of individuals don't really grow much out of feeding , fighting and fornicating; so go their civilizations. There seems to be some high point where the arts, philosophy, philanthropy gain some ground only to come crashing down again. Civilizations are as mad as a madman trying the same thing over and over expecting different results. There is some argument to paradigm shifts and 2nd religiosity , I do see both those phenomenon. If humanity keeps repeating the same cycle are they enough of a change, obviously not. When cornered, you chip away a piece as a token so that you may pass. But you never give it all up.
Different costumes same civilizations and this one is following the trajectory of the others, as I see it. Durga, the Hindu Goddess and her belt of skulls is about to get another notch.
The way I see it all is not lost when all still remains to be gained, if not for the civilization then for the individual within the civilization.As individuals we have many civilizations within ourselves, to name a few: the biological, mental, spiritual. if we continue to smoke two packs a day can one predict what will most probably happen to the biological? And so on with all the other civilizations within ourselves; where do we need to introduce a revolution? What possibilities have we disregarded day after day ? Do you believe you are in a cycle that can be transcended?

2/2/17, 7:06 PM

Stephen Heyer said...
Goody goody, I get to start at the end. I love that, knowing how things turn out before I commit myself – it’s probably an Aspy thing!


JMG “We really are going to have to talk about philosophy, aren’t we? We’ll begin that stunningly unfashionable discussion next week.”

Excellent, beautifully timed. I’ve been thinking for some time that I need a quick course in philosophy from a skilled and trustworthy tutor who I know will not let himself become bogged down in dogma.

Yes, you’ve made a “brave decision” there as my favorite literary character, Sir Humphrey, would say.

It’s looking more and more like the strange turn history is taking requires philosophy and history to understand as much as science or politics.

P.S. Thanks for the criticism of my posting on Event Horizons a while back. It made me realize I was just being lazy and quoting some of the scientists and writers who are pushing Event Horizons.

I’ve since given it considerable thought and now think I have a better handle on them. For example, I now think they are largely a social phenomenon, yes, their cause is often external (a new invention, new trade route) but the shift in awareness and behavior is social.

Oh! and they can be negative just as easily as positive, in fact I would not be surprised if they balanced out over a long enough time horizon.

Stephen Heyer

2/2/17, 7:13 PM

Armata said...
@ Justin:

That Sarah Silverman tweet was fracking hilarious. I see things like that and I have to ask myself, "are these people really that deluded"? Calling for a military coup when most military personal, intelligence operatives and cops are supporters of Orange Julius? Really?

These people never learn, do they? Maybe a clue-by-four upside the head. Assuming their skulls aren't so thick even that won't do the trick, which seems pretty likely judging from what I have seen so far.

It looks to me like the 2018 and 2020 elections are going to be blowouts. As it is, the Democrats have more than a dozen vulnerable Senate seats to defend next year, including ten in states Trump won. The Democrats have lost nearly half the elected offices they held when President Obama took the Oath of Office only eight years ago. Those are some pretty devastating losses and they are likely to get worse in the next couple of elections.

Affluent liberals like Silverman, Michael Moore and Lena Dunham seem hell-bent on alienating everyone else who doesn't live inside their self-referential bubble and share their worldview. As a Donald Trump supporter and a working class white who identifies as a paleoconservative and a right-wing patriot, I am having a ball watching these idiots self-destruct.

To the activist Left: Keep it up fools. You're playing right into our hands and giving up exactly what we want.

2/2/17, 7:29 PM

Armata said...
As a follow-up to my comment to Justin:

What Sarah Silverman just did is a felony.

Calling for the violent overthrow of the government of the United States is a crime punishable by up to twenty years in Federal prison. Threatening the President of the United States is punishable by up to five years in prison. I wonder if these people have stopped to consider the possible consequences of their actions? Especially since most members of the military, the intelligence services and law enforcement agencies support Trump. Not to mention that a huge number of Trump supporters are gun owners, know how to use them and that many of us are military veterans, including quite a few with combat experience.

Right now, Trump is going easy on these people. If he and his supporters decide enough is enough, things could get very ugly very fast, and I think its pretty clear which side would win.

2/2/17, 8:05 PM

Caelan MacIntyre said...
Hi John,

Apparently, my previous comment didn't pass muster here (assuming no technical glitch), so how about this one? (I have edited out what may transcend your blog's 'Leave Your Comment' guidelines.)

How would you respond to the below where I quoted you?

From the Peak Oil Barrel comment section:

"The industrial world remains shackled to fossil fuels for most of its energy and all of its transportation fuel, for the simple reason that no other energy source in this end of the known universe provides the abundant, concentrated, and fungible energy supply that’s needed to keep our current lifestyles going." ~ John Michael Greer


"First, only xxxxxxxxxxx, traffic in simple reasons! Reality is a bit more complex but that requires multiple digressions to elucidate and xxxxxxxxxxx by definition, generally lack the educational background and critical thinking skills required to understand the behavior of complex non linear systems. Maybe visiting sites of systems thinkers such as George Mobus might be a good place to start...

Second, anyone who claims that no other energy source in this end of the known universe provides abundant energy is a xxxxx of the highest order and probably skipped physics 101! There is xx xxxxxxxxxxx discussion to be had with such people!
This is the 21st century anyone can get a free online physics course from a reputable university in this day and age...

Maybe take a basic chemistry course as well.

Third, those who make any arguements about keeping our current lifestyles going are still barking up the wrong tree! One has to be really xxxxxx if they think our current lifestyles are sustainable in any way shape or form either with or without alternative energy. In any case they are most certainly not sustainable with a continuation of the use of fossil fuels. It is a strawman arguement." ~ Fred Magyar

In any case, I will post this attempt to your blog as well as a verbatim copy of it over there at Peak Oil Barrel, and if you'd like allow it to pass muster here this time and/or to respond over there and/or via my email, it would be appreciated. I mean, this is/you are about learning, truth, transition and whatnot, yes? Thanks.

~ Caelan Macintyre

2/2/17, 9:02 PM

Graeme Bushell said...
Hi All,

Sorry I haven't read all the comments yet - JMG it's a wonder that you keep up!

Bill and others have commented on some of the mathematics underlying cyclical behaviour in history, and there has been speculation on whether this is a universal feature of human civilisations. I'd like to recommend Peter Turchin, who I know has also been mentioned, as having some interesting observations on this in his 2009 paper "Long-Term Population Cycles in Human Societies".

As Turchin notes, and is well known in system dynamics and engineering process control, systems which are dynamically unstable are prone to oscillation. Generally speaking, this happens when factors leading to positive feedback act on a shorter timescale than those providing negative feedback. Turchin notes second-order oscillatory responses in human populations in agrarian societies, but the same principles should apply to many aspects of human societies. This gets close to being an underlying mechanism explaining the cyclic appearance of history described by Spengler and others (I've tried reading Spengler but found it very hard going without a liberal arts background).

The key thing that seemed to enable this with civilisations was the development of agriculture, which increased human reproduction rate(1.) and made the positive feedback (population leading to population growth) faster than the natural negative feedbacks such as environmental limits. Periodic overshoot and recovery is the result. When this operates inside a system with hard limits, you can get limit cycles, which I think was what Bill was showing in a quite general way.

So if this is the case, no, hunter gatherer societies are not generally subject to these kinds of cycles because their rate of reproduction and cultural adaptation is so much slower than the balancing feedback they get from the systems they live within. It seems to be an issue with more complex civilisations based on farming (that would be all of them).


1. Daniel Lieberman, The Story of the Human Body

2/2/17, 9:03 PM

Ynnothir Coll said...
@Varun-Uh oh. You seem to have gotten yourself caught in a binary or two, my friend.

The first, as I'm reading you, is an assumption that if you can't fix everything then you can't really fix anything. The arc of history is set, and even a kwizatz haderach who knows the future can't change that. The way out of that immobilizing trap is to shift your focus. Step outside and look around. The future will also play out in the little piece of the world you can see. That future has arcs that are much smaller and more subject to your own personal influence. In a hundred years, will that little piece of the world be a haven of contentment or a hive of scum and villainy?

The other binary is that, in order to affect change, one must accept the consequences of leadership. It's either that or choose a path away from power which, in this binary, is the way of helplessness.

I've seen the consequences of leadership and I get what you mean, but there are different levels of engagement and different modes of leadership. One can lead by example, for instance, or lead a food forest workshop. One could also recognize that (and I like this phrase of yours) "knowledge points the road to power", and take on the role of a mentat. There will always be consequences to your actions, but you can always take steps to manage your exposure to risk.

If the role of mentat appeals to you, I would recommended "Green Wizardry" by our esteemed host.

2/2/17, 9:09 PM

Unknown said...
Moderator: I submitted a previous comment. Please approve this one instead as HTML formatting is useful. :-)

As I read your piece, Hegel's dialectic came to mind as did Fukuyama's claim that we'd reached the end of history.

I agree with you that this time around the details are different but the wheel keeps turning. There's no end state. Hegel's dialectic required more than a little bit of hubris as did Fukuyama's even bolder claim in 1989.

2/2/17, 9:26 PM

Cathy McGuire said...
It's been a while since I commented - the comments up so fast, and it seems impossible to catch up enough to say something meaningful. I've no argument with your cyclical theme, JMG - it fits with what has become obvious to me over these many decades- human nature doesn't change much over the years - we seem to do the same things, have the same responses, although clothed in slightly different styles.

One thing I am finding, though, as collapse/decline starts to hit harder, is that I'm becoming more focused on those suffering, and my philosophical interest takes a back seat. Life has become more difficult for me, for those around me, and for thousands that I read about, so I'm taking more time offline trying to do things locally to help. That, and write poems and stories that might help people look at these issues. Of course there is value in wondering what the patterns are, but I'm spending more time looking at the actual situations, to see if I can be of help.

I do think this new administration looks like it could precipitate rapid decline (not total, unless he hits the nukes in a tantrum, but serious and not as easily adjusted to) and I believe it's worth speaking out against the things they want to do. I know decline is inevitableSo is death. As I get older, I am really experiencing that fact - not a theory, but real - there's no negotiating my way out. So the only criteria, then, is how have I lived? Thus, I'm speaking out and working to relieve suffering, even when I know suffering and decline are not "solvable". It's keeping me hugely busy (that and the petite homestead)... so that's why I haven't been around, FWIW. Seems like a whole new crop of commenters, so more folks are finding their way here, and I hope it helps more people learn the LESSon. :-)

2/2/17, 9:55 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Thinking about the Caesarean thing... it seems this really kicked in in the early 20th century worldwide. Here, FDR seems to have been an outlier in not embracing as much demagoguery as others. Not saying none, Japanese internment and all. But not as much. And we never went through a fascist.or other authoritatian episode either.

Interesting that after, there was a resurgence of democracy and bureocracy around the world for many more decades. And only in the last decade or so has the Caesarean phenomenon begun to resurge. I suppose this is probably the norm, this process taking over a Century and happening episodically. I honestly doubt that the current incumbent in DC will be the one to to take hold here; his choices of advisors seem suspect. Of course that could just set up for a purge and who knows what. He might just as likely set off a backlash that will usher in the True Caesar from "the other side" who will conveniently have the acolytes of the orange one to demonize and impale on spikes. Prognostication in detail is notoriously unreliable.

2/2/17, 9:57 PM

Gottfried Wilhelm Melvin Hicks-Leibniz said...

Don't forget about me ;-)

are we not living in the best of all possible worlds?

2/2/17, 10:36 PM

Gottfried Wilhelm Melvin Hicks-Leibniz said...
@Angus @JohnRoth

I suspect we share some admiration for Leibniz.

The following link is a great piece of work put together on "Secret History" of the Leibniz, Newton, Voltaire "Bizarre Love Triangle"

hat tip: Gary Geck

2/2/17, 10:42 PM

sunseekernv said...

Robert Carran re: ..."even if there were such a thing as "zero point energy" (which is, of course, nonsense), ..."

Well, there is zero point energy, it's a rather fundamental concept in quantum mechanics, a direct consequence of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and "has many observed physical consequences":

What you may have *meant* to say, it "nobody has unambiguously shown a way to get useful *power* from the ZPE".
If you did mean to say "nonsense", then you don't know enough quantum mechanics - read the full wiki article on ZPE.

(The RF resonant cavity thruster *may* be using the zero point field to "push against", but nobody understands exactly why it works)

You are correct in that any "free/unlimited/..." energy source:
"... wouldn't change the fundamental reality that we live on a planet with limited resources and space."

Case in point: the Ogallala Aquifer - August 2016 National Geographic did a nice article on it, and how so many people don't want to change to prevent loss in their areas.

As far as PV, silicon PV is not all that complex (at least to me), I did some essays for the Krampus challenge of some years back:
So I think the answer to its sustainability and continued use is still a definite "maybe".

2/2/17, 11:10 PM

Wizard of Tas said...
Something is playing on my mind. Trump has been appointing a few evangelicals lately and now has stated his intent to squash the laws prohibiting charity status groups (primarily churches) from active involvement in endorsing candidates from the pulpit. Also on my mind is his announcements at breakfast prayer meetings.

Then I think about Constantine the Grate, and how he probably didn't believe in Christianity, but chose it to unify his people after considering various religious options.

Then I think back to Trump and his make America great and keep out the not us people. It seems he's doing a Constantine.

What is the likelyhood of Trump and his cronies positioning for a theocracy? Is this something that fits past patterns (apart from Constantine) as a valid part of a decline scenario, and do you see it in your countries future?

2/2/17, 11:13 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Pygmycory, well, that kind of sandwich is basically what we've got now, in a small way. Classical civilization inherited a lot from Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Minoan Crete, put their own spin on it, added in a whole bunch of its own material, and handed on the result to us, after all. I admit I wish I could know what the civilizations after ours are going to make out of what they get from us.

RPC, thanks for the correction. I have no opinion about cars, since I don't own or drive one, and never have.

James, I'll be interested to see what you think of the upcoming posts, then. We're going to start with the British epistemologists and Kant, very briefly, to set the stage for the people I mostly want to talk about.

H. Bustos, the Greeks had ample history behind them to draw up a very detailed cyclical theory of history; you'll want to check out Polybius sometime. That aside, one of the things that can happen (though it doesn't always happen, not by a long shot) is that the legacies of one era can provide new possibilities for another. I've discussed some of the sustainable technologies of our time that might help the next cycle of civilization here; you'll be pleased to know the printing press is among them.

Unknown, I'll certainly put some thought into it, though!

Lew, that was the first round of Caesarism in the western world -- it got much more intense in Europe, as I'm sure you're well aware. We're apparently moving into the second round now.

Userfriendlyyy, hmm! I wasn't even thinking about Carlyle. It simply struck me as one of the standard offshoots of the modern world's overdeveloped sense of entitlement.

Robert, I'm far from sure I'd agree with that. Mercantile networks as a partial replacement for governments go back a long ways -- China had them a very long time ago, and so did ancient Greece. They tend to thrive in periods of economic and political stability, and go to bits in a hurry once those end. My take is that we'll see another round of the going to bits as globalism ends over the decades ahead.

Philip, sudden crises of the sort you're describing generally are very common in history. With very few exceptions, they're hiccups. Think of the Black Death hitting medieval Europe, or the equivalent pandemics in 2nd and 3rd century CE Rome -- vast body counts, and a generation later things were chugging ahead smoothly. The thing to do, whenever you want to figure out what an event is likely to do, is look for historical parallels and see what happened the last time around!

Renaissance, where on earth do you work? The We Actually Have A Clue Corporation, or what?

Mustard, that's pretty good, barring Sagan's inevitable spin on words like "true." I wonder if he ever quite realized that when he wrote that, astrology was in the middle of one of its more recent golden ages...

2/2/17, 11:23 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Justin, even so, I don't think that's true. My experience with animals is that they're just as cantankerous, error-prone, and idiosyncratic as you and I.

Armata, I'll do the Wagner sequence if I need a break and can handle maybe twenty comments a week. Not that that isn't tempting sometimes! ;-) Seriously, it's on the list, and some of the philosophy we're discussing actually makes a decent lead-in to it. As for deindustrial warfare, that's probably going to be one focus of a future series getting further into dark age conditions in future North America.

Tyler, well, I'm pretty sure posts on philosophy won't field me 500 comments a week, so that's potentially a consideration!

Varun, nah, you're drawing things far too narrowly. Demagogues and warlords actually have very little power to change things -- they are creatures respectively of the movements they lead and the warbands they command, and have to keep giving their followers what the latter want and expect or down they go. The real source of power at this point in the game is the ability to shape thinking, to dynamite unquestioned presuppositions, to walk away from a losing game and do something less useless -- and all these are things each of us can do, and model for others. More on this in a later post.

Lilith, the shift away from rationalism is driven, in our civilization as in every other, by the failures of rationalism itself -- and those in turn derive from the awkward fact that no logical system can prove its own axioms. The rational always rests on unproven and irrational presuppositions, and "Garbage In, Garbage Out" is a good guide to the results! After the initial burst of craziness, the more useful achievements of each Age of Reason are absorbed into the traditions that come after; just as classical logic ended up being taught in medieval monasteries and universities, it's pretty much a given that the scientific method will be taught in the religious schools of the future, whatever form those happen to take. Granted, getting there is a rough road...

Asher, many thanks for this. As the EROEI on petroleum slides, expect a lot of "alternative" energy resources that are propped up on the energy surpluses from fossil fuels to go away, too -- while technologies that actually pay for themselves, such as homescale solar thermal, may yet come into their own.

Armata, the last time I hung out with any significant number of fans of medieval fantasy et al., they were as fixated on the myth of progress as everyone else -- it was because they believed devoutly in progress that they were able to play at being knights and ladies. If you have a chance, ask around and see if that's changed. If it has, then -- well in the immortal words of Ghan-buri-Ghan, "Wind is changing!"

Tideshift, oh, I know. You might try a weary look and words to the effect of, "Yeah, this is what I've been trying to tell you about for the last decade." It may not get a clue through the concrete, but those doing the decapitated chicken routine may avoid your presence while doing so, which is something.

Unknown, ahem. I was trying to be polite. ;-)

Jim, for heaven's sake, I've written repeatedly and extensively about climate change. Do a search in the archive for terms such as "methane," "Greenland," and "anthropogenic" and see what you find.

August_Moon, thanks for this.

2/2/17, 11:42 PM

anonymous said...
Reflecting on your post I am reminded of the decline and death of my mother and how that, for me, is an imminent analogy for what you indicate vis a vis imminent catastrophe fetishists vs everything is a-okay rubes. Moreover, it is, writ large, a nice analogue for what you envisage as a likely outcome for industrial civilization--and all of the "externalities" that are part and parcel to the treatment of the ultimately fatal issue.

A few years before her death she was diagnosed with a form of lung cancer one does not survive. Contemporary methods of treating the disease being what they are she limped along for a good five years or so in graduate, albeit accelerating, stages of decline. First it was the nausea from the chemo, then the radiation burns, the the to COPD and emphysema, then the necrotic tooth decay as a result of the radiation, then the spontaneous hemothorax that led to the talc surgery, that led to the weeping lungs, that led to chronic infections, that led to to the insertion of a plastic stint to widen her airway, which eventually led to that stint deteriorating, disintegrating, and severing a major blood vessel. The end.

Concomitantly, as time went on, her friends and siblings (all much older, wiser, smarter, or whatever than I) repeated vacuous mantras--"miracles happen every day", you get the idea-- and any observation that things were getting obviously worse was met with, at best, a glowering look, and, at worst, a full on temper tantrum-- again, all coming from people fond of declaring how certain they were she was going to get better.

It was a truly interesting case of mass dissonance. It was as if I had happened across a house fire, and encountered the home owners on the front lawn frantically running in circles with a weak streamed garden hose, and saying "it looks like your house is really on fire." Meanwhile they shout at me that all at the same time, 1) it was impossible that their house is on fire, 2) the garden hose would put out the fire, and 3) that the universe was going to put out the fire anyway on account of they being specially favored.

How is this relevant? If I had to guess as a civilization we are somewhere between the nausea of the chemo, and the radiation burns. There's a whole lot of flailing attempts at treatment, and their attendant externalities to deal with, along the corridor to the civilizational morgue. Not that there is anything wrong or unnatural about personal or civilizational death--some can be prevented, all are inevitable.

--Anonymous Millenial

2/2/17, 11:43 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Justin, that was my first thought, too. Bashing Berkeley is a very astute move on the part of the Orange Julius.

Blue Sun, considering who owns most of the guns in this country, and which side the police and military enlisted personnel almost unanimously support, if anything like that does happen to Trump, I'm worried that people on the left may face mass beatings and killings, with a death toll in the thousands or higher. I hope to the gods that doesn't happen, as there are a lot of people I care about who would likely get caught up in it.

Alfredo, the Druid teachings I follow hold that this world, the world of human beings experiencing greed and hunger and a distinct lack of the brotherhood of man, is a necessary stage or mode of consciousness through which every soul must pass in due time. When we outgrow it, we move to a different stage or mode of consciousness, and the world stays the way it is so that it can provide the same experience to those who need it. Thus there's only so much change you can make in the world -- though there's some, and making such changes are an important part of grappling with this mode of being. The changes that matter are those you make to yourself.

Stephen, thank you. Exactly; despite the claims of the mythology of progress, nobody promised us a free ride to something better.

Caelan, okay, you pulled a comment of mine out of context and tossed it somewhere where a troll could yell at it. So?

Graeme, good. You can get the same results by applying standard systems theory to human societies and noting the relationship between the generational cycle and the pace of change. I may just do a post on that down the road a bit.

Unknown, "hubris" is a gentle way of putting it. As I noted in an earlier post, Hegelian philosophy applied to history seems to be a guaranteed ticket to bad predictions.

Cathy, Zen masters like to say "talk doesn't cook the rice." If you're tending the rice, you're doing something more useful than commenting here... ;-)

Bill, certainly the Orange Julius is unlikely to be an Orange Augustus!

Gottfried, hah!

2/2/17, 11:57 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Wizard, that doesn't seem likely to me. Right now conservative political Christianity is losing ground rapidly in demographic terms; a vast fraction of young people want nothing to do with it -- many of them are Christians, but they have their own ideas about morals and worship, which have very little in common with those of their Moral (pseudo)Majority elders. My take is that Trump is simply placating one faction of his power base.

Anonymous Millennial, many years ago I worked as an orderly in nursing homes, and I got to see the same thing many times over. Yes, it's exactly parallel to the way people are trying to deny the reality of decline, and just as useless. Facing the facts strikes me as a better plan!

2/3/17, 12:02 AM

Scotlyn said...
@JMG, before the thread gets too lengthy I want to ask if the cyclical view of history permits you to hazard a forecast (short or long term) on the outlook for homegrown American Muslims (ie not immigrants or refugees). Thank you.

2/3/17, 12:05 AM

Crow Hill said...
JMG: Thank you as ever for your grey-matter-enhancing essays.

One comment about the current one: “…the theory … that civilizations rise and fall in a predictable life cycle, regardless of scale or technological level.”

Yes, but a crucial difference for the future is the ecological footprint, which depends on scale and technological level. The planet-size scale and nature of the technology of today’s industrialized civilisation will leave more badlands absolutely than previous civilisations did. In contrast, the Mayans and other Amerindians left a fertile environment after the fall of their civilisations.

2/3/17, 12:06 AM

Tony Rasmussen said...
Excuse the butt-in but in your response to Seaweed Shark's comment, you wrote, "I challenge you to quote me a single statement anywhere on this blog, or in my writings, that supports this claim of yours that I think the period from 1970 to 2005 is 'the turning point of all human history.' Hint: you won't find one."

I think the comment is referring to your claim that the early 1970s were a major turning point, sort of the last chance to implement truly sustainable solutions before the oil was/is too far gone. So I typed "turning point" into Google and quickly found this post on catabolic collapse, which says:

"In fact, I’d like to suggest that it’s possible at this point to provide a fairly exact date for the onset of catabolic collapse here in the United States of America. ... ... the point at which crises bring a temporary end to business as usual, access to real wealth becomes a much more challenging thing for a large fraction of the population, and significant amounts of the national infrastructure are abandoned or stripped for salvage. It’s not a difficult question to answer, either.

The date in question is 1974."

Of course, you are correct that you did not say 'turning point of all human history', that phrase misstates/hyperbolizes your claim. Still, you have repeatedly marked the 1970s as a huge fork in the road for industrial civilization, I think that's what Shark was getting at.

(For another example, this post discusses the cultural shift towards nihilism in the wake of the missed opportunity to get on a sustainable path in the 70s.)

2/3/17, 12:07 AM

Scotlyn said...
@luval evolution has not been able to produce a multicellular body (essentially a large complex community of interacting, cooperating and competing tissues, cells and cellular components) that does not progress through birth, youth, vigour, senescence and death. (Unless cut short by a premature death). It seems death is part of the trade off for that level of complexity. There may well be physical, biological "laws" involved in this.

2/3/17, 12:10 AM

Crow Hill said...
PS to comment on "“…the theory … that civilizations rise and fall in a predictable life cycle, regardless of scale or technological level.”

The scale of the human population will also make a huge difference: a fall of a (local) civilisation in a world with 200 million humans will be quite different from a fall with 8 billion, 10 billion or more humans.

2/3/17, 12:20 AM

Scotlyn said...
@dammerung Unknown Deborah, with the utmost of respect and gentleness offered you an open door to a dialogue with room for you both to BE.

You slammed that door shut in her face. You denied the possibility that you and she *both* could BE.

So, yes, you can use all the words you want, but you are manifestly not here to have dialogue.

2/3/17, 12:26 AM

LunarApprentice said...
Sorry for this tangent JMG, but I was gobsmacked by one of your remarks in the comments section, and I hope you might indulge me with a thoughtful reply. You responded to Lilith with a stunning remark: "the shift away from rationalism is driven, in our civilization as in every other, by the failures of rationalism itself -- and those in turn derive from the awkward fact that no logical system can prove its own axioms. The rational always rests on unproven and irrational presuppositions...".

I was for too many years a materialist/rationalist junkie. Then at age 51, something in my gut told me one morning (literally) that the materialist/rationalist view could not possibly account for my experience of life. I cannot give an argument to justify why I feel this way. Rationalism is just another perspective now, a handy tool with its proper uses. Ever since my awakening, I've been groping towards a spiritual perspective that happens to incorporate practices that most would consider rank superstition... I won't venture into a discussion that belongs on your other blog...

So, just what are those "unproven and irrational presuppositions" ? .... While you're at it, do you know of any method buy which one might bring to awareness the presuppositions that we as individuals, implicitly construct out of the raw material of our own experience, especially from childhood?

2/3/17, 12:52 AM

Scotlyn said...
@dammerung you say:
"If there's going to be a mad scramble for power then there's simply going to be one. What's the point of casting heroes and villains in such an environment?" Indeed.

But is it about heroes and villains, or is it about building up the necessary social capital to have real allies and collaborators with whom to face into the mad scramble? (In fairy tales, the most reliable help can come from the ranks of the unregarded and overlooked).

And isn't it possible that when you have finished burning up all the social capital within your personal reach, the "mad scramble" finds you with no one left to stand beside and face it with?

2/3/17, 1:39 AM

Gabriela Augusto said...
Well, complex systems are complex because of the unsuspected and innumerable connections and feedback loops making the system utterly unpredictable. They can not be reliably explained by cause-effect phenomena like classic systems, because the parts of the system develop relationships among themselves that escape our knowledge and sometimes our understanding. A whole new body of mathematics is being developed to grasp complex systems but we are really nowhere near close to be able to make useful predictions of complex system behavior.
I am not sure if the global nature of the system makes it more resilient. The system is optimized to generate money (in short term) for only one small part of humanity, resilience is not a goal not by far. As a consequence most to the heavy equipment used by electric generation is produced in very few countries. The same goes for grain, and many other essential utilities and raw materials. A failure in one of this critical supply chains can have a cascade of disastrous consequences where no one is expecting. The pressure is high - seven billion of us - and the risks are pilling up - climate change, social unrest, geopolitical changes, resource depletion.You are right, I can not offer a reason for a fast collapse, that is the nature of complex systems. But I offer good reason to knock globalization down a few levels, a return to a more local economies.
Another reason is that diverse communities are far more agile and creative finding solutions for different challenges. I find it hard to understand the fascinations with empires, monolithic political entities devoted to maintain the status quo. There was incomparable more technological, scientific and social innovation in the dozens of competing small nations and free city states of the Middle Age Europe, than in 3000 years or so of the Egyptian empire, not to mention the Romans that did little more than aqueducts.

2/3/17, 2:12 AM

Vedant said...
Excellent stuff, JMG. I believe Plato made a similar remark about "corruption by wealth " as a flaw of democracy, though he said that all democracies are subject to it not only modern democracies. Further based on your remark about assassination of Caesar , I believe U.S. would have went down similar path in 1930s itself if "Business Plot" had been executed ( Further , I predicted that this discussion was eventually going to come down to discussion on philosophy.

Here, I would like to share an observation(or I should say experience) which I believe will be helpful to you, although you probably know it already. When I first read about peak oil and its aftermath on this blog , I was convinced almost immediately about its viability. I even wondered why many were outrightly rejecting it. After reading a good number of comments on several different posts , I realized that prime reason many were rejecting ideas presented on this blog is because they were not used to "Systems Thinking". To be more specific, unlike other ,I was able to envision how whole of infrastructure of industrial society is based on fossile fuels because of "system thinking". I realized that food I consume everyday, my smartphone and other eletronics , water which is being pumped to my house everyday and most of other things are essentially based on fossil fuels . Even when very few of things are directly consuming fossil fuel , everything indirectly consumes fossile fuel. Many of the other readers were not able to see this despite being obvious (can be even called "comman sense") , cause of which I believe that they are not unaware of "systems theory". Hence , I believe that if you write posts on systems theory(if you haven't already) , then many more readers will be able to understand ideas posed on your blog much more easily. They help be able to how different parts of the society interact with one other and failure of even one part can have drastic consequences for whole society. Hence, if you do a series of posts on "systems thinking" before posts on philosophy than readers will better able to understand the ideas you present.

2/3/17, 3:29 AM

sandy said...
Hi John Michael. I reread the Hegel link ... The Fifth Side of the Triangle, and when I got here I had a satori ...

... Fukuyama’s theory of the end of history argued that all history until 1991 or so was a competition between different systems of political economy, of which liberal democratic capitalism and totalitarian Marxism were the last two contenders; capitalism won, Marxism lost, game over.

Not the end of regular history, but the end of the history of 'Progress by Liberal Capitalism.'

As I read in the link below, unrestrained capitalism consumes itself. And we can see that it has. The lust for money caused the repeal of the Glass- Stegal Act and it's been downhill ever since. Attempts to restrain Wall Street and big banks have failed.

Pearce M. Schaudies.
Minister of Future

2/3/17, 3:49 AM

blue sun said...
RE: Cluelessness of the Berkeleyites (@Justin, et al)

You may find this short video amusing, it shows some interviews on the Berkeley campus which reveal quite a depth of ignorance:

Ami Horowitz: How white liberals really view black voters

2/3/17, 4:30 AM

patriciaormsby said...
@Nastarana, that's so true. When I try to point out to these folks that a lot of other folks voted for Trump because Hillary had flaws, they grow much shriller. Unless you say the magic words, "Trump should die," or something to that effect, just talking to them puts you in their enemy camp. That's why I am having second thoughts about continuing any form of conversation with them.

I do fear for his life. "What Hillary would have done if she had won" might not forever be a moot point. I hope she never gets a chance to do what she said she was going to do, and about which, given her record, we had every reason to expect she was sincere.

2/3/17, 4:54 AM

blue sun said...
Terrible, yes, but I could envision a scenario where the elites (who have demonstrated their cluelessness and willingness to encourage violence at protests) would assume that the people would cheer the assassination of Trump. And yet it would likely only make him a martyr, backfiring on them. Just as they could not imagine Trump winning the election they can not imagine themselves dangling from lampposts. Although the wealthy elite have suddenly begun purchasing New Zealand doomsteads, I imagine it's for the wrong reason, and if Trump were to disappear they would return to the US expecting the people to cheerfully welcome them back.

2/3/17, 4:55 AM

Patricia Mathews said...
To "Anonymous" - My friends and I belong to a group of seniors discussing exactly such issues as your mother's ordeal. One of the members is a hospice nurse; the rest of us have all seen such things and have already made advance directives. I have discussed it with my children, both hard-headed Xers and in or connected to the medical profession, and they assuredly won't let this happen to me! But will follow the example of their aunt, my sister, who called it quits and organized her own wake. May your mom be now at peace, and blessed be.


2/3/17, 5:37 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Graeme - civilization based on farming? Ours? Ridiculous! Who ever even thinks about a farm anymore, much less ever sees one?! Our civilization is based in information and choice, haven't you been keeping up?? Sheesh, get with the program!!

(Just to avoid any uneccesary flaming, tongue firmly in cheek...)

2/3/17, 6:14 AM

Iuval Clejan said...
Dear Bill Pulliam, glad you're back. It is important to try to understand the mechanisms involved in cycles. I don't think modular integer arithmetic is it though. I think it has to do more with eigenvalues of the Hessian of the dynamical system being complex around equilibria. But chaos is also possible in non-linear systems.

Dear Graeme, I want to read Turchin ASAP before spring. I've been reading everything I can on MLS and evolutionary game theory and started doing my own modeling of multi-level-selection models of altruism and selfishness. I think Turchin relies heavily on MLS theory in his model.

Dear JMG, the fact that there are limits to growth might be part of the underlying mechanism involved in the rise and fall of civilizations. As you have said before, not all civilizations choose Empire, though Quigley's definition of a civilization is pretty close to your definition of empire. Why can't we choose sustainability over growth and expansion? By "we" I don't mean everyone, but enough people to be able to have a viable economy without a reliance on the current empire.

2/3/17, 6:37 AM

Robert Carran said...
My mistake using the term "zero point energy" incorrectly. I've just heard it used incorrectly along with "free energy" to describe mythical machines that produce energy without fuel, and somehow defy the laws of thermodynamics.
Speaking of which, I think the Gibbs free energy equation is a good expression of what I'm trying to say. I call it the "no free lunch, except from the sun" equation.
deltaG = deltaH - t deltaS . If you put aside the change in enthalpy (which I think is reasonable, in terms of the point I am making, but am open to arguments) it basically means that the entropy of any system will either stay the same (in the case of no reactions) or increase unless energy is added from another system.
In our case, the sun is that other system. So it could be said that use of energy on earth, beyond that which comes from the sun, will increase entropy. I consider life to be negentropy, or order.
As for PV, the reason I question its viability is its dependence on batteries and the rest of its "technological suite", as JMG puts it. Maybe use of mechanical storage, such as water towers with hydroelectric generators would be viable. Curious what your thoughts are on this.

2/3/17, 6:55 AM

Nastarana said...
Dear Mr. Greer, Wagner? Really? Must you? I accept that any writer chooses his or her own subject, but please consider, and I venture to make a bare faced assertion here, that Richard, along with Aaron Copeland and a few others are the primary reason that so many folks today loath classical music. You will no doubt recall that a particularly bombastic, even for Wagner, passage from the Ring Cycle was used for background in Apocalypse Now. I rest my case.

Dear Armata, thank you for the link to the Lind talk, which I just finished reading. I had worked out some of it myself, but I appreciate having some dots connected.

2/3/17, 7:35 AM

nati said...
Usually i dont agree with a lot of your ideas, what makes your writings thinking stimulating and interesting for me. This time i do agree with you and found this post a little boring for me. Strange, is'nt it?
Of course each society collapse has its own peculiarities, but in my opinion there is something very anusual in our case. I mean that in addition to the normal causes for decline, there is an anti western ideologic movement that is acting against our civilitation and for it destroy.
Also, the followers and activist of that ideology are the elites, which are the most benefited from the current order, and usually, in other times of history, tend to defend the old order and oppose changes.
I wonder if you agree with that and think it is the case this time. If so, i wonder how you explain that.
Thank you

2/3/17, 7:42 AM

Donald Hargraves said...
I believe that part of the panic of the left is that they realized their vulnerability – and that all they have IS their voice. They see the same "Red with Blue dots" maps of the United States, the same free fall in the Democrat's power in Congress and the States (some of it from Gerrymandering, but all of it real and with effect), the same Thin Blue Line flags (both plain and with a Black and White Stars and Stripes as background), and know what could happen. In addition, they have willingly outed themselves to anyone with the power to destroy them:

How Facebook helped create Brexit and Trump

On the positive side, a good portion of the left has developed a deep interest in guns.

2/3/17, 7:57 AM

Stu from New Jersey said...
@Karl Ivanov and JMG:

On the minimum EROEI to sustain industrial civilization:
A good article with references to several researchers (with somewhat different answers) can be found at

Recent answers seem to be in the range of 10-15, although I *know* I've also seen 8 from workers that I respect.
Of course, whether or not this includes exploration and/or research is important, since we can always *not* spend on those if we're crazy enough to not admit that this sews things up.

2/3/17, 8:36 AM

Jim Irwin said...
my point is very simple- that climate change has happened many times in the past (unrelated to human activity) and when it gets colder there are very negative effects on mammals, when it gets warmer things are better, not worse for mammals... you seem fixated on the idea that global warming is anthropogenic and is going to be a very bad thing, when in fact we should hope it gets warmer rather than colder, it is not going to stay the same, and the major changes in climate will probably not be related to human activity, they were not in the past...

2/3/17, 8:51 AM

William Zeitler said...
As an aside, the historical/mythological narrative in the Old Testament/Jewish Scriptures rather divides itself into creation through Moses, and then: Israel invading Canaan, wiping out the folks who were already there, Israel reaching its peak with David, then decline and ultimate fall. I can't be the first person to muse about Spengler and the story of ancient Israel. I also note that ancient Israel being "God's Chosen People" did not save them in the end.

2/3/17, 8:59 AM

Brent Ragsdale said...
There is a contemporary candidate “unique individual” I wish to call your attention to: Randell Mills. His Grand Unified Theory of Classical Physics has been roundly ignored or derided for decades while he and his company make profound discoveries in the sciences from chemistry to cosmology. Their current SunCell device (or subsequent developments) may be a non-polluting, energy-dense source of power to replace the burning of hydrocarbon. Before you dismiss this as techno-fantasy, let me appeal to your appreciation of liminality versus binary. I am hopeful there is more science to be discovered that may give humans a chance to draw carbon from the atmosphere thus restoring the earth’s energy balance. However, I also accept we are in overshoot, and there will be no avoiding the consequences.

2/3/17, 9:09 AM

wbricex said...
Excellent post once again. Been reading ADR for five years this week. It continues to be, what is ultimately, a pleasure to have you challenge my thinking and beliefs, though the process may be rather jarring, confusing, and uncomfortable at times. The honesty and civility here are invaluable. Please keep up the great work. Looking forward to your posts on philosophy. Peace and blessings to all.

2/3/17, 9:20 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Christianity among millennial... even here in the buckle of the Bible Belt I find millennial's Christianity to be often amorphous. They wear crosses, get the tattoos, and say the words, but their actual beliefs are heavily new age influenced whether they realize it or not. When it gets down to one on one, and I get honest with them, they don't seem to see a lot of conflict between my own animistic beliefs and their gauzy filmy fluid notions of god and such.

Interestingly they don't seem to have thought much more deeply than this about the rebel flag either, which they also get tattooed on themselves.

2/3/17, 9:59 AM

MichaelK said...
Dear JMG,

Sorry if I offended you about your writing style. That wasn't my intention.

2/3/17, 10:09 AM

Fred the First said...
@Wizard We were a part of a evangelical homeschool group in the run up to the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Attendance at prayer vigils on the coming of AntiChrist (Obama) were expected. It was considered a done deal that if Obama was inaugurated the apocalypse was imminent and everyone wanted their families raptured, thus the prayers.

We left the group, not because of this belief, but because of the hypocritical stance of the parents on issues where we needed to pull together. People were incredibly late to start the day, didn't clean up after themselves, didn't make sure their kids did their school work, didn't participate in community activities we did together. So they prayed and talked about community and their beliefs, but the actions they needed to do to make the community work were missing. It became such a drag on our family we stopped participating.

The ministers of these families "one name churches" as I call them (These are all church bodies which spun off another church body over a disagreement, and came up with their own unique names. Very few are attached to any sort of governing board or uniting council or any kind of hierarchy over them.) always told their congregations how to vote. They spoke from the pulpit on the issues and what was at stake. It was the Second Coming of Jesus, after all. Its interesting that Trump is basically making legal something that has existed for decades.

This is what happened with same-sex marriage - making something legal that existed for decades.

2/3/17, 10:51 AM

Dan Mollo said...
@Bill Pulliam,

This is way off topic but I just re-read JMG's essay "Seven Sustainable Technologies" from January 2014 that he linked to in a comment here, and came across your comments about tree and fish diversity on the west coast compared to where you live, as indicators of long term habitability and resilience to climatic change. Pretty interesting stuff, I hadn't come across that information before. The reason why I picked the Willamette Valley to settle in when I moved from California was because from my initial research it seemed like one of the more viable places to live compared with the rest of the Pacific Northwest, and I was limited in my search to the West Coast because my wife and I both wanted to stay relatively close to family (mine in California, hers in Washington.) I will have to do some more reading on the subject, but we are most likely going to stay put here for the long term, though I personally am not opposed to moving out east if the opportunity arises.

2/3/17, 10:51 AM

Fred the First said...
When you end comments with "more on what can be done in the following weeks", I do wish you could schedule a week where you write daily blog posts about the "what can be done", so that I had it all at once and could start doing those suggestions. I got the chickens, the garden, practice herbalism, have scaled back, and if there are other things that you have under the green wizard hat, please share quickly.

I suppose this Trump anxiety is rubbing off on me after all.

2/3/17, 10:55 AM

Bryant said...
JMG, I shall buy A World Full of Gods to search for any details on Kek. Praise Kek!

2/3/17, 11:08 AM

Varun Bhaskar said...

In other words, influential minds have more power to affect the arc than the leaders because they're not busy managing masses?

2/3/17, 11:45 AM

gwizard43 said...
I'm looking at a statement that reads:

"Courteous, concise comments relevant to the topic of the current week's post are welcome, whether or not they agree with the views expressed here, and I try to respond to each comment as time permits. Long screeds proclaiming the infallibility of some ideology or other, however, will be deleted; so will repeated attempts to hammer on a point already addressed; so will comments containing profanity, abusive language, flamebaiting and the like -- I filled up my supply of Troll Bingo cards years ago and have no interest in adding any more to my collection; and so will sales spam and offers of "guest posts" pitching products. I'm quite aware that the concept of polite discourse is hopelessly dowdy and out of date, but then so are a good many other things we will have to preserve, or laboriously reinvent, on the long road down from Hubbert's peak."

And in fact as a follower of this blog since 2009, and a weekly follower since the 'Merlin's Time' post in mid-2010, I can attest that it *used* to be like that. Polite discourse, indeed, where flame-baiters were kept in check - this was the hallmark of this blog's comment sections. And that made for a truly scintillating read, which encouraged participation.

And yet when I look through this week's comment sections - I see the following comments, interestingly, all from the same source - the same source that's been posting similar comments since he showed up a few months back - and if this isn't flamebaiting, then I don't know the meaning of the word:

"At this point, it looks to me like you are trolling. You and your fellow-travelers on the far Left can believe whatever you wish to believe. Lie to yourselves all you want. The rest of us who haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid or have liberated ourselves from the lies of the Cult of Progress are the ones who are going to win this war. Praise Kek!"

"These people never learn, do they? Maybe a clue-by-four upside the head. Assuming their skulls aren't so thick even that won't do the trick, which seems pretty likely judging from what I have seen so far."

"As a Donald Trump supporter and a working class white who identifies as a paleoconservative and a right-wing patriot, I am having a ball watching these idiots self-destruct."

"To the activist Left: Keep it up fools. You're playing right into our hands and giving up [sic] exactly what we want."

This sort of thing has sadly become routine here, and as far as I can tell it began when the proclaimed alt-righters showed up.

So, JMG, my comment this week isn't on the topic you wrote about, as interesting as that is, but rather a direct question in regard to the above observation:

The comments I've quoted above are clearly not courteous, and do not constitute "polite discourse" - but they and many others like them in recent months have made it through the filter. What gives?

Do you disagree? If not, then why must we slog through such jeering, mocking comments that are coming to comprise an ever larger proportion of what was once a shining example of how polite and intelligent and engaging a blog comment section could be?

One thing I can state for certain: this sort of behavior, which has been permitted to occur over and over, now makes this a much less welcome forum - and not just for those on the left. I suspect there are a fair number of commenters (myself included) who now think twice before posting because they simply don't want to deal with these alt-righters - who ironically seem just as sensitive to any comments that may be interpreted in such a way as to include some fugitive strand of dreaded/hated Leftist thought as any PC professor they despise is to comments that may manifest emanations of Right or White thinking.

2/3/17, 12:27 PM

Neil Anuskiewicz said...
@A Rat in the Walls I've met Christian mystics at ceremonies with other mystics. I'm making this sound too fancy. I'm talking about down to earth people who find a direct connection with Christ, don't need intermediaries, and don't judge others. In a time when I don't feel good about many things, I am happy that there seems to be a revival of mysticism or, as some call it, a spiritual awakening. Even atheists might consider this a good trend as those who fancy themselves mystics aren't sectarian, at least in my experience.

2/3/17, 12:28 PM

Joel Caris said...
Hi JMG and readers at large,

This is perhaps only tangentially related to this week's topic, but I thought it would be interesting to you and others. I got it from Naked Capitalism, so perhaps you've already seen it, JMG, but this is a very good interview with Jeffrey D. Sachs about Trump, immigration, geopolitics, and American democracy. I think he makes a number of very good points and lays out some of the major failings of the center-left in recent years. I don't know that I fully agree with him on everything, but this strikes me as the sort of sober, clear-eyed analysis of what's going on today that is going to be necessary for the left to engage in if we want to regain power and work to make the world a better place, rather than continue to flail around in pure reactionary mode and risk setting the stage for even worse counter-reactions than have already occurred.

I had to put in my email to get to the full article, but I believe you can just put in a fake address if you really want to. I didn't actually have to register or confirm anything.

If you don't feel like this is enough on topic, JMG, feel free to delete.

2/3/17, 12:34 PM

Daddy Hardup said...
Wagner, did you say? Via Kant and Schopenhauer, and that yearning harmonic suspension? May I book my ticket now, please?

Could be topical. My meagre understanding is that Wagner turned to myth and epic after his disillusioning experience of radical politics. Specifically, the failed liberal-radical revolution in Germany in 1848-49, when he took to the barricades in Dresden alongside Bakunin, and the suppression of the second French republic by the conservative revolution of that would-be Caesar, Louis Napoleon.

Don't think you would get only twenty comments a week, though. Did you imagine, when you began your 'Druid reflections' eleven years ago, that you would soon enough be fielding 500? There are many of us who are delighted to enter this space where our hunger for myth is not dismissed as escapist fantasy nor indulged and exploited commercially, but treated with intellectual seriousness and rigour.

When I was learning German back in the 80s, Wagner was an object of suspicion. Germans were preoccupied with 'overcoming the past' and, quite rightly, with decontaminating their culture from anything tainted with National Socialism, and Wagner was dangerously close to the toxic ground zero from which it all sprang. Hence, I suppose, those deconstructionist opera productions we heard about in which Alberich or some other character in the Ring was depicted carrying a plastic bag from the Aldi supermarket. I don't think the Nazi catastrophe can ever be 'overcome' - we Europeans live in a humbled post-Enlightenment culture and in that sense are perhaps more prepared than some for the End of Progress - but I for one certainly feel ready to engage seriously with Wagner.


2/3/17, 2:01 PM

Armata said...
As we saw earlier, Donald Trump threatened to cut off federal funding to UC Berkeley for allowing rioters to violate the free speech rights of a guest speaker. That sort of thing has become extremely common on American university campuses.

Time and time again we have seen left wing radicals shut down speakers whose views they didn't agree with while university administrators not only stood by and did nothing to stop it but in many cases, we have seen professors and other faculty members go out of their way to egg the rioters and other extremists on, while making excuses for their behavior. We have also seen the use of speech codes and rhetoric about "microagressions", "safe spaces" and the like used to silence dissent on college campuses. In many cases, we have seen left wing extremists use violence to silence and intimidate those they don't agree with and all too often, university administrations not only failed to take action but expressed support for the leftist thugs who were responsible. It's like Red Guards in Maoist China all over again.

Now, there is talk of a possible ban on federal funding to colleges and universities that trample on free speech rights. I'd say its about bloody time.

2/3/17, 2:09 PM

111DFC said...

Your very interesting post reminds me my reading of the famous "The Origin of Tragedy (From The Spirit of Music)" of Nietzsche, where he call Socrates "The Mystagoge of Science..."

As you know he wrote there:

"The astonishingly high pyramid of Science we have at present, one cannot do other than regard Socrates as the vortex and turning-point of so-called world history. For if one were to imagine that the quite incalculable sum of energy which has been expended on behalf of this tendency in the world had not been placed at the service of understanding, but applied instead to the practical, i.e. egotistical goals of individuals and nations, then man's instinctive lust for life would probably have been so weakened amidst general wars of extinction and unceasing migrations that, with suicide having become habitual, the individual would be bound to feel the last remnant of a sense of duty when, like some inhabitant of the Fijian islands, he throttles his parents as their son, and his friend as a friend - a practical pessimism which could generate a horrifying ethic of genocide out of pity…"

"From Socrates onwards, the mechanism of concepts, judgments and conclusions was prized, above all other abilities, as the highest activity and most admirable gift of nature..
At present, however, Science, spurred on by its powerful delusion, is hurrying unstoppably to its limits, where the optimism hidden in the essence of logic will founder and break up…"

"Only when the spirit of Science has been carried to its limits and its claim to universal validity negated by the demonstration of these limits might one hope for a rebirth of tragedy…"

"what I understand by the Spirit of Science is the belief, which first came to light in the person of Socrates, that the depths of nature can be fathomed and that knowledge can heal all ills…"

Nietzsche, long before Gödell or Planck ("quanta world") knows the "limits of science", and the childish claim that science "it can heal all the ills" you call this now "the religion of progress"

What Nietzsche calls back with the "Old Tragedy" or the "The Dyonisiac" is the return to Nature, to the sense of "oneness" or "re-union" with the others fellow men and nature a strong and re-new feeling to be alive; for example when he said:

"Not only is the bond between human beings renewed by the magic of the Dionysiac, but Nature, alienated, inimical, or subjugated, celebrates once more her festival of reconciliation with her lost son, Humankind

Now the slave is a freeman, now all the rigid, hostile barriers, which necessity, caprice, or 'impudent fashion' have established between human beings, break asunder. Now, hearing this gospel of universal harmony, each person feels himself to be not simply united, reconciled or merged with his neighbour, but quite literally one with him, as if the Veil of Maya had been torn apart, so that mere shreds of it flutter before the mysterious primordial unity (das Ur-Eine)"

So, Science as the real "Veil of Maya"

"...festival of reconciliation with her lost son, Humankind", what beautiful words!

2/3/17, 2:26 PM

hhawhee said...
"In every generation, in effect, a certain number of geniuses will be born, but their upbringing, the problems that confront them, and the resources they will have available to solve those problems, are not theirs to choose. All these things are produced by the labors of other creative minds of the past and present, and are profoundly influenced by the cycles of history."
John Michael Greer, The ArchDruid Report. 2017

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service..." Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 1852

Perhaps Old Chuck was making a slightly different point, but I found the parallel striking.

2/3/17, 3:02 PM

Armata said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

2/3/17, 3:24 PM

Sylvia Rissell said...
Feb 3 2017

About the question of cycles in time: I would expect the default understanding of pre-literate people to be cyclical time. There are easily observed cycles on many time scales. The repition of a heartbeat, on the short end of the scale. Day/night is a cycle with exceptions only for eclipses. The lunar cycle and the menstrual cycle demonstrate that cycles apply to humans and the heavens. The yearly cycle of seasons .. so why not cycles of a generation length, or multiples of generations?

I do want ask: why am I reading JMG's Archdruid report, instead of something else? Surely I could find a prosperity gospel blog, or maybe a technofuturist site? Is it possible that I (we?) are in a metaphorical echo chamber? How could we tell?

It has been some time ( since a reader could read every published work in the English language. I need to make choices. Perhaps my choice to read this blog is dictated by an emotional need or a life stage. Even if I were limited to a single volume: the Christian Bible contains a wide range of subjects. A violent person can find battles and combat, (ex David and Goliath), an emotional person can find romance, and someone looking for fatalism and stoicism can find that, too.

How can I tell a good argument or prediction from one that merely lines up with what I am thinking, or what I fear?

2/3/17, 3:25 PM

August Johnson said...
JMG - I second gwizard43's comment about the tone of many of the comments here over the last few months. This tone is what caused me to make a comment a couple posts back about the tone of the blog, I just got it wrong about what I was seeing. The nastiness is in the comments, not the blog posting itself.

This is what has prompted me to write a rather long comment to you, about both many issues you've raised here (I'm learning a lot) and also about activities I'm involved here in my local community. However, I will be sending this by USnail mail. I'm not comfortable posting things here where the polite discourse seems to be collapsing, just as the rest of the society is.


August Johnson KG7BZ

2/3/17, 3:32 PM

tom said...
@ gwizard: very well said. Thank you. Bill Pulliam, who I will greatly miss from this forum, was a target several times of this person's sneering attacks.

2/3/17, 4:05 PM

James M. Jensen II said...
Kant sounds like a great place to start to me. As a pragmatist, I tend to disagree with him quite a bit (though we share a suspicion of representationalist accounts of truth and knowledge), but he was in many ways the philosopher's philosopher, and discussing him helps to elucidate many things. Looking forward to it!

2/3/17, 4:28 PM

Justin said...
Regarding Armata's entertaining video:

There are a couple stories about why easy/automatic voter registration is good for the democratic rights of black people:

The racist story is that black people are more likely to lack the future-time orientation or intelligence necessary to obtain the various forms of ID needed to vote (but are necessary for so many other things...)

The Berkeleyite theory is that despite the myriad of things one needs photo ID for, especially if you use social programs, due to the poor socioeconomic conditions and Republican conspiracies that black people are more likely to suffer from, they are less likely to have ID and therefore less likely to vote.

I think the reality is that voter fraud is much more common than we think in America. I don't think that the disenfranchised urban majority is too stupid or too victimized by republicans in top hats to vote, I think it's that they don't care about elections because they are too alienated and disenfranchised. And I think the Democratic party, who claims the moral high ground in regards to such communities is guilty of quite a lot of fraud - counting the votes of predominantly black people who are too alienated to vote.

2/3/17, 4:29 PM

onething said...

My answer to your question is that the elites are interested in business as usual in the sense of unfettered capitalism and increased globalization, not just of trade but of trade and immigration law, and that the tearing down of traditional ideas actually furthers their goals.

2/3/17, 6:20 PM

doomerdoc said...
I would agree with Shaun's comment. We are all essentially living in an old civilization. Civilizations age just like human beings.
Isn't it clear now that in fact the Western civilization was beginning to age in the early 20th century, and the various violent movements such as nazism and communism were a clumsy attempt to re-introduce youthful vigor into it?
After WW2, when America took the helm, just as the oil age was beginning to ramp up, the expansive Western civilization was already something like 450 years old, now it's more like 500 years old.
Now the people themselves, the white technocrats holding this thing together, are themselves aging and leaving fewer descendants, and the youthful populations of the world are largely Africans and Muslims with a very tenuous connection to the structure.

2/3/17, 6:46 PM

Kevin Warner said...
At the risk of showing my age I would venture to say that trying to understand how the cycles of history fit in present times is akin to studying the nature of sound whilst in a discotheque on a Saturday night. That is bad enough. However, it is starting to get annoying when you hear of people trying to equate every tiny event with a major facet of history. Thus you hear of how Trump sends out a mean tweet and people jump on it and say "This proves that America is now a proto Fascist-state!" Uhhh, no! Time to get your hand off of it. That is why it is a relief to come to this site. You get a chance to hear about aspects of the Big Picture. At the same time, this can give you unexpected feelings though.

In the thoughtful 1951 novel "Day of the Triffids" the main character is standing in an abandoned London and reflecting, thinks: "When I was by myself in the country I could recall the pleasantness of the former life; among the scabrous, slowly perishing buildings I seemed able to recall only the muddle, the frustration, the unaimed drive, the all-pervading clangour of empty vessels, and I became uncertain how much we had lost.." and I have to admit that 75 years later I have the same feelings sometimes. Seriously, take out the pure sciences and the useful technologies from our modern culture and how much of it is really worth saving? Our modern arts? Our political philosophies? Our environmnetal behaviors? Our economic and financial systems? Our social culture with how we treat other people? Our modern culture is not exactly covering itself with glory here. For a long time, I have thought that in terms of maturity of a culture, we are still stuck in our teenage years.

There is one thing that I also began to wonder about tonight and it is this. JMG has made no secret of the fact that he believes that industrial civilisation is going away due to the running down of affordable supplies of oil. All our eggs are in that particular basket here. OK, fair enough. In this one can say that this time it WILL be different in that for a geological age, any future civilisation will not have access to large supplies of oil to power itself with. I am beginning to wonder, however, how many people read the words "industrial civilisation is going away" but are hearing in their minds the words "civilisation is going away". The important qualification here is the word "industrial". I have no idea what the next civilisation will look like (which is why I could not come up with a feasible entry in the last Space Bats competition) but there will be some shape or form of civilisation after this era is over. We just won't recognize it is all. Certainly they will think radically differently to us - I hope.

2/3/17, 7:00 PM

dltrammel said...
I came across this article today about presidential adviser Steve Bannon

"What Steve Bannon Wants"

Bannon is a lightning rod of controversy right now and I didn't know much about him. The article is a bit long but goes into quite a bit of depth based on Bannon's own words and the films he has made.

I was surprised that the article's writer claims Bannon is a Burkean conservative.

I was also surprised how many of Bannon's own ideas I agreed with.

2/3/17, 8:00 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Scotlyn, it's hard to say at this point. It's entirely possible that the demonization of Islam on the right will lead to significant conversions to Islam from the left, but whether that becomes self-sustaining or is a flash in the pan depends on too many variables to predict.

Crow, not so. It took centuries for the fragile topsoils of the Yucatan to recover from the impact of Mayan overpopulation and agricultural overproduction, and ecological damage on the same or even more extreme scales followed many other nonindustrial civilizations. I'd encourage you to read Clive Ponting's A Green History of the World or one of the other, more recent surveys of the role of environmental degradation in the fall of civilizations, to get a sense of just how normal our stupidity is.

Tony, the abandonment of efforts toward sustainability in the early 1980s is one of several significant turning points in the history of modern industrial civilization, sure. I've cited others -- for example, 1914 as the beginning of the end of European global dominance -- and we quite possibly have another coming up in the next decade or so, depending on just how far the current populist wave gets before it breaks and flows back out to sea. The fact remains that we're talking about one turning point in the history of one civilization, not "the turning point of all human history" -- and the difference between those is not a small one, you know. That's why I was objecting to Seaweed Shark's rhetorical distortion.

Crow Hill, only in terms of total body count.

LunarApprentice, that's a huge question, of course, and one that would take a couple of posts at least to sort out! I hope to get into those issues as we proceed. The core issue, though, is simple enough to state. The core claim of rationalism is that this ramshackle set of mental activities we call "reasoning" provides the only valid key to the real nature of things -- and that claim can't be proved. If you try to use reasoning to prove it, after all, you're assuming the validity of reasoning, which is what you're claiming to prove...

Gabriela, I'm certainly not going to argue against the idea of dismantling the globalized economy and downshifting to less technologically and organizationally complex social and economic forms! That's been a central theme of this blog from the start, and for good reason. My only quibble was with your earlier argument's focus on catastrophe. May I offer a constructive suggestion? People have been proclaiming the imminent end of the world for so long that it no longer gets the reaction it once did; if you want to encourage people to support relocalization, talk about the positive benefits that would bring them -- there's no shortage of those, after all.

I do have to challenge your comments about the ancient Egyptians and Romans, though -- those were extremely complex and creative societies, as much so as medieval Europe, though they expressed their creativity in different ways. I'd encourage you to read some good books about both societies and broaden your awareness of their achievements.

Vedant, you're certainly right that I need to talk about systems theory! As I see it, though, it'll actually be more useful to start from philosophy and move to the study of whole systems from there -- since systems theory itself can trace its philosophical roots to some of the ideas I'll be discussing.

2/3/17, 8:57 PM

team10tim said...
Hey hey JMG,

Sorry, I haven't read the comments yet, but I had a thought that I wanted to post, that I was going to label as off topic, but to my surprise it is timely and relevant.

I've been thinking about the cyclic nature of civilizations lately while reading Overshoot. Specifically that, paraphrased from memory, 'the organisms in a sere modify their environment that prepares the way for the next sere' In some cases this results in a climax community, where the organisms are ideally adapted for the environment that they help to create, but not often.

I think with humans there are two modes. Long term stable tribal mode, and inherently unstable civilization mode. Inherently unstable mode could be called rock-paper-scissors mode or anacyclosis mode, where each sere of civilization creates an environment that it is less well adapted to than its successor sere is.

This raises the intriguing possibility that there could be an adaptation that results in a climax community sere of civilization that is stable. Alas, this isn't it though. This hypothetical adaptation wouldn't look like one of the phases of civilization that we know and today's world looks very much like the winter that Spengler describes. I imagine that if it ever happens we will only be able to recognize it in hindsight.


2/3/17, 9:10 PM

sandy said...
I for one am looking forward to a new Hyborean Age. Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,’ the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. ‘Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.

@scotlyn. I think lobsters may skip senescence. Researchers accidently killed one estimated to be 500 yrs old.
Delicious with drawn garlic butter, heh.

@Iuval said- So if we really understood the nature of Empire and had the desire to not repeat it, why would we be doomed to repeat it?

Well, coming out of 500 yrs of dark age and struggling to organize society for survival, the Empire structure has a strong appeal. And no one has any data, recollection, or myth to stop it.

@Iuval said- It is important to try to understand the mechanisms involved in cycles. I don't think modular integer arithmetic is it though.

Au contraire. The Game of Life by Conway in 1970 showed complex behavior from simple rules and integers. Wolfram investigated this in 1983, cellular automata. This strongly influenced his great work A New Kind of Science. Welcome back Bill.

@Ray Wharton- I don't think technology will distort the wave of civilization too much. There are too many humans involved in this process haha. What will distort the wave is the declining resources and increasing pollution we are adding the mix. What is coming is a stair stepping down via the catabolic collapse process outlined earlier by John Michael.

Pearce M. Schaudies.
Minister of Future

2/3/17, 9:14 PM

team10tim said...
RE Les and JMG:

"I'm still trying to think of a way to talk about what I suppose should be called iFailure, the way that technologies that supposedly fill human needs actually fill abstract representations of human needs and leave the needs themselves untouched"

The metaphor that you are looking for is pornography, replacing actual sex with images of sex. All organic entities have two ultimate requirements, survival and reproduction. Imagine replacing nutrition with an image of food or respiration with a photograph of oxygen. Reproduction with appealing images of reproduction.

Take Maslow's hierarchy of needs and replace each with the appearance of said need and see what you get.



2/3/17, 10:43 PM

Candace said...
I'm currently listening to the book as aliens by Yuval Noah Harari. In the present section he's talking about capitalism and that the credit that can be extended by banks is dependent on people believing that the future will be better than the present - an important component to the myth of progress. So I'm wondering if some of the push back on your statements that our society is in decline comes from a fear that people not believing in progress will mean that capitalists will no longer be able to "grow"
Businesses or be able to maintain what we think of as "Capitalism".

Ok I'm worried that this is a "well, duh" statement. I have actually read "wealth of nature" and know you talked about finance as the tertiary economy. But I can't remember if there was any discussion of whether that sector will "seize up" if people well and truly loose faith in progress. I've tended to think of progress in terms of social justice discussions, technology, medicine. And the ability to feed billions of people, but did really from the idea that when people don't have faith in the future they don't lend money.

2/3/17, 11:04 PM

Barrabas said...
Geez Phil W, if i tried to write a few paragraphs that encapsulate every delusion that this blog has been aimed at debunking over the last 10 years i couldnt have done it better ( complete with all the non sequiteur, false comparison and post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies ).
Take a look out the window mate ! Or better yet , have a read through the archive ).

I think you took a wrong turn at the " delusional neoliberal utopian transhuman futures " roadsign !

2/3/17, 11:20 PM

sunseekernv said...
Robert Carran - re: PV sustainability depending on batteries, etc.

What comes to my mind is the old Jacobs wind turbines.
These came out in the early 1920's, for farms/ranches in remote areas to have a few lights, some simple appliances, and that new fangled thing: radio broadcasts via battery powered radios.
The early Jacobs were only about 1kW machines, and most used battery banks (good old lead acid mostly),
in the range of tens to hundreds of amp-hours (i.e. 1 to about 10 car battery-like setups).

n.b. Jacobs ended up closing in the 1950's, because of the Rural Electrification Administration subsidized expansion
of the grid out into the countryside - a subsidy to the fossil fuel industry, and anti-subsidy to renewables.

Some history:

My point is that people were using batteries a fairly long time ago - horse and buggy era still.
Volta invented his primary battery in 1800 - things were pretty low tech then.
Lead-acid rechargeable were invented in 1859, Nickel-Cadmium and Nickel-Iron around 1900.

Now, most people have a view of "got-to-have-it-24x7x365", yet the old farmers/ranchers were fine with running lights and radio off the battery, and doing ironing/washing/water pumping... while the wind was blowing (and with PV, "while the sun is shining").
A little behavioral change can save a lot of battery.

Lead-acid and Nickel-Iron are both sturdy chemistries, Nickel-Iron in particular.
The early wind battery chargers were very simple electromagnetic relay things,
(people were talking about early autos - same thing there)
PV charging has been done just by hooking up panels to the battery!
This is in contrast to Lithium chemistries, which require fairly sophisticated electronics to avoid overcharge.

Small scale pumped hydro could work in certain locations, but in general it needs massive scale to be economic.
1 cubic meter of water at 100 m elevation is only something like .27 kWh potential energy, and that's before the penstock and turbine take a loss.
A 12 volt battery only needs to hold 22.5 amp-hrs to match that, most small deep cycle batteries are several times that, in a nice little package one can keep locked up inside.
Efficiency at small scales for pumps/turbines is also an issue.

There are other ways to store useful energy.
You want hot water? Pump it while the sun is shining (or wind is blowing) to a low-tech tank type water heater, such as the Climax, popular in California and Florida around 1900 (before natural gas and cheap electricity).
Pump cold water up high for gravity flow.

You want cold? Make ice in heavily insulated freezers/refrigerators (Jacobs sold these too) while the sun shines/wind blows.

Grind your grain, saw your wood, etc. these tasks were all historically done with wind/water mills, which are intermittant.

It depends on the scale of industry in general that ends up being supported, if people only know bits of iron and copper, then you can forget about solar heating too. If float or rolled plate or trough/fusion glass become unknown, PV gets a bit problematic - still works, but is much more fragile.

JMG has used the analogy of the Roman pottery industry, they had mass-produced, well made pottery that found its way to the farthest reaches of the empire. But after collapse, even kings were lucky to have crude pottery. Perhaps that is how it will be with PV, kings and leading "monasteries" will have PV for electric lights and such, but commoners will have candles/oil lamps/nothing.

So, we'll see.

Have you read one of JMG's recommendations: John Perlin's Let It Shine: The 6,000-Year Story of Solar Energy
Except for the confusion or name dropping of Einstein and the photoELECTRIC effect which discussing photoVOLTAICS,
I highly recommend the book as a great compendium of the long history of solar energy use.

2/3/17, 11:26 PM

patriciaormsby said...
@tom, Bill Pulliam's back!!! Lots of us here are happy about that.

2/4/17, 1:58 AM

MichaelK said...
Here's slightly different and disturbing observation about the 'wheel of history' concept and coming from a person, Steve Bannon, who has the ear of the emperor, Donald Trump. How seriously one should take this worldview and inflamatory rhetoric is another matter. The extreme right have had this strong dose of apolyptical thinking running through them for a long time, only usually, our system has been strong enough to keep them away from the real levers of power in society and government. Our luck may be running out.

2/4/17, 2:07 AM

MichaelK said...
Steve Bannon is an interesting character. I don't think he's really a conservative at all, but something else. I'd define his politics as vague and evolving, a form of 'social nationalism' which, arguably, is something rather new in a US context, but has always existed in Europe, one way or another.

This means one has a 'social' side to ultra-nationalism. Where one appeals, at least in ones rhetoric, to the 'ordinary' or 'working man', promising all sorts of things, like jobs and social investments in infrastructure, in return for support.

2/4/17, 2:14 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

It is interesting that you wrote that, and I did use those words about the books, but not as they related to myself. I didn't find the book to be so much as a "bummer" but more of a shock to realise where we are actually at, especially when compared to the time that it was written - which was 37 years ago now. The shock has taken a little time to be absorbed into my worldview, and I have to say that I am looking at some things a little bit differently now and that is a mild concern.

Anyway, as to the "bummer", I've never really been one to feel those sorts of feelings as I have not ever indulged them in the first place. The thing is and I thought that you may be interested to know that when I was a very young kid I used to amuse myself for a short period of time as a passenger in a vehicle by tapping my foot in time with the little white posts that are on the side of the roads. After only a couple of weeks of that activity (I didn't get to be a passenger in a vehicle much because we never drove anywhere much!) I thought to myself that this was a very bad thing to do as it could lead to mildly obsessive behaviour. And so I just stopped doing that tapping with my foot and never did it again. Wherever I got the warning in my head that such dysfunctional, but mostly harmless behaviour, could lead to serious mental health issues is well beyond me, but I did indeed heed the warning and have avoided such behaviours that can lead to many addictions and other mental health issues ever since. For example, all of my mates smoked and I never took it up in any way shape or form.

But the thing is, the greater insight that repetitive behaviour (or some may call that by another name: ritual) can be a very powerful force in peoples lives and that was not lost on me as a small kid. In fact, I see that all over the place and people rely really heavily on ritual to ensure that tomorrow is much like today, even when their rituals are dysfunctional and putting their futures in peril. They just don't see it and so they keep on tapping their feet and hoping for the best and I for one don't know at what point people can turn their backs on dysfunctional rituals, and to be brutally honest the book Overshoot said just how far out of whack things were then. And that was 37 years ago…

Far out! Sometimes the world as it is today looks very strange to me.


2/4/17, 3:05 AM

Bob said...
I'm unconcerned about predictions that play out over the course of hundreds of years. I don't see any practical use for it. To explore such outcomes is academic.

When I consider shorter term predictions that can affect me (say up to 20 years), my level of concern is dependent on my level of belief. Without a certain level of belief I'm not motivated to change my habits. I fail to gain a new outlook on life.

One measure of gradual or abrupt change is whether such change is plausible. When someone talks about climate induced crop failure resulting in mass starvation, is such an outcome plausible?

If a given outcome is plausible, is it dire?

A decline in industrial civilization is not as dire as sudden crop failure.

I suppose the belief in a perpetually brighter future explains the lack of contingency planning (outside of the military). As individuals and as part of groups, we can prepare for the future. As a species, we are indifferent to it.

2/4/17, 5:06 AM

Mojoglo said...

Along with your series on philosophy, I'm also very interested in an elaboration on your response to Varun: "The real source of power at this point in the game is the ability to shape thinking, to dynamite unquestioned presuppositions, to walk away from a losing game and do something less useless -- and all these are things each of us can do, and model for others."

I'm in a season of life that I could describe as a "turning point"; I'm doing an inventory of my life and deciding which habits and commitments I need to let go of and what practices and world views would be more useful. I've been quite vexed by the national and global political situation (Trump troubles me a great deal). On the one hand, a lot of people I associate with are convinced we are headed into a period of fascism and authoritarianism and if you are not actively resisting it, "you are part of the problem" or "on the wrong side of history." And so I feel a lot of pressure to attend rallies, call legislators, support efforts at churches to provide sanctuary to immigrants, etc. And on the other hand, I feel called to deepen my practice of nature-based spirituality, learn my bioregion, "collapse before the rush" and so on. So I'm finding timely and relevant guidance crucial to my discernment process!

2/4/17, 5:16 AM

Tidlösa said...
Interesting essay, but aren´t there also times when the wheel can spin in different directions? World War II was such a situation - if Hitler had been smarter, or Stalin even more stupid, Hitler could have won the war, creating a *very* unpleasant post-war world. Other examples might be Napoleon´s decision to attack Russia, or Alexander´s decision to conquer Persia. Of course, individuals still play the role they do in your scenario - given other circumstances, Hitler would have been a modestly succesful painter, Napoleon would have been an ordinary officer, and Stalin, well, I suppose he could have been a very vile and succesful Orthodox patriarch!

There are also some situations in which it doesn´t matter who "wins", the wheels of time can´t be changed. It may be controversial, but I suspect that the American Revolution was such a situation. Britain was a parliamentary democracy and was on track to abolish slavery at the time of the Revolution. The Federalists were moderates. What would have happened if the Revolution had been defeated? After a brief period of Tory reaction, the Thirteen colonies would probably have continued evolving pretty much as before, although perhaps with a slightly more "Canadian" and Federalist tint. Eventually, the United States would have been formed anyway, and here we are...

I believe it was Marx who said that men make their own history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing.

As for sudden mutations of the kind you´re polemicizing against, I think they "only" happen on the level of ideas, and take centuries or millennia to work themselves out, or "work themselves down" into the crude material matrix of history. For instance, Zoroaster´s monotheism seems to have been a genuine mutation. I also think Christianity might have been another one. However, their *immidiate* impact on the consciousness of their times was probably close to zero! Today is another matter -yes, I´ve read "Apocalypse Not". Of course, I also believe that Christianity had positive effects, but these too were slow in coming.

I haven´t read the entire thread, so pardon if I repeat points already made by others...

2/4/17, 6:10 AM

latheChuck said...
Last night, my church hosted a public showing of the old Bill Murray film "Groundhog Day" (with following group discussion), and it seemed relevant to this week's post with its theme of both cycles and progress in life. In particular, Murray's character "Phil" finds himself trapped in some inexplicable way to awaken every morning to the same world he awoke in the previous day: the same music and banter on the radio, the same weather, the same agenda for his day. He soon concludes that this is his "new normal" and that nothing he does during that day will have lasting consequences. Thrown in jail at the end of one day, he awakens (as always) back in his hotel room. Even his suicides are temporary.

So, he is trapped and free. Each day starts with the same conditions as the previous day, but he is free to keep the changes he makes to himself from the previous day's experiences. He progresses from hedonism through nihilism, but ends up only satisfied with altruism. The main relevance for this blog post, in my opinion, is that he eventually discovers and learns to live within his constraints yet plan and act out each day with greater humanitarianism.

(One aspect of the story that troubles me, though, is that Phil is uniquely able to make progress, while everyone around him is reliving the same script day after day, except for the changes Phil makes during his iteration of the day. Phil's universe has room for only one of him. Maybe that says something about Hollywood, too.)

2/4/17, 6:15 AM

Avery said...
JMG, in case you haven't spotted the story yet, Steve Bannon is apparently very interested in the Fourth Turning theory of cyclical history.

I am glad for the turn to more long term philosophy, though. I don't think the Fourth Turning will be hitting the most crucial stage for another 6 months at least.

2/4/17, 6:28 AM

August Johnson said...
dltrammel - While I may find that I agree with some of Steve Bannon's and Trumps desires and statements with what's wrong now, I most assuredly DO NOT agree with many of them and NOT AT ALL with their methods for getting where they want to go. I'm finding that there's a huge amount of "The ends justifies the means" embodied in politics today and I find this extremely troubling. It's even showing up here on the ADR comments.

I'm trying very hard to pull together a community of very diverse people here in my local county and get working towards some common goals, and if this is where we are now, there's big trouble in the near future. This scares me big time.

2/4/17, 7:01 AM

latheChuck said...
On the nature of cycles... I think it's worth considering the different forms of cyclic phenomena.
Some cycles are purely geometric, like the rotation of the earth: perfectly predictable.
Others depend on outside factors for their period, like the rotation of a wheel, which depends on the speed of a vehicle.
Even less predictable is a "relaxation oscillator" (see Wikipedia for details), in which some quantity accumulates over time until a threshold is crossed, at which time the accumulation is reset and begins again. Both the rate of accumulation and the threshold affect the behavior of the system.
We also see cyclic phenomena in predator/prey models, described by the Lotka-Volterra equations (Wikipedia, again), in which increases in prey population eventually lead to increases in predator populations, which reduce the population of prey by hunting, which reduces the population of predators by hunger, and so it repeats.
The least predictable (that comes to my mind) is the behavior of a sand pile. As a small amount of sand is added at the summit, the pile may simply build higher, or it may slump in greater or lesser amounts. Even if you know the rate at which sand is added, the likelihood and magnitude of sand-slides is a matter of probability. You know that it's going to happen, eventually, but not when, where, or how much.
Which model applies to life? All of them, of course.

2/4/17, 7:20 AM

Donald Hargraves said...
My offerings to the "Are Cars Better" debate:

I remember in the early seventies when, in response to the Arab Oil Embargo, Shell put out their booklets on how to take better care of your cars. I especially remember their ""The One Hundred Thousand Mile Book," a book about making your car last one hundred thousand miles. Consider today, when the only way a dedicated person can't put 100,000 miles is to either be dedicated to letting the car fall apart or to total the car in an accident. Further back (into the fifties), it was accepted that cars had a limited lifespan and that you had to be darn sure the vehicle could last a long trip if you decided to drive to Florida for your yearly vacation. So I'd say that vehicles are better built today than historically, even with all the doodads that threaten to short-circuit them things.

That doesn't make them any easier to fix up. Heck, nowadays I feel the need to specifically take my car to the dealer whenever I need an oil change, partly because everything's so tightly packed that to replace the front lights requires disassembling the front end. Add to it all the sensors, computers and various creature comforts (does anyone have a manual window crank anymore? and how much you want to bet that all the newest vehicles have stealth self-driving capabilities within them, waiting for a signal from a centralized point to suddenly become self-driving?) and you're edging into the realm of vehicles that, once something is broke, you're stuck with replacing the whole thing.

Never mind the cost. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that one could build a mid-seventies car today with the same specs as back then and make it at half the price as today's cars...and make them with today's quality of build without the extra stuff, computers or other items that push up costs.

(and yes, I know there are cars from the fifties still running, especially in Cuba. I'm talking generally, complete with personal experience.)

2/4/17, 7:39 AM

Caryn said...
I feel like every time I get here to post I get too sidetracked by some minor detail or some off-topic comment or other to respond and reflect on the actual essay. I agree with gwizard, I think the tenor and tone in the comments has changed - for me - a most negative aspect of this is that reflection and further elucidation of the essay issue gets drowned out; So in spite of feeling a lot of retorts to certain comments, I'm ignoring. Hand up as in - "talk to the hand, 'cause the face ain't listenin'".

Ahem -

Thank You, JMG, great essay, although not earth shatteringly revelatory for me, only because I am a fairly long term follower of your blog, thoughts and theories. I think I'm too much a part of the choir. I agree. As some other on-topic commenters have said: I do think this time it IS or WILL BE different, if only because of the sheer scale and size of current civilization. I think I see - you are saying there are two collapses happening in concurrence: 1) The collapse of the American 'Empire', which is following a well worn path; and 2) the slower, more on-going collapse of industrial fossil-fuel driven global civilization which is and will increasingly affect all Earthlings, No - OK - 3) Climate change which will also upset the global apple cart for centuries to come, making a 'normal' dark-age recovery period erratic and less on track. Yes, it will be cyclical, but a big chink on the wheel. The 3 are hard to separate because they affect each other, (fossil-fuel global collapse & climate change being the biggest biggies in the long run. And then of course there's, (as a few other on-topic commenters have also said): nuclear warheads to throw more monkey wrenches into the works!

For example, in one reply you said, no doubt certain peoples will go back to being hunter-gatherers, but what will be left of the game? Of the healthy forests, flora and fauna such societies need to survive? Will that be possible?

No wonder people have gone utterly bat-shakes crazy.

I look forward to next week's discussion on philosophy, although I will probably stick to being a fly on the wall, unschooled in that discipline. It should be fascinating to read with one tab open to googling definitions, one tab here!

AND, for a purely selfish need, I'm still eager to read your and my fellow commenters thoughts on Education and the education system. I'm neck deep in this fray right now with one graduating HS Senior who doesn't want any college education, one HS Junior who is working like crazy to get to an Ivy, and as a preschool teacher blindly groping my way through an obviously very broken pedagogic system. UGH! I need some sound philosophy on THAT!

Lastly: Welcome back Bill Pulliam - I too always value your input;

and heartfelt best wishes to Violet. I also enjoy and value your 'Winter's Trickter' blog and details. I hope you find relief and comfort from the chemical assault you've been suffering. I've not experienced such debilitation, but after living outside the USA for 2 decades, (I have no idea why, there are fewer regulations in China...) but upon returning, I have gotten sick and am experiencing much more sensitivity to the strong chemicals around a 'normal', USA household. Wow! The chemicals we use here are really strong! And we do use SO MANY!! Weird. I hope yo find a way to feel better very soon.

2/4/17, 8:55 AM

Roy Smith said...
Slightly off-topic perhaps, but relevant in that we are certainly entering the kind of historical era when revitalization movements sprout up. I am re-reading The Blood of the Earth, and it occurred to me that the response of the liberal wing of the American political establishment seems to be enacting a program which has the features of a revitalization movement. They offer a thorough critique of the existing order of the political establishment (in which they are completely out of power at the moment); a vision of the Utopian future which will arrive immediately after Trump is ejected from office and they are restored to power, preferably this week or next week at the latest; and a straightforward plan of action to get to this goal: massive protests, general strikes, civil disobedience, etc.

This straightforward plan seems highly unlikely to be successful, in no small part because pretty much none of the people who voted for Trump are on board, so all this action is political theater that only appeals to those already convinced. Parenthetically, many of the proponents of this plan are exhibiting an appalling disregard for the Constitution, so if it is successful, it will likely be because Trump was removed via extra-Constitutional means, and the ramifications of that are pretty dire.

The painful irony is that this is using up all the energy that could be directed towards quite useful tasks that could be done, such as forming a leftist program that would actually appeal to Trump's base (not a hard thing to do, in my mind, if the political will existed to do so) and winning the next few elections. But this would require accepting that the Republicans control all of Congress for the next two years and the Presidency for the next four years, and this possibility seems to be quite literally unthinkable to the liberal world.

2/4/17, 9:39 AM

Chris Houston said...
Isaac Newton was an astrologer, so am I.
I know how this ends.
It will be Christian Nationalism that saves the west. Church and State will blend into each other.
That's what's coming folks.
And the reason why is Western culture has been destroyed slowly, which is why Islam is a threat to clean it up.

2/4/17, 11:52 AM

Scotlyn said...
@JMG I wasn't thinking of new converts so much as the old, established American Muslim communities of the Midwest. For example, Cedar Rapids, Iowa boasts the longest surviving American mosque, established in 1934. And of course African Americans, many of whose American antecedents go back 400 years, represent a third of the American Muslim population. (That's why I said "homegrown").

I do think it's ironic that a Whitehouse proposal that would reverse much anti discrimination law is being billed as a " religious freedom" bill, while the Whitehouse does not appear to recognise that such religious freedoms may then be claimed by non-Christian religions, including Muslims and of course Pagans of various sorts.

2/4/17, 12:27 PM

Bryant said...
@doomerdoc I completely agree about the notion of aging of governments and societies, although the actual timescale may diverge from our expectations. But its not difficult to see that as governments get older, they tend to get larger, and become increasingly incapable of removing parasitical institutions within them. Huge portions of energy are wasted struggling within itself too, and I imagine that the entropy can only build up to a certain extent before the structure remodulates itself into something that's more hospitable for the realities of the situation.

2/4/17, 12:30 PM

Scotlyn said...
@JMG I am certainly looking forward to the philosophy posts, though I have to say philosophy has often left me floundering is a sea of abstraction without a compass or any way to take bearings. I never seem to know what (in the day-to-day world of experience) it is supposed to illuminate. I suspect I may be missing a philosophy gene somehow. Maybe your posts will help me get a clue.

On the other hand, I cannot wait for your post on medicine. I do k know the Irish health service is more and more of a mess. I speculate as to whether pharmaceuticals have become a hidden tax on health*care* (in something like the way you describe energy as a hidden tax in the rest of the economy).

Thanks for keeping the brain alive & ticking!

2/4/17, 12:35 PM

mgalimba said...
To what degree are we enthralled body and soul to a doomed machine? That is the late question that we all are wrestling with. Blaming others doesn’t help. Doubling down on our worst impulses won’t help. Being honest about the impact that our civilizations (they are still multiple civilizations at play, the American model being only one) are having on the stability and viability of the environment might help. In fact, I’m pretty sure that will be an essential skill if our civilization does fall. Which really might not be such a bad thing overall. Still, one does worry about such degenerate phenomenon as the Neo-nazi war-bands mentioned here lately. But in my experience there are a lot of good, decent, courageous, responsible people - who are not ideologically intoxicated in either direction and who take the measure of a person’s heart, first and foremost - who won’t stand for such nonsense. That’s the civilization that really matters.

2/4/17, 12:52 PM

Rita said...
In reference to the need of warlords to keep their followers satisfied I recall that the defunct Loompanics Press used to publish a booklet on how to run a motorcycle gang.

Nastarana - re open borders. I notice that Facebook is full of memes about immigrants who have done great things. Steve Jobs show up in few. Nobel prize winners and so forth. Clearly implying that if those particular immigrants had not been admitted we would not have ____ fill in technical or scientific advance of your choice. The unstated conclusion is that we must admit all immigrants just in case the next Steve Jobs or Albert Einstein is among them The flip side, of course, are the pathetic cases of families separated, mothers dying before seeing their sons, children seeking medical care, and so forth. But I cannot seem to pin anyone down on the question of how many immigrants they believe the US and admit in practical terms and how they should be selected.

Mallow -- Trump, unsurprisingly, completely misunderstood or misrepresented the actual events at US Berkeley. Milo, sponsored by a campus organization, was given a venue. The leftist groups protesting his appearance were peaceful, but then black masked agitators appeared and started fires, broke windows, etc. At that point the administration cancelled the event over quite reasonable concerns for the safety of all concerned. There have, I believe, been some universities which denied Milo a right to appear at all, but UCB was not one. What puzzles me is that Milo's rhetoric doesn't seem any more hateful than that of Ann Coulter, who is IMO, a despicable intellectual toady of the extreme right. However I don't recall her being criticized as much. Is Milo considered worse just because he is a white male (note lack of usual 'straight' modifier, as he is gay). If so, it seems to me evidence that he is correct in feeling that white males are uniquely targeted as responsible for all the worst ills of our culture.

2/4/17, 1:01 PM

sunseekernv said...
JMG - thanks for the pointer to Clive Ponting.

There is a revised edition from the original A Green History of the World (1991) to
A New Green History of the World (2007).

A very long synopsis of the old and new versions written in stages over the period 2005 - 2010 is freely available at:

He has several other books that seem interesting.
I've got his "Gunpowder" on my list as well.

Have you read his: Progress and Barbarism: The World in the Twentieth Century (1998)
which was published in the US as: The Twentieth Century: A World History (1999) ?

2/4/17, 3:26 PM

Agent Provocateur said...

The notion that the phases of the rise and fall of a given civilization can be predicted to any degree suggests a corresponding degree of determinism.

In comments long ago, I have likened this predictability/determinism to what is commonly observed in statistical phenomenon. Given large enough numbers, you can predict things such as the number of traffic deaths in the USA in 2017 with reasonable accuracy. You can't predict a specific death nor does the certainty of some fixed number of deaths relieve individuals from moral responsibility for their actions. Still, the likely range is fairly determined.

Lower or raise the speed limit and one can predict with fair accuracy the change in the number of deaths. Nonetheless, one can also factor (with less accuracy) the likelihood of such changes and one is back to a pretty well determined number/range.

The behaviour and life of civilizations follow a reasonably predictable trajectory given such are the consequence of uncountable individual human decisions and humans haven't changed much over the centuries. Each arc is a large number statistical phenomena and so predetermined within broad ranges.

The same idea holds for say matter. Given a large enough assembly of elemental particles, it doesn't matter that their individual existence is not determined. On the macro scale, the object in one's hand is still very determined. It exists.

Though I understand your sources based their historical analysis mostly on morphology (i.e. "this is the observed form these changes take") as opposed to root reasons such as resource deletion; this doesn't invalidate their findings.

Nonetheless, adding in the issue of resource depletion fine tunes the timing and gives strength to the argument that the overall arc is in fact largely predetermined.

And as you have taken pains to stress in you responses to me and others. None of this lets us, individually, off the hook morally for "bad driving". Nor does it mitigate the likely consequence of individual "bad driving". This moral issue and the issue of personal consequences though, I believe, are very separate from the fact that we can know, in broad terms, what is going to happen pretty much from the start. Indeed the first two issues may well be separate from each other. I expect you will address such in future posts involving philosophy.

2/4/17, 3:56 PM

Candace said...
Edit:Sorry the name of the book is "Sapiens".

2/4/17, 4:24 PM

Pinku-Sensei said...
@Armata: You were right to point to American popular culture for evidence that people are afraid that progress may be coming to a halt and soon, but the way you used your examples works against you with people who know television. In particular, your statement that "The most popular TV show right now is Game of Thrones, based on George RR Martin’s 'A Song of Fire and Ice' novels" requires closer examination. "Game of Thrones" may be the most award-winning drama on American television today with a record 39 Emmy Awards over its run, but if by "most popular" you meant "most watched," it most assuredly is not. According to Indiewire, it came in 38th among viewers of all ages and sixth among TV watchers aged 18-49 during the 2015-2016 season, the most recent in which the series aired. The more popular show exemplifying Americans' anxiety about the end of progress is "The Walking Dead," which came in fourth among all viewers and first among those aged 18-49, making it, not "Game of Thrones," the most watched show on cable with nearly twice as many viewers. That's a fast-collapse show, but the series is now in its seventh season and has finally reached the stage where most of the rubble has stopped bouncing, so the conflict driving the drama has become a struggle for power among groups of survivors, including a barbarian warband that ironically (or maybe not) sees itself as the "Saviors of Civilization," instead of a fight for survival against the undead. That written, "Game of Thrones" makes your point that "Winter is coming" and people are aware it may be approaching in the real world as well. It's just not as salient an example as you made it out to be.

On another note, I'm a member of several "liberal prepper" groups on Facebook. I'll ask the members if any of them participate in the SCA and, if so, whether their historical reenacting has given them any survival skills. Coincidentally enough, one of the communities of survivors in "The Walking Dead" grew up around a park where Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century crafts were recreated for visitors. In the series, that was an intentional choice for those survivors, not an accident.

2/4/17, 5:51 PM

Hubertus Hauger said...
@ to JMG: “… The guy's 70 years old, and he's just been elected to one of the most unforgiving jobs on the planet. My working guess for the most likely option at the moment is that he'll either die in office of natural causes sometime in his second term, or retire from sheer exhaustion at the end of that term…“

I might add the most obvious too; The new emperors fate! Like it happened to Cesar. Guess he pisses off plenty of elite Drones. They may gather and backstab him. Literally spoken they already do.

In real I mean! Happened to many presidents.

But if so it will take some time. Which I would be glad about. Because then there is more time for the transition into a new age. Which now obviously has started. So lets whish him some steadfastness.

2/4/17, 6:35 PM

Myriad said...
I haven't had much chance to post comments recently. I'm looking forward to the series on philosophy, though.

The longer I stay around in the world, the more philosophy reminds me of that old riddle about a coffin. "The person who makes me doesn't want me; the person who buys me doesn't need me; the person who uses me doesn't appreciate me."

2/4/17, 6:38 PM

DeVaul said...
This might be off topic, but I think that the Archdruid's fictional account of a massive American defeat in a war over Kenya is about to come true, only he chose the wrong country. It is Iran that Trump and his gang are preparing to invade.

It seems surreal, but every statement he has made is a threat of all out war. Iran has done nothing to us, but for some reason, we must attack it and destroy it if at all possible. To think that people actually voted for him because he promised to end the wars and foreign interventions while having a track record of no integrity leads me to believe that most sane people will never learn how to deal with sociopaths until is way too late. I suppose it can only be done on a village size level, as Dmitry Orlov has pointed out.

Nations and empires cannot deal with or control sociopaths and psychopaths. That is our unfortunate history.

I don't know where the barbarian hordes will come from while our legions fight in Persia again, just as Rome's legions were fighting there when Rome was sacked. They could come from the inner cities, from the Mexican border, from the unemployed countryside, or perhaps from all of the above. I don't know.

I guess only a catastrophe will finally lift the veil of stupidity from the American people's eyes. What a shame. We had so much we could have shared while also keeping enough for ourselves.

2/4/17, 7:39 PM

econojames said...
I get as much food for thought from all of the comments here as I do from your posts, JMG. You have made a real treasure out of this blog, and I have spent two evenings this week lying in front of my woodstove catching up on the comments (and drinking stout, as is only fitting).

A comment from Bill (I'm glad you came back, Bill, but I didn't think you could stay away :)) has had me thinking this week about the parallels between our societies and our own individual consciousnesses. We are all born and live and die, and we react to what happens to us, and experience both good fortune and tragedy, but eventually we are extinguished. Some of us may pass on bits of ourselves - both good and bad bits - to offspring who can then lead lives that are delicately connected to our own.

In the same way, our society reacts to what happens to it, on a much longer scale, and is indifferent to who or what causes those things to happen. It is not a stretch, to me, to think that any human endeavor, such as a society, would, consciously or unconsciously, follow the "rise and fall" pattern of our own lives, complete with poor choices on some days (eras/periods) and dwindling of health (resources) in later years. Death, and a rebirth of something related, is, well, pretty normal-seeming.

Our planet is even a larger, and slower, example of this same thing, with societies having the same relation to it as individuals do to societies. And on to the universe, which is made of matter that...dies.

These are just thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head, but they seem relevant, and I find them somewhat comforting. Maybe anthropomorphizing the society and planet like this gives me empathy toward their predicaments so that I try to be gentle toward them.

JMG, you also said something in a response that reminded me of an idea I read in a book by Keith Farnish, whose title I cannot recall. He was talking about the hubris of science and how, unless you speak in the language of science, you are dismissed from the conversation, as if there is nothing that science does not know. I have spent far too little time on your other blog, but I doubt that "science" would discuss anything there. That does not make it "unreal", just "not officially sanctioned".

As an aside: I do a lot of my thinking (at least that's what I call it) while walking around on errands or just for the walking. That seems to me to be the pace of the human mind. It happened again today: a friend stopped while driving by me and asked if I needed a ride somewhere. I know you walk almost exclusively, and I wondered if you, too, had lost count of the number of times this has happened. :)

2/4/17, 8:07 PM

Hubertus Hauger said...
@ to JMG: “…I've discussed some of the sustainable technologies of our time that might help the next cycle of civilization … “

While you number seven is the technical and engineerical skill and knowledge, I just want to mention on thing, that was to me a highlight on recognizing, how lost skill are felt. I remember one history book, where illustrated there was a scene depicted, of a royal gathering in the Franconia capital in the 8th or 9th century. The gathering took place in the second store of an kept roman building, obviously suited for the royal representation. The scene drawn at the moment, when the nobility, standing on a fine carpet underneath in front of the king. Thus, suddenly the floor under them collapsed, to everyone’s horror.

Even the emperor of a whole country was hardly able to have master-builder in their service, to overlook and service the huge remains, left over from the roman empire. It gave me quite some shrill and experience of what the problems of a dark age society does feel like.

So keeping practical mastery of science will be quite necessary, if circumstances and resources permit. As you see in this example, it may not. Even there was no lack of will, but obviously lack of circumstances and resources.

2/4/17, 8:13 PM

Justin said...
Pinku-Sensei, agreed about The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. I watched the first episode of the current season of the walking dead, and wow, that was some brutal stuff. If sufficient transcripts survive, no doubt that future historians will study that show. Game of Thrones is interesting too. "Winter is coming" is certainly appropriate. Of course, the whole theme was thought up by GRRM in the 90's - although who knows what GRRM thinks about industrial civilization. He's certainly a smart fellow.

Kevin Warner, your post makes me think back to high school (a decade now...) and remember my very mixed feelings, which I couldn't understand at the time, reading The Day of the Triffids. I will have to read that book again - even as a teenage know-it-all liberal I found the rather traditional society portrayed in The Day of the Triffids appealing.

2/4/17, 8:19 PM

Hubertus Hauger said...
@ to JMG: „...Anonymous Millennial, many years ago I worked as an orderly in nursing homes, and I got to see the same thing many times over. Yes, it's exactly parallel to the way people are trying to deny the reality of decline …”

My actual notion is amusement. It’s because of that wide gap between reality on the one side and the answering wishful thinking on the other. That contradiction is a life theme of mine.

Speaking of temper tantrum; One pastor told me of one incident, he observed while working as a hospital chaplain. An old woman was lying in the hospital. Family members came to visit her. On their visit they regularly quarrelled a lot. Then she died. The family gathered. To the pastors horror they stood around her corpse, shouting at her and beating the death body.

That inevitably of the inevitables, death … even that one we would rather like to deny. Its so hard, to cope with reality. What ridiculous despair!

Unfortunately I am not a wise man. Getting in such situations, I must admit, my reaction is similar to that family with their awkward mourning habit. I get so much unnerved.

Not like Jesus did, visualising him on the Sermon on the Mount like so provokingly been visualized by Monty Python here:
We people are so annoyingly, we are like JMG states; cantankerous, error-prone, and idiosyncratic. And still Jesus reaction I imagine, like described here: “Then Jesus called his disciples to him
and said, "I have compassion on the crowd …”

2/4/17, 9:19 PM

onething said...
Are we in the early stages of a color revolution?

2/4/17, 9:35 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Sandy, self-destruction does seem to be hardwired into economic systems in general, doesn't it? That being the case, I don't see any reason why capitalism should be exempt. ;-)

Blue Sun, I could see that all too easily.

Iuval, I'd say that not all human cultures choose what you're calling "Empire," but all civilizations do -- if you want to have big urban centers and the resource flows needed to support them, you basically have to play the empire game. The thing is, you do choose whether or not you support the empire game; every day you rely on your share of benefits from it, you support it and encourage the people who run it to keep on playing.

Nastarana, er, I like Copeland's music, and I've been a Wagner fan since my teens. Both composers were wildly popular in their day, too.

Nati, that's actually quite common. In the last century or so of the Roman Empire, for example, it was all the rage for kids and 20-somethings in the Roman upper classes to dress like barbarians and imitate bits of barbarian culture, and of course you also had the steady drain of talented people turning their backs on society to go become Christian hermits for the sake of their souls. So what we're seeing is a standard phenomenon of decline.

Donald, that may be part of it.

Stu, thanks for this! Yes, those are about the figures I remember.

Jim, it's profoundly simplistic to claim that warming climate equals improved conditions for mammals; you really ought to read up on paleoclimatology before making claims like that. As for the anthropogenic nature of the current round of climate change, I have yet to see any convincing argument that dumping gigatons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere isn't going to have the effects we're seeing right now -- and the evidence for the anthropogenic nature of climate change seems very convincing to me.

William, hmm! That's a good point.

Brent, can you point me to a readily accessible book on the subject?

Wbricex, thank you.

MichaelK, I wasn't offended. I was simply explaining why I write the way I do.

Fred, well, you could pick up a copy of my book Green Wizardry, which has a lot of material in one place, you know! ;-)

Bryant, I don't mention Kek as such in that book, but it does have a lot to say about polytheist spirituality that you may find useful.

Varun, that's part of it. The leaders aren't just managing masses, they're being managed by them -- the masses choose to respond to this slogan and not to that one, to rally around one cause and not another, and that sharply constrains the options for leaders, who after all want people to follow them. Those of us who don't care whether people follow us or not don't suffer from the same constraint, and so can lay the groundwork for the slogans and causes of the future.

2/4/17, 11:46 PM

Caelan MacIntyre said...
Hi John, Thanks for responding.
I did post, upthread, the link with your quote here, but should have reposted it for you/your blog. I guess Fred Magyar did not avail himself of its context, via the link, which would not surprise me.

2/5/17, 12:06 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi gwizard43 and Armata,

I read both of your comments and as an independent person to your discussions, I do not believe either of you have violated the blogs moderation policies. Of course either of you could always ask for the moderation policies to be amended – but be prepared to justify your request.

My understanding of the matter and please either of you correct me if I am wrong in my understanding is that Armata represents an alt-right ideology, whilst gwizard43 represents the leftward end of ideology.

gwizard43, I sympathise with you, however Armata took a swipe at the "activist Left" whoever they are and at no point in his (and he writes like a guy) did he take a swipe at any individual commenter on the blog.

Now before you go crazy at me and shoot off an unpleasant reply, I have to inform you that I have stood in the killing fields in Cambodia and seen firsthand what a left leaning ideology can do. It was only a few years after the Vietnamese ousted Pol Pots gang of ideologues and I have absolutely no idea what I was doing there other than something whispered to me that this was something important that I should see firsthand. It was a repugnant thing to see and I have to inform you that left leaning ideologies don't get a free pass from me and neither can they claim the high moral ground as that isn't the only outrage I could point to.

On the other hand, Armata, your crew has some dark little secrets too don't they? And we all know what they are which is why you lot spend so much effort trying to deny them. I reckon that is pretty pathetic and something is whispering into my mind telling me that your lot would do far better to understand and embrace the ecological reasons for why your lot did what they did. Pol Pot wanted guns in exchange for rice, so what did your lot want? Don't even think of trying your practiced lies on me either.

The core problem as I see it is that neither of you are prepared to co-exist and/or engage with the other and you know, from what I see that is a large part of the problems and I promise you that if you don't or can't get your acts together then it will only ever escalate from here.


2/5/17, 12:12 AM

Crow Hill said...
JMG to Crow Hill re the Mayans and resource depletion: I have read Clive Ponting and do remember what he wrote about the fall of the Maya/Mesoamerican (and other) civilisations.

I was basing my comment on a more recent inspiring BBC programme with Mayanists including Elizabeth Graham, a Mayan archaeologist, who has worked for decades in Belize, and who put forward the controversial thesis that some Mayans at least had used land in a different way, had not deforested because they did not keep livestock needing grass for pasture, and used multi-cropping in the cultivation of maize since it can grow in the shade of other plants.She mentioned also that there were impressive Mayan coastal cities which the Spanish conquistadors had commented on when they first sailed past.

Further, in the introduction to an article, "Maya cities and the character of a tropical urbanism", Graham writes:

"In Forest, the Shadow of Civilization, Robert Pogue Harrison vividly conjures up the fear and wonderment of the forest that prefigure Western civilization's urban imperative--an experience that has been confrontational, in which the terms are all-or-nothing: we win, the forest goes=city; it wins, we go=wilderness. In the paragraphs that follow I suggest that alternative historical and environmental relationships developed between trees and people in the humid tropics, and these relationships constitute the conditions for an ecology of urbanism in humid tropical regions around the globe."

2/5/17, 12:58 AM

Matt said...
Off-topic but there's a Guardian article today about the UK's reliance on the F-35:

Best bit: allocating funding for a "follow-on modernisation program"!


2/5/17, 1:14 AM

Iuval Clejan said...
Dear sandy, I meant the kind of cycles that civilizations go through. I don't see the connection between those and the ones that Bill pointed out, or the ones possible in Conway's Game of Life. The only connection I see is that they are all cycles. In both these toy models, there are other possible behaviors such as chaos and equilibria, but you wouldn't say that civilizations must reach equilibria because these models have them as possible behaviors. The underlying mechanisms are not the same.

JMG, I agree that if we want something different, we must figure it out, it won't happen while we are supporting the fruits of empire. However, there is no logical fallacy in using those fruits as tools to figure something else out. Or in the words of some black panthers, we can use the tools of the prison to get out of it (diverging from Gandhi and the Possibility Alliance). The interesting thing to me, from a game theoretic perspective, is how to play a different game while being confronted by empire? I think you would claim that we can't, we have to wait till it dies and only in that time interval between the last empire and the next one do we have any chance to do something different? I would say the Jesus figured out another game and a strategy to play that game while within Empire, and had Christianity not chosen to align itself with the Roman empire, it might have worked. Maybe other strategies and games are possible.

What does history have to teach us about cultures that did not choose Empire?

2/5/17, 1:31 AM

pg said...
Some time back, when trying to decide whether to repair my ancient Subaru I, too, wondered about manual crank windows. In Canada, the Nissan Micra still has them. And in the US,
in the name of "reducing complexity"--imagine that!
BTW, I, too, am glad Bill Pulliam has relented; every time I drive past the trucking school on I-25 I think of him.... (isn't there a song in there somewhere?). Cheers!

2/5/17, 2:35 AM

Scotlyn said...
@Rita, thanks for the clarification on the Berkeley situation.

For what its worth Milo stands accused of something that, as far as I know, Anne Coulter never was.

That is to say, he is alleged to have doxxed certain transgender people and, using the "pile on" effect that can be mobilised on social media, to have threatened their personal security.

This allegations has not, as far as I know, been tested in a court of law. But in any case, it is this personal endangering of vulnerable individuals that I've most commonly heard cited as the reason he should not be given a platform.

2/5/17, 3:15 AM

Fred the First said...
@William Twice I did a one year read through the whole Bible and participated in weekly three hour discussions. I want to add on to what you shared about the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures. In books of Kings the authors spent a lot time detailing out where their leaders went wrong and what they did right. That sounded to me like any current history book! And it was clear to the Jewish people that were all going to survive and triumph together when everyone followed the Lord.

Then Jesus comes along and says, all someone has to do is believe in him, and that person individually will be saved. Doesn't matter what you're neighbors or your kings do. Jesus saved people one at a time and all it required was belief, not actions. Simple believe Jesus is Lord and Son of God, and all is forgiven and heaven is guaranteed. The Jewish people had books and books of rituals, festivals and activities to do and everyone had to do them or they were doomed.

Its clear which religious belief "won" up to present day. And it seems like we'll need a new belief to get us through the next part of human history.

2/5/17, 5:08 AM

latefall said...
Re Wheel of time, cliodynamics, and sequences of numbers

I've thought about the issue a little, and for me following thought experiment helped:

Imagine you just happened to wake up between 1 hour earlier and 1 hour later yesterday.

You'll see that a lot of things are affected by this. Some to a smaller degree some to a larger degree. Think of it as a standard deviation around your activities if you are mathematically inclined. Sure there can be a few "butterfly effects" (like some authors use for time travel stories), but not everything is susceptible to same degree to such a reduction in certainty.

To me is appears plausible (of course does not mean it needs to be true) that especially things people feel strongly about and are ready to act on will be more stable - particularly as you move away from the day-to-day perspective. In fact it is likely that such issues generate structures, which are intended to stabilize support for activities (educational systems, proud parents, religions, songs, steering committees, retirements, ritualized prestige, etc.). Barring certain events such as major military defeat, or a drastically out of alignment representative, such support systems work nicely compared to what is in collective memory and "progress" is made.

As time goes on, the fraction of support systems that are at odds with one another (or are largely parasitic) increases. Their overall power of mimesis wanes, and you start to get fracturing and in-fighting. I would assume this typically comes in waves, which initially leave the system stronger than before and can continue for quite some time in that way fending off internal and external contestants. At the same time careerism and other internal dynamics tend to slowly dissolve their original substance, and people become a tad less willing to go the extra mile, or get out of bed that extra hour earlier. The standard deviation around actions that are relevant for their continuation widens and the social mores allow for that (creeping reduction of mimesis). Much of this determines the acceptable degrees of efficiency and effectiveness in society. The US military spending and procurement system is perhaps instructive in this regard. If you are bored of the F35 bashing have a look at the ZBD2000 in comparison to the AAV-P7.

Once such precarious convictions are faced even with even a partial (moral) defeat (e.g. Clintons & Trump saying similar things re Mexicans, flag burning or crookedness) they cannot marshal the will of their believers to nearly the same degree. A military defeat in comparison is much less damaging for ideologies that do not rely on "might is right" rhetoric.
Such developments quickly take the dominant narrative into self reinforcing decline, particularly if collective memory does not serve as a backstop (Brexit: How bad can it get?!, Alt-right: We have the guns.).
External influences become more relevant Can a transition to an existing stable or vigorous school of thought be made? Can outside belief systems stabilize themselves by attacking the weakened narrative?

Interestingly the prominent factors in this function are: time, will, collective memory, social dynamics - with very little direct influence of resources or technology. Perhaps the most influential of these are through demographics (unusually many old people), which seems to be a factor in Trump and Brexit.

2/5/17, 7:02 AM

[email protected] said...
Excellent article John.

Don't have too much to add really, as your thoughts are very much in line with my own thinking on the subject.

Fascinating to watch the Democrats flounder in the face of the populist onslaught by the Trump administration... they appeared to assume that Trump would turn into Mitt Romney Mark II and instead you have a right-wing populist delivering the promises made to his electoral base.

2/5/17, 8:15 AM

Nastarana said...
Well, Mr. Greer, there is no accounting for another person's tastes. With respect to Copeland, however, I tend to think he was wildly popular with critics, and with that portion of audiences who take their opinions from the pages of major metropolitan newspapers and of conductors who take care to program works which are in fashion with audiences and critics. They and musicians do have to make a living, after all. For a truly great mid-century American composer, allow me to recommend the music of William Grant Still.

I have read both the Saga of the Volsungs and the Neibelungenleid, granted it was a few decades ago, and, IMHO, for my money, Wagner's retelling is no improvement. Literary epics have been a fertile source for opera librettists; my own favorite is Berlioz' Les Troyens, which was performed, recorded and filmed at the Met in the early 80s, featuring the much anticipated Met debut of a young, and phenomenal as she then was in voice and presence, Jessye Norman, and the incomparable Tatiana Troyanos singing the role of Dido. The young Norman and Troyanos in the same recording with Levine at the height of his powers conducting the Met orchestra. Opera recoding doesn't get much better than that.

2/5/17, 9:28 AM

Iuval Clejan said...
Dear sandy,

Part of the appeal I think is that urban centers provide relatively reliable big markets for rural products. But I don't think there are no myths about the downsides of Empire and if there are books and an oral tradition of stories, people remember. I think the new Testament has plenty of stories about the evils of Empire, for example.

2/5/17, 10:33 AM

. said...

I don't know what Trump understands but I don't see it as a misrepresentation to say that the university bears responsibility for events - which I what I understand him to be saying.

You see the thing is, the peaceful leftist groups never take responsibility for the appearance of the balaclava'd antifascists. Even though they know perfectly well that they're going to turn up and do what they always do. That's because many of the peaceful types have sympathy for the violent ones and have no intention of doing anything effective to stop them from engaging in violence in front of them. This is a pattern that has existed for a long time.

The university, in turn, knows all this perfectly well too because this is quite normal. They fail to prevent the perfectly predictable violence not because they're incapable of it or don't know it's going to happen but because many of them are sympathetic to the violent types in their fight 'against fascism'. So they ban the event on the basis of the 'health and safety' issue that they themselves knowingly permitted to develop.

This kind of bait and switch game goes back a long, long way. Frederick Douglass actually described an event he was due to speak at, at which white supremacists appeared and threatened violence. So the public authorities cancelled his talk - again ostensibly to protect the public. Preventing riot and affray is another way they used to describe it. I think the English used to use that to ban suffragetes and Irish nationalists from meeting.

Anyway Douglass wrote a blistering piece condemning the cowardice of the public authorities - whose job it should have been to simply ensure his safety while exercising his right to freedom of speech. Because otherwise what you're actually doing in practice is permitting anyone who can create a sufficiently serious 'public safety issue' to determine the limits of freedom of speech.

I don't know why Milo is particularly hated. I have seen far right women get the same treatment so I don't think it's particularly a gender thing. Women at the pro-Milo protest were assaulted equally by the 'antifascists'.

And yes, the reason no one will talk about where the appropriate limits on immigration should be is because they can't bring themselves to say no to anyone who wants to migrate from a poorer part of the world to the rich world. It makes them feel vaguely guilty...


2/5/17, 11:53 AM

Justin said...
@Mallow agreed. It's an old game. If anything, what Trump represents is a newer, more dynamic right (no, not the alt-right) that is not afraid to do the same things the left has done for decades. Something to watch for will be Trump-aligned elements shutting down a leftist event because of the possibility of alt-right protesters.

2/5/17, 2:52 PM

Phil Harris said...
A lot of informative comments this week.
I particularly like your advice to avoid the abridged Spengler.
I got nowhere with the abridged version I acquired.

I much appreciated Violet's thought about the value of the individual (and of sheer chance) during the 'winter phase' of civilisation - the steep decline - when much is lost. The more copies of 'seeds' and a geater number of seed bearers has a much better 'chance' to secure value. I have always appreciated the analogy with refugia in glacial times.

Regarding EROI I also value Stu's link I will keep a copy for reference, likewise a copy of the Royal Sciety study at the link within. I try to keep a paper copy of some key papers across a number of fields. In that regard I see Odum's 1966 paper is available via the same links. I wonder, however, what is going to be kept in the second century of decline from now? It is going to be a long and ragged time with its own priorities.

I regard it as a 'given' that 'our' existing knowledge base (and databases) will be impossible to maintain. We will only keep a fraction. And even then it will be a hard if not impossible task to retrieve later the real import. So future generations are going to require all their wits to select value. I would argue, though, in hope, that they might actually make a nuch better job of it than our civilisation in areas we have neglected or failed in.

Phil H

2/5/17, 3:05 PM

Brother Kornhoer said...
Another data point, fallout from the crash in oil prices:

2/5/17, 3:25 PM

Doc Tim said...
My specific thought was from watching gremlins. I had a jeep wrangler and put in a new radiator myself despite not being a car guy. It was not a good car but it was easy to fix on your own. It needed a new engine and transmission before 50k. I have a Prius now and am over 100k with little more than oil changes and some new spark plugs and it gets 3x the gas mileage. I'll accept that our current dishwasher is worse than our old one that was made about 20 years ago. We fixed it a few times but paying 50$ for parts hit the pint of diminishing returns.

2/5/17, 6:37 PM

Liam Jackson said...
Mr Greer, re: 'iFailure', if i understand you, its not just tech, of course.
I use 'symbolic relief' to denote the habit of using symbols/tokens/words to substitute for real goods, action or change. Examples can include clicktivism, idle exercise equipment, porn onanism, igadget competitiveness. A friend helped me see it in my own life, & now i can see it going all around me, used by pretty much everyone in one way or another.
My question - do you think the popularity of symbolic relief is due to declining material wealth (symbols generally being cheaper/easier than real), or is it just routine use of a bug/feature of human conciousness (like eg. denial)?

Also, thanks for your generousity in blogging weekly, suppose i'd better finish After Progress before you get into the heavy philosophy!

2/5/17, 6:45 PM

onething said...

"To think that people actually voted for him because he promised to end the wars and foreign interventions while having a track record of no integrity leads me to believe that most sane people will never learn how to deal with sociopaths until is way too late."

Whom should we have voted for?

2/5/17, 7:34 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Gwizard43, fair enough. I think a case can be made that commentary on this blog has gotten somewhat harsher than it used to be, and with the embarrassingly overheated rhetoric coming out of all sides of the ongoing tantrum that used to be the US political system, I could see a point to asking everyone to tone things down here, in the hope that the habit might spread. My question for you, though, is this -- are you willing to accept the same limits you're asking me to place on my alt-right readers? The comments page here has also seen denunciations of Trump and his supporters, you know, just as heated as the denunciations of liberals you've quoted. If I ask for, and enforce, a stricter level of civility than before, that'll fall on all sides, not just on the alt-right. Are you prepared to tolerate that?

Joel, interesting. Thanks for the link.

Daddy Hardup, your tickets are waiting for you at the station, and we'll be boarding all seats Wednesday afternoon, with the Vorspiel from Parsifal played by our station orchestra. ;-)

Armata, er, a comparison to the Red Guards is a bit of an overstatement, don't you think, given the lack of a significant body count so far? If what I've read is correct, Mao's bullies racked up a very impressive death toll even by the standards of the twentieth century. Could things go that way here? No doubt, but they're not there yet.

111DFC, I enjoy "The Birth of Tragedy" as a work of literature, but Socrates as the turning point of world history? Only from a very narrowly Hellenocentric perspective. You're right, though, that the language is gorgeous.

Hhawhee, no doubt! "The 18th Brumaire" is to my mind Marx at his best: crisp, irreverent, and interesting. He didn't always, or often, achieve that.

Sylvia, that's a very difficult question to answer, and of course there's a huge personal factor. Myself, when I'm reading something that claims to predict the future, I want to see how its previous predictions have played out, but that's a personal choice, of course.

August, so noted, and I'll look forward to its arrival. I'll ask you the same thing I asked Gwizard, though. You've had some harsh things to say about Trump et al., and that's been fine because it's been in keeping with the way things have been handled here. Are you willing to tone down your comments as part of a general tightening of courtesy standards?

James, so noted!

Doomerdoc, you know, there's something very enticing in the idea that the Nazis and the Bolsheviks were the civilizational equivalent of fifty-year-old guys who are doing combovers and stuffing themselves into corsets to try to hit on twenty-year-old women at the corner bar...

Kevin, nicely put. Thank you.

2/5/17, 8:36 PM

DeVaul said...
@ Onething

It is not for me to tell you who to vote for, but may I ask you if someone clapped a pistol to your head and frog marched you to the voting booth?

Unlike in the USSR, we have the right NOT to vote, especially if the election is set up to only give us choices that are all bad. People in the Soviet Union who did not vote were often sent to Siberia. Perhaps you could exercise a right that they did not have, like I did.

It's a small action, but when these actions become collective acts on the part of a majority of the population, they can lead to changes we cannot achieve if we don't change our individual decisions.

Don't vote for known criminals, and persuade others not to vote for criminals, and in this manner we can take away their delusion that they have a "mandate" to do... well, whatever. Delegitimize them in the eyes of the people.

2/5/17, 8:59 PM

sandy said...
@Iuval. Cycles.

Dear sandy, I meant the kind of cycles that civilizations go through. I don't see the connection between those and the ones that Bill pointed out, or the ones possible in Conway's Game of Life. The only connection I see is that they are all cycles.

*cycles of civilization start simple and add layers of complexity to solve emergent problems. Collections of cellular automata start simple but can demonstrate rather complex Behavior.

In both these toy models, there are other possible behaviors such as chaos and equilibria, but you wouldn't say that civilizations must reach equilibria because these models have them as possible behaviors. The underlying mechanisms are not the same.

* I would claim a state of chaos is merely very complex Behavior where we cannot discover the underlying equation. If a complex Empires supporting institutions fail close together in time the result might well appear chaotic. We may be unfortunate enough to witness this in the next 10 years haha.

I think a civilization might reach equilibrium if that is what it chose to do. For example the (Most Serene) Republic of Venice existed from 697–1797, 1100 yrs. by not trying to expand but maintain.

These analogies while not exact have helped me to get a handle on the idea of civilization Cycles. Your mileage may vary haha.

Pearce M. Schaudies.
Minister of Future

2/5/17, 9:15 PM

sandy said...
@Iuval. Empires.

But I don't think there are no myths about the downsides of Empire and if there are books and an oral tradition of stories, people remember.

* for this to happen somebody will have to establish the tradition of preserving books in the first or second generation after the downfall. Perhaps they could set up a monastery, such as
The Servata Order of Monks, preserving for the future, heh.The acolytes could copy text onto leather. Mabe chants could recite formula - the square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squaws on the other two hides, amen.

Pearce M. Schaudies.
Minister of Future

2/5/17, 10:06 PM

Quos Ego said...
Dear JMG,

as often, I'm posting not to react about the issue at hand, but rather about some overarching matter. For once, this might be a bit long.

I have to say I completely agree with Gwizard943: I feel the comments section of this blog has degenerated to a point where it is no longer pleasant to read. It has become a mere extension of the overly divisive playground that is politics.
Let me elaborate: I've been reading this blog since 2009, when, after the subprime crash, I realized the traditional media couldn't provide me with a satisfactory answer as to what was going on. They simply had no explanation.

So I went looking for answers, and extremes had plenty in store for me. For a few months, I read far-left thinkers and zealots, but also proponents of the Austrian school of economics who mixed their creed with a profoundly deep-rooted hatred of everything that wasn't white. I learned a lot, realized that it was necessary for one's intellectual well-being to tackle ideologies which are at odds with one's personal beliefs, but was ultimately unconvinced: in the end, the far right and the far left, despite having more thought-provoking things to say than the mainstream media, were only interested in pointing fingers and professing, in a religious manner, the absolute nature of their dogma.

Then I learned about The Oil Drum, Hubbert's Peak, and, eventually, this stellar blog. I had found a place where most of my questions would be answered in a provocative but always courteous way, where partisan bickering would be discarded in favor of tactful debate.
And, I believe this blog maintained such amazing standards until Donal Trump and the amazingly powerful reactions he triggers came into play. I've watched other contributors of the Peakosphere I used to respect devolve into parodies of themselves : Gail Tverberg now hoping for divine intervention, Dmitry Orlov now a pro-Russian zealot and conspiracy theorist, Guy McPherson having created a Doomsday Cult claiming human extinction would take place in 2026...

I feel sanity has left the building. People bicker and point fingers, feel smug about themselves, hold absolutist views they rub in each other's faces. They no longer engage in conversation, but shout, and not even at each other. It doesn't matter if the other party listens to them or not: only their views count, and reaching consensus it not even a distant possibility.
Nothing good can come out of this.

This blog always was about advocating constructive action for the not-so-bright future ahead. Please let it be the case again.

2/6/17, 1:54 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey, I just wanted to alert you to a rather funny incident involving our Prime Minister and your President.

So earlier last week, our Prime Minister (PM) who I believe used to have a paying gig at Goldman Sachs, apparently said at the Canberra Press Club: "“We must compete aggressively to export our services in education, health, engineering, tourism and more — and we must pursue even greater access for our agriculture and our manufacturers,” Mr Turnbull said. “We cannot retreat into the bleak dead-end of protectionism.”

Malcolm Turnbull warns against protectionism during National Press Club speech

Then a few days later our PM has a phone conversation with your President and apparently it did not go well at all (what a surprise) with your President tweeting afterwards that the refugee deal was a "dumb deal".

Donald Trump thanks Malcolm Turnbull for 'telling the truth' about 'fake news'

So, you have a President that is a straight talking kind of guy and he seems to get rather annoyed at people and he also seems to be rather well informed. He is not a guy that I would annoy and so many people just don't seem to understand that. Anyway, I did notice another minor matter - and it is always the minor stories that tell the much larger stories that: PM staffer suspended over Trump post.

I'm always genuinely surprised that nobody seems to realise that the interweb is a public domain! My thinking is don't go poking sleeping dogs as they may wake up and bite you, unless you know that you can deal to them! :-)! Hashtag: just sayin...



2/6/17, 3:05 AM

SMJ said...
Hello JMG

Regarding gwizard43's observation of comments from your alt-right commenters - I for one am very grateful that you allow the alt-right to so freely express their opinions on your blog. Dammerung's comments in your post of 18 Jan were particularly enlightening. I disagree with the solutions they come up with, but I think it is important that they express their views. Apart from helping me complete Homework Assignment #2 (to read something that offends me and then think about what circumstance would drive me to agree), these airings are a vital component of finding ways to avoid bloodshed.

The tone of the comments gwizard quotes is perhaps harsh, but I think some desensitization is beneficial. If one can keep the discussion going despite harsh tones, that would help prevent the discussion breaking down. But of course it is your blog so the rules are set by you.

Cherokee Organics, many thanks for the knocking of heads.


2/6/17, 3:34 AM

Scotlyn said...
As Frederick Douglass has been quoted, I'd like to place on record some quotes of his that are equally apt:

"There are such things in the world as human rights... Among these is the right of locomotion; the right of migration; the right which belongs to no particular race, but belongs [to] all alike...

If the white race may exclude all other races from this continent, it may rightfully do the same in respect to all other lands and continents, thus have all the world to itself, & thus what would seem to belong to the whole would become the property of only a part.

I hold that a liberal and brotherly welcome to all who are likely to come to the U.S. is the only wise policy which this nation can adopt..."

Frederick Douglass, 1869

Apparently some Suberbowl fans are outraged by a Budweiser ad reminding Americans that, by and large, we are all immigrants who arrived by a process of "locomotion" from elsewhere.

Granted, our history would be very different if Native Americans had presented us with walls, and guns and border checks, giving us no option but to remain crowded and impoverished in our teeming European backwaters.

I do understand, Archdruid, that there are sound and just arguments to be made in favor of good border controls at this point in time.

But there are none that can, with justice, deny their rightful place to all the diverse people who already live, work and love within them.

What I see a lot of is the broadening of the category "foreigner" to include African Americans whose pedigree in America has more antiquity than most European Americans. I see it being used to include those outside the "Judeo-Christian" cultural mindset (including - ironically - some Jews and some Catholics, as well as Muslims, pagans, Buddhists and others), even (in some quarters) anyone urban & college educated.

Once "foreigner" comes to mean all those things, where do you draw your border, and who can you call on to defend it with you?

Saying "diversity doesn't work" to my mind, is like saying "ecology doesn't work". It is what it is, and one's opinion has very little to do with that.

2/6/17, 3:55 AM

Patricia Mathews said...
David Brin (scroll down one post)suggests dealing with the new president - pr diverting him - by providing people willint to flatter him personally while disagreein with him on policy/

And if my first comment of the morning didn't go through, Charlie Stross tosses out a chilling Ad Hitlerum argument based on a dying industry's plan to grab while the grabbing is good and ease the strains of peak oil by starving out a chunk of the population via travel restrictions etc. He's a science fiction writer, so of course, playing with such scenarios is his trade.

2/6/17, 5:11 AM

August Johnson said...
JMG - It's taking me a while to write, as I'm making sure I can fully explain myself. I'll be working on something outside and a thought will come to me. I highly respect your opinions and viewpoints and want to make clear where I'm coming from.

If you look back at my comments, you'll find I have not made one nasty comment about Trump, or Clinton, voters. Only about the total unsuitability of both candidates. And yes, I do have strong opinions there. No collectively calling the voters the names others have. No directed comments about a particular voter. But others have made some rather nasty comments and name calling about the other side, both sides, both collectively and individually. At most I've said things like "I think that these Trump supporters/excusers are going to find things don't turn out like they expected." And there has been a lot of people making excuses for what Trump has done. A lot of "The ends justify the means."

If Clinton had been elected, I'd be saying the same about her voters. But she wasn't... It's amazing to see how, even this far past the election, the standard excuse for any Trump statement/action is "But, Clinton..." Excusing an inappropriate/bad action by saying that your opponent did it is like a little kid saying "But Mommy, Johnny did it!"

I am working here with mostly Trump supporters, a couple very vocal, I have nothing but respect for them. They are by no means stupid. I keep my mouth shut about my opinion of their political preferences. We are all working together. We spent yesterday, in the rain, working on what will be our Ham Radio clubhouse/workshop. We're planning a big Field Day event this year.

2/6/17, 6:58 AM

August Johnson said...
And JMG - I will ask people to be honest. Do they really support someone who says this?

Donald J Trump @realDonaldTrump

Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting.

4:07 AM - 6 Feb 2017

So, if it isn't in full agreement with him, it's fake? What would the reaction be from the other side if a Democrat president had said that? Again, I have to say that this resembles the rantings of my late Father-in-Law who suffered from dementia. I'm not making a diagnosis here, but this makes me feel more that a bit uneasy. Do you really feel that these are appropriate statements from the President of the USA?

2/6/17, 7:40 AM

Eric S. said...
I was moving over the weekend so am fairly late to the conversation, but hopefully not too late to contribute. One thought that I have looking at the cyclical arcs of history and perceptions of its shape is the degree to which one’s perception of it can be determined by both individual circumstances, and by the place along that arc that one lives. To someone who was born in a certain social class in Rome in the early years of the first century CE, it may be very easy to go through one’s whole life believing in something very like progress. The old men would have told stories about the civil wars following the reign of Nero, they would have been coming to an awareness of broader political and social issues during Hadrian’s abandonment of the outer territories, and their adulthood would have been marked by the relative stability and prosperity of the Antonine dynasty, the last of their old age in the early years of Marcus Aurelius’ reign offering a hope of the outer barbarian tribes coming under the order of Roman law once and for all. They wouldn’t live to see the political assassinations and civil wars of the coming years. Meanwhile, to someone of that same social class watching Attila’s oncoming hoards centuries later, it might as well be the unique and complete end of the world regardless of what may be happening in some distant future or in some other far off place. The same can be applied to our own time and our own region of the world. For many people living in the West, especially among the privileged social classes, the number of people who remember a time when there has been anything but continuous progress is steadily decreasing… meanwhile, to someone who was elderly or middle aged during the first half of the twentieth century, especially if they were living in Europe, it once more may as well have been apocalypse, to those who don’t survive, the possibility of an eventual recovery is a temporal version of the nearby campsite in To Build a Fire, it may be close, but that isn’t going to help them much. This is why in so much late Roman and early Medieval Christianity, it made perfect sense to believe that those were the end times, because functionally they were and were going to continue to be for the lifetimes of anyone involved, and the only way to get out of that eternal tribulation was to die. I think for many people the question isn’t even so much “is progress going to continue forever,” so much as “is progress going to continue long enough that I can die safe and content,” to people looking towards a future cataclysm, it’s a similar thought. To someone with certain health problems, in certain areas vulnerable to particularly high levels of violence or environmental catastrophe, or of a certain age, the question of recovery doesn’t matter too much… and if a period of unrest lasts decades rather than a few years or months before something resembling a “new normal” is restored, then even a person who has youth, health, and skill on their side may be spending the rest of their lives in a world that bears an uncomfortable resemblance to apocalyptic fiction they may have read or seen in cinema (there are some places in the world that look that way already and have for a while now). If they’re not likely to see the period of recovery, then the existence of the recovery is something of an irrelevance to them, and to someone preparing for such an interruption, the reality of an interruption that includes a slight recovery and a descent into a dark age, an interruption that continues forever as humanity gaps one long dying breath, and an interruption that is followed by a recovery and a resumption of onward, upward progress is going to look much the same. It takes a special type of mind to be able to detach oneself from the way history feels and take a long view of it, and even when a mind can do that, it is even more difficult to transform that abstraction into something useful (which is, of course, something that is this blog’s central goal).

2/6/17, 8:14 AM

August Johnson said...
JMG - This may seem off topic at first, bear with me.

An example of the limited world-view of those of us living in the USA. I learned as a teenager that the country we lived in was the United States of America, not just the United States. This was when I was living in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. The people there were proud to live in a country known as the Estados Unidos Mexicanos, or the Mexican United States. It was not polite for me to refer to the USA as the United States.

I saw people living in poverty that those of us in the USA have a very hard time even imagining, yet these people were proud of their country and kept their dignity. We knew several who were employed at the institutes where my father worked who lived in 1 or 2 room Adobe homes with dirt floors and no plumbing. These were wonderful people and something that really gripes me about Trump is his constant insulting and degrading of Mexico. When someone insults my friends, I can't help but take it personally. I'm still in contact today with some of the people I met in Mexico in the mid-1970's.

2/6/17, 8:17 AM

Raymond Duckling said...
On the ongoing debate about the right vs left.

First, I want to applaud and support Chris/Cherokee's position. Those hard words were much needed. Both sides are equally capable of the most horrific acts of violence. The alt right seems to me more capable of throwing the first punch, mostly due to their cultivated cynism and sense of detachment... but the other side would response with even greater ferocity when they feel their backs agains the wall.

@Scotly, please don't expell Dammerung and his kind just yet. Some of us have interest to hear what they have to say. I have learned about both my and their strenghts and weaknesses during our first exchange a couple of weeks ago.

@Gwizard43, August, I miss the cozier atmosphere too, but it does not mean the current tone of discurse is inherently bad. I will repeat what I said before, you need to hear this words so that you are prepared. The kekist are not going to just quit talking like that because you censor them, they will just go back and keep doing their thing behind closed doors.

I am going to share something personal. I suffered an extortion attempt about a year ago. Someone claiming to be from the Cartels, said that they had aprehended a low brow criminal who had information about my family. He claimed that the Cartel do not have any business in messing with the lives of people of good will like myself, and that this vermin needed to be put down. He offered to have the criminal "go away" in exchange for protection money. I hang up and disconnected the phone.

This is routine this side of the border. The Cartels are too busy making cash hand over fist to even bother with small fish like me. What happens is that there is a swarm of con artist that have learned to take advantage of the state of insecurity to prey on the people. There are fake kidnappings and real kidnappings, extortions by organized crime and extortions by convicted criminals that smugle mobile phones and go threatening people, just to have their wives and children collect the ransom money.

This is common knowledge this side of the border. Many friends and family have been targeted by one of these attempts. And even knowing that, it was a very hard decision to hang up. But at the end, I decided that I would not panic unless and until I see armed men knocking on my door. The gamble payed off, no one has come after me or my family, yet.

The thing is, if you are going to break if some meanacing guy comes and tell you horrible things, you are not going to survive the ordeal ahead. Dammerung has been unknowingly providing a valuable service here. You need to hear this things in the relative security of the Internet, because later you are going to hear them directly spoken to you, and even later you may get to see some of those things carried out in real life. You must know beforehand, so that you will not freeze.

So, please JMG, do not make this a "safe space" to be. Your readership may not appreciate the tone, but they need to hear it nonetheless.

2/6/17, 8:18 AM

onething said...
DeVaul, fair enough, and I intended to utilize that very option, until near the end. I have not voted for the two party system in over 20 years and nonetheless was scared enough by Hillary's warmongering rhetoric that I thought it safer to do my small bit to prevent what I saw as a near definite war with Russia as opposed to a possibility of at least not that.

2/6/17, 10:21 AM

Sven Eriksen said...

Re: iFailure. We really do need to grapple with the whole simulacrum consciousness thing one of these days, as the point you made applies to a whole galaxy of things and not just technology in particular. That said, I'm looking forward to delving into philosophy this Wednesday.

2/6/17, 1:16 PM

Happy Panda said...
I have a request of JMG should he be so inclined. I'd like to see him write or at least mention in a paragraph or two of why he doesn't find Peter Turchin's cliodynamics theory (methodology?) of history to be convincing. I gather perhaps its due to excessive reliance on quantification but I'm not certain if that's the only or even primary objection.

Maybe it could be included in one or two of the upcoming philosophy essays?'s something I'm hoping Mr. Greer will consider.

2/6/17, 2:07 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
The issue for me about the tone is not strong talk about hard things. It is personal insults directly at other commentors. This used to be verboten. It is not anymore. I do not mean telling someone that their ideas are totally wrongheaded. I mean telling someone that they are a clueless elitist or a hateful racist. I don't know if the second has been said, but the first has been said to me on multiple occasions in the last year, usually late in the comment cycle when JMG might not be paying as much attention

2/6/17, 2:37 PM

Justin said...
@ Scotlyn,

I often wonder what would happen, if say, a wayward bunch of explorers in say, 1300, ended up transmitting the worst of the European diseases to the Native Americans. The dieoff and the associated natural selection for tolerances for European diseases (and maybe some American clades of those diseases would form and be nasty for Europeans). In 300 years, the disease resistant genes would still have a much higher frequency than they did before the initial pandemic event (10% of Europeans still have genes that protect them from plague today, for example) and because the Indians would be pushing up against ecological limits and competing with each other they would likely be more territorial and militant. Ultimately there is no escaping the logic that violence is the ultimate authority - invasion is never off the table, it's just often not a great idea. Which is why we use violence to establish more humane systems of hierarchy and authority.

As far as 'natural locomotion', well, it's a mess. For instance global inequality is such that a welfare recipient in northern Europe gets many times the wages of an African worker, for doing essentially nothing. So it makes sense that given the opportunity, Africans try to go to northern Europe to collect welfare. I don't blame the African, I blame the idiotic northern Europeans (and the subversive elements in those societies) for allowing this. Of course, one can't say anything about these problems in northern Europe and expect to keep ones job or even avoid a visit to jail these days.

Of course, I'm required to lie about a lot of things (at least by omission). Until recently I worked for a company which is developing an unnecessary and unsustainable product (the new job isn't much better, but it's natural-resource related so at least it's actually useful). In all the various meetings etc about the utterly pointless product we were making, at no point was I permitted to point out the basic reality of the situation - I'd lose my job - and then, in a while, when my chequing account ran out - I'd lose my privilege to live indoors. So I lied, and probably so did others. It really is something.

Douglass was speaking and writing in the context of an America that had a frontier. When there is no more frontier, then people who have settled in a place have just as much right to natural defense as would-be immigrants do to attempt a forcible invasion. To quote the Australians, "frack off, we're full". Pentti Linkola certainly would agree:

"What to do, when a ship carrying a hundred passengers suddenly capsizes and only one lifeboat, with room for only ten people, has been launched? When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to load it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the ship’s axe and sever the extra hands that cling to the sides of the boat"

2/6/17, 3:18 PM

Justin said...
Chris/Cherokee, regarding the alt-right, good post. Regarding the alt right, well, I went there, believed in literal "Hitler did nothing wrong" Nazism for a little while, but ultimately I came back with some useful ideas without retaining the various essential bigotries of the alt-right. Of course, people still would call me a Nazi, but that's par for the course these days - lots of serious alt-righters would call me a Marxist or a cuckservative or something. You're either with us or you're a National Boshlevist or something. Oh well.

I'm happy to sit on the authoritarian socialist side of the alt-center or whatever comes out of the wreckage of 2017.

2/6/17, 3:26 PM

Justin said...
One final thought on the alt-right:

The thing that must be understood about the alt-right is that the alt-right is the mainstream (meaning most people know it exists and think it matters one way or another) political alignment which most closely matches my views, even though I disagree with the bigotry and much of the revisionist history. I don't think I'm alone in this. That's because the choices are neoliberalism, neoconservativism (which is basically just 10-year old neoliberalism plus more invasions), libertarianism, anarchism or the alt-right. That's why we desperately need an alt-center.

2/6/17, 3:31 PM

Bruno B. L. said...
I've had that one at the back of my mind for quite a while now, but never got to express it articulately. The great civil religions of Western Civ as a tentative of reinvigorating it. Followed by the nihilism of post-modernity, just like middle age crisis are often followed by depression over the proximity of death in old age. Thank you!

2/6/17, 3:41 PM

Varun Bhaskar said...

I am against an increase in censorship. No one is being specifically rude to anyone else, no one is swearing. We are all engaging each other across vast political divides, and that often means realizing that the political views someone else holds can be offensive or threatening just by the fact that they stand in opposition to ones own views. Let the alt-right and activist left have their say. I stand in opposition to both sides.



2/6/17, 4:31 PM

August Johnson said...
OK JMG, I'm going to shut up on here while I take the time to write you a well thought-out letter.


2/6/17, 4:46 PM

Fred the First said...
On the Chris Martenson podcast one of his guests was talking about the market crashing 70-90% in the next three years. So listen and its the same old, same old - too much private and public debt, the money printing, etc. Then he said something I hadn't heard - labor productivity has been going down ever since the Baby Boomers starting retiring and each year as they leave the workforce, productivity gets worse. Huh? I'm intrigued.

I googled the BLS and found this report which doesn't show the stair step down he is referring to, but it show a 1% productivity growth the last nine years. One percent growth to me looks like a rounding error.

The funny part about that chart btw is that is violates the first rule of chart making - make sure your measures are equal across the axis. Notice they did some funny business to make the numbers say something different than what is actually so.

Anyway, why would productivity go down every year a boomer retires? We have technology! And robots! Progress is happening!

Putting on my Archdruid Hat - is that a thing? It should totally be a thing - I realized it's because we are fooled into thinking that work in office places happens because of the tools we use, not the people. People who began working before computers became ubiquitous know that to get anything done requires a conversation one-on-one with a person using your influence or negotiation skills. Now when people go to work in office buildings they spend all day in group meetings and sending email back and forth. No one gets work done based on emails. Emails just spur more questions. And no one works when they are sitting around a table talking about what to do. The emails and meetings are all about cya (cover your a**) so people can hide from responsibility and real work.

The Podesta emails shocked me not only for the content, but the for the sheer volume. A campaign writing that volume of email couldn't have been working effectively on the work of campaigning. Its like each person typed 5,000 words a day into the void.

Interesting times, interesting times.....

2/6/17, 5:01 PM

Armata said...
Interesting article from Newsmax, suggesting that the most opinion polls may be understating Donald Trump's level of popular support.

2/6/17, 5:30 PM

Robert Mathiesen said...
Myself, I am not interested in having a "cozier" comment section on this blog. I want to read people whose values are different from mine, and even those who occasionally outrage and enrage me. I don't come here either for community or for support through hard times, but to have my own ideas challenged and threatened, and to be made to think in ways I otherwise would not. The commenters here excel at that! Dissensus in action!

I particularly value Dammerung's comments, although we are very far apart in our respective values and politics. He is quite intelligent, and appears to have been very frank about his aims and his strategy. If ever we are on opposite sides of a no-holds-barred conflict -- and it might come to this within my own remaining years --, I believe that my chances of winning that conflict have been greatly increased by what he has revealed in his comments on this blog. "Keep your friends close; keep your enemies closer" is a wise old saying.

Needless to say, I do recognize that some -- perhaps most -- of the commenters do come here for support and to find a community of the like-minded. They, too, can find what they need here, though recently at greater cost than before. A certain subset of those commenters may even need, desparately need, a safe space for that support and community. I hope that subset is small, for my own sake. What I need and value here is the relatively "unsafe space" that our host has provided for major dissensus. If this space were to become completely safe, I would likely lose some of my interest in it.

2/6/17, 5:32 PM

Christophe said...
John Michael, I wholeheartedly agree with several other commenters that, not only your modeling of, but also your limitation to polite discourse has been profoundly inspiring and educational for many of us. Your uncompromising standards have proven against all odds that, even in the blogosphere, consistently worthwhile discourse can be achieved through the rigorous and universal application of limits. These past few weeks have clearly given many of your longtime commenters a jarring appreciation of the work you do to maintain the integrity of this symposium. Long overdue thanks on that count.

Recent comment threads have also provided a vivid case study for how a fairly self-restraining community can rapidly descend into bickering gridlock in times of stress, leading it to beg a benevolent dictator to reassert control. Hail, Archdruid! Spengler seems to have hit another home run.

Please do re-impose upon all of us the standards of courtesy that so noticeably distinguish this blog from its peers. Please also continue to post and to respond to polite comments containing all sorts of divergent opinions. The quality of the dialogue in this comment section is cultured by exposing each essay to analysis from as many viewpoints as you have civil commenters. In a world of assiduously purged echo-chambers, that is rare indeed.

Reading the thoughtful and extensive deliberation you had with DoubtingThomas last month gave me a glimpse into the unusual level of respect necessary on both sides if any rapprochement is to occur. I certainly hope that DoubtingThomas took your responding to his comment publicly in this post as an honoring, not ridiculing of his considerable contribution -- few have stood so unflinchingly in the Archdruid's gaze.

The acrid tauntings that Gwizard43 highlighted in an earlier comment do seem to fall quite short of civility or common courtesy. Their contribution to the conversation could surely be increased by requiring more thoughtful composition. I imagine demanding more polite discourse will lead to a higher signal to noise ratio and fewer weekly comments to respond to -- a deserved break for our esteemed host.

2/6/17, 6:44 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Dltrammel, Bannon seems to be an interesting cat. The thing that I find fascinating, though, is that someone with ideas so far from the bipartisan consensus is now advising the most powerful human being on the planet. Strange days!

Tim, excellent! That bit of ecological comparison earns you tonight's gold star. It's entirely possible, as I suggested back a ways in The Ecotechnic Future, that industrial civilization is the first, most wasteful, and most short-lived sere in the process of succession that will eventually lead to technic civilizations capable of very long term stability; your suggestion that this might be true of civilizations more generally deserves, I think, serious consideration.

As for the pornographization of the hierarchy of needs -- hmm. That may indeed be the metaphor I need. Hmm again...

Candace, that's a complex and hugely important issue. I discussed it to some extent in the sequence of posts that turned into The Wealth of Nature, but it could use considerable expansion; I'll consider further posts on the subject down the road a bit.

MichaelK, er, I take it you don't remember the days when the Reagan administration was packed with fundamentalist Christians who insisted, among other things, that we didn't have to protect the environment because Jesus was coming soon and would fix everything for us. Apocalyptic fantasists have been getting access to political power here in the US for a very long time.

Cherokee, and that same ability to turn your back on dysfunctional behavior is probably a good bit of why you're comfortably ensconced in an off-grid homestead, too! It's a good thing to cultivate.

Bob, if the far future doesn't concern you, this blog is going to bore you fairly often. The far future interests me, even though I won't be around to see it, and so we'll be talking about it at length here.

Mojoglo, I'd encourage you to be suspicious when anyone tries to use buzzwords like "fascism" and "the wrong side of history" to goad you into political activity. Those are demagogues' tactics, and very often conceal unstated agendas. If you feel that politics are relevant to your life right now, I'd encourage you to choose your own style of involvement and activity -- and in any case, deepening your spiritual roots and changing the way you relate to the biosphere and your bioregion is to my mind some of the most useful things anybody can do right now.

Tidlösa, no matter how the Second World War ended, there was going to be a totalitarian state ruling eastern Europe for a while thereafter -- and it's a matter of historical record that Stalin was responsible for significantly more mass killings than Hitler, so I'm not even sure how great the difference would have been. (Robert Harris' novel Fatherland, to my mind, scored a direct hit by portraying life in a victorious German Reich in 1964 in terms very closely modeled on life in the Soviet Union in that same year. So the wheels keep turning round...

2/6/17, 7:12 PM

Myriad said...
I report, in my occasional role as a video media spy (that is to say, a sometime TV watcher): there was a Super Bowl ad for oil.

Not the Of Olay variety, but the stuff from the ground that (as phrases flashed during the ad reminds us) is struck, tapped, gushed, and pumped. The American Petroleum Institute apparently felt it worth five million dollars plus video production costs to inform the public that oil is great stuff, especially for non-fuel uses such as paints, makeup, and plastics. (The latter are represented in the ad by advanced-looking artificial hands and hearts rather than, say, piles of discarded soda bottles or the inventory of a dollar store.)

I'm usually pretty good at figuring out the industry motivations behind such "whole industry" ads. Usually they has far more to do with investor perceptions (and thus, ultimately, stock prices) than motivating consumer purchases. I haven't worked this one out fully, though. Is the American Petroleum Institute worried that investors will mistakenly perceive a few electric cars on the road as a sign that petroleum is passé? Are they trying to muddle understanding of oil's role in climate change by pointing to the small percentage of it that isn't burned as fuel? Are they actually afraid the public will, against all plausibility, deliberately reduce their use of petroleum products any time soon? Does the ad relate to some proposed or pending change in government policies? Or are they positioning (way too early, it would seem to me) for oil's eventual role as a feedstock for luxury products once it's no longer affordable as fuel?

The 30-second ad can be seen at

2/6/17, 7:14 PM

John Michael Greer said...
LatheChuck, interesting. The thing that makes historical cycles endlessly intriguing, at least to me, is that it's always different music playing, and a different hotel room, and a different person waking up -- but the same broad set of events follows step by step anyway. Certainly, the progression from hedonism through nihilism to altruism is one option in response...

Avery, yes, I'd read that.

LatheChuck, and it would be an intriguing project, for those sufficiently familiar with the various models, to compare them to historical cycles and see which one(s) produce the best fit.

Caryn, it's always different each time, and the differences don't change the fact that the same cycle repeats itself. As for the hunter-gatherers, they're not going to emerge until the biosphere recovers, of course. I thought I'd made it adequately clear that we're not talking about overnight transformations...

Roy, if someone were to start preaching a bona fide messianic revitalization movement right now in terms that appealed to the anti-Trump coalition, I'm quite convinced that it would become a huge mass movement in no time flat. The strategy of bringing down constitutional government in order to overturn Trump's election, on the other hand, strikes me as rather too familiar -- we've seen this one play out how many times in foreign countries? Follow the money, and my guess is some familiar names will turn out to be behind it.

Chris, I'm also an astrologer, and I think you're being profoundly simplistic in your analysis.

Scotlyn, thanks for the correction. I really don't know how they'll fare. As for philosophy and medicine, duly noted -- I'm doing research right now into the current state of antibiotic resistance among pathogens, which bids fair to have an immense impact on health care everywhere.

Mgalimba, I certainly hope you're right.

Sunseekernv, nope -- thanks for the pointer!

Agent, exactly. It's possible to predict the trajectory of a civilization for much the same reason that it's possible to predict the behavior of a gas under specific conditions of temperature and pressure: the unpredictable behavior of individuals is more or less cancelled out in mass quantities.

Hubertus, yes, but that's not something we're going to discuss here. The people out there who are calling for that to happen have apparently forgotten that advocating the commission of a crime is a crime under federal law, and in this particular case, there may be hard time involved.

Myriad, hah! I buy books on philosophy, use them, and appreciate them, though. ;-)

2/6/17, 7:28 PM

Jbarber said...
History can't be predicted because the prediction fails to account for extraordinary individuals? Sounds like someone has been reading Asimov's "Foundation" series again.

2/6/17, 7:36 PM

Armata said...
Check out the latest incarnation of Kek - Pepe Le Pen!

2/6/17, 7:59 PM

John Michael Greer said...
DeVaul, er, I think you're overstating things considerably. Statements of the same kind have been made about Iran repeatedly by the last two US presidential administrations, you know.

Econojames, they're very much relevant -- and yes, I also find it comforting to reflect on the broader context of deep time. As for science and what's real, why, we'll be talking about that shortly!

Hubertus, that's why I've said over and over again that if we're going to keep some of those technologies going through the coming dark age, people here and now are going to have to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Hubertus, yeah, I got to see the same sort of thing now and again, too. Those are the times I wonder if "sapiens" really ought to be the name of our species.

Onething, I think it's quite possible that an attempt is under way to organize one.

Caelan, that's pretty typical, all things considered.

Crow Hill, the difficulties with that thesis are that, first, there's extensive evidence for deforestation in the Lowland Maya heartland from the terminal classic period, and second, there's also extensive evidence for severe malnutrition and a 95% population decline during the terminal classic period. I'd want to see any alternative theory explain that body of evidence.

Matt, the Lardbucket really is the gift that just keeps on giving!

Iuval, in every generation there are people who claim they can use the fruits of the system without being coopted by it. In every generation, they end up faced with a choice between letting themselves be coopted or being deprived of the fruits of the system. That is to say, if you think you can remain dependent on empire and still oppose it, you're kidding yourself.

Latefall, good. As a summary, that works quite well.

Lordberia3, that's one of the problems with political groupthink: when somebody does something genuinely different, the response involves a lot of screeching and waving of hands, and not always much else.

Nastarana, I don't read critics or major newspapers, but I play Copeland pieces quite often and enjoy them; so do other people I know. As for Wagner, who said an opera has to be an improvement over an epic poem? I've also read the source material, and enjoy those, Wagner's operas, and Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, another creative project drawing on much of the same material. If you don't -- why, then, you don't, and that's no concern of mine.

2/6/17, 8:05 PM

patriciaormsby said...
I agree with Robert Mathiesen and hope you will continue to allow a voice here to all parts of the political spectrum in a polite conversation. I don't read comments sections anywhere else, because they are typically either completely unmoderated flame wars or moderated to reflect a bias of a majority that only supports preconceptions. If we are to retain any form of democracy, these are not the times to be cozy.

In other words, I love the dissensus you foster so well.

2/6/17, 8:06 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Let's not slander lardbuckets, please. What they yield can produce some of the finest pastries and most savory dishes known to humankind. And if we can believe "The Last Kingdom" (historical fiction set in the reign of Alfred the Great) when properly deployed as weapons they can decimate an entire Viking flotilla.

All hail lard! Save us from the wicked abomination called "vegetable shortening!"

2/6/17, 8:22 PM

Quos Ego said...
To Robert, Raymond, etc.:

No ones here wants a cozier or safer place. No one wants censorship.

We're just asking dissensus here to be civil again.

2/6/17, 9:18 PM

Nancy Sutton said...
" much of it is really worth saving? " Has our Western Civilization given women more rights? acknowledged the illegality (if not the persistence) of slavery? given lip service, at least, to environmental protection? given lip service, at least, to equality? considered child protection, along with animal protection, a possibility? produdced the notion of religious tolerance? (OK Genghis Khan did also, but he was an anomaly)... ?
I realize these are delicate flowers that will be blasted.... but the seeds have been planted... I think.

2/6/17, 9:50 PM

onething said...
Dear August,

On this: Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting.

I think you misunderstood. He is not saying that anytime there is a negative about him it's always fake. He is saying that on this issue, he thinks people want border control and vetting, and that if it is reported otherwise, he suspects a skewed poll.

I worry about Trump quite a bit, but I find it a breath of fresh air that he can simply come out and say things that are true, like that our media are all in lockstep and don't report accurately because of their agenda.

There really is an agenda and it can be very, very hard to break through it. Of course that is worrying in a democracy. Someone above said Trump provokes a lot of insanity. But I think that agenda exists and they are deliberately provoking these extreme reactions to him. I'd say they're pretty successful at it. I'm pretty sure if the media had a different take, so would most people.

JMG, If the tone here has deteriorated I hadn't really noticed. Maybe it has.

2/6/17, 9:58 PM

Kevin Warner said...
"Robert Mathiesen said...
What I need and value here is the relatively "unsafe space" that our host has provided for major dissensus. If this space were to become completely safe, I would likely lose some of my interest in it."

I'll second that comment. Personally, if I wanted a safe space that was self-referential, I would get a Facebook account. On second thought, I'd rather be assimilated by the Borg first.

"John Michael Greer said..
but I play Copeland pieces quite often and enjoy them"

I've heard some of his work so I guess that would include Appalachian spring, would it? For what it is worth, might I suggest other works worth trying such as Holst's "The Planets", Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" (Baroque is nearly always great), some Fleetwood Mac and a bit of classic Beatles for variety? Good music seems to be good for the soul.

2/6/17, 10:25 PM

Fred the First said...
In regards to the comments, I've noticed the name-calling and the hurt feelings. As my grandmother always said, "it takes two to fight". If you are in a disagreement with someone, you are the cause of it and have an opportunity to stop. I'm not saying to agree with the other person. I'm saying you must look beyond the right/wrong dynamic you find yourself in and find a way to get along with the other.

A suggestion I have is that JMG put through the best 5-10 comments that support what his post is about, each time he scans through what was submitted. It would shorten what we all were reading and put the onus on us as commenters to write more thoughtful comments, rather than on JMG to moderate us more.

We could take the conversations and back and forth over to We can have more of the emotional processing talk over there that seems to be needed these days.

2/7/17, 4:43 AM

Nancy Shirley said...
At Naked Capitalism, the facilitator Yves Smith wrote a post about comments that is similar to what is being said here about left vs right comments:

"I see Naked Capitalism as beyond the stupid virtue signalling of Left/Right labelling. I see it as concerned with a conception of social justice that actuallly connects with life conditions of decent people – and a justifiable faith that, all things being equal, pretty much all people ARE decent people.

For some commenters, it turned out that the real bone of contention was that we now have a few Trump supporters who comment regularly. They have not broken any house rules and we are not about to run them off.

If the site actually does anything, then presumably its effect on people is to push them to consider views that they would not have looked at previously, and to force them to defend their own views. In other words, far from being seen as a sort of “contamination,” if there are “non-left” people on the site, it should be seen as an opportunity. (If they’re organic, of course – but over time we do a pretty good job of eliminating the true trolls.)

People complaining about having to debunk newcomers’ arguments are ultimately complaining about being given an opportunity to do effective politics. Politics isn’t an academic seminar where only the smartest people are allowed to speak. Nor is it a salon of uniformly right-thinking people who congratulate each other on their virtue while disagreeing on minor tactical points. It’s about trying to persuade other people, even including those who start out with views that are in some ways problematic or misinformed. Yes, it can be somewhat repetitive. So what? If making the same argument more than once drives you crazy, find another hobby."

2/7/17, 5:45 AM

August Johnson said...
Onething - This isn't the first time Trump has used the "Fake News" theme. He's been using it anytime something negative is reported about him for quite some time. Anytime... It's disgusting that the president calls me fake because I disagree with him. But I guess it's where we've deteriorated to.

And yes, the tone here has deteriorated. JMG used to seriously call someone out for name-calling. Now he doesn't even give them a slap on the wrist, just continues the conversation with them.

2/7/17, 6:47 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Re public discourse in the context of this forum

Long ago, when my dad was a Republican business executive and I a pacifist, anti-war teenager prone to ditching school to participate in demonstrations, I learned a valuable lesson from him: that it was possible to sit at the dinner table (our family ate dinner together every night) and debate ideas and politics without stopping loving one another or endangering the family structure. The rules were that we kids—and he—had to refrain from insults, keep our tempers, and put forth sound reasons for our views. “’Cause I think so, so I know it’s true” was derided as simple opinion, not worth spending time on unless backed up with some kind of thoughtful analysis, evidence, or provable facts. Over time we each moderated. When he retired, he devoted his life to helping those less fortunate than himself in a variety of hands-on ways, while I turned to finding productive, life and ecosystem enhancing things to work for, rather than only standing in opposition.

Thus from this background do I say: It is one thing to insult the other side within the safety of a group of the likeminded. However, in a public forum in which radically different views are being put forth, the talk, in my opinion, should center on the ideas and the discussion of same. There is a huge difference between ideas and viewpoints on the one hand, and the language used to express them, on the other. Language used to intimidate--whether from left, right, alt-right, or any other ideological or religious perspective—is not being used to actually advance discussion, persuade or examine ideas. It is being used to express hostility, in varying shades and intensities.

This is clearly not helpful to anyone, not even the speakers, though they may gain some kind of pleasure from it. So, to all, please make an argument; do not use short-hand jargon or slurs, call names or fling insults. Put ideas out there and explain why you think that way, don’t just use a variant of the sentence “those x?%$s are wrong because they’re &#@?*s.” There are plenty of forums—mostly not worth the bother of visiting-- where that is the norm already.

This forum is unique, remarkable, precious—and precarious. I would hate to see it devolve into simply another place on the internet where people express hostility and conflicting views in an unproductive manner, without coming to terms, finding solutions, learning from one another, or any of the other valuable things to be gained from a truly productive exchange of opinions—backed by thoughtful analysis, evidence, or provable facts.

2/7/17, 7:08 AM

Robert Mathiesen said...
Quos Ego wrote:

"No ones here wants a cozier or safer place. No one wants censorship. We're just asking dissensus here to be civil again."

You can't possibly know that for a fact, Quos Ego: "No one[s] here" and "No one."

2/7/17, 7:40 AM

. said...
Justin, the idea of applying limits to human migrations is a very emotive one for people. I don't think it's just the product of the US frontier mentality. It's part of the bigger issue of the religion of Progress and Man conquering nature. Limits are satanic in that belief system.

So using analogies that involve people drowning and getting their hands axed off is possibly not the best way to talk about it! Everyone needs a calm rational discussion about those limits to happen so please consider being more careful not to trigger unhelpful emotional reactions. That's my unasked for advice for the day done...


2/7/17, 8:47 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Things always seem to snap back to short term partisan politics. So let's snap that the other way again. Pretty much everyone who actually has thought about this stuff has agreed that, as resource scarcity gradually grows, suburbia is doomed. It is way too dependent on expensive infrastructure, and produces next to nothing.

Our current overhyped "red blue divide" is really a suburban urban divide. People like to characterize the red voters as rural, but they really are on average suburban. True rural residents remain as voiceless and powerless as ever. Nor are the "Reds" mostly poor; they still as of the 2016 election had incomes that were on average solidly middle class. The growth of Red America has mostly been a story of the growth of Suburban America. No point in countering with "well, *I* am not like that!" You read and comment on The Archdruid Report. This means you are not an average American voter on any spectrum.

So what happens over the coming century as suburbia slowly crumbles? The illusion of the self-reliant nuclear family collapses under the weight of unmaintained roads, decaying schools, and expensive energy for all that transportation, heating, lawn care, etc. I am not even going to hazard a guess at what the political movement is that will grow out of this, other than to say I am pretty sure it does not look very much like either of the major parties right now, nor like any of the "alt" versions of them presently in vogue.

The internet may be overwhelmed now with talk of Trumpistas and SJW Snowflakes, but I expect few will even remember those terms in another generation or two. And those across the landscape who are ferociously arguing the merits and demerits of the current political entities are not the voices of the future. They are echoes of the past that have not yet faded.

2/7/17, 9:06 AM

Quos Ego said...
@Robert Mathiesen:

Sorry for my poorly worded comment (and full of typos!).
I meant I haven't seen anyone here ask for a cozier and safer place: what's been asked is simply the return of/to good old-fashioned civility. The "blood libel" comment posted two weeks ago, for instance (I'm quoting one of the most obvious ones, but there are plenty of those these days), would never have been allowed here until the 2016 election rampage.

2/7/17, 11:24 AM

August Johnson said...
Onething, here's the statement, direct from the White House, that "Fake News" applies to any negative reporting about Trump, not just the immigration ban.


Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to President Donald Trump, said Monday that the administration will continue using the term "fake news" until the media understands that their "monumental desire" to attack the President is wrong.

"There is a monumental desire on behalf of the majority of the media, not just the pollsters, the majority of the media to attack a duly elected President in the second week of his term," Gorka, a former Breitbart editor who also holds a PhD in political science, told syndicated conservative radio host Michael Medved.

"That's how unhealthy the situation is and until the media understands how wrong that attitude is, and how it hurts their credibility, we are going to continue to say, 'fake news.' I'm sorry, Michael. That's the reality," he added


If you don't bow down to whatever Trump says, you're Fake... I guess I'm Fake...

2/7/17, 11:28 AM

Jen said...
@ Bill Pulliam, regarding suburbia

While the current suburban culture is dysfunctional and frankly repellent (to me at least) I think there is more potential there than people acknowledge. Most suburban households have plenty of space for extended families due to excessive home size, and more growing space than is available to most city dwellers--a suburban lot managed with intensive organic gardening and/or permaculture can be very productive. Lack of proximity to necessities is an issue, but honestly about all one needs is a grocery and general store, the addition of which does not strike me as prohibitive if circumstances began trending against commuter culture. Lack of proximity to jobs is more intractable, but many rural communities have few jobs and manage to hobble along with a combination of cottage economy, subsistence activity, and seasonal or sporadic work, plus maybe a person or two in the family with a "real" job, and I don't see any real reason that sort of retrenchment is out of the question for suburbanites.

2/7/17, 12:17 PM

Ed-M said...

Crikey! Looks like Blogger ate my comments.

"... there's got to be some unique future awaiting us--uniquely splendid or uniquely horrible,..."

And of course that more interesting "second class of arguments, which insist that I can’t dismiss the possibility that something might pop up out of the blue to make things different this time around."

Well industrial civilisation will definitely go througth the whole life cycle that all civilisations, stars and living things go through, but we already are going through something different this time. The uniquely splendid part is the Happy Mortoring![TM] lifestyle of American suburbanity which has spread far and wide across almost all the nations of the Earth as economically and culturally possible. It's quite the testament to its splendidness that only Cuba--so far--and North Korea and scattered indigenous peoples seem to be able to resist it. It's also a testament to its uniqueness that humanity has never seen anything quite like it before.

Oh, I know, I know, Rome had something similar: the Augustan History of Septimus Severus makes mentions of highways leading to suburban estates from the city. But Rome at its largest contained only somewhat over a million people and occupied a space of about twenty square miles, both small by today's standards, the highways were only narrow though superbly-engineered country ways, and the suburbs were open only to the top 1% of the day: the equestrians and senators. What's the difference and what makes today's industrial civilisation automotive lifestyle unique?

The extraction and burning of fossil fuels, that's what. The resultant rate of increase of Carbon Dioxide in Earth's Atmossphere is utterly unprecedented in all of Earth's [human and deep] history. This same extraction is going to make the coming bad years uniquely horrible and different from everything else in the course of human history: global warming of at least 6 degrees C in the course of a thousand years, above the heights of the present interglacial. To find something similar you have to go back to the Permian ExSTINKtion which was caused by the burning of way too much Coal by vulacanism during the icy depths or interglacial heights of the glaciation of its time. And from that "uttah disastuh" which made the planet "smell like New Joisey," it'll probably pan out to be no different this time.

n.b. when I was a little kid, my family went by car between Maryland and Massachusetts a few times, and we always went by the Jersey Turnpike. The Clean Air Act was not yet in force, and both the Secaucus Marshes and Refinery Row smelled like rotten eggs! The Donald knows what I'm talking about.

RE: your reply 2/2/17 12:30 AM to Geographist: but we don't have time for several more rounds of Caesarism! Global Weirding will put the kibosh on Human Civilisation long before then, possibly as soon as 2100 or even 2050. Go find the latest research on what happened to the weather at the end of the Eemian which was about 2 deg C warmer than today (ca 1950). It's not pretty -- so it appears we'll be looking at business as usual to the bitter end unless the fossil fuel reserves' extractability problems fully manifest themselves first.

2/7/17, 12:21 PM

[email protected] said...
On the subject of the tone of the forum, I welcome the broad range of opinions and commentators on this forum, and don't think the tone has deteriorated over the past few years. What has changed is that a broader non-left influx of readers have discovered John's blog and that appears to have upset some of the older readership who come from the left-wing end of politics.

There are lots of forums that remain a safe space for left-liberal thinking, however John has kindly allowed a unique space that allows folks from across the board to participate in discussing our future. Long may it continue!

Regarding Steve Bannon, he is a fascinating figure. The legacy liberal media have painted him as a white nationalist but this is not my reading at all. Bannon is certainly a nationalist and subscribes to a cyclical view of history, which makes him unique within the American elite. I would place him in a populist-nationalist wing of politics who subscribes to traditional values, the primacy of the nation-state and the threat posed by radical Islam. This article is rather interesting on this subject -

I also note that a new poll has come out which has caused some shock in Europe. A majority of Europeans back a ban on any further Muslim migration into Europe! It has been commissioned by the prestigious Chatham House ( Interestingly, nearly 60% of the French back a ban on Muslim migration, suggesting that the possibility of a Le Pen win is stronger than the surface polling indicates.

I have written on my blog that the most likely outcome in the coming decades will be the rise of populist and nationalist forces to power across Europe and the end of further Muslim migration into the Continent.

2/7/17, 12:30 PM

Iuval Clejan said...
Dear JMG, therefore since you are also dependent on the fruits of empire (as are we all), you must not oppose it. I suspected as much, although there were times when you seemed to be opposing it. I think the argument makes no sense actually, unless you say that what we use are not the fruits of empire, but the fruits of people and land that go through the middleman of empire. And if you think that by not having a car you are not dependent on empire, you are kidding yourself.

2/7/17, 1:14 PM

latefall said...
@Bill re suburbia

I would expect the fate of suburbia to depend strongly on local conditions. If the metropolis still produces a good or service that bring in money - I assume many of the urban areas will consume their suburban population readily. I think that is one of the defining features of urban areas: they are population sinks.

If the metropolis is not viable, I assume the question becomes what the next best option is. Probably in many cases it will remain drawing in population with (unrealistic) opportunities, and then keeping the people docile with minimal expenses. A look at Russian monotowns is perhaps worthwhile:

Urban centers that remain viable and have trade would likely see their suburban belt converge around the connecting trade routes. Also former communist countries actually saw moderate population density areas being fairly resilient due to gardening, though I can't say how much that will be paralleled in the USA. I'd say unless there is (and perhaps even with) drastic change in what kind of future people plan and strive for drugs will play a major role. Depending on the drug there are a significant variation in the details of the outcome.

The other big factor is probably going to be sanitation infrastructure, diseases, and (more relevant towards the end of that century) child mortality.

If cities can't eat people fast enough, I assume the violent conflicts are another option. If there still is a government, those conflicts can probably be arranged to happen outside the USA, but ideally in regions that are not too inhospitable to make recruitment difficult, are easy to get to, and not particularly threatening (or covered by serious alliances).

2/7/17, 1:49 PM

Phil Knight said...
I've been musing about seeing the current political divides in terms of energy. It's clear that liberal progressives seem to have a lot more energy than traditional conservatives, and even the populists. For example, they're much more motivated to hold demonstrations, proselytise, climb their way to the top of the bureaucratic/academic/media career ladder etc. I think this is really why they have conquered almost the entire cultural arena.

In turn, I think their energy derives from the religious nature of progressivism. It is clearly a creed which holds certain ideas as sacred.

What Trump/Bannon/Miller etc. appear to be doing is not attempting to counter the progressives' energy by reducing it, or matching it with their own, but instead they are encouraging the progressives to expend their energy at an excessive rate. Their method of doing this is basically by trolling the progressives by simultaneously attacking a number of their sacred values. The rights of refugees (who are living angels in progressive thought) and womens' reproductive rights (considered to be a non-negotiable done deal) are useful targets precisely because they generate such an incendiary response.

In energy conservation terms, think how little energy Trump expends in a five-second Tweet. And then consider the vast reserves of energy that liberals expend in their outraged responses. He's basically encouraging them to burn themselves out.

2/7/17, 2:03 PM

M Smith said...

"Apparently some Suberbowl fans are outraged by a Budweiser ad reminding Americans that, by and large, we are all immigrants who arrived by a process of "locomotion" from elsewhere.

I don't know about you, but I was born here. I am not an immigrant. The overwhelming majority of the people I know are not immigrants. Stop spreading the feel-good falsehood that there are no Americans. Would you smile sweetly and accept it if I said that you were not born in your country of origin, and that your nationality does not exist - merely because some refugees want to live where you do?

2/7/17, 3:54 PM

M Smith said...
Bill Pulliam commented in part,

"I do not mean telling someone that their ideas are totally wrongheaded. I mean telling someone that they are a clueless elitist or a hateful racist."

Does "raving lunatic racist" count? Because one of the commenters here posted that about me (or some combo platter of those 3 words, don't have time to search each comment on each post and gave up looking for it)late last year but before the election even took place. And what despicable, darkminded, horrid proclamation did I make that triggered the attack? It was that in running a business, my purpose is to make a profit and provide goods and services, not conduct a jobs program for single "moms". Not one person objected to his language - not talking about his opinion - maybe because he's quick to attack and ridicule others here, your posts included, and they didn't want his venom turned on them. The poster continues to comment here and I no longer read his posts.

Glad you're back. Non carborundum illegitimati.

2/7/17, 4:40 PM

Justin said...
Mallow, sure, and it's a good thing that Linkola quote doesn't play in politics!

But of course, limits also don't play in politics and the Linkola quote is fundamentally about limits. It's entirely possible that war is wired into us - chimpanzees do it after all - when resources get scarce, and what are both the Trump and Clinton camps doing but aligning themselves into two screeching tribes howling about the evils of the Other?

Phil Knight, an idea that's popular in paleocon circles is that when liberals protest or demonstrate, it is more of a victory celebration than actual conflict. Remember that nobody loses their job for putting on a vagina hat and protesting the President.

2/7/17, 4:41 PM

M Smith said...
jessi Thompson - wanted to let you know I finally installed Linux on my laptop alongside W8.1. As an unsought bonus, Libre reads MS Works files, unlike Open Office. So now I don't need a separate program to do that, or trust one of the sketchy online sites to convert my personal docs.

I used to write Unix scripts and loved it! This will be fun, and as I'm unable to rid my machine of the virus that uses my PC to send out multiple MB of data to unknown destinations, even after two reinstallations of W8.1, it's also an urgent project.

Anyway, wanted to thank you for reminding me about Linux a few months ago. It's leaner, less ubiquitous, and it doesn't feed either of the Big E-Toys players.

2/7/17, 4:52 PM

Bryant said...
@Phil Knight Its kind of intentional. I've used to work against more liberal organizations, and yes, that's a classic weakness of theirs. Its basically a lot of people with a lot of anger, but it all kind of melds together, so one of the best ways to prevent them from any effective action is to bombard them with so much stimulus that it exhausts them.

On the Right back then, I learned that we were always outnumbered - often vastly, and basically with fewer resources, but with a strong sense of genuine tribal unity and the feel of having the force of tradition behind you.

In a way, it became inspiring as the underdog. When it feels like the world is against you, all that's left is the choice to either: fight and die, or surrender and basically die inside. Of course, our ethos is to fight with a long romance toward last stands, so it continues to drive us.

2/7/17, 6:27 PM

Robert Mathiesen said...
Thank you for the clarification, Quos Ego. Though I don't remember every comment over the past ten years (who could?), I think you're likely right that the blood libel post was symptomatic of a new development here.

2/7/17, 8:16 PM

Andrew Roth said...
Calexit worries me a bit, to the small extent that it's viable under current conditions.

First, I was born in California and I vote there. I would consider it a significant hardship to be forced to choose between Californian and US citizenship, both for civic and for bureaucratic reasons. I consider both renunciation of citizenship and naturalization solemn acts that should be taken cautiously and after full discernment, not under duress. For these reasons alone, I'm pretty confident that a Calexit referendum would be defeated; it will be very easy to convince voters of the bureaucratic nightmare of secession, not to mention questions of American patriotism and what the federal government would do to militarily suppress a secession.

Second, I agree with the argument that Calexit is an attempt to keep California's slaves, i.e., its shadow workforce of illegal immigrants and other exploitable foreigners. H-1B and L-1 visa abuse is a huge problem in high tech, and the exploitation of farm workers has been an intractable problem for California's entire history as a polity, going back to the early Spanish missions. Comparisons to Antebellum slavery are hyperbolic, but barely so: there's a glaring racial and cultural angle divide distracting from an underlying class problem that no one has the courage to address, exacerbated by a linuistic divide that didn't exist in most parts of the Antebellum South. If the feds can force a humane, equitable solution to this mess, more power to them. A federal system that licentiously allowed states to make their own laws on chattel slavery by racial attainder set the stage for the Civil War, and a federalism that allows states to make their own decisions about the toleration of a peasant underclass living in the shadows with limited civil rights and liberties isn't all that much better. I really wish affluent Americans weren't so smug about this, and so willfully ignorant of our own national history.

I have similar, but less strenuous, objections to the State of Jefferson and Six Californias. The latter is a revolt of a few shady Silicon Valley elites who are offended that they're expected to contribute to public services in rural parts of the state that send them food, water, oil, and other necessities. The former annoys me because it provides a rallying point for whiny rural grandstanding, much of it by back-to-the-land types who try too hard to be country good old boys and girls. For better and (mostly) worse, I have Ashland connections, and SoJ agitprop is inescapable in the Rogue Valley. I can't stand listening to country bumpkins and city slickers acrimoniously compete for victimhood points while simultaneously trying to divert entire state and federal treasuries into their own troughs. I'm tempted to silence State of Jefferson liberals with reminders that Jefferson had slaves, but I don't want to come away feeling sleazy.

We lost a whole lot of fellow feeling somewhere along the way.

2/7/17, 9:55 PM

Ray Wharton said...

Thank you for your response to Phil Knight. Right now I am trying to encourage my liberal friends to take more productive tacts. My hope is that with the current patterns disrupted that a more useful alternative to the elitist left might emerge in the near future. Though I know you are a conservative, I hope that you too can see the value of improving the level of dialogue from the other side.

Your insights into the weaknesses of the psychology of left wing mass movements, as currently deployed, rings true to me, and gives me a lot to think about in terms of how the wheat and chafe of leftist movements might, given a lot of time and work, be separated, and that then the best of the left might be able to ally with the best of the right and oppose some right wing extremes which go too far for me.

If I remember your other comments correctly I think that your politics is well right of where I would aim, but regardless of such details, we can hope to raise the dialogue; and your perspective into counter tactics to leftist protest I believe could be turned to that end.

2/7/17, 10:08 PM

Quos Ego said...

You haven't been paying attention to what we've been saying. And your broad-brush characterization of the "old readership" of this space does disrespect to the people it wishes to so describe. What's upsetting about the current developments of this space (at least to me) isn't the ideas (God, I've been exposed to hundreds times worse), it is the utter lack of civility with which said ideas are conveyed. And this comment applies to left-wing and right-wing commenters alike.

2/7/17, 10:10 PM

. said...
@August, you're clearly a very intelligent guy. So why would it bother you what Caesar thinks of you. Why should his opinion of you arouse a feeling as strong as disgust? It's not like you respect his opinion on any other subject so why would his opinion on you raise more than an eyebrow? The Stoics were really good on this kind of subject I think.

Truth is that Caesar doesn't even know you exist and you don't literally have to bow down to him. The political deadlock and oligarchy that caused Caesar is the problem and will be the problem after he's gone. It's his supporters that you American anti-Trumpers have still got to live with when this is over. Those underlying conflicts about free trade, movement, Empire, cultural conflicts etc are going nowhere soon. And you can't negotiate successfully with them if you're distracted by your disgust with someone many of them support.


2/8/17, 12:25 AM

Scotlyn said...
@Raymond Duckling "expel"? What an idea!! Not at all! I, too, am delighted to have Dammerung here being honest. I simply am offering my honest responses in return, tho, from my end, I hold the possibility of two-way dialogue firmly open.

I found your own exchange with him particularly enlightening, too.

As to the nature of these comments, I continue to commend JMG for a policy that serves the cause of dialogue all very well.

2/8/17, 12:27 AM

Unknown said...
OT, but I just found this and its a goody. Those interested in an energy based economic interpretation of our predicament might enjoy this site:


eagle eye

ps, for what it is worth from an antipodean tradesman, among whose mates a favored greeting is "bastard", the comments here are about as tame and well mannered as is possible while still allowing dissenting views to be expressed. Perhaps cups of wet cement for the more delicate snowflakes might be in order. (my boss's (60 something yo)wife's favourite retort to us males is "have a cup of wet cement and harden the cluck up)

Keep doing what you do, JMG. You are doing a great job.

2/8/17, 1:32 AM

. said...
@Justin - what does 'doesn't play in politics' mean? Maybe it's an American expression. And what are you saying about the link between limits and conflict? Do you understand limits as just those imposed by non human nature? Because I was mostly talking about the limits that humans impose on each other.


2/8/17, 3:08 AM

Scotlyn said...
I have developed a huge interest in your journey and in the way you express yourself here. I have a feeling that if we spoke in person we would find much common ground, despite having outwardly different political priorities.

Of course violence is unavoidable, because conflict is unavoidable. But violence is also stupid, in the following sense.

If you have a goal that requires another's labour, stuff, compliance or absence, it takes study and attention and time to elicit their co-operation. (Also, you will probably have to reciprocate with a contribution in return).

Violence requires no study, no attention, no time - threaten it, or actually demonstrate it, and co-operation will be instant.

How do these differ? Well, study, time and attention are costly, violence is cheap. But on the other side of the balance sheet, the cooperation you obtain in the first way may last a lifetime (or even longer), whereas the cooperation you achieve the second way lasts as long as you can stay awake and never have to turn your back.

The difficulty I have with Dammerung's proposal is not the prospect that there will be violence or conflict. Conflict is already rife and violence is sometimes the only remaining way to settle unavoidable conflict.

But, among other things, he proposes a long-term controlled human breeding project (in order that his descendents may enjoy the gift of his blue eyes and white skin). Such breeding projects always turn on the control of daughters and their mate choices, and daughters naturally always object to having their mates chosen for them. Therefore, a determined long term human controlled breeding program ultimately requires the locking up of daughters, and the severe punishment of those who resist or escape, embedding chronic and continuous relations of violence into the heart of every family.

Is that the best use of violence you can think of?

2/8/17, 3:36 AM

Scotlyn said...
@M Smith,
I am an immigrant. I was born in one country (the USA), raised in another (Costa Rica) and settled in a third (Ireland). This history embeds me in webs of family relationships in all three places, and a history of frequent border crossings in order to be present at different times at important family gatherings in all three places.

I have no complaint at all with the existence of these borders, nor with the enforcement of the controls selected by the citizens within each country for their control. But my complicated history is not uncommon.

I am entitled to work and pay taxes in the US and in Ireland, but not in Costa Rica. My closest blood relatives (parents and siblings) live in Costa Rica and (sons) in Ireland. I have invested labour and love in the growth of gardens and the making of soil in Costa Rica and in Ireland. I feel strongly connected to family networks in the US extend into liberal academia in California, urban working class in Boston, and rural southern small townsfolk in Alabama.

Am I a foreigner? Yes. Everywhere I have mentioned, I am in some way connected, and also, in some different way, a foreigner.

Will a border ultimately sever me from important people in my personal life or from places in which I paid a tax, built a garden or raised a family? Very possibly. It has happened to people before. Sometimes a person stays in one place and a border moves, changing everything.

You are living in the place you were born, and are therefore "all of a piece". I salute you. Enjoy it, protect it, be happy in it.

2/8/17, 3:54 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
@M. Smith and Scotlyn,

M.Smith, you said, "I don't know about you, but I was born here. I am not an immigrant. The overwhelming majority of the people I know are not immigrants. Stop spreading the feel-good falsehood that there are no Americans. Would you smile sweetly and accept it if I said that you were not born in your country of origin, and that your nationality does not exist - merely because some refugees want to live where you do?"

i can't help feeling perhaps you've misunderstood what Scotlyn is saying. If one is born in America, one is American, ipso facto. I think the point is that for 99% of us, our ancestors came from somewhere else--they immigrated here at some point in the last roughly 400 years, some more recently than others, and together have made our country what it is. That process is continuing.

In the very diverse part of America where I live, plenty of people were born here, but many were not. Many of the native-born are the children and grandchildren of immigrants, including my husband. Ask the people you know about their ancestors and their countries of origin. Where did your own ancestors come from and how recently?

BTW, I didn't happen to se the ad in question because I don't watch tv and don't follow football.

2/8/17, 6:26 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Re working on the Right, and working against liberal organizations:

What does being on the Right mean to you? What beliefs do you hold that mean you are on the Right? Besides working against liberal organizations, what were you working for? What values? What beliefs? And, while I'm asking, what does liberal mean to you?

I'm asking seriously, not sarcastically or ironically. I really would like to know.

Also, you say you used to do this. What changed? (Perhaps I missed one of your other comments that would explain more.)

2/8/17, 6:35 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
M Smith -- If the poster described your statements as something that a raving lunatic racist might say, that is a legitimate argument to my mind, though expressed forcefully (FYI I am speaking abstractly, not about the specifics here; I did not dig through the archives to find the case in point). Virtually anyone can find themselves having a racist thought or expressing a racist view; racism and xenophobia are clearly part of the human constitution otherwise they would hardly be so ubiquitous in society. That does not make the person "A Racist" as a fundamental defining part of their character and decision making. But even if you are a raving lunatic racist, that does not mean that any argument you put forward is by default wrong. Raving lunatic racists can still make logical and consistent statements. And someone who is staunchly anti-racist in their beliefs can also make a coherent argument from the point of view of a raving lunatic racist. So it is irrelevant to the discussion and serves only as a personal insult. If someone wants to attack a "raving lunatic racist" statement they believe you made or an action you say you have taken, that is done by disecting and debunking the logic and morality of what you said or did, not by criticising your personal character.

Kind of amusing that argumentum ad hominem is simultaneously one of the easiest of logical falacies to spot and debunk, AND one of the most common (ubiquitous) logical fallacies in day to day dialogue.

2/8/17, 8:39 AM

Nancy Shirley said...
Bryant: I live in a very rural area in western North Carolina. The majority of people here voted for Trump. Most people here are Republican and right wing.

So it depends on where you live whether the majority is left or right.

People in rural areas understand basic survival better than people in big cities. Rural people know how to grow their own food, many have farm animals, know how to repair many things, have more community, most own guns and know how to use them, extended family usually lives nearby, are more practical, many have been in the military, etc.

In the long run I place my bets with rural people.

2/8/17, 9:33 AM

inohuri said...
Cthulhu invades Estonia!

@ 1:12

2/8/17, 9:43 AM

onething said...
The blood libel quote was regarding his circumcision and I am not exactly sure what he meant by it.

2/8/17, 10:15 AM

Raymond Duckling said...
For the sake of keeping accurate records.

The post M.Smith was talking about was "The Free Trade Falacy", from Nov 23rd. I did not comb it throughly, but my browser was unable to find any occurrences of the words 'raving' or 'lunatic' in it. There is indeed one comment directed to M.Smith which uses the phrase "I'm sorry, but your racist observations just don't wash w/me". This is not the kindest thing to say in polite company, but it is a long way from the "severed hands" and "cut throats" that have been flying around this forum of late. I won't comment on whether the label of "racist observations" was well earned or not, but the tone of that comment was assertive, IMHO.

Until our host says otherwise, you are all entitled to come and play the cry baby card here, if you wish. Just don't be surprised if someone comes and checks the veracity of your story.

2/8/17, 11:14 AM

inohuri said...
Came to realize that what I want to see here is common sense.

Then came the realization that common sense is uncommon.

2/8/17, 12:47 PM

Bryant said...
@Ray Wharton I'm not very hopeful as I see this as a zero sum game. However, I know that I probably would care less if I could have been left alone to live a more conservative life. That such has been denied to me, and basically that my dreams have been severely disrupted due to new liberal mores is extremely upsetting. In short, I was raised and followed traditional mores and expectations, I also was hoping to participate in a "societal game" that made sense to me. When the world changed, as far as I'm concerned, I felt betrayed and couldn't even seem to escape to where I could still fit in.

I do not believe that leftist movements can avoid the weakness which I mentioned. I believe its fundamental to it - any movement that seeks inclusion, by definition, will largely drift toward including a large number of hanger-ons and toxic elements. The same philosophy for inclusion usually makes it difficult for such elements to ever be removed.

@Adrian Ayres Fisher

I'm careful not to dox myself. In short, though, I was working for a much more reactionary organization that was organized against hierarchial lines. Times have changed, but recently I've gained an advisory role in another one as well. I hope to bring my experience to leverage for the cause.

As for what I believe in and wanted to work for - it meant living in a world where the ancient mores of social conduct, honor and tribe could still be honored. I grew up reading of great men: of Robert E. Lee and Hannibal, of amibition sought and desperate bloody struggles, of beauty and ideals and sacrifice. I fell in love.

Atomized individuality destroyed so much of them. For example, I would want to take pride in my identity as a man, with the implicit assumptions of being a warrior, a protector, and provider. Naturally, this would boundary that women wouldn't be able to do what I was doing. I'm quite happy with set roles. It provides me with a sense of safety, allows me to focus only on what I am best at and few things give me more serenity than a steady hierarchy.

Liberalism denies me that. I equate liberalism with maddening, insane individuality with an added slice of carebear. From a perspective of self-interest, it serves to either make it either more difficult, or to deny me of what I want. From the perspective of beauty, it choses to insult the entire tradition that I had come to love for its own modern intreptations. And from the perspective of my community, liberalism not only insults the notion of a tribe, but wants to deny that there are any tribes, boundaries, or identity except that which is self-created.

I, of course, cannot exist in such a world. Thus I would rather work with people who may even want to kill me later, than to "live" in the ugliness of a world that liberals would want to bring about. A vapid, inspid world of self-defined units where nothing is sacred, and everyone is as inoffensive, harmless, and medicated animal as your average domesticated cow.

2/8/17, 2:55 PM

Justin said...

Yeah, seriously, human breeding projects are pretty insane, and um, look at the results of breeding projects at your local pet store sometime. I mean obviously it's hypothetically possible to breed humans to improve fitness (for a particular definition of fitness) and for some particular appearance (which is just a type of fitness anyway). Of course, people, especially women who can choose their mates, practice eugenics all the time anyway. I don't think the 1930's eugenicists did anything wrong anyway, maybe some of the things they wanted to eliminate didn't need eliminating, but if we had an ever increasing resource base forever it would stand to reason that there would be no natural check on human quality.

Regarding violence, no, violence isn't easy although guns make it much simpler. You have to have the equipment and skill and willingness to risk injury and death to do violence. And there's two sides to violence: You can be violent on behalf of a community of generally non-violent people or you can be violent against a community of generally non-violent people. If order collapses, the criminal element will likely play the role of the police, for better or for worse. And of course, what is government, really, but an exquisitely sophisticated and (usually) gentle protection racket? You don't pay your taxes and the government takes away your livelihood. You don't pay the mob every Friday, your windows get smashed. But you don't need to be capable of or ready for violence at all times. It's often a good deal.

2/8/17, 4:35 PM

Justin said...
Mallow, what I mean by "doesn't play in politics" is that no politician who talked about limits would be given much of a chance these days - although maybe after the next oil shock, a politician with the right approach might succeed.

Regarding Linkola, well, another word for that that used to get bandied about a lot in 2008-9 was lifeboat ethics.

2/8/17, 4:43 PM

Justin said...

You can reach me at nfcan1989 at google mail

2/8/17, 6:10 PM

Justin said...

Completely agreed. I've frequently thought (and posted about) the fact that Peak Everything has a silver lining, and that's the physical impossibility of modernity. If modernity continued unabated, we would end up in a pharmacological-surveillance state that would make Orwell and Huxley burn their manuscripts because their visions of hell were so inadequate.

So I'm pretty sanguine about all this - it will be horrible and will probably kill me before my 'allotted' 75 years are up, but on the other hand I'll never be forcibly administered drugs to make me love Big Brother.

2/8/17, 6:30 PM

Unknown said...
So does it all come down to consciousness in the end? And, does it really matter that one does not go "there". What I mean is, is it possible to live a perfectly useful and fulfilling life without ever engaging the philosophy subject in all its depth and complexity? What is the purpose of life, anyway?

The fun on offer is endless, is it not?

off topic, you might like to take a look at the last two posts on this blog. The author bases his approach to economics on energy not finance.

A sample:
"Although I’ve committed myself to publishing a “rescue plan” for the British economy, I’m hoping that readers will accept, for now at least, a broader reading of the economic and political situation. Recent developments have yielded a specific point worth of discussion, and a general one as well.

The specific point is that extremely wealthy people, mainly from the United States, have been buying-up “survival properties” in New Zealand. Though billionaires as such are a small group, the number of American inquiries about emigration to New Zealand is running at 13,000 a month, which is six times the year-earlier level, and property prices in favoured parts of New Zealand are soaring. The most desirable properties are said to be those self-sufficient in food, water and energy, and the country is, of course, a long way from the places where nuclear war is likeliest to break out. The implication, not missed by observers such as The Financial Times, is that the rich are buying bolt-holes.

The general point is that the self-styled “liberal” elites are still in deep denial over what is happening politically. One reason for this is that the economic data available to decision-makers is disconnected from reality as it is experienced by the general public."

2/8/17, 11:27 PM

latheChuck said...
inohuri- "common sense"? Why, just yesterday my carpool mate and I were lamenting the over-use of the phrase "common sense". We both take it's appearance to mean: I've run out of logical arguments for my position, so I'll just assert that you're too lacking in "common sense" to understand my wisdom.

In slightly more detail, common sense seems to mean "I believe in only first-order effects, which are benefits under my plan." For example, it's "common sense" that if people suffering a mental illness may use guns to hurt/kill others, then we should take their guns away. And the second-order effect? Anyone who already has a gun, and intends to keep it, will never submit to a mental-health evaluation. And so some number of people who could have been treated, will not be.

It's common sense that young people are better off with more education, rather than less, so we create policies that encourage them to study. 2rd-order effect? "Financial aid" comes in the form of crippling debt. 3rd-order effect? Costs of education rise.

It's the 2nd and 3rd-order effects that make the hard problems of the world so hard.

2/9/17, 6:58 PM

latheChuck said...
re: lifeboat ethics. I remember discussing the topic as a teen, in the mid-1970s. (See Wikipedia entry on the topic.) One way to sidestep the predicament is to arrange your circumstances so as to not find yourself on a ship with a totally inadequate number of lifeboats for the number of passengers. The scenario (too many swimmers for the lifeboat capacity) is merely the end-stage of a disaster that began when the ship sailed with too many passengers for the lifeboat(s).

If we have the foresight not to get on the boat, then the ethical problems will be someone else's. However, if Earth itself is the lifeboat, then this isn't an option. On the other hand, a metropolitan area or island might be considered a lifeboat, and then we do have choices.

If we have the foresight to build more lifeboat capacity, or take on fewer passengers, then there may be no crisis.

2/10/17, 3:20 AM

Kronosaurus said...
I'm not buying it. For every "civilization" going through a cycle there are dozens of others going through cycles as well. So what? If America were to collapse tomorrow or slowly decay something else would take its place and that would be fine. As an individual, I will adapt just as Germans who were born in the 30s and survived the war simply changed their identity. It just isn't interesting to say that a particular institution or government has a finite lifespan. It's almost too mundane and obvious to be of interest. The reason we don't make a bigger deal about it is because nobody wants to live life as a complete pessimist. We know the country will die some day. Maybe tomorrow, maybe in 400 years, but if we dwell on it we speed up its happening. And btw, after Caesar the average Roman citizen probably did not think his country was in decline. Oh sure, from one year to the next he would think it was falling a part or was the best thing ever. It would have depended on where he lived in the empire and what his station was. And after the fall, if he lived in Constantinople vs Rome his belief would have differed as well. Meanwhile, while Rome was dying the folks on the steps, or in India, or in China or in the Americas would have had a completely different outlook. People all over the world simultaneously believed that the world was both on the upswing and falling apart. Heck, even in the US at this moment people hold widely differing views. In October some people thought we sucked and we needed to m"make America Great again". Then in November they thought it was all great and on the upswing. The other half had the mirror opposite beliefs.

2/10/17, 6:27 AM

Scotlyn said...
Not post topical, but of interest to the blog's overall concern with histories of decline - archaeological research has thrown up an interesting suggestion here that women in post-Roman Britain lived longer than their own female ancestors in Roman Britain. This despite (as the evidence also suggests) the influx of a numerically small, primarily male, group of warrior types, who had an outsize influence on the cultural and linguistic transformations this population underwent subsequently.

As a proto-barbarian of the female persuasion, I consider this to be a reason for mild optimism.

2/12/17, 4:40 AM

Alfredo Vespucci said...
It's all representation, which makes ourselves, or what we think of as ourselves, a representation. So then we have representations looking for meaning ,which is something more than mere representation.Maybe just being representations was what the existentialist were getting at when they asked whether they exist or not. Deep inside they felt something was missing and so they began scratching the existential itch.Their discourse began and ended with the idea, yes idea, that they are the body and that they are the intellect. That whatever is going on around this construct of body/intellect out there, will be conceived from this perspective.
The eastern philosophies delve more into answering the question ;" what is it that we are a representation of?" When they ask this question they put everything on the philosophical chopping block: the ego, the intellect, the everyday mundane mind, in fact even the body.The only reason they were able to do this is because thay had unraveled the body/intellect/ego knot. Here in the west , in most cases , the philosophies seem to hold the intellect up as the pillar upon which reality will be revealed. Maybe it would behoove us to familiarize ourselves with some of the philosophical texts; this way we will hold more than one philosophical context.This way we won't fall into the trap that Goethe was pointing out, that you need to know more than one language to know language at all.
I suggest, ,"The Pratyabhijna-hrdayam", which translates to "The Splendor of Recognition". It is one of the main texts of Kashmir Shaivism , written in the 11th century. Swami Shantananda does a great job at interpretation.It organizes reality into 36 levels ensconced within each other like Russian dolls. Also ,'The Yoga Vasistha", which through short stories presents the make up of reality from the Vedantic perspective.There are others, these are two of my favorites.

2/14/17, 1:49 PM

Lorenzo - said...

re. the theory of cyclical history,it just seems like you may have published, or commentated at length, about your views on it's validity, told about it's development, or perhaps even gone down deeper into the rabbit hole and produced your on conclusions on the basis laid out by Vico, Spengler, Toynbee and others...

but I'm pretty sure you haven't.

alas, I wish to be wrong.

2/26/17, 12:08 AM

Paul Stephenson said...
Relationship of inner and outer, nonduality - interdependent arising of mind and world

2/26/17, 10:33 AM