Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Night Thoughts in Hagsgate

There are times, at least for me, when the fate in store for industrial society can be seen with more than the usual clarity.  I’m thinking just now of the time I looked out a train window and saw an abandoned factory, not yet twenty years old, with foot-high saplings rising incongruously from the gutter around the roof; or of another time, in a weekend flea market here in Cumberland, when I found a kid’s book on space travel I’d loved as a child, flipped through the pages, and found myself face to face with the gap between the shining future we were supposed to have by now and the mess that was actually waiting for us when we got here.

I’m pondering another of those moments now, but the trigger this time isn’t a trackside glimpse or a memento in a repurposed warehouse. It’s the current flood of news stories, opinion pieces, and public statements by pundits of various kinds, all focused on one theme—the supposed irrelevance of peak oil.

Those of my readers who have managed to miss that torrent so far may find it helpful to spare a glance at this typical example of the species, which was forwarded to me by one of this blog’s readers (tip of the archdruidical hat to Hereward).  The author, Timothy Worstall, is a senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London, and a specialist in rare earth elements; he starts off by complaining that he doesn’t understand peak oil, goes on to demonstrate that fact in impressive detail, and finishes up with the sort of whopper that normally earns an F on a freshman paper in Geology 101. (No, Mr. Worstall, kerogen shales such as the Green River formation are not at all the same thing as oil-bearing shales such as the Bakken formation, and nobody yet has a viable way to extract oil from kerogen shales; I trust you provide better information to clients who ask your advice about rare earth elements.)

I wish I could say that this is an extreme example, but it’s not. Worstall has at least grasped the fact that peak oil has to do the rate at which oil can be produced, which is more than most critics of the concept manage, and his confusion between kerogen shales and oil-bearing shales—though it could have been cleared up by five minutes of research—is common among people who are poorly informed about petroleum geology.  Look at other efforts to dismiss peak oil and you’ll find worse.  The question I’d like to raise is why this outpouring of misinformation and denial happens to be in full flood right now.

It’s a very odd time for peak oil to be dismissed, all things considered. Back in the late 1990s, when the first peak oil researchers began to exchange data and forecasts, several leading figures in the newborn movement made very straightforward predictions about what was going to happen. They predicted that global production of crude oil would peak in the near future, and decline thereafter; they predicted that this would cause the price of oil and petroleum products to skyrocket, imposing severe costs on the global economy and triggering economic contraction; some, though this was controversial, predicted that attempts to replace petroleum with alternative energy sources would fail because of net energy and other noneconomic factors.

These assertions were rejected with quite some heat by the few people outside the scene who bothered to notice. Critics of peak oil insisted, first, that increasing demand for petroleum would make additional capital available for the hunt for new oil fields, which would of course be found, and thus allow petroleum production to grow indefinitely; second, that if the price of oil did rise sharply, that would simply make other energy sources viable, releasing a flood of energy onto the market that would drive prices back down; and third, that human ingenuity, the free market, or some other allegedly omnipotent force would certainly be able to find limitless new energy resources and prove all the pessimists wrong.

A decade and a half later, it’s instructive to see how those predictions turned out. The short form is that the peak oil researchers were correct while their critics were shoveling smoke. The production of crude oil peaked in 2005; the price of oil spiked to levels that pundits insisted it could never reach, and has moved raggedly upward since the initial spike and crash to today’s value well above $100 a barrel; the global economy proceeded to lurch into serious trouble, and remains in a state of perpetual crisis that nobody in charge seems to be able to understand or fix; and a series of boomlets in hydrogen, ethanol, algal biodiesel and other much-hyped alternative energy sources rose and crashed as it turned out that no matter what oil cost, they cost more. 

The current bubble in shale gas is to some extent an exception to that last rule, but it’s hardly the bonanza that the media likes to claim.  Partly, shale gas production is simply a side effect of the fact that natural gas liquids, which occur in some shale gas deposits, can be sold as a petroleum substitute at very good prices; partly, shale gas has morphed in recent years into what Wall Street aficionados call a pump-and-dump operation—a bit of dubious marketing in which operators boost the price of a stock, then sell it at the inflated price to suckers, who are sure the price will go up further and  are therefore left holding the bag when it goes down instead. (I trust none of my readers have put their life savings into shale gas companies.)

Still, there’s another factor to the shale gas bubble, and also to the boom in oil-bearing shale that has filled so many glowing headlines in recent years, and will fill so many gloomy headlines a few years further on. Both are being ballyhooed as game-changing breakthroughs, even though they’re nothing of the kind—hydrofracturing ("fracking") has been a common practice for forty years, and the Bakken shale was discovered long ago.  The fracking boom is simply one of the many ways in which the world is scraping low-grade fuels out of the bottom of the barrel, just as peak oil researchers have predicted it would. Their breakthrough status is entirely a product of hype. Behind that hype, I’ve come to think, and the comparable hype that surrounded the hydrogen economy, corn ethanol, and all the other failed pseudosolutions to our predicament, lies a very specific motive: the desire to find some reason, however fatuous, to insist that it’s all right to keep on wallowing in the benefits of today’s wildly unsustainable energy and resource consumption, instead of getting ready for the far less lavish world that’s going to follow in short order.

That motive shapes a dizzyingly large share of the collective conversation of our time. Consider the book review I critiqued in last week’s post. One of the bits of rhetoric the reviewer used to dismiss my suggestion that social change has to be founded in personal change was the claim that "you can’t end rape [just] by not raping anyone." Perhaps so, but as one of my readers pointed out (tip of the archdruidical hat here to Ozark Chinquapin), someone who claimed to oppose rape would normally be expected to demonstrate that commitment by, at the very least, not raping anyone; an antirape movement that claimed that rapes committed by its members didn’t matter, because it was working to end rape everywhere, would rightly be dismissed as an exercise in extreme hypocrisy. Yet you’ll hear the identical logic from people in a good deal of the environmental movement, who insist that they can’t be bothered to lighten the burden their lifestyles place on the planet because they’re going to save the Earth all at once.

Work out the practical implications of that argument, in other words, and it amounts to a justification for clinging to the comforts and privileges of the modern industrial lifestyle even at the expense of one’s supposed ideals. That’s also the implication of the denunciations of peak oil I discussed at the beginning of this post, of course, and there are plenty of other ways of cloaking that same desire. Whether you expect solar power, thorium reactors, algal biodiesel or some other exciting new energy source to save the day; whether you anticipate the imminent arrival of the Rapture, the Singularity, the Space Brothers, a world-ending cataclysm, or a great leap of consciousness to some higher plane; or whether you simply tell yourself, as so many Americans do these days, "I’m sure they’ll think of something"—if you look at that belief honestly, dear reader, doesn’t it work out to an excuse that lets you claim that it really is okay for you to keep enjoying whatever you see as your share of the goodies churned out by the industrial machine?

It’s here, in turn, that I glance down and see the void opening up beneath the foundations of that same machine—and it’s also here that I find myself remembering a harrowing detail from one of the favorite books of my teen years, Peter Beagle’s brilliant fantasy The Last Unicorn.

I’m not even going to try to sketch out the plot of the book as a whole.  The point that’s relevant here centers on a place, the town of Hagsgate, and its people, who are very rich. They live in the kingdom ruled by King Haggard, the villain of the story; they profit mightily from his rule, and are exquisitely careful not to notice anything that bears too closely on the terrifying evil that lies at the heart of his realm. They are also, as it happens, under a witch’s curse.

It occurs to me that some of my readers may not be familiar with the structure and function of curses. (What do they teach children these days?) The sort of thing you get in bad modern remakes of fairy tales, where someone inoffensive gets burdened with a dire fate that would not otherwise befall them, is strictly amateur stuff.  Professionals know that the curses that matter are the kind that unfold by their own inexorable logic from the actions and attitudes of the accursed.  The witch or wizard who finds it  necessary or appropriate to pronounce a curse doesn’t have to make anything happen; he or she simply says aloud the unmentionable realities of the situation, states the necessary consequences, and leaves. The efforts of the accursed to avoid falling victim to the curse, without actually changing the things that make the curse inevitable, then proceed to drive the curse to its fulfillment.

The witch who cursed Hagsgate was a thoroughly competent professional. Here’s what she said:

You whom Haggard holds in thrall,
Share his feast and share his fall.
You shall see your fortune flower
Till the torrent takes the tower.
Yet none but one of Hagsgate town
May bring the castle swirling down.

You’ll notice that, like any good curse, this one includes an escape hatch:  skip Haggard’s feast and you skip the fall, too. Beagle’s story doesn’t mention anyone who used the escape hatch, but there will have been somebody.  There always is; whether we’re talking about Númenor, the City of Destruction, the warren of the shining wire, or some other place where a curse is at work, someone’s going to walk away.  That sounds very heroic in retrospect, but that’s not the way it works in practice. In practice, those who walk away are as often as not weeping hysterically, torn between the fear of giving up everything they know and the knowledge that leaving is the only choice left for them, and trying without much success not to listen to the taunts or feel the stones flung by those who stay behind.

If, as Ursula LeGuin says in one of her best stories, they seem to know where they are going, it’s because "anywhere but here" is an easy course to chart at first. Mind you, some never even make it out the city gates; some come stumbling back to town a few days or weeks or years later; some are never seen again, and pebbles will grow into moss-covered boulders before anybody finds out exactly what happened to them; still, there’s always one, or a few, or nine tall ships sailing from Andunië with stormwinds howling in the rigging, who leave and do something less foredoomed with their lives.

It’s the ones who stay behind, though, who are more relevant to the point I want to make. It’s very easy to stay behind. Early on, when walking away is an easy thing, the threat of the curse is so far off that it’s seductive to think you can stay in Hagsgate for just a little while longer and still escape.  Later on, you’ve come to enjoy the practical benefits that being a citizen of Hagsgate has to offer; you’ve got personal and financial ties to the place, and so you come up with ornate theories packed with dubious logic and cherrypicked data to convince yourself that the curse isn’t real or that it will only affect other people. As the curse begins to work, in turn, you start making excuses, insisting that you did everything you could reasonably be expected to do, and it’s all somebody else’s fault anyway.  Finally, when the full reality of your fate stares you in the face and your last chance of escape is almost gone, comes the terrible temptation to treat the price you’re about to pay as a measure of the value of what you’ve gotten by staying in Hagsgate, and you cling to it ever more frantically as it drags you down.

Now of course a witch didn’t actually put a curse on industrial society—at least, if one did, I haven’t heard about it—but fairy tales keep their hold on our collective imagination because they contain a wealth of valid wisdom, wrapped up in a compact and memorable form.  To say that there’s a curse on industrial society is simply to use an archaic metaphor for a point I’ve been discussing in these essays since The Archdruid Report began six years ago, which is that the consequences of industrial society’s mismanagement of its relations with the planet will not go away just because we don’t want to deal with them. That metaphor has a range of relevant features, and one of them is that any effective response to the curse—or, if you will, the predicament of our time—has to begin by taking stock of the ways that each of us, as individuals, contributes by our own attitudes and actions to the mess we’re in, and then making appropriate changes.

After six years, I shouldn’t even have to say that daydreaming about running off to some conveniently unaffordable eco-homestead in the country doesn’t count.  Unless you’re in a position to do that, and the vast majority of us aren’t, that’s simply another evasion. What’s required instead is the less romantic but far more productive task of adapting in place: figuring out how, living where you live now, you can place much less of a burden on the biosphere, and help other people do the same thing. It probably has to be said that perfection isn’t a reasonable expectation here—there’s a long learning curve, and our culture and built environment place significant obstacles in the way—but a great deal can be done nonetheless  That can easily lead into activism of various kinds, for those who feel called to do that specific kind of work; it can also lead in plenty of other constructive directions.

Still, that’s not a popular message just now, and I’m guessing that it’s going to become a great deal more unpopular as industrial civilization stumbles deeper into crisis. It doesn’t require a witch’s curse to make people cling frantically to exactly those things that are destroying them and their future, just the psychology of previous investment and a few other standard self-defeating habits of the human mind.  Still, there’s the choice: share the feast and share the fall, or wake up and walk away. Which will you do?

****************
End of the World of the Week #23

Comet Kohoutek, the otherwise inoffensive deep-space snowball that provided the excuse for David Berg’s 1973 prophecy of imminent doom, was hardly the first comet to become the center of a frenzy of misinformation centered around a supposed threat to Earth’s very survival. Sixty-three years earlier, Halley’s Comet had a great many people trembling in imminent expectation of apocalypse, and it was all because of a nifty new scientific advance.

Spectroscopy, the process by which light can be used to determine the chemical composition of things in outer space, was the hot new research technology in astronomy in those days, and as Halley’s Comet came swinging along its accustomed orbit in early 1910, astronomers turned their telescopes on the tail, hoping that light passing through it would give them a glimpse of what comets are made of. The new technology performed to spec, and one of the chemicals that was detected in the tail was cyanogen, (CN)2, a poisonous gas. Meanwhile, astronomers tracking the comet’s orbit announced that the Earth would pass through the comet’s tail on May 20 of that year. 

The contemporary equivalent of the tabloid press in America jumped on those details, combined them, and announced that the comet’s tail was a vast cloud of poison gas that would exterminate life on Earth as the planet passed through it. There was quite a respectable panic in some American cities as May 20 came close. America being the land of the entrepreneurial spirit, some public-spirited souls began manufacturing "comet pills" that people could take to protect themselves from those billowing clouds of cyanogen, and they sold extremely well.

As it happens, the tail of a comet isn’t a billowing cloud of anything; it’s not far from hard vacuum, and the molecules of cyanogen in it were so widely scattered that they never posed a threat to anything at all.  May 20 passed, nothing happened, and Halley’s Comet wheeled back out to the far reaches of the solar system, leaving the manufacturers of "comet pills" richer and their customers, hopefully, a little bit wiser.

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

127 comments:

Clarence said...

"Still, there’s the choice: share the feast and share the fall, or wake up and walk away. Which will you do?"

i've already walked away once and thinking about doing it again, although i have little to walk away with. i'm not to the point of 'anywhere but here' yet, but the search for another place has not yielded a, seemingly, better place.

your weekly installments continue to be bright spots relieving the tedium of life in 'amerika'.

clarence

ofthehands.com said...

I loved this post, JMG. One of my favorites. While I'm generally convinced by your argument and am at least partly living my life accordingly (with many stumblings along the way) I still catch myself wondering at times if I'm just wrong--if somehow "they" will figure it out after all, coming up with some kind of replacement fuel and keeping this bizarre way of life going. I don't think that with any particular hope, though. While I certainly don't look forward to a life with significantly less available energy and resources and significantly more hardship, I can't see any long term way forward with the current arrangement. Even if we came up with some new, magical fuel, we'd still be stripping the planet and its life systems far too bare. There has to be a reckoning and while I don't look forward to it, I think it needs to happen.

What I really find quite amazing on a semi-regular basis these days is the fact that it actually seems to be happening. As you note, what we would expect to happen if peak oil is true is more or less what is happening: plateauing oil production, increasing energy prices and global economic turmoil. It's weird, then, that I can still wonder on certain days if I'm wrong about all this. That's the disconnect between the fantasy of sudden collapse and the reality of the long, slow grind of catabolic collapse.

I suppose that's also the disconnect between the knowledge of that catabolic collapse and the vast majority of society and culture screaming at you that you're wrong.

Anyway, this is a helpful post for me this week. I've been mired in some bad habits and the resulting funk over the last few weeks, but I'm starting to get back on track. Along with my continued work as a farm hand, I'm getting back to my blog writing with renewed vigor and I'm getting my garden going. Sixty row feet of potatoes went in recently, along with another row of tomatoes in the hoop house and some greens. More yet will go in soon, when the suddenly-foul weather turns a bit less harsh. Other homesteading activities are on the docket, as well, and my regular work will be ratcheting up as the summer season gets into full swing. As Sharon Astyk's said, "The only antidote to fear I know is good work." That's some fine wisdom that's served me well.

Joel

AA said...

Thank you for explaining what a curse is and the dynamics of how it works. In general I find your elucidation of esoteric terms the most insightful part of your posts.

Ramaraj said...

Dear JMG,

Glad you finally said it outright. It's long past the time to be subtle.

Here in India, I have found that disengaging from the affluence of industrial society is challenging for two reasons.

First is, almost next to no one here seems to be cued in to the eventual fate of industrialism. In fact, the popular thinking is that it is "India's turn" to become the next superpower to replace America. It is such an uphill task to talk people out of it, that I have given up. The mass delusion is mind numbing, to say the least.

The second reason is, there is a substantial amount of coal and other resources that yet to be exploited, that could keep up current lifestyles for next twenty years. People are fixating on these as the solution to the problem. Once these are exhausted, we will end up just where Europe and America is now.

Preparing for a deindustrial future includes two different components, I have found. First is to establish a lifestyle that is sustainable. Second is to preserve the cultural narratives and knowledge that made life sustainable in India for several millennia. It is second one I find the most difficult. In just a span of twenty years, the cultural narratives have all but vanished from people's lives and minds, fueled by consumer culture and urban migration.

Luckily, I was brought up with an emphasis on simple living. Almost everything that you have written on this blog resonates within me. Your blog is the one of the few things that gives me the strength to resist the pressure to conform, and do the right thing.

Ramaraj

John Michael Greer said...

Clarence, in most cases the other place that needs to be found is metaphorical, not physical -- thus my comments about adapting in place. Might be worth considering.

Joel, glad it's helpful. The simple act of continuing to do the right thing, even when the rest of the world insists you're wrong, is the key to the whole process. ("Simple," of course, does not mean the same thing as "easy.")

AA, glad to be of assistance. I wish I had the spare time to write more on the theory of magic, but a good deal of my writing time needs to go to projects that will pay the mortgage, which that won't, and most of what's left over has to go to my two existing blogs.

John Michael Greer said...

Ramaraj, very well put! I wish more people in your country -- and mine as well -- paid attention to Gandhi's economic ideas, which were very far ahead of their time, instead of the ideology of perpetual growth that's dragging the US down. I also wish that more people were attentive to those narratives and techniques you mention, which will be crucial in the years and centuries to come. Still, we can at least do our best.

consciousblogger112233 said...

JMG
I am glad to read your blog.It helped me to understand why there are so many economic problems in world today.
Ramraj,India's industrial revolution is a farce.Almost 90 % crude oil is imported.The unexploited resources like coal,natural gas won't last longer if they have to replace crude oil completely.The coal is of very poor quality and can't even be mined.Even Reliance Krishna godavari natural gas won't last longer than 10 years at full consumption levels.So continuing industrial revolution longer than 10 years seems unlikely since western countries will always be first to get their majority share of declining crude oil.
Just yesterday,our petrol prices have gone upto Rs 79 per liter i.e. approx $5 per gallon.
I agree with you about simple living but increasing population will be huge dampner.
let us see

jleagan said...

Great piece. It resonates heavily with much of the same things I've been thinking about, and telling people about as much as I can (even while people seem oblivious or dismissive about it even when you lay things right in front of them).

This is gold: "the consequences of industrial society’s mismanagement of its relations with the planet will not go away just because we don’t want to deal with them". One of those perfect concise summaries, right along with Kunstler's line about suburbia being the greatest misallocation of resources the world has ever known.

As it happens, I just read that piece of astounding nonsense you mentioned in the Telegraph, because it had popped up in the Drumbeat feed on The Oil Drum. It's just as you said; absolutely jaw dropping, and yet, not unusual.

With the extra kicker to those kinds of pieces of determined deluded nonsense being, again, as you said; almost invariably those kinds of "oil problem? what oil problem?" items proceed to prove, in some way or another, how serious the situation actually is.

I mustn't ramble at length and restate everything you've been saying in this and recent posts, but another thing or two here..

The attitudes and nonsense of the Republican, tea partier, Fox News crowd and the "drill baby drill" crowd need no comment. But I also see too much of other cliched avoidance among people I know who consider themselves as neatly aligned with anything they consider "progressive" politics. Like, in regarding things like the nightmares of tar sands and fracking for natural gas, they (rightly so) object to the destructive problems involved, but then go on and chant the usual stuff about "we need to replace fossil fuels with green renewable energy", et cetera, like, we'll just swap stuff, and hey, we're good. I'm running out of ways to try to tell people "DUDE, you're still not getting the picture here".

Keep up the good work.


JLE

http://jleagan.wordpress.com/

Chris said...

My daughter, husband and I recently enjoyed the flavour of The Last Unicorn. First the book, then the movie.

I think one of the other aspects of the story touched on how a single unicorn who had absolutely everything (the world, freedom, everything but more of her own kind) still lacked the ability to feel love. She learned that, ironically, by becoming human. Another enchantment of a different sort, only I'm sure it must have felt like a curse to the unicorn, all the same.

To the gist of the post however on sharing the feast and sharing the fall, I don't want to underplay the reality in context. Because just as the last unicorn's fate was to take part in humanity, to learn to love, pretty much everyone of her kind were locked up in the sea nonetheless. Are we those in the town sharing the feast of a tyrant, or are we locked up in the elements with no choice but to be driven back into the ocean - where all the unicorns were being held captive?

Freedom only seemed a choice for the last of her kind, the rich boy who was in love, and the ideological wizard who bumbled about making spells they didn't fully comprehend. Sounds like a comical farce, but could be more closer to the truth than first realised. And I mean that about green wizardry, rather than individuals in present company. ;)

I may not have added anything beneficial to the discussion, but it was interesting looking at the book in a different way. :)



but it came at a price. They could neither dwell as a unicorn (ambillivant to the world around them) but neither could she habitate the realm of humans again.

Unknown said...

I live in England.

Here, the resources to support life are brought by the system.

At an individual level I don't have £millions to buy land, so walking away is to sign my death warrant. How do I eat, outside the system and unable to grow produce?

At a national level - there is not enough farm land to support the population. Food is shipped in. This has been so for over 100 years here (in World War 1 the UK was almost starved into submission, by Germany's submarine war against shipping). And the population now is at least 2.5x as large as then.

My game plan is: to die. Just like many others will have to do.

Population at these levels is unsustainable.

Steve

Thijs Goverde said...

Oh, mashed white elephants! Why did you go and mention Leguin? now I want to track that quote down... (slaps own fingers) Naughty Thijs! *Can't* read all your LeGuin book right now! Work to do!

Erm... Is it from The eye of the heron? That would certainly fit the theme of your post (which was excellent again)!

By the way, while it may be true that the dismissal gets shriller (I don't follow the media to the extent of being able to know it is) I find it increasingly easy to explain Peak Oil to my acquintances.
"Oh, it's just this old idea that oil production would stop increasing, leading to higher energy prices, which would be followed by a worldwide economic crisis and political unrest in the Middle East, sort of thing, you know?"
Gross simplifications, I know, but they do watch the news and they are usually interested enough at this point to listen to a more detailed explanation.
Which, alas, is not the same as being ready to walk away from the curse.
Only just taking the first baby steps myself, actually.

Oh, and this walking away metaphor is excellent for use as a mantra when my progress doesn't go as fast as I would like: "Remember you're tying to walk a very long distance whilst staying put. Is it surprising that this is difficult?" Because I think one of the reasons people dream of physically walking away and staring again somewhere in the woods is that they realise the temptation to partake of the riches of western society is so much harder to resist when you see these riches all around you.

Bill Blondeau said...

Um...

"The witch or wizard who finds it necessary or appropriate to pronounce a curse doesn’t have to make anything happen; he or she simply says aloud the unmentionable realities of the situation, states the necessary consequences, and leaves."

Let's see:

Saying unmentionable realities aloud? Check.

Stating the necessary consequences? Check.

Leaving? Oh, I certainly hope not. The Archdruid Report is far too valuable on too many levels. Among other things, I'm cautiously starting to use your writing as an example of how writing should be done.

Simply as an instance of the craft, this post is one of your best yet. Besides its substantive merits - and they are many - I think it's a once-in-a-lifetime privilege to see someone so deftly put the "curse" in "recursive".

Odin's Raven said...

Peak Civilization is a more troubling concept than Peak Oil, and we are well on the downslope.

Odin's Raven said...

Regarding what isn't taught any longer, here's a story about the standard that was expected in Kansas schools in 1895:
http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/quizzes/8thgrade_test.cfm

Odin's Raven said...

Here's an article decrying the lack of a sensible energy policy by the British government. Comments suggest hot air from politicians could be a viable source.
http://raedwald.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/sun-and-moon.html

Ian O said...

Do I hear echoes of the Jews who had the courage and foresight to leave everything they had and were and flee Germany in the 30's?

Trouble is, we have no "somewhere else" to flee too, we have to escape ourselves.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

The magic is really coming thick and fast now in the media over here. I'm having serious trouble trying to work out what is PR and what is an actual informative and objective article. A few years back, I learned to my dismay from a reliable source, that most fall in the PR category.

From a bigger picture though, peak oil being a predicament rather than a problem, it is really hard to steer a course. I don't know the future.

For example: I'm constantly improving the top soil here in various ways and also collecting diverse plant material knowing that it is an investment in the future food production capacity of the land. It is also genuinely saving me money on my food bills and it gets more resilient as time goes on.

But, is that a good use of my time? I don't know. Should I be doing something else? I don't know. Am I missing anything? I don't know.

The upshot is, that to do anything different from the rest of society is to choose a difficult path and you will face a bit of approbation from the rest of society. Society works towards conforming its members and I'm already considered to be mildly eccentric, although harmless.

It is interesting too, because I have decided in the past day or so to cut ties with the community group that I am involved in. Society is dysfunctional and the group is a mirror of that same dysfunction but just in miniature and I see no sign that things will improve. There will probably be some personal consequences for me, but I have considered the decision for over 2 years now, so it is not a hasty decision.

There is a good reason why 90% of multiple occupancies (communes, whatever) fail and it is because society must evolve naturally in order to be cohesive. It can't just be magically be invoked with a disparate set of people. A village must evolve naturally with mutual obligations to be sustainable.

One of your best posts too. Good work.

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Justin,

You are right, it is fried chicken! Nice one.

Hi DeAnander,

Yep, growing your own food is difficult as it is a whole new skill set that has to be practiced. Much respect for your journeys.

Out of the food, energy and shelter equation, I worry mostly about the food aspect. Hungry people do unpleasant things.

Hi Joel,

You're on the right track mate.

Regards

Chris

Jason said...

Ah, Omelas! Homme Hélas! Great story... another relevant Le Guin from the same period is Things.

But what keeps going through my head is:

Hy Brazil is sinking

... from Erik the Viking. The last 10 seconds say it all. :)

I'm no expert on people like Derrick Jensen, but has he really not made any changes in his own lifestyle nor recommended any to others? It seems bizarre. What does he do all day? :)

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

I read the Telegraph article and I'll also point out that the author has no idea how much oil is used in industrial agriculture and transport.

The RAND Corporation whom the author quotes would have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

RAND Corporation

Given that the population of the UK has gone well beyond its carrying capacity and is a net importer of food, I would have thought that peak oil would have been of strategic concern – or at least of passing concern to the population?

Regards

Chris

dragonfly said...

I agree with you that adapting in place is the way to go, and I thank you for elucidating what a curse really means. I lived under such a curse for a long time, I finally walked away, and I look back to see good friends still struggling with that curse. Having already tried, I know there is very little I can say or do to convince them to just walk away.

I have ended up in a part of my country that has never really benefitted from industrialism and has borne the political and economic burden of being largely fishing-and-farming based. People here are cynical about things ever changing for the "better", and so spend their time on friends, family, survival, and music. Rich musical culture here. This place is still very much tied to our current economic and political system, but I cannot help but feel that there is an underlying strength here that will tide folks over a lot of rough times. And if we are all going down, these are people I will go down with.

Don Plummer said...

"...curses ...unfold by their own inexorable logic from the actions and attitudes of the accursed... The efforts of the accursed to avoid falling victim to the curse, without actually changing the things that make the curse inevitable, then proceed to drive the curse to its fulfillment."

Fascinating! Thanks for this explanation. While reading this, I immediately thought of the story of Oedipus. Again, fascinating!

Back to the pesudo-apocalypses--although I knew that the earth passed through Halley's tail in 1910, I never heard the story of the "comet pills" or the panic.

It's interesting, too, that Halley's much-anticipated return in 1986 turned out to be a dud. I remember driving my then six-year-old son out into the country and away from city lights early one morning to catch a glimpse of it near the horizon.

Source_Dweller said...

Impeccable argument as ever, Archdruid. Further to last weeks comment, my poster boy selection illustrating your thesis on activism, George Monbiot, having discovered that his own house was an environmental disaster, finds that the estimated cost to winterize is in the order of 20,000 pounds. His decision? To do nothing, on the basis that the expense would not add to the house market value; instead, if he had the money, he would prefer to invest in a windmill on a hill. Not having the details of his British house construction, it's hard to determine if adding insulation is a DIY operation or not. North American wood frame houses are not that hard to upgrade. Strange logic, to my mind. Another factor I think is at play in his case, and probably in a great many others, and that is the general white collar disdain for getting one's hands dirty, which however is pretty well a given in any kind of green wizardry. This sense of (British/Western)entitlement is, I guess, what you are driving at, and leads to all sorts of Panglossian behaviour. Centennial approaches, much to do.
Robert

Jason Heppenstall said...

Ah, the Daily Telegraph. What was once a fairly respectable small c conservative newspaper now employs a small army of fanatical bloggers who keep its ageing readers topped up with their daily dose of vitriol. I have noticed, of late, that various newspapers (in the UK at least) have a list of hate targets. Presumably the editor sends around memos encouraging the writers to attack anything on the list with extreme prejudice. The right wing Daily Telegraph’s seems to be as follows: renewable energy, global warming, Facebook, single mothers, the people of France and Germany, the euro and any minority (apart from the aristocracy).

I’m guessing that peak oil has been bundled under the category of ‘renewable energy’ and ‘climate change’ – hence the paid-for rant.

Interestingly, I’ve identified the ‘liberal’ Guardian’s hit list as follows: religion (except ‘moderate Islam’ – which is encouraged), banking, George Bush and the current government. To disagree is to be excommunicated from their discussion boards as I recently found out when I posted a (polite and in my opinion well-reasoned) remark that I didn’t think the Archbishop of Canterbury was the devil incarnate. I was immediately blocked from posting comments on the website – no reason given - although those that filled their posts with profanities and masked threats remained allowed to keep posting (and getting hundreds of 'likes').

Furthermore, all newspapers in the UK are very supportive of more nuclear power and boosting economic growth. Just yesterday The Independent’s leader was entitled ‘No Alternative to Nuclear Power’. So no surprises there.

What I get from all this is that any reasoned discussion quickly degenerates into hard binaries which then prevent any further reasoning and seize up all discussion. People then become tribalised in their opinions and, just like in the democratic electoral system you outlined the other week, the major newspapers trade constituencies between themselves to keep their circulation numbers up.

Another reason to take the MSM with a pinch of salt.

Twilight said...

Perhaps there were a few in Hagsgate who understood the curse and how it worked, but were unwilling or unable to walk away regardless. Maybe they had loved ones who would not or could not go along, prior commitments they'd made that they were unwilling to abandon. So they ate as sparingly as they could at Haggard's table, went through the motions of their daily routines, coached and hinted and taught what they could, and kept a wary eye for the storm they knew would come.

Perhaps they understood that they'd passed the peak of their own lives, and while much time was potentially left that their own survival was not the only thing of importance. It is nice to think that as things fell apart in Hagsgate and a few young stragglers made for the gates, that there were some who understood and helped them along the way.

There are many roles to play in what will come, and sometimes we are felled regardless by things we foresaw clearly. I have no idea if I'll make the gates in time, nor even if my efforts will help those (few) who do. But that is a reality of life – we don't get to know ahead of time how it will work out, and in this case no one will be around long enough to find out.

After thinking about this endlessly for years since understanding peak oil (and the related climate change and social and economic dislocations), adapting in place is the only strategy I can see that is of any use. My actions may be of no impact whatsoever, or someday they may provide that most tenuous of threads that is often the only thing that keeps someone going.

ando said...

JMG,

I used to dream about that rural farm until started reading your report and Sharon Astyk's blog. I have been adapting in place for some time now. Speaking of which, gotta go paint.

Another magical essay, by the way.

namaste,

ando

Rashakor said...

What they comtemplate they immitate:
Third-worlders have looked across the fence for more than a century at the industrial "North". They look without seeing the faustian bargain that it is, which is most ironic because most of the drawbacks of industrial civilization are every day live in the exploted 3rd world.
What Ramaraj sees in India, I saw at length in Mexico. They think they are next, yet dont realize that at the moment they are actually the lackeys of the imperial power.
There will be no respite and I am afraid that the fall will be even harder in the "global South".

James M Dakin said...

Bravo! The Druid Dude has such a talent for politely telling folks their head is up their butt, I must applaud. All our blather is largely irrelivent now, but perhaps one or two fence sitters can save themselves after being politely reminded that while staying a Cheerio offers a constant temp and a womb like setting, it also hinders your view.

Edde said...

Good morning John Michael,

THANKS! Again, this week's post is apropos to my current situation here in what was once counter-cultural intentional community-ville.

I intend to recapitulate the tale, including the curse, as a way to point to the fact that what was once our '70s response to constant growth and consumerism has now returned to mainstream mindsets and demands.

Surprisingly, I find myself among the FEW here who internalized those lessons and have thoroughly personalized them in my every day life.

edde

GHung said...

JMG: "It’s the current flood of news stories, opinion pieces, and public statements by pundits of various kinds, all focused on one theme—the supposed irrelevance of peak oil.

Those of my readers who have managed to miss that torrent so far may find it helpful to spare a glance at this typical example of the species..."

I'm guilty on occasion of confirmation bias, seeking reinforcement of my beliefs (that it's not my imagination) that many (most?) of my contemporaries are, indeed, desperate to continue the consumptive ways to which they are entitled. How do I continue to be motivated away from the BAU nightmare into which I was born? Where do I go when I need assurance that this isn't some alternate reality? Why, to the land of confirmation bias. Some of the comments are enlightening.

My wife calls it "online slummin'", but it's more like occasionally going to the big city just to remind myself of why I don't like big cities. It's also a reminder that, when the curse runs its course, many, many people won't handle it well, and many others will fall victim to the ignorance that is so pervasive these days. I'm not sure how to deal with that part of the process, but am aware that it's often the messengers that get shot first. I've been toning my message down a bit lately, at least on the local level. Time grows short...

William Hunter Duncan said...

JMG,

I walked away four years ago, with a particular emphasis on re-establishing a relationship with plants. Consequently, I have very little anxiety about a collapsing industrial society, though I have no illusions about what is to come.

I confess though, I get stuck, trying to imagine how a collapsing industrial society is going to properly decommission any of the existing oil and nuclear facilities, as they feed the economy and are sustained by it. It is a profoundly vulnerable place we have put ourselves in, the means in place to cover the seas with oil, and inundate so much of the landscape with radiation. I don't see any way around it but an intentional simplifying of lifestyles across the west, but of course, most of humanity can be counted on, I expect, to deny collapse right up to the moment of their collapse induced death.

www.offthegridmpls.blogspot.com

Wolfgang Brinck said...

The American Southwest is a rich museum of boom and bust from the Indian cliff houses to the abandoned mining towns to the denuded landscapes left behind by hydraulic gold mining. What all the ghost towns have in common is that during their boom times, they were built with outside capital to exploit the local resource. Once the resource was gone, whether it was water, gold or Borax, people simply walked away and went elsewhere because there was an elsewhere to go to, places that had a culture and an economy that wasn't based on a single, one-time deposit of a resource.
What is different with the oil boom from the other localized booms is that it has overextended the entire culture with such pervasiveness that there isn't a single place in the country that won't be impacted by its decline. In other words, there is hardly a single place in the industrialized world that one can pick out where one can escape to when the oil boom is over that won't be in a state of bust.
I am not pessimistic about the future. People are resourceful. Once they see that the supposed someone who will find a replacement for oil doesn't exist, they will be able to make the next leap. Actually, it won't be a leap. You will be able to stay in place and the future will come to you. You won't have to write a blog about it. You will be living it. And the reality of a low energy present will leave no alternative of wishful thinking. We will all have to watch the curse unfold and realign. Perhaps there will be some cargo cults who will create shrines of the cast offs of our material culture, piles of cars, TVs and ipads and pray to them for a return of prosperity, but I suspect they will be in the minority. The rest of us will be busy realigning or starving and those of us who saw it coming will get tired of telling others that we saw it coming, that we were early adopters of the low energy life style. Besides, nobody will want to hear it.
I think the best preparation for the future is a cheerful disposition, an adaptive attitude and a lack of nostalgia for the glorious past.

Ing said...

In having conversations with my teenaged daughter about our circumstances and how these are not everyone's circumstances I find myself thinking quite a lot about what they afford us physically, mentally and emotionally. We are not rich by this nation's standard, but we are privileged and have many opportunities we may not otherwise. It's not a sure thing that if we were poor I'd have the mental and emotional wear-with-all to decide my life's course, or even my experience of it. She's asked me what class we are and I don't have an answer for that really. By our income we might be lower but I feel middle class as our needs are met and then some. Is that a function of internal dynamics or is it in part due to having opportunities that may have been subsidized by the way our society is set up? I don't know. There's poor as we were early on that meant figuring out how to make the grocery budget cover the whole month and then there is grinding poverty which, thanks to a devoted parent, we didn't slide into. I reference that experience often when I contemplate the descent ahead of us. There is no devoted parent to spare us from the slide, so what is the best way to prepare? I have wondered if being poor when most of the whole country will be experiencing a lowering of their standard of living would be significantly different than being poor in a rich society and I think it might be simply because the societal systems and machine contributes greatly to the grind. However, the collapsing of those systems could be disastrous for anyone, particularly those already living on the edge, stair step decline or no.

Back to individual efforts...we still find it very difficult to not be grid tied, so to speak. To further what is probably a limited analogy, I don't know if we can set our lives up in such a way that we can be somewhat tied into the grid and yet be able to keep in reserve enough resource (financial or otherwise) to make our lives manageable when a time comes that we aren't receiving from the system in the same way. Perhaps this is made more difficult by having children in public school. Plus we still have to go out into the world to make an income to pay for things that require money; we can function partially in the informal economy but still have a great deal of interaction with the formal economy. As a side note, the bills in the formal economy tend to be constructs such as taxes, insurance and the like and its the bare and more vulnerable necessities that have more freedom of movement in the informal economy such as some food, raw materials for making things, even social contact and leisure (though most people don't see that as a necessity). We have not yet been able to see past our cars, although I do try to wrap all driving into one go so that there's less waste. Biking might work but it's a challenge being five miles from a small town and twenty two from a large market town. Still thinking on how we can reduce the complexity and abstraction in our daily lives.

As usual, more questions than answers and more contemplations than conclusions.

Bill Pulliam said...

To repeat one of my own personal themes, you can only control one person's actions: yourself. Just because you cannot abolish slavery, does not mean you should not free your own slaves and try to learn how to live without them.

My neighbors think I am crazy for not accepting their offers of gasoline-powered rototillers and bushhogs. It may seem especially strange since I still drive to town, use grid electricity, etc. But I want to see that I can grow food without gasoline, and that is the step I am on now. Someday it will advance to bicycling to town (though that may wait until the number of cars on the roads drops dramatically, for personal safety reasons). And we're working through a gradual evolution from electric resistance heating to active solar, someday in theory to locally generated electricity to drive the fans. It does not have to happen all at once; indeed while there is still time it's a perfect opportunity to wean rather than go cold turkey. Much better to pack up and move out of Hagsgate in your own time via your own choices than to be fleeing it in panic as the torrent takes the tower.

kristiina said...

The issue of spells has been something I've thought about quite a bit. Not that many things I'd want to make a spell on. But there's one that I have endorsed with all I have:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=d84vMJBF5Yc
To me this spell puts a finger on something that needs to be expelled from this world in all forms: slavery. When I first heard this, I wondered why it seems to me so important - Finland has not had a system of slavery in place. But as I thought about it, I realized that there's inner and outer slavery, and I could still find inner slavery in myself. Now (I think about a year and half with working this spell through my system) it seems to me that cutting the inner chains is reflected in the outer reality, too. But I do think that enslaving (over-using, abusing, forcing etc) the nature in the world and the nature in ourselves is a core issue. There are obvious benefits to being a slave. The intoxicating soma of being an innocent victim is maybe one of the most difficult to shed. It is not my choices but the circumstances that make me live this way... This particular subject is so interesting, that I'd want to write a book about it, but the horse is waiting: a teacher in exploring the life without slavery. Synchronicity seems possible if one is able to suspend certain circuits. Not fluent in this yet, but there are results.
So, yes, there is a lot to do for those who want to sail on other winds. But it is not slavery. I think one part of the popularity of slavery is played by fear. I don't know how it has been possible to play on people's fears of survival to such an extent that the richest in the world are willing to give away most of their lives for a little illusion of safety. Spells - or curses, in this case - are whirling all around, as the Archdruid has pointed out earlier. I'd suggest the name of spell for situations where the just deserts are called upon to befall on those who have done wrong, and curse to be used when some intention of abuse - like in advertisment - is being made. I don't know who has let out the curses of stupidity, baseless fears, sleepwalking through life and missng the point, but all that will be going back to the sender.

Andy Brown said...

Humans are social animals (or herd animals when we're feeling less charitable). Leaving the party alone is well nigh impossible for just about everyone. Even with the virtual community of the internet, or real but still, for most of us, un-encompassing community of activism or alternative-ism, most of us are going to continue to have a couple of hooves in the herd - until we can create our own. But now I have to go, because there is a turkey scratching in my potato patch. And where there is one, a half dozen more are likely to follow.

Richard Larson said...

Good post. I studied Austrian Economics in the early eighties and agree in principle. The problem lies in many (or all?) of those who succeed are not satisfied with serving the market, in thier fortune rising and falling with needs and desires.

Just as in this current industrial economy, they make a deal with Haggard to protect their gains from the natural order. But the natural order always wins, and the continued forestalling of the natural process always leads to an ever harder adjustment.

Ahem... This particular economic Hagsgate has never forestalled the natural order as much as this current one has.

Now I know I have been casting spells all along since that long winter of learning. Wizard. In this blog you have cast a Hagsgate curse...

Unknown said...

Anybody who has read even parts of Issac Asimov's Foundation Series (see Wikipedia) about the decay of a galactic civilization and the efforts to salvage something out of it will see parallels to our times. I never thought, when I read the original 3 books as a teenager, that we would have our own version of Hari Seldon and the Second Foundation in the person of JMG and the Green Wizards. ...You've made my week!

dennis said...

The parallel between the curse of global warming and the curse of peak oil leaves me wanting to take the next rocket ship off planet.

Jim R said...

Yet another splendid essay. You have me looking forward to Wednesdays.
Global Warming is another topic that inspires a whole cult of denialism, despite the fact that the arctic is melting at an astonishing rate by historical standards, and in an eyeblink by geological ones. By now it is obvious that it will run its course and that rainfall and other seasonal patterns will be permanently changed.

Similarly, changes in the economy are vehemently denied by those who benefit most from the current arrangement.

The bottom line, I think, is that the MOTU, and lesser groups, would like the status quo to continue, and will engage in wishful thinking, self deception, and in the end shouting, in an effort to make it happen.

Lauren said...

Hello JMG - year long reader. I have some acreage in S. Texas which is becoming hotter, drier and dotted with oil/gas wells that may indeed ruin our groundwater at some point. We have 2,000 gallon capacity in rainwater catchment cisterns, another 1/4 acre ground tank - ll of which may or may not be enough in 30 years. My husband and I are becoming older (imagine that!) and my adult son, who with his girlfriend & young daughter will probably live here eventually. He grows most of his family's food in an urban setting & his GF works as a baker within walking distance of their home. Currently hubby & I grow our own dairy, poultry & eggs, veges and beef. We also have a 7 kWH solar array in place, mostly tied to the grid bu a second inverter fuels a battery bank.

All other family consume at breakneck speed & "don't believe" in peak oil.

I am seriously considering offering up long-term, low cost ($1,000 a decade?) leases to start a commune or monastery or some kind of community for 10 or 15 families. Don't have a clue where to start and feel some magic will be necessary to begin as want the community to be sustainable and peaceful. Your comment would be welcome.

Nick said...

JMG,
Do you think there is even a snowballs chance in hades that we could turn our societal DNA script of growth and progress into something else? Can't we dress up the ecotechnic future with bells, whistles, and buzzwords that Chanel all that wasted energy on destructive industrial growth towards techno-ecological integration.
Sell the reintegration of technology with ecology as the final frontier of human development or some such. I know you think that window came and went in the 70's but even if your sober advice is spot on people won't buy it without some sales gimmick. Isn't there some better way to package and get people on board??

Myriad said...

This quote by Italo Calvino (from Invisible Cities) seems more than fitting:

"The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."

L said...

Great post, thank you!

One could perhaps say that is was Ned Ludd who put the curse on industrial society.

Ivan Lukic said...

John,

Here is a little comment from far away Serbia. Recently my father, who is 80, living as retiree in the village of his birth, told me that geologists crossed his village using various techniques for discovering oil fields. Of course, there is no oil in my fathers village. Serbia has its own oil production which is about 25% of its needs, but that oil will soon be gone. Natural gas found in Serbian deposits is already gone and empty holes where it once was are now used for storing Russian gas. Everything there was is discovered a long time ago. The reality of peak oil is easily visible for anyone who wants to see it.

Did you know that Serbian scientist Milutin Milankovich, creator of important theory of climate, in the late 50s, at the end of his life wrote about peak oil theory? In those times only very few people realized how important that theory is.

As for the scientists these days, I feel comfortable while they just lie for the money, and hope that some of them do not invent some new Ice 9.

Nano said...

It is almost a deja vu for me. About 23 years ago, give or take, my parents left a crumbling Venezuela for Canada; in order to provide a better life for all of us. Some family members ridiculed, some understood. Now 23yrs, I live in the US, and I am seeing, slowly but surely the same patterns I vaguely recall living. Difference is, that there is no better place to move to, other than the backyard and making it work for us and our community.

I would bet good money that I am not the only one whom has experienced this.

Nano said...

It seems as if the system has a built in self destruct mechanism. I have stated here that the current path we are living in, I have seen, although with the eyes of a teen, in Venezuela. I was also lucky enough that my parents emigrated to Canada and today I find my self in Texas.

Main difference now is that there is no "better" place to go to. We are global in such a way that the fall hits us all.

What then indeed but to build the local community,plan ahead and/or move where like minded folk congregate.

Bill Pulliam said...

Re: Derrick Jensen, I have said it before: why does he not have a beard?

He can't even make this smallest personal sacrifice to express his deep revulsion with industrial society by forsaking the daily face depilitation via finely tooled hardened steel. And no, he is not genetically glabrous, older photos of him with ample stubble exist.

Maybe his concern is with remaining "acceptable" enough not to jeopardize his speaking fees?

And don't forget his precision 4-color printed sweatshirts. Shouldn't he be in homespun and buckskin?

I suppose his steel mills, coal-tar dies, and industrial looms run on faerie farts.

I may not be in buckskin either (though I did spend all of last weekend that way; missed you at PUF yet again JMG, I request you every year), but I am not on an international crusade advocating for the active overthrow of all of modern life.

Justin said...

Cherokee,

Some people have to learn that the only healthy thing to do about fried chicken is walk on by and pick up a vegetable. I was once fried, as soon as I got un-fried I also stopped being such a chicken.

My biggest worry is the militarization of virtually every political sect in preparation for pro-active defense against that particular's sect's sworn enemies. Jensen, etc. are even beginning to mainstream up guerrilla warfare on behalf of nature, but I'm not scared or freaked out about its seemingly inevitable moment of reckoning. Just trying to figure out my best way to prepare for what will be reasonably sure to happen no matter how it falls, a great shake up in our material economy.

Nano said...

We should not just tend the soil, we must give ourselves new stories to live by and/or revive the old ones.

Designer Religion - happy casting. Hope it adds a bit novelty in your life:

http://www.specularium.org/index.php?option=com_blog&view=comments&pid=38&Itemid=137

planningdown said...

Great post this week, JMG.

I love forward to hearing you and Orlov in Pennsylvania this weekend!

-glaucus
www.planningdown.wordpress.com

Igneous said...

Ivan,

It's heartening to know that the karass of Cat's Cradle fans extends to the Balkans (and, no doubt, well beyond). While I find the witch's curse of Hagsgate an evocative metaphor for the bad faith that characterizes industrial culture today, perhaps Bokononism will do as well. ;)

SunsetSu said...

Good post! It inspired me to examine how much I use my car. Driving everywhere is still "cheaper" than taking the bus, but not for much longer. I need to remember that the environmental cost of mining oil & gas is far higher than what I pay at the pump.

SLClaire said...

Hi JMG,

I haven't had much time to comment lately, as I've been working to get the warm weather crops into the garden and also making sure that my gardens were ready for the Spanish Lake Garden Tour last Sunday. But I do want to say how much I've resonated with the past couple of columns and offer a couple of comments.

First, regarding last week's column, in the 1990s one of the local "environmentalists" actually said to me that it was OK for him to drive a lot because his driving was in service to the Earth, unlike, of course, everyone else's driving. Nor was this the only example of last week's subject from him. That and other things led me to part from that activist group 11 years ago.

Second, because my husband and I started leaving Hagsgate about 20 years ago via voluntary simplicity, we've had some experience with trying to persuade others to join us. It didn't take many years to learn that our efforts to talk about what we were doing and why fell on mostly deaf ears. But we have found that there are times when we can advance someone's thinking just a little on a particular subject that they bring up. The key seems to be to listen carefully and to offer a suggestion or insight that is just past where they already are. I think of it as finding someone's growing edge and helping them grow it farther. In the terms of this week's subject, it loosens their hold on Hagsgate just a tiny bit. If another bit gets loosened later on, by us or others, the process advances. It isn't much, but it's not nothing. Each little bit helps a little; the more bits that pile up, the more help. Plus this way, people get an idea that we're good people to ask about certain things.

I still do a bit of activism, but not the protest variety. I work with existing groups to try to do small improvements locally. Like the garden tour ... people could see what we are doing and why and ask questions. It's another little bit.

PhysicsDoc said...

I enjoyed your post this week, especially the part about curses.
I think I am starting to get this magic thing.

javogh said...

jmg - i have enjoyed your blog for some time now and wanted to say 'thanks' for your graceful and clear writing.
i left the city and am building on a corner of the family farm - a home where electric is optional and everything else is taken care of on site. i am especially dedicated to growing food in a largely undisturbed pasture (including ancient equine - she was here first :) and am impressed with how much there is to learn.
in a way, the trajectory of our society is hardly more than academic to me - it seems a cruel society - greedy and selfish. it surprises me that more people don't just get tired of it and "drop out" just for the joy of living elsewise. i, for one, have never been more happy than i am now with so much less :)

Southern Limits said...

Bill,

I think that is a fair criticism and one of the reasons why Jensen loses credibility in my eyes. He has partly answered the questions why he still uses a computer and flys around the country with something about using the tools of the master to tear the masters house down. I think that is fair enough, but he also writes about his love of playing computer games and the other points that you brought up that are pure luxuries of a modern existence. I still think he's a great writer but as JMG has pointed out a number of times there are a number of people that strongly hold a position and yet do little to live that position. Sadly Jensen joins Al Gore and the majority of hydrogen car enthusiasts in this regard.

John Michael Greer said...

Consciousblogger, thank you.

Jleagan, exactly! Daydreaming about electric cars and solar power plants half the size of Nevada is no more productive, or authentically green, than chanting "drill, baby, drill." It's a set of evasions intended, consciously or otherwise, to excuse clinging to the existing order of things.

Chris, remember that the unicorns were in the sea for the same reason that the people of Hagsgate were in Hagsgate when the torrent came: lack of courage. "The Red Bull conquers, but he never fights."

Unknown Steve, it's always easy to paint your situation in the colors of despair, and use that to justify inaction. I appreciate your honesty -- most people don't have the cojones to up and admit that their plan is to enjoy the existing order of things until it falls out from under them, and then die, even though that's the most common plan these days -- but there are countless other responses, most of which don't require buying a single square inch of land. (I've discussed them at great length here; you might start reading the archives from this post on.

Thijs, thank you! I had to delete two good posts because the authors couldn't think of a way to express strong feelings without falling back on profanity; I'd encourage those who are having trouble with this to consider the first sentence of your comment. As a reward -- and since a commenter a bit further down the stack already blew the secret -- the story you're looking for is "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" -- if you haven't read it before, you're in for a treat.

Bill, I left getting on for three years ago! Think of these posts as the ominous croakings of a raven perched on the main gate, adept at dodging flung stones from the irritated citizens as it utters the occasional prophecy of doom.

Raven, Raedwald is smoking his shorts -- the vast government subsidies needed to keep nuclear power viable, for example, don't get mentioned. Nor, of course, does the most important option of all, which is conservation and lifestyle change.

Ian, I wasn't thinking of that example, but it's not irrelevant. Still, you've touched on the crucial point; the journey that has to be taken isn't in space but in awareness and attitude; making changes right where you are is in most cases the best option.

Cherokee, thank you! None of us can know if we're doing the right thing; the only option is to take the gamble, and see what happens.

Jason, oh bright gods. I somehow managed to miss that one. Classic Python humor, and utterly apropos to the current situation. As for Jensen, apparently he spends a good chunk of each day playing computer games.

Cherokee, my guess is that peak oil is too frightening for anybody with a vested interest in the British status quo to contemplate even for a moment.

John Michael Greer said...

Dragonfly, that sounds like a workable strategy. Where are you?

Don, no argument about Halley's visit in '96. I do hope I get to see a really visible comet swing by sometime in my life.

Dweller, that's just priceless. Monbiot's spent years bemoaning climate change, but when it comes to doing something about it in his own life, the only thing he really cares about is the resale value of his house? Good gods. It wouldn't take him 20,000 GBP to lay in some insulation, weatherstrip his doors and windows, and apply a bit of caulk to air leaks -- a few hundred pounds and a couple of weekend days of his own time will do that, and likely cut his heat bills in half. Could one or more of my readers in Britain please mail him a 70s-era manual on how to weatherize your home?

Jason, a pinch of salt? A 50-lb. sack might be a good start.

Twilight, adapting in place is exactly what I'm suggesting, as I mentioned in my post. It troubles me that I can say something like that as clearly as possible and still be misunderstood.

Ando, that's good to hear. I hope the painting went well!

Rashakor, I suspect the Third World is going to be a very mixed bag. Some countries and cultures will try to industrialize as the industrial nations go down; some will disintegrate into full-force volkerwanderung; some may pull through in fairly good shape. Like so much else, it'll depend very much on local factors.

James, a friend of mine decades ago used to talk about a surgical operation he'd invented called a proctoplexiotomy -- it involved inserting a pane of plexiglass in the abdomen of people who had their heads up their own backsides, so they could see out. We could use some of those nowadays.

Edde, good! I hope it works.

Ghung, I get all of that I could want by way of some of the less thoughtful comments to this blog!

William, it's going to be a mess. I don't expect to see a lot of spilled petroleum -- people will be too obsessive about getting as much of it as they can -- but nuclear waste is another matter. There will be fair-sized areas across the planet that will be off limits for human beings for millennia to come, all because the people of this civilization were too greedy and stupid to grasp the basic rule, known to every gosling, that you don't foul your own nest.

Wolfgang, true enough. I certainly don't plan on spending the years of decline and fall talking about how right I was back in 2012; I hope to be too busy teaching kids how to plant organic gardens and retrofit old houses so they're livable again.

John Michael Greer said...

Ing, all we've got, really, are questions and contemplations. The answers will make themselves known in due time.

Bill, exactly. It's also relevant, of course, that survival in the deindustrial age has a long learning curve; the sooner you get started, the more likely you are to stay on the right side of the grass for the rest of it.

Kristiina, good. Very good. There are many ways to talk about the fundamental tangle of dysfunction at the core of contemporary consciousness; if the concept of slavery gives you an effective way to do some of that talking, excellent.

Andy, I can only hope it's turkey season where you are...

Richard, excellent. In a recent book of mine I talk about the problems that crop up when you try to force flow to give way to accumulation; that's a pervasive problem with modern economic thought and practice, including its Austrian variant. You're also right that this time it's gotten far more extreme than at any point in the past -- after all, you need energy to resist the processes of nature. We've got a lot of energy to do that...for now.

Unknown, I grew up reading the Foundation trilogy!

Dennis, you can't. Once you've grasped that, we can talk about all the important things there are that can be done right here on Earth.

Jim, exactly. The more shouting you hear from the upper end of the political class, the closer we are to crunch time.

Lauren, the problem with most commune situations is that most people nowadays want rights without responsibilities, and will use a dizzying range of tactics from passive-aggressive manipulation right on down to theft and violence to get what they want. If you establish such a project, make tenancy contingent on the fulfillment of very specific responsibilities, and be ready to throw people out when their actions don't live up to their promises. A monastery with a solid disciplinary rule and a good tough abbot might make a good model; now see how many people will sign up!

Nick, it's too late. It really is as simple as that. Even if you dress up an ecotechnic transition with all sorts of pretty bells and whistles, it'll founder on the hard fact that humanity would have to embrace a Spartan lifestyle for the next couple of centuries in order to free up the resources to make the shift. At this point, that's what it would take -- which is why most people would rather party hearty while they can, and then lay down and die.

John Michael Greer said...

Myriad, many thanks for the quote!

L, one could indeed.

Ivan, I didn't know about Milankovich and peak oil! (Of course I'm familiar with his discovery of the cause of ice ages.) Can you recommend an English translation of any of his writings on the subject?

Nano, it's also late enough in the game that any American who goes to another country, for example, can count on being treated as an untrustworthy outsider when things start spinning out of control.

Bill, I'd be satisfied if he did the Roman thing and scraped off his beard each morning with a piece of pumice.

Nano, I wonder how long it's going to take before people remember that religions that matter are born out of th raw shattering wordlessness of religious experience, not pasted together by intellectuals trying to come up with something that fits their notions of what others ought to believe.

Planningdown, looking forward to it!

SunsetSu, good. That's exactly the kind of reflection that's needed -- provided that it's followed up by action.

SLClaire, for much the same reason, I don't mention peak oil and the like to anyone who doesn't bring it up first. If somebody's interested in gardening or is fretting about high energy bills, that's another matter.

PhysicsDoc, excellent. If we can just get past the artificial barrier between magic and science, there's an immense amount of constructive work that can be done.

Javogh, good. Sounds like a very constructive set of choices.

Glenn said...

Thinking about walking the walk, as well as talking the talk. I try to keep them aligned; but I am not very concerned about being seen or perceiving myself as a hypocrite. I am most worried about whether we will be ready to survive when we can't afford propane, gasoline or grid electricity. The basic is survival; water, food and cooking fuel. On the next level I'd like hot running water, a little animal protein in our diet and a warm enough house to take off a coat indoors in winter.
So for me, speed of collapse, v.s. the slow pace of preparation we can make on our tiny cash income is the most important variable.

Glenn,

Marrowstone Island

Clarence said...

the physical translocation was preceded by the metaphysical/metaphorical change. the separation of the two occurrences wasn't stated well.

i walked away from the feast but haven't yet gotten to the gate. for now, i live in the garret of the most modest inn and wonder what will survive when the tempest arrives.

i continue my wandering through the philosophical wilderness. the light you shed in the darkness is welcome.

clarence

Twilight said...

"Twilight, adapting in place is exactly what I'm suggesting, as I mentioned in my post. It troubles me that I can say something like that as clearly as possible and still be misunderstood."

Oh heck, I was agreeing with you - while pointing out that our expectations for what we should each be able to achieve in regards to "escape" may need some contemplation. Sorry to be unclear.

KL Cooke said...

"...your writing...an example of how writing should be done."

I agree, Bill. John is a master of the craft.

Chris said...

Thanks for expanding your thoughts on the book further, JMG, "The Red Bull conquers, but never fights."

You know, I think that pretty much sums up our conscience on this matter. We are the people of Hagsgate, the unicorns in the sea, and we are most like the Red Bull in some ways too. For we allow ourselves to conquer (or be conquered) by degrees, but we never fight back.

Probably the moral of this story is, courage is measured by action, no-matter what character we identify with most in the story.

Les said...

Hmmm... This time hopefully with the TLA I thought was de-profaned enough replaced with something even more innocuous...

Wow! "The Last Unicorn" - probably my favourite book of my adolescent years, after "A Fine and Private Place", by the same author.

Double wow! "weeping hysterically, torn between the fear of giving up everything they know and the knowledge that leaving is the only choice left for them, and trying without much success not to listen to the taunts"

This one really hits home for us. We tried adapting in place for a number of years - grew the veggies, stuck Silver Perch in the swimming pool, got all involved in the local permaculture groups and the like. We even got so good at it that one of the global permaculture demigods came and used our city abode in his Urban Permaculture DVD. But it never really worked for us - the taunts were subtle, but ever present. The mortgage never actually went away, and as I made a living essentially automating other people out of jobs (or at least automating stuff that just didn't need to be done at all), this became difficult for me to reconcile with life's new direction.

So, as above, leaving was the only choice. Luckily we found someone willing to bet against us on our assessment of mortgage serviceablity.

Much research followed on where to go - so now we live on denuded Devonian soils, which have no oil, coal, gas, oil shale or any of those other nasty Carboniferous sediments. No nutrients for plants either, but that we can at least work on... But we have a railway, a navigable river (both real rarities in this country) and a town 10 minutes down the road that really feels like home.

80 head of cattle arrived last week and if the kettle on the fireplace wasn't so dang noisy, I could hear them chewing and swallowing outside the front door even now.

And the Soviet Socialist Government of Australia paid for the satellite dish that was installed two days ago, so I can read the ADR again! It feels really bizarre to be barrelling down the footprint reduction path, but connecting to friends via a high tech tin can with a 33,000km invisible string.

But the reactions from our city friends and acquaintances have been really interesting - ranging from "you're living my dream!" to "what a waste...", with the majority centering on mild befuddlement with the odd "I'm really angry you've left". And then we hear the same people are trying to inject meaning into their lives by going on charity walks through the desert, father/son surfing trips to Tahiti, nature expeditions to the isolated north west of the country/Antarctica and the like. ¿Que?!

Challenging the status quo is something all of these people find really difficult. I get the feeling that we'll have quite a queue at the gate if the wheels really fall of the economic thing.

Cheers,

LD

Lucretia Heart said...

I've been reading (without commenting) for over 4 years now.

I just wanted to share where my husband and I are at in this process of preparing for the future, since I think we're a good example of just making modest changes steadily over time.

We're 41 and 42 years old, and spent most of our lives in the the suburbs. We've already faced long-term unemployment, health issues without insurance, and even temporary homelessness in our mid-30s, and that was our wake up call. We both have college educations, good people skills, and strong work ethics, and yet we've already faced what happens when the security middle class people take for granted just-- goes away. And this was before the last recession even hit!

Before the 2008/09 bubble popped, we were already determined not to be in such a vulnerable position again. We began by getting out of debt COMPLETELY. That took a couple of years and some extremely frugal lifestyle choices. We bought everything used locally-- or even got them free as we began learning about barter. I took the time to learn about permaculture and organic gardening.

Once we were debt-free, as we were renters in one of those anthill types of situations, we began looking for a more rural renting opportunity. We found a tiny 2 bedroom townhouse in a converted farm house just 6 miles from the edge of town. Not so far as to make commuting too expensive, and able to be traveled by bicycle if needed, but far enough to have some peace and land to garden.

Though we're renting, the situation here is a plot of land that just sits there as a wide open field-- 2 acres. We asked the owners if we could work some improvements and garden some of that land, and they allowed it. 1 year after moving in, we became the property managers, lessening our rent by half and sometimes more.

This year I quit my job to work the gardens at home (we have several now) and be "on site" at all times, and we've weatherized the entire building for everyone. As our money and time is freed up, little by little, we're converting our lifestyle. Next year we'll have chickens (already pre-approved) and water catchments from the downspouts to save water for the gardens.

We've become friends with our neighbors (some who are farmers or who have livestock) and now barter and do business actively with them and all the local used good and repair shops. We've also made many friends who are much older than ourselves who help us in our "re-skilling" efforts in exchange for our labor assistance. In turn, we've befriended younger adults in their 20s (all of whom seem well-educated yet perpetually under-employed) and are teaching them skills and getting their help in labor in exchange for all sorts of things they need.

JMG, I just wanted to say to everyone who reads your posts and thinks its too overwhelming to start that it really ISN'T. We started making changes just 4 years ago. FOUR. Already our life is almost unrecognizable from what it once was. We still have a long ways to go, but moderately-paced and steady wins this race!

Every year we learn and do more and though we've said good-bye to having big houses and stuff (once upon a time we had a 4000+ sq.ft. house with an acre yard and in-ground pool) I don't miss it. Our health is better. Our social life is better (amazing how the quality of people goes up when you deal with DO-ers!)

And you know what else? That hard kernel of fear in the pit of my belly that was always there before, because we were so vulnerable to the slightest whimsy of fate, went away. Now if my husband loses his decent paying job, we're okay for a long time. We could survive on 1 part-time low-paying job if we had to at this point.

This is not a horrible punishment you must endure-- not like having your world pulled out from under you unexpectedly when you live the conventional way! There is freedom and security in downsizing and adapting and "going local."

kristiina said...

Hmm...I see I am tempted to formulate some sort of, don't know even what to call it - philosophy, maybe. It seems to me the "old" magical tradition adheres in some form to the idea of applying one's will to change/influence the world. The chaos magic kind of gave up on the traditional structure/system/hierarchy of magical thinking, but kept the application of will intact, maybe even made it more central, as the systems surrounding it were discarded. In my experience, chaos exists, and we as actors either accept the chaos and live by its' logic of brute force or take responsibility and start creating our own patterns of beauty out of the freedom of chaos. I don't see this as applying will to affect reality, it is more like inviting, desiring, romancing the desired elements and patterns out of chaos. As if one were tuning one's system to receive (and send) a certain frequency in the white noise of chaos. This is how all experience of life is assembled: tuning to some frequency. As many have said, it is hard to tune into something else than what the majority is tuned into.

It seems we are forced to inhabit two (or maybe more) worlds at the same time. The venerable Archdruid has to commit precious writing time to keep the mortgage pot boiling (instead of teaching us magic), we all have our commitments - it is not possible to get "out", as hard as we want. Still, most of us have taken steps towards another kind of living. As if we were gradually moving our belongings into the other life. I think that is good enough. Demanding (from oneself or others) to quit society cold turkey is just not possible, and it is making everyone feel a failure for not having achieved that.

I don't think so much in terms of peak oil, as I think we have reached peak extortion in all respects. And what is important to me right now is to make time to find out what the other (my flesh, the horse, the soil) is willing to give voluntarily. This is quite strange as I'm used to pushing myself physically (in gardening, for example) quite hard. But this is exactly what has to stop so that which grows naturally can emerge. Inviting the wild back to the domesticated area.
This has something to do with the affair of credit. We desperately want to look (much) better than we are, live higher lives, and end up living above our means. Not only with money - we want to look more spiritual than we are, more enlightened, more of everything. We are having a collective illusion of being elevated above ground, floating. Keeping that illusory elevation floating, one has to ignore the reality by pushing one's consciousness. The industries of intoxication, be they chemical, advertising, entertainment or even intellectual sort, are all assisting in keeping the delirious floating going on. To me this looks like the old paradigm of magic: applying one's will to change reality.
What I am interested in is something that Franz Kafka managed to say (in his diary) in one single sentence: "It's entirely conceivable that life's splendor surrounds us all, and always in its complete fullness, accessible but veiled, beneath the surface, invisible, far away. But there it lies - not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If we call it by the right word, by the right name, then it comes. This is the essence of magic, which doesn't create but calls."

Karim said...

Greetings all!

"share the feast and share the fall, or wake up and walk away. Which will you do?"

We come to the crux of the matter. At this point what matters now is the personal choice each and everyone of us is or will make given the circumstances.

The easy bit is to wake up. The difficult bit is to walk away for that means that one has to accept a less lavish lifestyle AND get one's hands dirty doing things like gardening or recycling.

Yet even if one does a lot one has the feeling that not much has been achieved and that one is just as dependent on that thing/system we want to walk away from.

A bit like in the Greek myth of Sisyphus. Always back to square one.

A bit frustrating at times I admit.

Yupped said...

Wonderful post as always, thanks.

In terms of walking away, I've found that you have to start where you are, and take it somewhat gradually. This is a journey of many steps, not a great leap forward. But you do need to start.

I've found two things: first, once you start (perhaps with growing some of your own food, or heating your home differently, or composting or something) the next best steps that you need to take make themselves known fairly clearly. The path sort of unfolds somehow. It's not always easy, and there are two steps forward and one step back moments, but it's not a complete walk in the dark. It's actually quite a lot of fun. Second, the further you go, the more you realize how totally captured you were by the whole system, and you have these amazing changes of perspective on things you used to think were just fine and dandy. And so you realize that you really couldn't have stayed where you were anyway.

I have a long, long way to go myself, but I'm glad I got started.

phil harris said...

JMG
Anybody who has walked away from smoking in middle age (I was 40 and it was just after the birth of our son) will know the sometimes uncanny nature of the system they just escaped from, and the nature of the excuses they were making. It helped me, I remember, when I could recognise the very low literary quality of the stories told by the imps who came and sat on my shoulder and whispered in my ear. Nine years later this experience helped when I survived a heart attack, and needed to walk away from the food system (the system is increasing globally but there still exist places where people do it better). Actual walking on my own two feet helped enormously. I got more brickbats though from my social contact group for this move – that is from those few who took more than polite interest in my medically quite startling achievement. I got quite an eye-opener too on what people consider 'necessities' in their lives. That included the 'green junk food' that enabled many of my friends to continue their habitual way while not actually changing anything. (For anybody interested, I had a big and unexpected change in my arteries after 8 months of hard work, and then discovered in The Lancet, like a footprint in the sand, a paper by Dean Ornish reporting 16 people who had achieved a similar result doing pretty exactly I had just managed. They had scans to prove it while I just had a remarkable change in my treadmill result. Encouraged in the face of scepticism, I kept going and arrived a year later, literally, in a sunny upland, which I had thought I would never revisit again, where I could run forever. More than 20 years ago now, but some good experiences can last a lifetime. Keep going: you do not actually have to leave home, but it helps if you have a sunny upland near enough from time to time to lift the spirit.)
best
Phil

mallow said...

How can you tell whether you’re making a reasoned decision or rationalizing doing what’s more comfortable? I can’t decide whether I should be adapting in place, as we’re doing to some extent, or if I should be finding another physical place to do that. I’d really appreciate your opinion. We currently live, with new baby, in a one bed, city centre apartment with a small balcony in Dublin in Ireland. We both cycle or
walk to work. My job is a well paid, relatively secure, paper-pushing government one (though with a bankrupt state I might be deluding myself on the security front). I really like my job and it’s so specialized I can’t do it anywhere else. I’m also not qualified to do anything else. And of course we have personal ties here too.He works part time in a less secure semi-state job that he really likes too.

The current plan is to rent in one of the older suburbs where we can get a (small) garden and still cycle to work, reduce our hours between us so we’re each half in the household economy and for me to learn a new skill (he doesn’t get peak oil but has always been into simple living and being eco friendly anyway so it works out).

The thing is that Dublin is no small, sustainable city. The greater urban area has 1.8 million people and we’ve one of the worst suburban sprawls and car dependency in Europe. Ireland is massively dependent on oil imports and the global economy, not to mention the whole EU junta and bankruptcy business... I’m almost out of debt (apart from a huge bubbletime mortgage which my ex pays – guilty conscience…- and that I’d never be able to pay off while renting elsewhere) and my partner has none apart from the small mortgage here. Buying a house with garden anywhere is unlikely to be an option for us, ever really, as we’re up to our eyeballs in negative equity and all mortgages here are full-recourse, plus the banks here aren’t lending anyway. So I’m also wondering what I should put my savings into once I’m out of debt if saving for a deposit is futile. Sorry for the cheeky brain-picking but I don’t have anyone to reason through it properly with in real life and don’t entirely trust my own judgment to be honest!

Swathorne said...

Brother John,
I wanted to let you know that I was raised as a Master Mason on Tuesday. It was a memorable experience. I've got some strong opinions on the role Freemasonry can play as industrial civilization deteriorates but I don't want to venture too far off topic and you wrote about it a few years back. I also think the Odd Fellows and their past as an insurance fund for their members deserves a healthy revival.

I echo the sentiments made by several posters already. Conservatives are a lost cause at this point and getting progressives to understand the big picture is usually a futile effort due to the Bobo syndrome.

I have made the choice to walk away at the age of 25. Unfortuntely I can't actually do so until i've paid off the remaining 28k in student loans I hold. I'm trying to double up my payments every month so that I can achieve the smallest degree of freedom to walk away as soon as possible. It can be hard to maintain morale. Just got to keep grinding.

Hoping to make it to the conference on Saturday.

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, good. I wish more people concerned themselves less with what other people think of them, and more with the realities.

Clarence, granted, that's always one of the challenges of the metaphoric.

Twilight, thanks for the clarification!

Chris, nicely summarized.

Les, my guess is that you won't have a queue at the gate. The worse the situation gets, the more frantically people will do anything but what has to be done. The various gimmicks that people are using to "inject meaning into their lives" -- great phrase, btw, with its suggestion that meaning serves them as a drug -- are all part of that.

Lucretia, excellent! Many thanks for sharing your story -- a good solid case study of what can be done without vast amounts of money or the other things people use to put off doing the essential.

Kristiina, the centrality of will to magic was a concept introduced by Eliphas Levi in the 1850s -- you won't find it in older magical teachings -- and what Levi meant by that was much more nuanced than what was meant by Crowley, say, or the chaos magic scene, where it's little more than a means of bullying the universe into doing what you want. That doesn't work -- which has more than a little to do with the trajectory of failure that Crowley made of his life, or the fact that over here, at least, it's become a running joke in the occult scene that chaos magicians by and large live in their mom's basements and can't get a job or a girlfriend.

All of which is to say that you're quite right: magic is not a matter of forcing things to happen, any more than you can make a sailboat go by huffing and puffing at the sails. The wind blows, or doesn't, in the direction it chooses; the question is how good you are at setting the sails and handling the rudder.

Karim, oh, granted. There are modes of dependency that won't go away until the system starts to break down; that's why one side of the work is to prepare skills that you don't need yet, but will have to be brought into play further down the road.

Yupped and Phil, exactly! It's a process, not a destination.

Mallow, I don't have any personal knowledge of conditions on your side of the pond, but from what you've said, your plan sounds like a good one. A great deal depends on how the EU/Eurozone comes unglued -- I hope Ireland manages to stay out of the next round of European wars -- but in general, the best strategy's normally a matter of looking at where you are right now, and trying to figure out what move will bring you a good step closer to your goals. Very few people can or should get out all at once.

As for your savings, they're unlikely to be worth much of anything once the unraveling of the world's immense overhang of debt begins in earnest. I'd encourage you, once you're debt free, to put your money into learning skills that will be of use to you -- only knowing how to do one job, as you've suggested, is a vulnerable position to be in!

macsporan said...

Two thousand years of being threatened with the Burning Fires of Hell for trivial urges and transgressions has deadened people's ability to respond to the dangers of self-indulgence.

"Eat, drink and be merry: for tomorrow we die" works for whole civilisations as well as individuals.

I'm not expecting a rush to the monastries any time soon, or ever for that matter.

Even during the Dark Ages only a tiny fraction of the population were interested.

A whole planet corrupted by advertising and luxury, or at least the promise of luxury, are not going to even notice anything is wrong until they become homeless and hungry.

T'was ever thus.

ganv said...

I love the section on the psychology of attachment to an attractive but ultimately destructive paradigm...it is an oft repeated scenario but yours is outstanding.

I think you are a bit generous to the prognosticators of peak oil. Most of them (Campbell for example but others also) predicted in the late 90s that we would be well past peak and onto the downslope by 2012. Their predictions have been adjusted over time and they now try to exclude 'nonconventional oil', but those new innovations are exactly what the cornucopians hope will save the day so it seems a bit disingenuous for the peak oil people to claim to have predicted a peak when total liquid production continues to rise. Now everyone talks about an undulating plateau, but very few saw the current plateau 10 years ago. Of course, the cornucopians were wrong in the other direction, sometimes by a larger amount, but I don't think it is as clear that one group was right and the other wrong as you paint. It is just really hard to predict the future.

Ing said...

How heartening it is to read everyone's comments. It's easy to get used to where we are, feeling it a monumental task to get any further and simultaneously forgetting how far we really have come. Growing our own food is persistently present in my mind, and that's so daunting as to overshadow the steps we've taken so far. All in good time.

Lucretia, I very much appreciate it when someone advances the conversation they are having with me or my understanding of something to just beyond where I normally see. It's quite a skill and very generous.

Phil, I quit smoking several years ago and know the imps, too! I'm so thankful not to be lugging around that ball and chain anymore and have a bit of a template for how to withdraw.

We haven't had many people react negatively to what we do, but I am aware of a greater distance between us and those who don't want something different for themselves, or at least don't want what we have.

Kurt Cagle said...

I am not a farmer, nor a farrier, though over the years I've asked myself what I would do to remain "gainfully employed" even as the economy collapses. My day job is as an information architect working on archival systems (including the Library of Congress), so it's perhaps inevitable I have also slowly been learning about printing, papermaking and book production. So much of our information infrastructure today exists solely in electronic form, and ironically, in a world where electricity becomes unreliable, modern publishing will also collapse.

In the cursed village, to escape does not mean to deliberately become a pauper. It means becoming proficient early (the ten thousand hour rule still applies) in the skills of an unreliable world, to recognize that in such a world such skills are far more valuable (can't outsource to China) and to understand that part of the price of achieving those skills is to accept that you must teach them to others to insure the skills survive.

I think this is one of your best posts, JMG, though there are few bad ones. It's been a while since I've read Peter Beagle, but I've always enjoyed The Last Unicorn. I should read it again.

LewisLucanBooks said...

I really like what yupped, said. It all just kind of unfolds.

I been through a lot of changes in the last four months. I really couldn't "stay in place." I was retiring and I couldn't keep camping out in the back of the bookstore. My retirement income is very small, so it really limited options.

Then I fell into this country opportunity. A rental. A small tight house, but a bit run down as far as the blackberries and grass, go. I'm 15 miles out of town, but limit myself to one trip in, a week. On my last town trip, I had 10 stops to make. The goal is to go to town every other week.

A couple of observations. I'm having the folks out for lunch on Sunday. The ones I helped process chickens (a first.) I kept putting it off because things aren't just perfect. I realized I could do that til the cows came home. Anyway, think of how impressed they'll be when they see the progress I've made on their next visit.

Another thing I realize is that I don't have to do it all at once. I'm getting into the mindset that some things can wait til next winter, when the weather coops me up inside. And, other things can wait til next year.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Greetings to JMG and all!

So JMG, by now you must be at your conference? Enjoy!

I agree about "The ones who walk away"--one of LeGuin's best. The way she personalized the core ethical question is brilliant: "what knowledge are you willing to live with and be complicit in, in order to have the material good life?"

Every person living faces that question at some point in their life, one way or another."What is the good?" How you answer in both attitude and action (or strive to, life being as complicated as it is) determines if you can live with yourself, too--otherwise, I guess, you internalize the curse. Imagery and metaphor rock!

Thanks for the post--very inspiring, and of course, reading all the comments, too. Directly relevant to my own urban adaptation life. We are lucky, we haven't had to move, but were fortunate enough to be thinking along these lines when we bought years ago.

jeffinwa said...

JMG
"...the sooner you get started, the more likely you are to stay on the right side of the grass for the rest of it."

Stay on the right side of the grass; got to be one of the most poetic ways of putting it I've ever read; thanks

I'm pleased to see references to your blog here and there; tfmetalsreport.com/blog for one.

Slowly light creeps into the dark corners (and centers); you do a vital thing so well; it's a pleasure to read your blog even when, or especially when, my skewed thinking is chastised and corrected-kindly and with love of course.

xhmko said...

Another prescient post JMG. Been meditating recently on the process of plants reclaiming famous buildings in my area; colonising the colonial structures, if you will. It's such a pleasureable form of personal entertainment.

And all this peak oil denial, well I read a comment of just this kind the other day while reading about the Singularity Unviversity, DARPA's new little think tank and human resource agency. Peak Oil...Bah! We're gonna have algal bio diesel jet packs with wifi and eat meat from trees grown in laboratories powered by the smiles of all the happy children.


But Tim Worstall was right about one thing - peak oil is over: we're already on the downward slope.

Also, last week I think Cherokee Organic mentioned the latest craze for the 'nothing to see here' approach to Europe. It is so true. And after listing to our parliament sit and our PM singing the sweet lullaby that Australians don't need to worry I'm more convinced than ever that some form of manure or other has just google mapped how to get to the fan.
We are the envy of the world. Trillions in the investment pipeline. The governments been making all the right decisions. They'll make the trains run on time.

Dwig said...

Fascinating post, with many thought-provoking and touching comments!

Omelas, in the LeGuin story, is in a somewhat different situation than Hagsgate. There's no impending doom, as long as the citizens don't break the terms of the deal. Thus, those who walk away aren't leaving to escape a collapse of the city, but to save themselves from the personal consequences of accepting the terms. LeGuin sets it up to make the choice very hard and very personal. (I found this story in a collection of LeGuin's stories called "The Wind's Twelve Quarters". The collection also contains "Things", which is also relevant to this week's topic, with a different take on "walking away".)

Twilight, excellent point, and one that resonates with me. In many cases, the choice transcends one's individual situation. Especially If you believe that creating and sustaining community is part of what you want to "walk toward", how do you reconcile the conflict of turning away from those you're closest to in order to create something new with (relative) strangers? If you can't be trusted to stay with those you care most about, can you really be trusted to stick out the hard times with a new group? And, as you say, the choice has a different character for those of us who've "passed the peak of their own lives".

Here's another aspect of the choice. As JMG and others have pointed out, creating whatever future one is working toward is likely to be a long process, indeed longer than one lifetime. So, thinking on a larger than usual time scale, the choice might be framed like this: "Are you willing to spend the rest of your life to begin a project whose end you won't live to see? To hope that your great-great-granchild will finish the roof on the edifice that you began to lay the foundations for? On the other hand, do you have something better to do with your life?"

Finally, a little gift for those who've taken the first steps: The Journey by Mary Oliver.

DeAnander said...

"There's no place better to move to, except the backyard..." that's my quote for the week.

It was cold, too cold, I planted as early as I dared, and all the salad greens were tiny and discouraged. Then it flashed hot, very hot, and now the tiny little greens are trying to bolt. Aaaaargh. Anyone who thinks peasants are dumb needs to try this whole food-growing gig for a while :-) The only greens that are going strong are mizuna -- from 3 year old seed no less -- and this I find a very educational moment.

Unknown said...

Another very apposite post. When we first heard about peak oil in the early 2000's me and my husband talked through our options and decided to stay put and make the best go we can of our terraced house in a mid-sized city in the UK rather than moving to a communal living situation in a rural area.

We have been making changes in our life-style gradually and incrementally, some by choice some by external changes in circumstances. I work 4 days a week in the NHS and my husband mainly works in the household economy, growing stuff in our allotment, chopping wood, cooking, preserving, baking etc and earns a bit for occasional bookings to perform at events as a performer and storyteller.

We have had an allotment for over 10 years since making a vow to grow some of our own food at a Lughnassadh ceremony. When we took it over it was a mess of weeds, it has taken time to build it up to be how we want it - we have fruit trees and bushes and grow a range of annual veg although not enough to be self-sufficient especially during the hungry gap in the spring, still working on narrowing this gap.

We had a wood-burner installed in our living room a few years ago and use trimmings from willow and ash down the bottom of our allotment and off-cuts that a local tree surgeon leaves in the allotment entrance, but we ran out of seasoned stuff during the spring while it was still cold so we would need more wood to be self-sufficient. We use gas-fuelled central heating as well but keep it on low and wear vests and jumpers when it's cold. We have draught-proofed the house which makes a big difference in the winter. We have a foot of loft insulation. We want to insulate the walls but this is more tricky as they are solid brick walls without a cavity. We want to have insulated render put on the outside but are having trouble with the local planning department.

We still do stuff that we know won't be sustainable in the longer term such as using the medium I am using now (the internet) while it is still around. We drive as this is currently the best option for getting to work and getting to rural areas - but the economics of this are starting to shift with the general upward trend in fuel prices - we now use coaches for some long-distance journeys. We walk to our local shops and we have bicycles which we could use in the future to transport stuff locally with a bike trailer.

We are trying to become more self-sufficient where we can as we can see harder times coming. The NHS is facing significant cuts over the next few years so my job is not secure and probably won't last till retirement age (I am 46), so I need a contingency plan for the future.

It is useful to get ahead of the game with making changes to become more self-sufficient within current circumstances but we can't just jump into the future world of low-tech localised living. I heard about a woman who read about peak oil and predictions we will be back to horse-drawn transport in 20 years time who went out and bought a horse but this didn't fit the current infrastructure of society - you can't park a horse and cart in a car-park for eg.

It is evident to those of us who read this blog that our current way of life as a society is running out of road and has started on the long descent and we are making adjustments to cope with this. I think people in society generally are starting to wake up to what is happening with prices for food and fuel rising and jobs disappearing. The powers that be might keep promulgating their outworn vision of economic growth but ordinary people are increasingly seeing the reality of decline and needing to find ways to cope. Most people are motivated by having to deal with their own economic situation rather than by collective issues such as climate change. I think increasing numbers of people will become receptive to the skills of green wizardry if the alternative is to end up cold and hungry.

Anne

Jeffrey said...

Walking away is perhaps just another way to cope and comfort oneself that we still have some control.

Is this not another form of denial?

Accepting the fate of having gone beyond the point of no return is not necessarily capitulating to the status quo. I might represent the deepest realism of our predicament.

Unknown said...

Reading Ramaraj's comment, I thought that I hope I'm not around when 2.5 billion Indians and Chinese realize they won't get a turn. That could spawn movements that make the Nazis look like football hooligans.

Kartik Agaram said...

I'm curious to get your reaction to http://blakemasters.tumblr.com/post/23787022006/peter-thiels-cs183-startup-class-14-notes-essay.

dltrammel said...

I was able to find two online copies of Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas".

http://harelbarzilai.org/words/omelas.txt

and

http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/dunnweb/rprnts.omelas.pdf

Incredible story, thanks for the reference.

ladyimbriumsholocron said...

I'm a bit disappointed in myself that my first thought was of the warren of the shining wire, and not Hagsgate Town. Sometimes I think we don't realize how much we can learn about ourselves just by reading our own fairy tales and stories.

Repent said...

"Still, there’s the choice: share the feast and share the fall, or wake up and walk away. Which will you do?"

This sentence has been bothering me since I read it a few days ago. I'm in the category of those who will be dying out when modern pharmaceuticals are no longer available, so is my wife who is an insulin dependant diabetic. I'm not sure where I read it before in your writings, but somewhere you once wrote for 'people who are dependant on modern medicine to stay alive had better make peace with their maker.' to paraphrase.

I would be in that category; and so this also means that I will be in the category of clinging on to the vestiges of a declining/ collapsing system until it takes me down with it. That choice, that you described above in this weeks article, will involve many people who are also are dependant on the status quo of modern medicine to stay alive, to say nothing of the 'greatest generation' of people over the age 75living in nursing homes, ect. Who can't work at a new way of doing things.

As you and your following venture forth towards a sustainable new horizon, can you please show some sympathy and pity for those of us that you're leaving behind to their own fate!

I'm doing my best to make sure my kids are well prepared for a very different future, but both my wife and I will be passing on with the end of the industrial age. We're hoping this will be endurable with whatever trappings and goodies still remain in the system as it goes down

-Why should you deny us this??

Eric Charlemagne said...

Archdruid,

I know that you talk about adapting in place and you don't think it makes sense to "bug out." I also understand that the Hagsgate story in a metaphor and "fleeing Hagsgate before its too late" might involve mentally disengaging from the myths of Hagsgate and economically disengaging to some extent. However, I'm having a difficult time reconciling your view that we should adapt in place and this week's theme (namely, leave Hagsgate before it's too late). Frankly, I question that extent to which we can be free from the fate of Hagsgate if we are physically present within its walls. Or, to abandon the language of the Hagsgate metaphor for greater clarity: Even if we simply our lives and reduce our energy consumption (among other changes) aren't we still going to be severely and perhaps fatally wounded by the coming changes if we remain in countries that are bound to take a hard fall as peak oil really plays out?

I don't know much about your actual circumstances, but I gather that you live in a small town in the mid-Atlantic states of the United States. I gather that you don't own a car. I imagine that you lead a low-impact lifestyle and get on well with your neighbors. But, I don't hear you talking about producing your own food without fossil-fuel inputs. So, aren't you almost exactly as vulnerable as your more profligate neighbors to the changes that are coming down the pike? Don't you think you'd be better off in, say, a country with better public transport, fewer guns, and more energy resources per capita?

I think that if you're going to be consistent with all your other posts, you'd have to choose another version of the story of Hagsgate: one in which the citizens of Hagsgate who renounced their attachment to the bread and circuses of Hagsgate but who did not flee the city also survived the curse. It seems to me that the story of Hagsgate, as it stands, can only serve as a warning tale with one message: Don't try to adapt in place if the place in question is under a curse - it's better to find a place that is not under a curse and try to adapt there. And, speaking of curses (which must surely be a form of bad karma), can anyone look at the history and actions of the United States in the last two centuries and not conclude that the place is under one helluva curse?

Kieran O'Neill said...

@mallow:

It sounds like the plan of reducing hours and acquiring new skills is a good one, but as JMG says, don't try to do too much at once.

The first thing I notice about your situation is that you don't have a community of like-minded people around you. Although you are ultimately responsible for the change in your own life, it can be immensely helpful when breaking free of the curse of Hagsgate, to find other people who are also beginning to break free. Quite likely you will forge new friendships, and at the very least you will exchange ideas, tips and resources.

I would recommend, for instance, volunteering at your local community bike shop, getting involved with your local food co-op, chatting to the farmers at your local farmers' market, or even, despite JMG's dissensus with them, joining your local Transition movement.

That aside, some thoughts on your idea of moving to a larger place with a garden. Firstly, if you're willing, and your workplace provides showers, a 15-20km bicycle commute can be quite viable, especially in a flat city, and give you a good solid workout at the same time. This should give you quite a good range of options when house hunting. Secondly, renting is potentially a good option if you're already in debt and a mortgage isn't affordable. Just make sure when looking for a house that your landlord is on board with your garden plans (and that the garden is well situated -- sunny, etc). One possible option might be to look into one of the property boom-bust neighbourhoods, and offer to rent an empty house on behalf of an absentee owner (or the bank) as a caretaker. It's at least worth a try. Another option is to look for a flat block with a manager/owner who is willing to have a few neat raised vegetable beds appear in the garden area. This might take some looking to find, but if you're set on the idea, probably isn't impossible.

Matt and Jess said...

Really liked Anne's comment. That's one of the things I've had to learn too. I think the impulse or first reaction a lot of people have is to try to cut all ties to modern society or do something radical that doesn't really make sense, like the horse thing you mentioned. I've had to realize that "walking away" is for us anyway a more gradual thing that involves a lot of slow preparation. We can't even learn all of the green wizard skills at once. This summer, we're happy to have a few radish and green bean plants that we've planted in the compost that we made throughout the winter (very informally composted, as in "food scraps that were thrown into a corner of the yard"); we'll see how we do with those. We're also making it a priority to try to make necessary things by hand from found materials as an introduction to the salvaging lifestyle. We still own a car--a very old car on its last legs--but will be selling it and walking for a year and will only get another if it's absolutely necessary for my husband's job. So all these little things are part of our walking away. Excited to read the LeGuin story as well.

mallow said...

Thar's great thank you very much! As to wars, a friend of mine has a theory that Ireland will be just be used as a kind of bread basket by our more over-populated creditors. It'll be interesting!

John Michael Greer said...

Greetings all,

This is your friendly neighborhood temporary moderator, piggybacking on JMG's account. Some of the comments posted on May 26 won't come through when I approve them, and I don't know why, so if you made a comment and don't see it that's probably what's up. This has happened before, so hopefully JMG can fix it when he returns.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled commentariat!

sgage said...

@repent

"-Why should you deny us this?? "

Reality is denying you this.

As far as trappings and goodies, well, I don't really know what you mean by that. You seem to have some odd sense of entitlement. But whatever you feel your rights are towards "trappings and goodies", I urge you to reconsider, for your own happiness.

Robert Mathiesen said...

@ Repent

I, too, will probably die when several modern medicines cease to be available to me. But I will certainly die someday, with or without modern medicines -- and since I will be 70 in a few weeks, I have already used up at least two-thirds of my allotted years, probably more. I ask for no pity, nor should anyone offer it.

Sympathy, yes: dying can be very hard, slow and painful. It helps most of us to have sympathetic friends with us as we die. (Some may prefer to die in private.) As I have read his blog, the Archdruid does have sympathy for your plight and mine. But he -- and and we -- can't do anything to ease it very much.

Here's the bottom line. Death is the common lot of every person, sooner or later. We had all better keep this fact in mind as we live, accept it and get used to it. I try to pay attention to the hard fact of my own approaching death every day, and I even find it comforting to do so. After all, how will the young trees reach their full growth in a forest, unless the older, taller trees eventually fall and open up windows for sunlight in the forest canopy?

My own death, when it comes in due time, will be my last gift to the rising generations of younger men and women. It will be a gift freely given, with love, trusting that it will benefit them despite the sorrow.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

Your strategy that you mentioned this week is also my own. It is the future after all.

Hi DeAnader,

I'm really enjoying your comments. You are travelling the same journey! Yes, the peasants are rather canny and I have a great deal of respect for them and their ways and have been avidly reading about their exploits whilst at the same time experimenting here.

Mizuna is a crop that has finally self seeded here and it pops up all over the place. I really enjoy the taste of it too. Carrots, tomatoes, French sorrell, broccoli, potatoes, jerusalem artichokes, globe artichokes as well as a host of others self seed now too. Probably more a sign of my slackness than anything else though! hehe! Actually, if you enjoy mizuna, try Rocket (roquet, ragula etc) too. Mmmm rocket...

Not to stress you out, but I've read that it takes a decade before you know what you are doing (not there yet either).

Hi Repent,

I'm a gen X and I have seen such comments before from members of the baby boomer and older generations and sometimes wonder about them.

Insulin, looks like a pretty hard product to make. So if you are a type 1 diabetic, then your odds of survival are not good.

On the other hand, type 2 diabetics are a result of lack of exercise combined with poor dietary habits. It is also possible to treat this type - from my readings, not from experience - with herbal remedies and lifestyle changes (ie. exercise and diet).

It is interesting, but in times gone past type 2 diabetes was a disease of the wealthy. It has been speculated that Henry VIII was actually suffering from the afflictions of type 2 diabetes rather than syphilis as previously thought.

Good luck.

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi everyone,

The whole inter-generational thing just annoys me no end.

The older generations of the baby boomers almost certainly have a responsibility to provide guidance and pass on skills to the younger generations (ie. x, y and alphas). The parents of the baby boomers have old time skills which are being lost and they are hard won skills.

They lived through the absolute peak of our civilisation which to my mind has been in decline since at least the early 1990's.

The appearance of growth since that time has been fuelled by either debt or as in the case of Australia, the sale of publicly owned assets.

Sometimes, it seems to me that it was one of the biggest cons perpetrated by one generation on the future generations.

Society is made upon mutual obligations and I do not believe that any form of community will arise until unemployment reaches a critical mass of somewhere between 20% to 30% of the population.

Why isn't anyone asking why is youth unemployment higher in Europe (and elsewhere for that matter) than unemployment for the rest of society?

I don't think that it is an acceptable thing for the older generations to say, "yes, we've lived our lives and well, there's nothing more for us to do".

My grandfather taught me about growing vegetables when I was a young child back in the 70's.

Surely you lot of older generations can do better than a defeatist attitude?

Chris

RPC said...

Repent,

Modern medicine found that I had prostate cancer last year and "cured" me of it; this week I find out if I've got colon cancer. I'm in my mid-fifties. Oddly, some of the best words of, well, comfort is the wrong word but it's the closest I can come, came from our host here: "Death is not an interruption of life; death is the fulfillment of life." We're designed to die; we should learn to do it as well as we can.

Renaissance Man said...

Heard a presentation on investing in Shale Gas by an otherwise very astute and successful investment counsellor. I had my (as Hemmingway put it) built-in-shock-proof-S-detector going off so loudly that I was sure others could hear it.
They couldn't. Ah, well. not my money and I'm not interested in rescuing anyone from the consequences of their own choices.
The piece in the Telegraph made me think of the album cover of Supertramp: "Crisis? What Crisis?"
On the whole, though, I intend to avail myself of the feast at Hagsgate for as long as I can, because I tried living in voluntary poverty for 15 years and all I got from that was 15 years of voluntary poverty and the knowedge that survival is not living; existance is not enough.
Joining at Haggard's Feast at least provides me with the opportunity to learn some kind of currently uselss skills that will be useful as the industrial economy unwinds -- specifically horse-training (and first-aid!) and leatherworking (from skinning to finished product - and yet more first aid!) -- and gives me access to infomation (e.g. this 'blog) of which I would be otherwise oblivious.
I know this, because, back during the years when I lived in voluntary poverty, I also suffered in involuntary ignorance, not having money to spend to learn how to do things and thus not being able to connect with people who might teach; the public library system has plenty of material to help learn 'about' things, but not really 'how to do' anything without costly tools and resources. (Thoreau's writing on simple living was inspiring until I found out his friend Emmerson paid for it. Hmpf.) So, for the nonce, I'll continue to attend the feast at Haggard's table (i.e. use the internet, use modern DVD technology, use email and social networking) because when the feast ends (if it ends before I die), I'll then have accumulated the wherewithal to do more than eke out an existence in the ruins. Escaping with a hope of survival does require access to resources and access to resources requires sitting at the table, at least for a while. No sense in going out the gates shirtless, without tools, already starving.
Hm. Come to think of it, maybe that's what I'm already doing?

Sven said...

I have found this and the preceding post very enlightening, however I feel that you are mischaracterising those radicals you are disparaging.

By and large, grass roots environmental activists have a high level of commitment to personal change. This commitment is often similar if not moreso among the radicals (in my experience radicals are more likely to eschew car ownership or flying for example) - the difference is that radicals do not see this as a vehicle for social change. The radical view sees personal change without social change typically labels such individuals as coexisting with a disliked system of organisation in a way that does not meaningfully threaten it. However it is similarly disparaging of social change without personal change for many of the reasons you highlight.

As such, it seems from my perspective that you are chasing a phantom at best, and tarring others with the wrong brush at worst.

Lauren said...

Hello Repent,

One thought about those of us aging, is as the industrial society winds down, our loved ones will have more time and less random activity and be able to provide comfort and presence at our deaths. Also, several years ago I consciously sought out activities that were cost-free, readily available, and that I could do until my death, regardless of physical ability. Those two things were meditation and yoga. The yoga may have to go if I become entirely incapacitated but meditation I can do until my last moment of consciousness.

I, too, am trying to learn new skills and making use of technology to do so. But mostly I find it's doing things, and doing things here at home, that seem most enlightening. Training a mule, gardening, my dairy goats and cheese making, etc. nice to have Internet resources at hand - better to, as I say on the 'net today, smell like dirt at the end of the day.

Robert Mathiesen said...

My wife and I are among the parents of the boomers. We do have skills that are dying out -- except that the twenty-somethings seem eager to learn them again from us and our contemporaries. So we teach what we know, without a lot of hoopla, to whoever is interested. It's fun to spend time with the young folk, and also it is one of our last gifts to the future.

There was a sudden demographic shift on our block a few years ago, and it is now full of young couples just starting their own families. When we moved into our house in 1974, we were a young couple just starting our family; now we are the oldest couple on our block, and a resource for the new crop of young couples in turn. And it is reciprocal. One young family keeps chickens, and shares eggs with us from time to time.

This is one way in which a community can form without anyone taking much notice of it as it does. Just live in one place for most of your life, studying the land as you live there, and you become a grain of sand around which the oyster of life may form a pearl. The sand itself is not the pearl, but it is essential to the formation of the pearl. I think it's what Gary Snyder meant, in part, by his idea of *reinhabiting* the place where you live.

As I wrote earlier this week, my wife and I will probably not survive once the pharmaceutical industry collapses. But we are old enough that we don't have all that much longer to live anyway, even with modern pharmaceuticals. So it's all good.

Meanwhile, we give what we can to the younger people who will have to pick up the torch and carry it forward through harder times. Every little bit helps them, but also us.

SLClaire said...

Also, if some of the younger folks here get upset because of their belief that most of us boomers are selfish pigs, we boomers get upset with those sorts of generalizations. Some of us are selfish pigs, granted (and some of you younger folks are too) but many of us are not, nor are many of any other generation. There are a host of us boomers reading this blog and doing what we can to soften the descent. It's not as if the generations before us didn't contribute to the problems besetting all of us; in the 1970s and 1980s, boomers weren't old enough to be in positions of power. I admit we did not use our power of numbers wisely, but then again, it has taken many of us, myself included, a long time to outgrow our education and social training. How about we all lay off the generalizations and do the work?

Bill Pulliam said...

ganv -- you have missed one of the fundamental concepts of peak oil. "Unconventional liquids" have ALWAYS been excluded from consideration; since the idea was first advanced "Peak Oil" has been about the peaking of regular good old petroleum production, the cheap stuff that comes out of the ground ready to use. This is the stuff with the huge energy return on investment and the stuff that provided us with all the cheap energy we could drink for decade after decade. The push to "unconcentional" liquids is a sign of the reality of peak oil in the post-peak era, as we put increasing effort into these not-so-cheap sources to try to replace the real stuff. It's a bit like saying that the fact that you can run up your credit card means you are not running out of cash; on the contrary increasing reliance on your credit card is some of the best evidence that you ARE running out of cash.

It is 2012 and we are in a post-peak environment just as predicted. And few, especially in the energy industry, will admit this hence the drive to obfuscate it with "total liquids" and "unconventional oil."

Re: intergenerational carping and sniping... has there ever been a time in history when this has not been a major hobby? Why should we be different than every generation that has come before us?

Bill Pulliam said...

Lauren --

"The yoga may have to go if I become entirely incapacitated "

The yoga of sometimes challenging physical postures is only one of the 8 branches of yoga, and even this one can be practiced lying flat on your back or stationary in a chair. It is a western peculiarity to consider yoga as synonymous with poses and physical exertion. So long as you capable of breath and thought you can practice yoga.

phil harris said...

JMG and all
This is a bit late as a comment and is really meant for future reference to the ongoing review of the history trajectory of global industrialisation. (Yes, we are all on board that ship, and will live and die on it, like it or not.)

I read over the weekend via our UK Guardian newspaper, an article from The New York Review of Books by Jared diamond reviewing “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty”
by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jun/07/what-makes-countries-rich-or-poor/?pagination=false

I presume this stuff is supposed to be top-flight and is aimed at educated 'thinking' elites, but what strikes me is what it leaves out. Bearing in mind the history that JMG has introduced us to, not only does Diamond's account appear facile, but in places appears to make nonsense of historical fact. (Only one example for now, but the account of disease leaves out the periodic pandemics that swept Europe for so long. Almost within living memory the scourge of smallpox was a regular visitation sweeping west across the plains, down through Scandinavia to the seaboard of Western Europe. My arm still bears the mark of my infant vaccination.)

How badly educated are we in general, whether we are activists or just trying to make sense of where our civilisation is taking us?

Am I being a bit hard on Jared Diamond? I hope this blog continues with well informed discussion concerning these vital lessons from world geography and history. It seems to me the quality of education here is better than I just read at the NY Review of Books.
Phil

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi everyone,

I'm not upset and I'm not generalising.

I'm troubled though...

The journey that I'm on has shown me consistently how much first hand knowledge has been lost. It is really hard to regain a lot of these old time skills and very people seem to be interested. It is this facet of the issue that really troubles me.

I'm not having a go at anyone, what I am saying (and if you'd please re-read my comment), is that society is built upon mutual obligations.

At the present, people are fixated on the cult of individualism so we have a disjointed viewpoint and this is reflected in the comments (summed up as: all about me). Individualism is not the basis of a sustainable society, only co-operation is.

Getting back to the inter generational issue, what I'm saying is that the older generation (whom may have first hand knowledge of old time skills) has an obligation to hand on those skills. This is co-operation and mutual obligation.

Imagine for a moment that you were a person reading these essays and comments, but you lived in the Third World. That person certainly wouldn't share your concerns and your points of view and the unspoken elephant in the room is that they may well be cheering on our fall.

Chris

Guilherme de Baskerville said...

This will be a bit of a rant, but whatever.

First, the third world situation is very complicated and it will be a HUGE factor going forwards. I can't even begin to take a guess which way things will go, because despite living in one of the BRICS, I don't feel confident about a lot of issues. Partially, that's because the internet is mostly english and it's difficult to get real information about the other countries real situation unless you go digging for it (which I haven't) and my own personal experience here in Brazil is too limited for me to judge which way economy, climate, etc will shift. Haven't devoted near as much time, brainpower and will as the archdruid has done to understand his own country and situation. Plus, I don't have that much talent, hehe.

But I do know that in the near term, whatever happens in Europe, the US and the Middle East will be the main drivers of world events, but if you push it to a 20 to 30 year time-frame from now, I would guess that a LOT of the future will be shaped by whatever happens at the "third world" and specially at the BRICS. That's what it means to lose an empire: the world moves on past whatever you think/want/need and will go do whatever it is it wishes to do.

This might be of some importance to some of your readers. I would guess that, barring nuclear war, most of the US will probably be shaped by internal dynamics for the next half century or so. The empire will still have some teeth to scare off potential vultures trying to feed on the decaying remains and the population itself is probably too fractured, proud and unruly to be messed up with (plus, all the guns). But people in Europe, Japan and Australia need to take a SERIOUS look at whatever the BRICS will end up doing in the mid term. If you live in one such country and expect to have a lifespan of 30 or more years, it would be of prime importance to keep an eye on the ball when it comes to that.

Guilherme de Baskerville said...

The rant part is aimed at the people in their 50's and 60's and what I would categorize as a fetish of being a peasant. This obscession with the producing of food on backyards and such. It is VERY nice to do it, and by all means continue to do so, but don't kid yourselves that you're doing it out of a food security perspective. The world is not going to crash so fast that you will have a food crises in the USA, Europe, Canada or Australia in 20 to 30 years, that's just not going to happen. If it does, 80% to 90% of the population of Africa will be dead by then, a host of other countries will have a grim reaper's bill measured in the tens of millions (India, parts of the Middle East, probably some parts of Southeast Asia), and if THAT happens, well, I'm sorry, but the flying body excretion will have hit the rotary impeller blade at such speeds that the political/economical/ecological fallout of that will be so unbeliavably enormour that knowing how to grow tomatoes will most likely be pointless as far as a survival strategy (it will probably be nice and therapeutic all in itself, though, watching things grow is amazing).

The thing is, if you were a middle class african man/woman in, say Nigeria (i.e middle class in Nigeria, not with a middle-class income as measured in the US), yes, that would be a VERY good bet. Simply feeding oneself will probably come into question in that person's lifetime.

The real fears a person of that age have to suffer in the US are many: loss of jobs, loss of buying power from fixed income, either from deflation or hyperinflation (pensioners are VERY vulnerable to those kind of economic crises), povetry as a result of the above, failure to get adequate medical care, foreclosure, increasing urban violence, etc, etc. These are real fears that can be dealt with in some way, and in some cases, that can even be "getting a small plot of land in a semi-rural area and growing stuff", but I would wager that that's not the most adequate response for a LOT of people in that age bracket, even the people that read this blog.

Downsizing and getting rid of as much debt as possible, forgoing some of the most egregious of modern conveniences, getting healthier naturally (even if at the expense of lost income), these are all good bets. If you're also not a narcissist person that just wants to keep on splurging as long as the world allows you to and crawling up to die somewhere once it doesn't, I would also include downsizing your ecological footprint in respect to future generations and converting soon to be useless assets (such as 401K's and such) into real assets that you can pass down to your immediate family (they will probably need it, too). Also, make connections to younger people who will be able to take care of you in old age, either family or someone else, because relying on pensions 20 years down the line will be a risky move. Understand, though, that a connection works both ways, don't expect to be cared and pampered for by relatives in a permanent declining economy. Grandparents were a integral part of the household economy, helping with child-rearing, cooking, household shores, etc, while the prime-adults were the wage earners. Expect that to happen again and that you may need to either move in with family or have family move in with you (with the understanding that as you grow older, whatever property and equity you have will be passed down).

Guilherme de Baskerville said...

I could write a whole other rant about people in their late 20's and 30's, too, but that's not for the moment. Just wanted to say I very much agree with Renaissance Man on all his points. Robert Mathiesen hit the nail in the head, too, with respects to life-expectancy and death. I wish I'll be able to deal with death in such a way when it comes my turn. Very touching and also incredibly human.

It just irks me people preparing themselves as if we will be living in a neo-feudalist state in 20 years. Remember the Archdruid: we are going into scarcity industrialism first! What will eventually make sense down the road might not be so helpful going into the next 50 or so years.
And it irks me more to see people here eagerly embracing paths that would lead, in case we were going into actual neo-feudalism in our lifetime (which I find doubtful), that would be tatramount to choosing future lives as peasants, or at best freehold small farmers, what the french called "villein" in the middle ages.

Guilherme de Baskerville said...

After a trip to the wikipedia, I see that in english a "villein" is classed as a ordinary serf, and the word I was trying to express is a "freeman". My bad, but in portuguese a "vilão" is a freeman.

dragonfly said...

Chris,
I've just had a second read of all the comments, and I'll be hornswoggled if I can find a one that states or even implies a default on the mutual obligations you are going on about.
While I agree to an extent with what you are saying, I'm really baffled as to why you are harping on the commenters here.

Guilherme,
You've gone to impressive length to describe what irks you about how some people are approaching their futures, yet said absolutely nothing about why that irks you. Personally, I'd be much more interested in learning about why you feel that way, rather than hearing you berate them for their choices.

phil harris said...

Guilherme
I agree.
I wrote this back in 1997 "Although the USA is important for the future, the future mostly will happen outside the USA."
The USA though remains for a while the model for aspirant elites and middle-class world wide – it represents a ‘business model’ as well as an imperium. It has been the source of much of science and technology and of those ways in which fossil fuel can be turned into mass production of exotic goods including electricity, travel, communication, sophisticated individualised health care and 'labor-saving'.

As you quote JMG; ‘scarcity industrialism’ is the future in the USA but (quote you, and me if you like) goodness knows what will happen elsewhere in the world. The old methods of capital accumulation and resource exploitation seem to be breaking down already, especially in Europe. JMG's suggestion for 'weatherising' and insulating housing in the USA is just as essential here. Diet and preventive health care are things I hope to leave our children - for example fruit and vegetables are literally vital – otherwise beans and grains will mostly do OK. I enjoyed a roaming life as a child in post-war Britain with few of the later goodies, and with parents coping with food rationing. (Britain imported 70% of food as calories in 1939. We still import most of our food now.) Dad grew some extra fruit and veg. Tough for them; wonderful for me on my all-spare-parts elderly bike. I probably could have done without school; most of what I learned was outside of school anyway. I was lucky I could read before I went to school, but one does need contact with intellectual as well as skill mentors. I am glad I actually did some research science later in life.

There was some collective security from our then newly formed British National Health Service after 1946. We could afford it back then. Even though the country was in very poor economic shape we had reasonable collective organisation. Lowering infant mortality made sense of a lower fertility rate across Europe and gave the later more effective contraception powerful traction. Modern vaccines are better than we had then and are cheap enough to have made it in generic form to the 3rd World. We could retain some of these tools for living. We need, however, better ways of doing it; Europe for sure is vulnerable because the ‘business plan’ has unravelled. We cannot live on the backs of others and rely in perpetuity on what JMG has named ‘wealth pumps’. The future is different – the fossil fuel splurge that brought the British and now the latest global empire must decline - what more we can say just now?

Swathorne said...

Hi Guilherme,
From where in Brazil are you? My girlfriend is from Osasco.

After reading your self desribed rant i'm still not sure what your argument against learning small scale intensive gardenening is. In the future you forsee....producing even small quantities of food would be very beneficial.

Then there is this: "And it irks me more to see people here eagerly embracing paths that would lead, in case we were going into actual neo-feudalism in our lifetime (which I find doubtful), that would be tatramount to choosing future lives as peasants, or at best freehold small farmers, what the french called "villein" in the middle ages"

In that scenario (neo-feudalism falling upon us)....being a Freeman... "Yeoman" being the popular term in English and Dixie traditions, or perhaps "Yankee Farmer" in the New England tradition......would certainly be my desired station over that of serf, professional soldier, or being enslaved.

Renaissance Man said...

@ Phil Harris, re: Jared Diamond.
"Am I being a bit hard on Jared Diamond?"
Yes.
He won the Pulitzer prize for Guns, Germs, and Steel which explores, how technological innovation, diseases, and natural resources played out across human societies to explain how the inhabitants of the European peninsula of the Urasian continent came to dominate across the world instead of other cultures.
His follow-up works (e.g. Collapse) do not go over the same territory again, at least not in any detail.

Bill Pulliam said...

Guilherme --

As regards food supply, there are multiple scales of time and space involved, and more determining factors than global food production. Many famines are caused by military, political, or financial issues. There was nothing wrong with agricultural productivity in most of the U.S. during most of the Great Depression. There was a collapse in the financial system so that food was not distributed. Individuals live in the here and now, and if economic or political instability might lead to a collapse in the food supply to your area, it matters not one bit to you that this might be a local and "short-term" (a few years) problem. You could be in dire straits long before the banks, trucking companies, and fuel suppliers work out the accounting issues that caused the collapse. We have already seen localized food crises triggered by inflated prices on commodities markets; there are good reasons to think this will become even more likely in the relatively near future (coming decades), not just a century down the road.

As for long-term making choices that would guarantee your future as peasants, that is inevitably the life most people must live in any agrarian society, feudal or otherwise. Acceptance that an ordinary life is perfectly fine is a key part of having a satisfying life.

mallow said...

Kieran,

Those are all good ideas thanks! It's true it would help to have other people to work with. I'll have to get going on the bike for a while to see how far I could manage every day, I've never had much stamina even at my fittest. Also can hardly walk 20 minutes while pregnant, and I wouldn't risk cycling pregnant here anyway, so will need somewhere on public transport too - bit of a risk with that since they're already cutting out bus routes and services. Everyone has their added complications I guess.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Greetings to Guilherme from the Chicago region:

To follow up on Bill P.'s comment, IMO, no matter what the future holds, in the present, growing at least some tomatoes and other produce is wise. It helps form habits of self-sufficiency so that individuals and communities do not have to rely completely on industrial agribusiness for their food. Also, here in the U.S., in both rural areas and big cities many people do not have good access to fresh produce, because of industrial agriculture in the one and lack of grocery stores in the other.

Look up the term "food desert" sometime.

I am speaking as a boomer who is, even now, helping some younger people start a community garden network--for a better life in the present, but with an eye to the future.

Ian said...

I'm glad to see Guilherme's rant--it's an anemic future if the only options folks see are, like Swathorne, between serf, yeoman farmer, soldier, or slave.

Even going back a few centuries, we see a lot more diversity of roles to be had. What about craftspeople? Or scholars? Or merchants? Or priests? Or doctors? You find all of those roles prior to the petroleum age filled by everyday people.

Those roles aren't likely to disappear in any long descent scenario I understand (unless we really flub it), and we'll need to actively figure out how to preserve them post-abundance, too.

Bill Pulliam said...

Ian -- "we'll need to actively figure out how to preserve them"

I'm not sure how much we need to actively figure out anything. The present wasn't planned, the future won't be either. If the need for village blacksmiths arises, the blacksmiths will begin to reappear. Until then, no amount of pushing will convince people to go to the village blacksmith when they can just buy something cheap made by asian wage-slave-labor at the Big Box. These skills are scarce, but not extinct. Unless you live in an extremely sparsely populated area (in which case, good luck...) the odds are you live within a days walk or ride of someone who knows how to do virtually anything you might want. It may be a living history re-enactor, it may be a neo- or paleo-hippie family, it may just be an eccentric neighbor. But it's out there waiting until it is needed.

Morrigan said...

Splendid piece. Particularly poignant and timely is the picture of those who choose to stand and leave while "often as not weeping hysterically". The fear can be paralyzing. I tend to be a controlling person in the first place, so the prospect of walking away strikes cold fear into me - even though I have a passion for, and practical experience in horticulture and a good, detailed business plan.

But still, I grieve the loss of a life and a closing of the door on a past that had been pretty good to me. It seems disloyal to my ancestors, almost, to walk away. It's visceral, and it hurts. Your offering helps explain what's been haunting me.

Ian said...

Bill--Fair enough. I can find a blacksmith and some darned good carpenters in a stone's throw of where I live.

That said, I have sort of taken the whole point of this looking forward to what comes next to be an exercise in active planning.

Just to be clear, I'm thinking of active planning to include an awful lot of humble activities. Active planning includes me going--huh, I need a new chair, maybe I should think about going a little further afield and getting it from a woodworker down the road instead of the big box at the corner.

It means shifting some of the resources that (hopefully) I'm freeing up from lifestyle changes to nurturing the micro-economies that will incubate those knowledges. I take that to be the middle terrain between personal and political that we should look toward.

That also build some resiliency into the system, so we aren't relying on quite so narrow a group of people. Because, unfortunately, it's sort of easy to lose useful knowledge in transitional times to accident and attrition.

Mark Angelini said...

For me it is an interesting internal struggle, to use a car, a chainsaw, or other such tools of the oil age, to work myself closer to a sustainable life for myself and others—to walk away, if you will. I use a vehicle to transport materials and plants for my work, helping folks establish food in place of lawns. Then I work at home with a chainsaw, a stovetop (soon a woodstove :), or electricity, to preserve food, make beer, to cut wood for fuel, or expand growing space... I often imagine what life was like before oil powered tools aided in these efforts. Those are humbling thoughts. We've got it so good right now, even as we start walking away.