Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Broken Thread of Culture

There are times when the deindustrial future seems to whisper in the night like a wind blowing through the trees, sending the easy certainties of the present spinning like dead leaves. I had one of those moments recently, courtesy of a news story from 1997 that a reader forwarded me, about the spread of secret stories among homeless children in Florida’s Dade County.  These aren’t your ordinary children’s stories: they’re myths in the making, a bricolage of images from popular religion and folklore torn from their original contexts and pressed into the service of a harsh new vision of reality.

God, according to Dade County’s homeless children, is missing in action; demons stormed Heaven a while back and God hasn’t been seen since. The mother of Christ murdered her son and morphed into the terrifying Bloody Mary, a nightmare being who weeps blood from eyeless sockets and seeks out children to kill them.  Opposing her is a mysterious spirit from the ocean who takes the form of a blue-skinned woman, and who can protect children who know her secret name. The angels, though driven out of Heaven, haven’t given up; they carry on their fight against the demons from a hidden camp in the jungle somewhere outside Miami, guarded by friendly alligators who devour hostile intruders. The spirits of children who die in Dade County’s pervasive gang warfare can go to the camp and join the war against the demons, so long as someone who knows the stories puts a leaf on their graves.

This isn’t the sort of worldview you’d expect from people living in a prosperous, scientifically literate industrial society, but then the children in Dade County’s homeless shelters don’t fit that description in any meaningful sense. They live in conditions indistinguishable from the worst end of the Third World; their lives are defined by poverty, hunger, substance abuse, shattered families, constant uncertainty, and lethal violence dispensed at random. If, as Bruce Sterling suggested, the future is already here, just not evenly distributed yet, they’re the involuntary early adopters of a future very few people want to think about just now, but many of us will experience in the decades ahead, and most of humanity will face in the centuries that follow: a future we may as well call by the time-honored label "dark age."

That label actually dates from before the period most often assigned it these days. Marcus Terentius Varro, who was considered the most erudite Roman scholar of his time, divided up the history known to him into three ages—an age of history, for which there were written records; before that, an age of fable, from which oral traditions survived; and before that, a dark age, about which no one knew anything at all. It’s a simple division but a surprisingly useful one; even in those dark ages where literacy survived as a living tradition, records tend to be extremely sparse and unhelpful, and when records pick up again they tend to be thickly frosted with fable and legend for a good long while thereafter. In a dark age, the thread of collective memory and cultural continuity snaps, the ends are lost, and a new thread must be spun from whatever raw materials happen to be on hand.

There are many other ways to talk about dark ages, and we’ll get to those in later posts, but I want to focus on this aspect for the moment. Before the Greco-Roman world Varro knew, an earlier age of complex, literate civilizations had flourished and then fallen, and the dark age that followed was so severe that in many regions—Greece was one of them—even the trick of written language was lost, and had to be imported from elsewhere centuries afterwards. The dark age following Varro’s time wasn’t quite that extreme, but it was close enough; literacy became a rare attainment, and vast amounts of scientific, technical, and cultural knowledge were lost. To my mind, that discontinuity demands more attention than it’s usually been given.  What is it that snaps the thread that connects past to present, and allows the accumulated knowledge of an entire civilization to fall into oblivion?

A recurring historical process lies behind that failure of transmission, and it’s one that can be seen at work in those homeless children of Dade County, whispering strange stories to one another in the night.

Arnold Toynbee, whose monumental work A Study of History has been a major inspiration to this blog’s project, proposed that civilizations on the way to history’s compost heap always fail in the same general way. The most important factor that makes a rising civilization work, he suggested, is mimesis—the universal human habit by which people imitate the behavior and attitudes of those they admire. As long as the political class of a civilization can inspire admiration and affection from those below it, the civilization thrives, because the shared sense of values and purpose generated by mimesis keeps the pressures of competing class interests from tearing it apart.

Civilizations fail, in turn, because their political classes lose the ability to inspire mimesis, and this happens in turn because members of the elite become so fixated on maintaining their own power and privilege that they stop doing an adequate job of addressing the problems facing their society.  As those problems spin further and further out of control, the political class loses the ability to inspire and settles instead for the ability to dominate. Outside the political class and its hangers-on, in turn, more and more of the population becomes what Toynbee calls an internal proletariat, an increasingly sullen underclass that still provides the political class with its cannon fodder and labor force but no longer sees anything to admire or emulate in those who order it around.

It can be an unsettling experience to read American newspapers or wide-circulation magazines from before 1960 or so with eyes sharpened by Toynbee’s analysis.  Most newspapers included a feature known as the society pages, which chronicled the social and business activities of the well-to-do, and those were read, with a sort of fascinated envy, very far down the social pyramid. Established figures of the political and business world were treated with a degree of effusive respect you won’t find in today’s media, and even those who hoped to shoulder aside this politician or that businessman rarely dreamed of anything more radical than filling the same positions themselves. Nowadays? Watching politicians, businesspeople, and celebrities get dragged down by some wretched scandal or other is this nation’s most popular spectator sport.

That’s what happens when mimesis breaks down. The failure to inspire has disastrous consequences for the political class—when the only things left that motivate people to seek political office are cravings for power or money, you’ve pretty much guaranteed that the only leaders you’ll get are the sort of incompetent hacks who dominate today’s political scene—but I want to concentrate for a moment on the effects on the other end of the spectrum. The failure of the political class to inspire mimesis in the rest of society doesn’t mean that mimesis goes away. The habit of imitation is as universal among humans as it is among other social primates. The question becomes this:  what will inspire mimesis among the internal proletariat? What will they use as the templates for their choices and their lives?

That’s a crucial question, because it’s not just social cohesion that depends on mimesis.  The survival of the collective knowledge of a society—the thread connecting past with present I mentioned earlier—also depends on the innate habit of imitation. In most human societies, children learn most of what they need to know about the world by imitating parents, older siblings, and the like, and in the process the skills and knowledge base of the society is passed on to each new generation. Complex societies like ours do the same thing in a less straightforward way, but the principle is still the same. Back in the day, what motivated so many young people to fiddle with chemistry sets? More often than not, mimesis—the desire to be just like a real scientist, making real discoveries—and that was reasonable in the days when a significant fraction of those young people could expect to grow up to be real scientists.

That still happens, but it’s less and less common these days, and for those who belong to the rapidly expanding underclass of American society—the homeless children in Dade County I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, for example—the sort of mimesis that might lead to a career in science isn’t even an option. A great many of those children won’t live to reach adulthood, and they know it; those who do manage to dodge the stray bullets and the impact of collapsing public health, by and large, will spend their days in the crumbling, crowded warehouse facilities that substitute for schools in this country’s poorer neighborhoods, where maybe half of each graduating high school class comes out functionally illiterate; their chances of getting a decent job of any kind weren’t good even before the global economy started unraveling, and let’s not even talk about those chances now.

When imitating the examples offered by the privileged becomes a dead end, in other words, people find other examples to imitate. That’s one of the core factors, I’m convinced, behind the collapse of the reputation of the sciences in contemporary American society, which is so often bemoaned by scientists and science educators.  Neil DeGrasse Tyson, say, may rhapsodize about the glories of science, but what exactly do those glories have to offer children huddling in an abandoned house in some down-at-heels Miami suburb, whose main concerns are finding ways to get enough to eat and stay out of the way of the latest turf war between the local drug gangs?

Now of course there’s been a standard kneejerk answer to such questions for the last century or so. That answer was that science and technology would eventually create such abundance that everyone in the world would be able to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle and its attendant opportunities.  That same claim can still be heard nowadays, though it’s grown shrill of late after repeated disconfirmation. In point of fact, for the lower 80% of Americans by income, the zenith of prosperity was reached in the third quarter of the 20th century, and it’s all been downhill from there. This isn’t an accident; what the rhetoric of progress through science misses is that the advance of science may have been a necessary condition for the boomtimes of the industrial age, but it was never a sufficient condition in itself.

The other half of the equation was the resource base on which industrial civilization depended. Three centuries ago, as industrialism got under way, it could draw on vast amounts of cheap, concentrated energy in the form of fossil fuels, which had been stored up in the Earth’s crust over the previous half billion years or so. It could draw on equally huge stocks of raw materials of various kinds, and it could also make use of a biosphere whose capacity to absorb pollutants and other environmental insults hadn’t yet been overloaded to the breaking point by human activity. None of those conditions still obtain, and the popular insistence that the economic abundance of the recent past must inevitably be maintained in the absence of the material conditions that made it possible—well, let’s just say that makes a tolerably good example of faith-based thinking.

Thus Tyson is on one side of the schism Toynbee traced out, and the homeless children of Dade County and their peers and soon-to-be-peers elsewhere in America and the world are on the other. He may denounce superstition and praise reason and science until the cows come home, but again, what possible relevance does that have for those children? His promises are for the privileged, not for them; whatever benefits further advances in technology might still have to offer will go to the dwindling circle of those who can still afford such things, not to the poor and desperate.  Of course that simply points out another way of talking about Toynbee’s schism:  Tyson thinks he lives in a progressing society, while the homeless children of Dade County know that they live in a collapsing one.

As the numbers shift toward the far side of that dividing line, and more and more Americans find themselves struggling to cope with a new and unwelcome existence in which talk about progress and prosperity amounts to a bad joke, the failure of mimesis—as in the fallen civilizations of the past—will become a massive social force. If the usual patterns play themselves out, there will be a phase when the  leaders of successful drug gangs, the barbarian warbands of our decline and fall, will attract the same rock-star charisma that clung to Attila, Alaric, Genseric and their peers. The first traces of that process are already visible; just as young Romans in the fourth century adopted the clothes and manners of Visigoths, it’s not unusual to see the children of white families in the suburban upper middle class copying the clothing and culture of inner city gang members.

Eventually, to judge by past examples, this particular mimesis is likely to extend a great deal further than it has so far. It’s when the internal proletariat turns on the failed dominant minority and makes common cause with what Toynbee calls the external proletariat—the people who live just beyond the borders of the falling civilization, who have been shut out from its benefits but burdened with many of its costs, and who will eventually tear the corpse of the civilization to bloody shreds—that civilizations make the harsh transition from decline to fall. That transition hasn’t arrived yet for our civilization, and exactly when it will arrive is by no means a simple question, but the first whispers of its approach are already audible for those who know what to listen for and are willing to hear.

The age of charismatic warlords, though, is an epoch of transition rather than an enduring reality.  The most colorful figures of that age, remade by the workings of the popular imagination, become the focus of folk memories and epic poetry in the ages that follow; Theodoric the Ostrogoth becomes Dietrich von Bern and the war leader Artorius becomes the courtly King Arthur, taking their place alongside Gilgamesh, Arjuna, Achilles, Yoshitsune, and their many equivalents. In their new form as heroes of romance, they have a significant role to play as objects of mimesis, but it tends to be restricted to specific classes, and finds a place within broader patterns of mimesis that draw from other sources.

And those other sources?  What evidence we have—for the early stages of their emergence are rarely well documented—suggests that they begin as strange stories whispered in the night, stories that deliberately devalue the most basic images and assumptions of a dying civilization to find meaning in a world those images and assumptions no longer explain.

Two millennia ago, for example, the classical Greco-Roman world imagined itself seated comfortably at the summit of history.  Religious people in that culture gloried in gods that had reduced primal chaos to permanent order and exercised a calm rulership over the cosmos; those who rejected traditional religion in favor of rationalism—and there was no shortage of those, any more than there is today; it’s a common stage in the life of every civilization—rewrote the same story in secular terms, invoking various philosophical principles of order to fill the role of the gods of Olympus; political thinkers defined history in the same terms, with the Roman Empire standing in for Jupiter Optimus Maximus. It was a very comforting way of thinking about the world, if you happened to be a member of the gradually narrowing circle of those who benefited from the existing order of society.

To thos who formed the nucleus of the Roman Empire’s internal proletariat, though, to slaves and the urban poor, that way of thinking communicated no meaning and offered no hope. The scraps of evidence that survived the fall of the Roman world suggest that a great many different stories got whispered in the darkness, but those stories increasingly came to center around a single narrative—a story in which the God who created everything came down to walk the earth as a man, was condemned by a Roman court as a common criminal, and was nailed to a cross and left hanging there to die.

That’s not the sort of worldview you’d expect from people living in a prosperous, philosophically literate classical society, but then the internal proletariat of the Roman world increasingly didn’t fit that description. They were the involuntary early adopters of the post-Roman future, and they needed stories that would give meaning to lives defined by poverty, brutal injustice, uncertainty, and violence. That’s what they found in Christianity, which denied the most basic assumptions of Greco-Roman culture in order to give value to the lived experience of those for whom the Roman world offered least.

This is what the internal proletariat of every collapsing civilization finds in whatever stories become central to the faith of the dark age to come.  It’s what Egyptians in the last years of the Old Kingdom found by abandoning the official Horus-cult in favor of the worship of Osiris, who walked the earth as a man and suffered a brutal death; it’s what many Indians in the twilight of the Guptas and many Chinese in the aftermath of the Han dynasty found by rejecting their traditional faiths in favor of reverence for the Buddha, who walked away from a royal lifestyle to live by his begging bowl and search for a way to leave the miseries of existence behind forever.  Those and the many more examples like them inspired mimesis among those for whom the official beliefs of their civilizations had become a closed book, and became the core around which new societies emerged.

The stories being whispered from one homeless Dade County child to another probably aren’t the stories that will serve that same function as our civilization follows the familiar trajectory of decline and fall. That’s my guess, at least, though of course I could be wrong. What those whispers in the night seem to be telling me is that the trajectory in question is unfolding in the usual way—that those who benefit least from modern industrial civilization are already finding meaning and hope in narratives that deliberately reject our culture’s traditional faiths and overturn the most fundamental presuppositions of our age. As more and more people find themselves in similar straits, in turn, what are whispers in the night just now will take on greater and greater volume, until they drown out the stories that most people take on faith today.


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Andy Brown said...

Regular people (in the US at least) have become aware of the shrinking circle. I spent most of the past ten weeks traveling in the US as a research anthropologist with a short list of questions about what government is for. What shocked me (and I've been doing this kind of work for a decade or so) was the universality of diagnosis of political corruption - in particular the fact that our leaders don't serve the interests of regular people, but serve their own interests and the interests of their wealthy sponsors. That insight might not be groundbreaking, but what is groundbreaking was the fact that this diagnosis was shared by everyone - from the left to the right, from the most sophisticated to the least, among the poor and relatively well-off. I don't think I've ever come across a political consensus like that.

Space Seeder said...

I had been wondering for some time why it is that although the reports of our being in a decline seemed to be consistent the workings of the natural world as I understand them, that I had never seen any evidence of this decline in my own life.

That was until just recently when we brought in some temporary laborers at my construction job. It had been a few years since we used temps, so I hadn't taken stock of them in a while. I remember them being (choose from the assortment of:) broken, desperate, unreliable, drug-addicted people who were able to work but not hold a steady job. Now, they are (all of:) competent, capable, serious, dedicated people who certainly did have steady jobs in those prior days.

The implication is clear: The previous pool of temps has now fallen right off the map and been replaced by people who have been victims of downward mobility due to the ongoing economic contraction.

One of the guys who, like myself, is maintaining his previous status, reached toward this conclusion quietly to me at the lunchroom table today. I don't know if he reads you or Mr. Orlov or Mr. Kunstler or any of that assortment of characters the way I do, but it's interesting to note that some others who don't welcome the uncomfortable truth also see it.

It pains me to think of the poor folk who were part of the "previous pool of temps" that I mentioned. I do not think that the majority of them got off drugs and received effective job training.

I will likely learn the truth of that matter soon enough. I judge that my like-minded friend that I mentioned will last longer but not forever.

Pardon me, Mr. Greer, of course that had nothing to do with stories. You did however mention something though about the future being present but not equally distributed, and I note that there is uncomfortable evidence that confirms that.

JimK said...

Seems inevitable that science will have to retreat back to an esoteric sort of tinkering. Perhaps the Secret Lodge is the best home for it:

Tom Bannister said...

Being one of the youthful upper middle class internal proletariat you have just described here i can tell you this blog sure strikes a very deep chord with me. Some of my clothing is certainly an imitation of American street gang wear (hoodies and black dickies trousers?) even my speech might be faintly recognizable as 'street gang talk'. I cannot say though that I personally hold street gangs in high esteem, but i certainly do feel like I share their pain at times. They are bored, miserable, frustrated with the world around them and looking for meaning in their lives. The society around them does not really offer them much it has to be said- other than harsh welfare policies or attacks about 'lazy ignorant youth' or forcing us all into boring miserable underpaid work. With such a worldview and an outlook, i can tell you finding much positives to look for is an exceptionally difficult challenge. One thing all this misery also does is it makes discussion about the situation of industrial civilization/ the state of the world with anyone quite difficult. There are so many problems and it would appear to many, very little hope.

Incidentally I am reading at the moment an abridged illustrated copy of a study of history, and have just been reading the section about the internal and external proletariat. One thing toynbee does note is that the actions of proletarians are not always violent or destructive, and in some case quite generous and peaceful. Missionaries converting the invaders of the roman empire to christianity for example, plus the original sack of rome in 410 was apparently done 'almost politely'.

Anyway, I recently turned 23 and I have dedicated it as my life's mission to forging a new path ahead, a new sense of purpose and a new direction for the youth of today/internal proletarians and hopefully for future generations. Hopefully too a more peaceful/constructive path.

Oh and also welcome back!



Avery said...

On the subject of the destruction of America's aristocratic class, a good book, thoroughly unscientific and thoroughly perceptive, is Cleveland Amory's Who Killed Society? (Harper & Brothers, 1960). On the decay of Roman society, I recommend to you the writings of Sidonius Apollinaris and Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, both of whom display a stunning lack of awareness of how rapidly the social order was changing. It is important to note that both of these writers were Christian; they no longer had illusions that Rome could maintain the faith of its fathers, yet this did not carry them down a train of thought to discarding their outdated elitism.

Nathaniel Ott said...

Very good JMG. On the note of Neil Degrasse Tyson, i must say that for the most part I tend to like him, and he seems to genuinely believe in the things he saying. Including the idea that more scientific literacy and better technology will help people including those homeless children in Dade county. But unfortunately that's part of the problem.

People now seem to equate delusional beliefs and attitudes automatically with religion, but it's not just them, its a human thing. Even Atheists and Agnostics tend to delude themselves just as much, simply not in the same way. As you've said before weather it's interstellar travel or some other "savior" as long as its desirable people WILL believe in it. Even people who should really know better. I've had conversations with other Atheists and Agnostics about the theory of evolution and they will vehemently agree with it and if someone were to disagree with it they will adamantly defend it with the imperial scientific data collected to prove it over centuries. But, bring up say the scientific data about the light speed barrier and other things that make many other popular syfy tropes improbable or even impossible, and suddenly "anything is possible!" its as if all that logic and reason and scientific data went right out the window. I imagine Tyson would freak out if you went up to him and told him that: if governments and big corporations ever found a way to get a real economic/political/military advantage in space he would probably get all the space funding he wanted, and the Space Treaty would probably be torn apart and burned the same day. That considering the ISS is the size of an american football field (about 100 meters), is not sustainable in anyway shape or form, only holds at best about 10 people, hugs the globe in low earth orbit, and still cost upwards of 100 billion dollars. An O'neil cylinder city sized space colony(about 32,000 meters), holds 10,000 people, is totally self sustainable and floats around in Mars orbit would probably cost more money than the entire global GDP. That even if we have significant technological advancements and scientific literacy this does not mean that everyone will suddenly be singing happy day and that a large number of people will still have very crappy lives.

Really the problem is that no one wants to admit the truth, and the truth is that no really cares about the truth, they care about good results. The creationists Christian loves God as long as he believes that he is going to get good results from God, ie it will answer his prayers and that he is going to go to heaven when he dies, if he thinks that's not working anymore he'll try something else. Now, he is an evolutionary Atheist and loves Science... as long as Science keeps turning out awesome new igadgets and other things he likes and basically says "yes we can!". When Science starts saying "no we can't!" I honestly fear for Science. Because this is really the exact same guy as he was before, he didn't really care about any of these things, he cared about good results. When he stops getting good results, he will probably have the same reaction that he had towards God: feelings of anger and betrayal, and similarly may abandon it.


electricangel1978 said...

Jane Jacobs' last book was titled Dark Age Ahead. I like her definition of a dark age: when the memory of what was lost is lost.

Emmet Scott, in Mohammed and Charlemagne, Revisited posits a novel idea for the collpase of the West, where Christianity had restored vibrancy and functioning. By cutting off the supply of papyrus, (and also trade with the East), Mohammed led to the inadvertant collapse of the recovering Western Empire. No papyrus, no easy way to keep books, making for a collapse in business functioning; also, no cheap medium on which to print literature, causing a collapse in literacy.

The parallel to a society unable to read its electronic books due to a lack of energy is obvious. Could modern financialized capitalism run without computers? To ask the question is to answer it.

Nathaniel Ott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Redneck Girl said...

These early beliefs confuse me, I suppose because they're so raw and pointless. The narrative is still so new they haven't gotten the polish and decoration of ages of re-telling. Part of my incomprehension is because I prefer the creation stories of American Indians which are more comfortable to me at a visceral level. Much of the children's stories give me an urge to take them away from the cities to a more rural area, to a different narrative. It probably wouldn't change the stories in major ways but the feeling and idea that nature is more forgiving then civilized surroundings and city officials might give them more hope for themselves personally. I've always been a wild child inclined to disappear down a trail on my horse or into the back country when I could to nurse a hurt rather then go to some city amusements. Cities and lots of people are not and never have been a place I felt comfortable with. I hope soon to be able to do that again.


John Michael Greer said...

Andy, that's fascinating -- and very troubling. That's the kind of collapse of legitimacy that generally leads to the collapse of a system of government, or even of a nation.

Space Seeder, that has everything to do with stories. You've just told your story, and it's at least as troubling to believers in business as usual as anything those homeless children in Dade County whisper to each other.

JimK, care to guess why I've been talking about Freemasonry and other lodges over and over again on this blog?

Tom, exactly -- the youth who take to gangs do it because it really is the best of the many bad options open to them, and -- as Toynbee points out -- the consequences are not universally bad.

Avery, I'm familiar with both of them, and in fact I'm planning on citing a number of late Roman figures as we proceed.

Nate, very cogently put. Tyson's a first-rate writer and science educator, and of course that's the point; it's not a lack of intelligence or compassion that puts him on one side of a widening gap and those kids in Dade County on the other. Science as a method of inquiry is one of the two or three really great achievements of the modern Western world; science as a utopian ideology and ersatz religion is simply one more belief system that promises more than it can deliver, and it's the latter that shapes most people's response to it just now.

Angel, I'll have to reread Jacobs' book. Scott's thesis seems a bit too simplistic to me, but it's an interesting concept -- and you're right that applying the same logic to today's gizmocentric economy does not lead to comforting thoughts.

Nate, thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt! As I see it, the black (and Hispanic, and Asian, and white) kids in inner cities who are joining street gangs are in many cases choosing the best among the handful of dismal options our society leaves open to them, and the fact that that option also appeals to suburban white kids suggests, to me, that those suburban white kids may be making the same judgment call: life in a street gang seems less hollow, less hypocritical, and less self-defeating than the options pressed on them by their society.

That was likely true in ancient Rome as well; I wonder how many of the young Romans who put on a Visigoth's trousers and tunic, shocking their toga-clad parents, had read Tacitus' Germania and decided that given what Roman society demanded of them, they'd rather be barbarians, thank you very much. It's a common reaction in corrupt and dying civilizations, and a good sign of just how far ours has, shall we say, progressed along the usual trajectory.

John Michael Greer said...

Wadulisi, in urban civilizations the new stories almost always emerge first in cities -- Christianity was very much an urban faith for its first few centuries, because that's where you found the largest concentrations of poor and desperate people. It's not until the cities start falling apart completely that the stories begin to get reworked to suit a more natural environment. More on this as we proceed!

Pinku-Sensei said...

"In point of fact, for the lower 80% of Americans by income, the zenith of prosperity was reached in the third quarter of the 20th century, and it’s all been downhill from there. This isn’t an accident; what the rhetoric of progress through science misses is that the advance of science may have been a necessary condition for the boomtimes of the industrial age, but it was never a sufficient condition in itself...The other half of the equation was the resource base on which industrial civilization depended."

The timing of that zenith supports your formulation, although it's not a global resource peak that appears to be driving it, but a national one. Peak oil in the U.S. arrived in 1971. A few years later, the divergence between real GDP per capita and median real income that characterized the modern economy began right when the first recession caused by an oil price shock hit in 1974. The same pattern shows if one plots productivity vs. real hourly compensation or GDP vs. the Genuine Progress Indicator, which includes the costs and benefits of externalities such as pollution, resource depletion, crime, and income inequality. People on what passes for the Left in the U.S. would like to blame the deterioration of the economic situation of the bulk of the American people on the pro-inequality policies that began under Reagan, although they certainly didn't help and likely made a bad situation worse, but the truth of the matter is that they started seven years earlier, when the U.S. was no longer in control of its own energy supply. I point this out to my students every semester. I'm surprised you didn't make this point first.

As for an "age of charismatic warlords," you're right; the U.S. isn't there yet, although I doubt it's a coincidence that one of our cultural icons is a tormented fictional mobster named after the high female voice in a choir, one that the real Governor of New Jersey is named after. On the other hand, one can look at two states in collapse, Iraq and Syria, and see what an organized band of would be 21st Century feudal warlords is doing over there. They seem to be intent on starting a Dark Age on fast forward by destroying the cultural artifacts of rival traditions, among their other violent acts.

Yes, I call ISIS "The Sith Jihad." That's because I was twitting another blogger, Elaine Meinel Supkis, who thought they looked like Jedi. I told her that they looked more like Sith. My readers liked the comparison, so the name stuck.

Bill Blondeau said...

The thing that stuns me about the secret stories of the homeless kids is not the hopelessness and misery they reflect - happy fables would clearly have no hold on the minds of such deeply unfortunate people - but rather the moral toughness, the blazing creativity and mythic sophistication of these tales.

The Secret Stories (very gnostic.) The Hard Song. The Blue Lady's secret name. Bloody Mary. God chased out of Heaven in heartbreak, leaving his abandoned, overmatched, and rather rudderless angels to resist the victorious demons. Simply as storytelling, this is the sort of thing you might expect out of Richard Kadrey or Mercedes Lackey or Neil Gaiman: tough-minded, brainy practitioners of the craft with rather bent imaginations. But the mythic depth of these kids' tales is simply amazing.

What wellsprings of folkore are the kids tapping into? What truths and calls to action and support for beleaguered souls (for those are the purpose of myth, if it has a purpose) are they embedding in their secret stories?

I'm not sure I concur that these stories are unlikely to survive into the future. They are already too rugged and profound to dwindle away altogether.

Will they survive in unaltered form? Well no, of course not; but they will be, I think, plentiful ingredients in what Tolkien called the "Stewpot of Story" from which our descendants sup.

godozo said...

"...just as young Romans in the fourth century adopted the clothes and manners of Visigoths, it’s not unusual to see the children of white families in the suburban upper middle class copying the clothing and culture of inner city gang members."

I saw that happening in the mid-nineties driving around Lansing Michigan, as the blacks started emulating their brothers in prison by wearing "Sagging jeans." By 1998 I saw it being passed down from father to son, and in the mid 2000s a friend of mine saw this amongst white teenagers in Hillsdale County, Michigan.

As for identifying with outsiders, reading many of the Conservative writers praising Putin to the high heavens for his actions seems like the beginnings of that.

Compound F said...

WRT completely losing respect for the elites, I must confess to giving in to Schadenfreude when, for example, Putin spins Z'Big's Grand Chessboard 180 degrees on his hapless Western counterparts (clinching gas deals with China & Austria, legally renouncing any interest in invading Ukraine, swapping rubles for yuan). Whatever one thinks of Putin, the man's got a sense of humor, when he waves it off as merely representing run-of-the-mill competition in free markets.

Also, I just finished The Long Descent and Star's Reach, which was a darn good tale. Clap, clap.

Christian said...

Very interesting post!

I have two semi-unrelated questions: how would you reconcile your idea that global industrial civilization is already in a decline with the fact that the inflation adjusted global GDP has been rising at a steady clip of 3 to 5 percent per year for many decades now (with the exception of the years 2008 and 2009), continuing through to this day? Do you foresee developing countries running into more problems in the future which will slow down their (currently rapid) growth?

Also, if, purely hypothetically, it were to turn out to be possible to run an industrial society off of solar panels and wind farms, would this change your prognosis for our future, or do you believe that our trajectory points inevitably downward regardless of how much energy we can extract in the future?

electricangel1978 said...


SCott points out that the records of the Merovingian French Kings, still preserved, are on papyrus. I gave the book to my father, as I knew he'd love the idea that an inability to do accounting led to a business collapse. Scott is building on the work of Pirenne, who I think wrote Mohammed and Charlemagne to undo the damage that World War 1 had done to the reputation of the German people. You can read the book as a counter to the idea that, just like in WW1, Germans were AGAIN responsible for the collapse of Western Civilization.

Given that the invading Germans had killed his son defending his Belgian homeland, I give a lot of intellectual credit to Pirenne for writing the original. You can read some nice revisionist history by Scott (without the Islam-bashing) here and here, the latter link a fascinating tale of Persians conquering instead of Arabs.

Indrajala said...

Have you read Peter Turchin's "Secular Cycles"? One feature of societies that are in crisis mode or collapsed is a cult of death.

As you've pointed out earlier, the fascination with zombies, necromancers and vampires is curious in western societies (it hasn't quite caught on anywhere else it seems). Sauron similarly is seen as strong and kinda cool, not cruel and wicked.

Historically, one example that comes to mind is the cult of death that was a part of Buddhist and Hindu tantras in late medieval India, which was a period of opportunistic warlordism and great chaos.

Now what's really curious is that increasingly many many westerners are drawn to the cult of death in Tibetan Buddhism and to a lesser extent Saivite traditions too. They are attracted to garlands of skulls and smearing oneself with human ash, or drinking liquor out of a human skull. There's a whole industry supporting this here in Nepal. Think thighbone trumpets. They're all the rage.

It all strikes me as suggestive of changes especially in western cultures. Sixty years ago I doubt most hippies would have felt cool with washing in human ash, whereas now it fascinates an increasing number of people from the west.

SDBoneyard said...

Did you see this article yet, Michael?

"Greece Goes Medieval - 2/3rds Of Wages Paid In Barter"

Strange reading a headline borrowed from you or Kunstler on a hardcore financial site!

Grebulocities said...

This post, along with Andy Brown's response to it, brought up something I've been tossing around in my head for a while.

The belief in progress that I'd thought was a majority belief in the United States is probably a minority belief after all. It's still the dominant ideology of most people in the educated upper and middle classes, so it still dominates media and political discourse. But very few of the people I've talked with who live outside of this shrinking group of people seem to be under the impression that progress in general is inevitable. There are still vestiges of it among the internal proletariat - people do expect electronic technology to continue to get better, for instance.

I think that belief in Progress tends to decay for people who have seen it fail to match their reality for a long period of time. What we're beginning to see is the collapse of this story even among the educated class; even the government's usual fiddling with the statistics couldn't hide a 2.9% annualized GDP decline last quarter, and the fact that "normal" conditions aren't returning seems to be dawning. Scientists are among the last who will see this; for most scientists, there may be a worrying lack of research funds, but progress is still occurring in a large number of fields. Astronomy, for instance, has seen a number of very interesting discoveries in the past two decades. In 1994 no exoplanets had been detected, it was unknown that the universe's expansion is accelerating, no rover spacecraft had been to Mars, the Hubble had just been repaired and was only beginning to make a long string of impressive discoveries, and so on. People like Neil deGrasse Tyson can easily point to all those discoveries and hold on to the belief that science will eventually advance all of humanity beyond scarcity and perhaps allow us to leave the planet entirely. Minor details like the fact that the US no longer has a functioning manned space program can still be brushed aside for now.

Kevin said...

Philip Pullman, author of "His Dark Materials," has nothing on these kids. He uses Biblical mythology quite freely in his trilogy - one protagonist has an unpleasant meeting with the not-so-nice angel Metatron, for instance - but it's nothing like so dark as the Virgin murdering her son to become a sort of celestial banshee - now that is a really brutal takedown. I don't think the Vatican would like it. As for the blue lady of the sea, it sounds like we have a potential goddess developing there; and they probably wouldn't be too keen on that either.

As I recall, Dade county was the central focus of Anita Bryant's nationally-touted campaign to "Save Our Children" by means of anti-gay legislation, back in 1976. Four decades on, I guess the kids really got saved, didn't they? Where are she and her ilk now - feeding the hungry and housing the homeless? Maybe, but I'm not too sanguine on that point. Perhaps there's some slight difference between morality on the one hand and a moral panic on the other.

I remember well that halcyon time in the early 70s when we were going to save the whole world, preserve democracy, and raise everyone's standard of living to match our own, or at least something like it. That no doubt was a fantasy, but I do think we could have done a great deal better than we have done. It must be hard for younger people to believe there ever was a time when anyone but hopelessly delusional morons could indulge in such cockeyed optimism. We've really screwed up, big time.

Derv said...

I think that one likely trend, which is seen time and again in civilizations collapsing, is the "balkanization" (to use the modern buzz word) of what we see as a unified world. And our Western civilization is on a vastly greater scale. I also am not aware of, at least, any ideology or religion that has the faintest chance of sweeping across the world, except perhaps either a revived Communism or Islam (by sheer demographic power).

To talk, then, of a new mimesis in a singular sense seems slightly out of place; to be sure, the political fracturing of the Roman empire didn't weaken the influence of the Christian worldview, but I think there is a serious difference of character with Westerners today. There is a loss of faith in our political institutions as well as a loss of faith in their underlying ideology, so today, I don't think it likely that some new belief system could spread its influence without also presenting a political system with it. This again brings us to Communism/Islam. The other examples you mentioned were a case of a political crisis (or imperial decline if you prefer) leading to a general crisis, but whether it was Han China or ancient Rome, it was more a question of who should be emperor instead of whether they ought to have one.

No doubt the sort of adored warlords you mentioned could cement the influence of this or that ideology that is currently marginal. Providing security in decline could alone be enough to create an ideology around such a leader. I can't help but feel that the 20s and 30s already showed us this phase, however. Perhaps we could mark that as the crisis that preceded the end of Christendom and its final replacement with Progress.

In short, I think we are likely to either see the spread of Communism or Islam, perhaps countered (or facilitated) by an attempted single warlord "empire," but afterward the whole idea of a unified West will be a dream like Rome became, some ancient ideal that was unattainable.

I do hope the warlord of the Midwest is in favor of subsidiarity; perhaps I ought to be building up my own army now... :)

Kevin said...

I forgot to mention that there has already been at least one rock star narco-warlord: Pablo Escobar of Medellin, Colombia. He wasn't headquartered in the USA, but that country's drug demand and policies had quite a bit to do with his success. He couldn't have been what he was without us. The Feds got him in the end, but I expect they won't keep winning forever.

Nathaniel Ott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Renaissance Man said...

I couldn't help but wonder if the Blue woman from the sea is the return of the Goddess into popular culture through the consciousness of these children? She could be the next major Deity in a new pantheon, since the dominant faiths are rather devoid of strong female figures.

Thank you for mimesis.
I suddenly understand why, as I stand in line with my groceries, I have to think so sadly that so many trees have to be sacrificed to an apparently pointless magazine industry that avidly follows the misbehaving antics of so-called celebrities, from the social pages of the New York Times to the National Enquirer and every E! magazine in between. Why I even know the name Kardashian at all despite active attempts to avoid it.
It explains the Oscars and declining political participation.

Bogatyr said...

Hello from Russia, where the stories being told are rather different to what you'll hear in the Western media.

JMG's theory of catabolic collapse - if I've remembered it correctly - conceives of periods of recovery and reconstitution, albeit with a smaller resource base. That's not an unfair view to take of what's happening here in post-Soviet Russia. The Russians experienced Western 'liberal economics' in the 90s, and it was a horrible experience for them. The Chinese watched in awed horror, and determined that they weren't ever going to let the same happen to them (they, of course, had prior experience back in the 19th century). Both are now building a position that protects them from the tentacles of the Western oligarchy - for which they must, of course, be portrayed as evil in the stories the West tells itself.

Here in Russia, though, the fruits of the recovery are unevenly distributed. Furthermore, particularly in the south, there is a big demographic change going on as the Muslim cultures of the Caucasus maintain higher birthrates than the Russians. The latter are responding to these two trends by seeking refuge in the Neo-Cossack movement, which is something of particular interest to me. Although I don't share many of its values - and those values are often at variance with those of the historical Cossacks - the movement does seem to genuinely be creating a strong and internally stable new culture.

This is where the threads of history and culture were frayed but not yet forgotten; the old clothes can be repurposed for new garments.

In other places - West Africa, Dade County - culture has collapsed to the extent that transgression and new cults are the only refuge of the disoriented remnants.

I appreciate that I've mentioned this several times recently, but Robert Kaplan predicted this in 1994 in his essay 'The Coming Anarchy', with the tagline "Skinhead Cossacks and juju warriors", which is well worth reading for people interested in this week's theme!

I've written a bit about it on my own blog, if anyone's interested: Skinhead Warriors and Juju Warriors or: What a fine baby, I've killed two like him already today.

Ben said...

History does not happen at an even pace in both geographical and temporal terms. My wife and I recently moved from northwest PA back to Oklahoma, and the difference in mindset is amazing. Apparently I'd forgotten the details of just how culturally different the two areas of the country still are.
After two generations of economic collapse, the people in the Rustbelt don't seem to find the same enthusiasm for the stories of progress.
But here in Oklahoma, which for the time being has an economy propped up by shale gas and NGL profits, even people who should probably know better still find the old narratives to be imitation worthy. I'm more than a little uncomfortable to think of what the reaction of the Okie body-politic will be to the collapse of the shale bubble. That results of that reaction will probably look quite similar to the current state of the formerly fertile crescent.
On the upside, it has been raining more, which the plants in my garden appreciate.

Kristoffer Kavallin said...

I'm curious if there has been any writing (satire or simmilar) of Jesus living the regular middle-class life, working hard and struggling to get by, and then being "crucified" in the modern form of forclosure.
I have not seen any, but I imagine that it has been written many times.

Phil Harris said...

Right on the button. I guess I have been waiting for this one. Guess I saw some of this beginning in early 80s in out-of-town 'housing schemes' in Scotland. Not the most important feature perhaps, but some of the visual gang-art seemed strikingly original compared with 'modern art'.

I agree with Bill Blondeau comment about mythic identification; one example very 'gnostic'. Goodness knows how that works.

Phil H

Kutamun said...

It doth beg the question ...hath the myth already morphed ?? From the holy man , who was awarded the Iron Cross First Class , to those crowning triune gods of the culmination of the enlightenment ; reason , progress and technology ....their bastard son "market".. Is the new God already here ?? One suspects so , it is her final form we are trying to birth and discern on this blog ...cant we come up with a better name than "Limits " ...Gaia is a failed early prototype , ( already discarded) too tainted by the dark sheol " commie " ....
All Hail Limits !!! ..... One suspects Philomen is a member of her avante- garde ...
Kuta '

Yupped said...

Interesting take on Christianity in Roman times, as a story held and told by outsiders to the Empire. I hadn't quite looked at the Christ story in those terms. Growing up among Christians they mainly seemed to be pillars of the establishment.

It's difficult to discern a common thread, though, in today's stories, since there are so many of them, and they are all so easily available on the Internet and we (at least I) tend to gravitate to those most consistent with my opinions. It does seem that stories of "upward and onward" with progress, whether economic or scientific or whatever, now have a greater tone of desperation than they used to. But is that my aging ears, my new perspective, my stepping away from the progress story or what? Something of each, and then some, most likely. There certainly is no shortage of stories and narratives out there to explain the world, once you start to look. It's both fascinating and a little exhausting. Hanging on for dear life to the progress narrative I guess at least has the attraction of helping avoid that sense of chaos of competing stories. Partly why so many cling to it I suppose.

Phil Harris said...

A postscript to my first reaction.
'Salvation' is to remember to remember and to place a leaf on a grave. My goodness!
Phil H

Sixbears said...

We could end up with a really weird mix. People who have great difficulty to eat and stay warm, but have enough solar electric to keep their cell phones charged. Come to think of it, there are places like that now.

Once again, the future is here, just not evenly distributed.

Humans do love our stories. Making one's own myths will prove more useful than the one's from the preachers, politicians, or the TV.

RPC said...

Lots to digest here...I wonder about the future of Christianity. The itinerant preacher from Galilee has always fit awkwardly into the role formerly played by Jupiter Optimus Maximus and has a tendency to revert to his origins as gadfly of the rich and comfortable. I suppose we'll see, though the shenanigans of the current Pope give me hope!

Yossi said...

“Science as a method of inquiry is one of the two or three really great achievements of the modern Western world; science as a utopian ideology and ersatz religion is simply one more belief system that promises more than it can deliver, and it's the latter that shapes most people's response to it just now. “
This is very unfortunately true. Perhaps if we could define the scientific method as one thing and the application of science, i.e. technology as another, and the kind of grandiose technology, which you rightly refer to as utopian ideology as yet another, we would all be clearer in our thinking and better able to reshape people’s response to it.
It seems to me that because of this conflation it is too easy for the enemies of reason to muddy the waters.

Senador Lombrith said...

Dear Mr Green,
It's time for me to say finally hello and thank you for your writings, after having been reading you for a few years now.
In a nutshell, I'm a 33 years old Spanish guy from Valencia, living in Poland since 2011 teaching Spanish to Poles, and currently planning to move to La Mancha after the summer and try to tend there some vineyards bequeathed by my grandmother.
About mimesis in Poland, I noticed how teenagers and young men here share some features in their appearance, despite their ideology. Most of them keep their hair very short, very few allow facial hair other than Lech-Walesa-style moustaches, and many wear very often those hoodies, like imitating the urban guetto style from the States or the UK. Actually, despite this being nowadays a country with a very low rate of foreigners (it used to be a culturally rich place before WW2 and even more before their independence after their partition period) and almost a non-existent exposure to black people, teenagers find idols to follow in American black musicians, and want to wear their brands and play their sports.
All this was kind of shocking for me, coming as I do from a not-that-urban background in a completely different climate zone, where I would say that hippie, reggae and ska subcultures combine better with the Spanish worldview, at least in the portion of the Mediterranean coast where I grew up. Of course there are many looks coexisting in Spain, but the point is that hoodies are not as popular as in Poland and mostly associated with soccer right-wing fans.
By being here I also experience that sensation about the future not being yet evenly distributed. For example, is amazing the way that Poland recalls features of Spanish recent past, like the poor quality of the roads, the old public transport network and the widespread presence and acceptance of the Catholic church. In the same way, Poles who have been to Ukraine or to Belarus describe those countries as "Poland twenty years ago". There's a very patronizing first layer of this thought about "we" living in the future and "they" living in the past, and it took me a while to identify the ideology of progress at work, for according to the storyline of growth, in twenty years, Ukraine would be like Poland and Poland like Spain, although that won't probably be the way.
The most amazing reality of all this is how, despite the globalization trend of the last decades, neighboring countries can still be so different and follow their own internal pace.


Ben said...

I know you don't dig on TV shows, but while reading that article about the homeless kid in Miami, I flashed several times on scenes from the 4th and 5th seasons of 'the Wire'

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Hello JMG,

Glad to again be reading your thoughts on Thursday mornings.

Re the children's stories: deeply creative and approaching the mythic yes-- but I think you can parse the origins thus: obviously remnant Bible stories; Bloody Mary,the old children's scare game; the blue-skinned woman and defending alligators like something out of Disney (cf Little Mermaid and the talking, singing animals and cuddly, wise lions); countless TV programs. Though homeless, these children have probably been exposed to visual electronic media all their lives (though, in 1997 the internet wouldn't have been a factor for them, as it is in the Slenderman stories.)

Perhaps one of the things that might be forgotten in our future dark age is the multi-billion dollar industry that served as one of the major sources for these kinds of stories--The industry, that, for all its sophistication, is promoting a largely oral/visual, a-literate, illiterate, non-reasoning way of encountering the world: profiting off synthetic myth-making, as it were, and more influential in many young people's lives than anything school offers. (Speaking from experience in the classroom.)

I know you're not forgetting that centuries-long drought that crashed the Hittites, Mycenaeans, et al as a major factor in the dark age prior to Varro: another lesson for us. What were the climate conditions as the Roman world tumbled?

And where does Mithras fit in? Collapse is so complex!

William Church said...

JimK said: "Seems inevitable that science will have to retreat back to an esoteric sort of tinkering. Perhaps the Secret Lodge is the best home for it..."

JMG said: "JimK, care to guess why I've been talking about Freemasonry and other lodges over and over again on this blog?"

Fascinating thoughts.

I have always known, even prior to taking my vows, that Freemasonry was a gathering place of men of a certain mindset. Not all by any means but certainly much more than you'd expect from a group of men picked at random.

I have to say that I believe gathering men of such a mindset together and giving them reassurance that they are among brothers would provide ample opportunity to "tunnel" valuable information through trying times. And I would agree with the proposition that it has, in fact, done so previously. Although I am by no means an expert on this topic I feel that much of this information applied to the fields of politics in American life. And the fraternity certainly provided a safe haven for many of the scientists in Europe centuries past.

I'd venture that a lot of the alleged "secret knowledge" that has inspired so much speculation (from vacuous journalists to Ancient Astronaut Theorists) had a reality behind it that is a lot more down to earth than they would ever believe.


Ceworthe said...

I agree that people abandon the modes and institutions of civilizations that fail them. In fact, they may demonize the past for what it has "done" to them whether in fact t or in fiction. Witness the doctors without borders people being attacked for helping out with the Ebola croissants somehow now become the cause of it in a popular fiction of some people's minds and rumors. I suspect Dr something like that may have been the cause of the masses sacking many of their own civilizations.
As for last week's comment, I grew up in the 50's and 60's. Perhaps I should have put it that the majority of the people where I grew up in CNY revered scientists, thought doctors could do no wrong, went on to be computer engineers,etc. I was the odd one reading Rachel Carson,recycling way before it was popular, etc.

Cathy McGuire said...

Wow! Really strong post! I have long perceived that those going through a collapse wouldn't see it as one, due to the slow decline (wrote several poems about that in the early 80's), but your point about mimesis was both startling and (after I thought about it) very clear. I also remember how the rich and the authorities were looked up to in 50’s, 60’s - and now, it seems they are lower than street cleaners on the respect scale! And it's a sobering thought that such a situation might loosen the balancing ties of society. I was also impressed by your description of the Christian church as an urban dissident's religion - also makes sense, once I consider it, which I hadn't... each of these points gives us (me) the opportunity to look for other such signs in our society today.

I was very caught up with that story of the Miami homeless children - I read the whole article, and as a retired therapist who's worked in a domestic violence shelter, I found the images and some stories believable. Yet as a journalist, I was amazed that nothing more had come of this story since 1997 - and a brief scan of the internet shows that many others are equally concerned... did the writer exaggerate? Make it up? But no one has come forward to totally refute it, either - it's like it popped up "fully born" and then disappeared... and has popped up again this year... so it will be interesting to see if anyone can find any other confirmation or refutation of this one article...but I don’t doubt the underlying point, which is that there are new stories being created by the disenfranchised, ones that more closely fit their experiences.

William Church said...

Pinku-Sensei said: "People on what passes for the Left in the U.S. would like to blame the deterioration of the economic situation of the bulk of the American people on the pro-inequality policies that began under Reagan, although they certainly didn't help and likely made a bad situation worse..."

I always enjoy reading your responses Pinku, it provides a lot of insights.

I'd throw out that as far as the lot of the average working class American goes that there is another factor at work. I agree that the turn from energy exporter to importer was crucial. But not just because it "pressured" the system. It was the first time that abusing the privilege of reserve currency issuance provided a much needed relief valve to the system.

Once this was allowed it was then possible to run chronic trade deficits without the usual dire consequences. Financialization became a viable, albeit short lived, option. From this time onward the manufacturing base was systematically looted to the benefit of select and protected sectors of the economy.

I don't know that our history wouldn't have read much differently has we not had the option of printing the reserve currency. The futility of "tax and spend" could not have been replaced with the insanity of "don't tax and spend even more".


Khadija said...

@Nathaniel Ott,

You said, "My dad(and myself) would probably agree with you seeing as how he grew up in one of those poor black urban areas riddled with violence and subsequently got out at the first opportunity. He was shocked when he actually met some of these white suburban kids who seemed to love the idea of the hell he grew up in. I was subsequently shocked when I learned that some of his friends called him all kinds of horrible things when they learned he got with a white girl(even though she was just as poor as them) and had a little brown baby, as if he betrayed them or something. What can you say, a person can be smart but people seem to just be dumb all around."

Respectfully, let me point out a practical, rational possible explanation of that reaction from your father's (ex?) friends. It's a pragmatic explanation that usually goes with saying (doesn’t have to be explained) among other “tribes" (non-African-Americans).

If you scratch the surface of most modern-day middle-class and above African-Americans, you'll find previous generations who were desperately poor. So, the trajectory of "up from hell to a better life outside the slums" is not an unusual life narrative among non-poor African-Americans.

My parents (who made the leap from big-city poverty in their youth to upper-middle-class affluence through higher education) grew up poor in Chicago’s segregated slums. The high-rise housing projects (like the infamous Cabrini-Green) that were created in the late 1950s/early 1960s were actually considered a step up from the tenements that my parents had grown up in.

If your Dad's experience was anything like my Dad's experience as he clawed his way out of the slums, there were a LOT of material and non-material resources invested into him by the African-American collective. More than a few equally-poor Black folks invested in his rise. Especially the African-American women in my Dad’s orbit. Very few people are singular "up from the slums" success stories totally all by themselves. When you look closely at the situation, they usually had some type of help or support. Often from some of the other poor people around them.

Regarding my Dad, the African-American women in his orbit invested a LOT of energy into supporting his rise. From his poor Black mother and poor Black grandmother. To his equally poor Black aunts. To the equally poor Black church ladies at his mother's Black church (located in the same poor, slum neighborhood). These equally poor Black church ladies sold home-cooked church dinners and conducted "fish fries" to raise money to help him and other striving Black college students buy their college textbooks.

[to be continued in Part 2]

Khadija said...

Part 2 in reply to Nathaniel Ott

My paternal grandfather was financially supportive of my Dad to the best of his meager ability. My grandfather and other male relatives, the male pastor of my grandmother's church, and my Dad’s male friends were helpful. But these men weren't on a fervent "mission" to support him (and other young Black male strivers) like the Black women in his orbit. The Black church ladies launched these fund-raising missions to give some financial support to my Dad and other young Black male strivers from the neighborhood. Not the male pastor. Not the male deacons. This overall pattern was not (and is not) unusual in poor African-American neighborhoods.

The (equally poor) Black church ladies also got together to periodically send "care packages" to many of the poor young Black male college students who were living away on campus.

The Black women in my Dad's orbit invested a lot of their hopes and dreams into seeing him and other striving young African-American men rise. These women played a not-insignificant part in enabling his rise. Let's be clear: Black women made the lion’s share of the investment in my Dad's rise. Black men made some investment in my Dad’s rise. Nonblack women did not invest anything in my Dad's rise out of the slums.

So it would've left a very bad taste in more than a few of my Dad's Black friends', Black relatives' and Black acquaintances' mouths if he had accepted all that support from the African-American "tribe," and then gave all the economic benefits of his rise to an outsider woman from another tribe and another community. Particularly if the outsider woman was from a "tribe" that either: (1) did nothing to help his rise, and contributed nothing to his rise. Or (2) had tried to hinder or block his rise.

Keep in mind my Dad was a young man in the 1960s. I don't know what age group your Dad is in. Perhaps everything was okay when your Dad made his rise. Of course, I also don’t know what, if any, investment the other Black folks around him made into your Dad’s rise. Maybe your Dad did it all by himself. Or maybe outsiders helped your Dad rise. Maybe outsiders even provided the lion’s share of support for your Dad’s rise out of poverty.

I’m simply saying that my Dad’s experience was not unique or unusual. African-Americans (particularly African-American church ladies) tend to rally around and pour a lot of resources into young Black male strivers.

From conversations I've had with friends over the years, it seems pretty clear to me that other "tribes" understand the economic effects of this sort of wealth transfer. It's why many of the Jewish and Greek people I know have not-so-thrilled reactions to males from their group marrying outside their group---thereby transferring their material resources from the Jewish or Greek "tribe" to a woman from an outsider tribe. Most cohesive tribes try to keep their material resources flowing among and toward themselves.

In the scheme of things, NO rational or reasonable person cares about other folks’ romantic choices. But rational people do tend to care about whether or not their tribe is getting a return on the investment they made in various tribal members. The African-American tribe has the same legitimate concerns about where its tribal resources are going as any other tribe.

During the Long Descent, I won’t be surprised if various tribes increasingly start circling the wagons, so to speak. Tribal membership can be defined in various ways. Nevertheless, in times of economic pressure people in most countries tend to default to ethnic membership.

Just saying'. {smile}

thecrowandsheep said...

JMG, as many of your readers may well know, Bertolt Brecht found the solution to all our problems many years ago. Basically, what is required are more prayers from intellectuals to oil tanks (700 intellektuelle beten einen öltank an):

Hopefully, more are on the way!

Joseph Nemeth said...

I presume the children of Dade county, even if desperately poor, have access to television. (?)

Portions of the stories you relate -- particularly the rout of Heaven, God MIA, etc. -- sound like they were lifted from a number of recent television series, including the wildly-popular Supernatural series, now in it's tenth season. I'm wondering how many other images are drawn from various "children's cartoons," popular anime, and the like.

These stories in turn come from professional writers who are crafting in an iconoclastic or even nihilistic mode that deliberately undercuts existing verities. It has become very popular to rehabilitate the villains of old, for instance -- Bram Stoker's stain of pure evil that infested an abandoned castle in the Carpathians became Fred Saberhagen's erudite and misunderstood "friend of the family," who then became the various tragic and even heroic "sparkly vampires" of modern stories, while the heroes and gods of old are turned on their heads and portrayed as morally compromised or even outright shams.

I mention this because I've read that much the same happened during the birth of Christianity. It's a fact that dying-reborn gods were all over the Near East in the centuries around CE 1, and each major ethnic group had its own: Osiris, Attis, Adonis, Dionysus, etc. I've read that the Jews were no exception, and that a group based in Alexendria called the Therapeutae, were actively crafting a uniquely Jewish version of the dying-reborn god, which may have formed a basis for some of the later Christian stories. Which may or may not be a historically defensible claim -- I wouldn't know.

The point, however, is that dying cultures have plenty of detractors, many of those detractors are literate and tell really fine stories, and variants of those stories filter down to the illiterate and suffering classes who embrace and blend them to provide hope in the face of a hopeless reality. Those stories, in turn, are intended to tear down the existing order.

Perhaps it is a little like the scavenger species -- ants, worms, bacteria -- that recycle the organic matter from which life has departed. When a culture ceases to have life in it, the scavenger stories come out and recycle the culture.


Harlan Bjornstad said...

"...[W]hat the rhetoric of progress through science misses is that the advance of science may have been a necessary condition for the boomtimes of the industrial age, but it was never a sufficient condition in itself."

Something I often ask is "when did the pursuit of science as knowledge for its own sake, morph so completely into the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of exerting control?" until even the ostensibly "purer" science is mixed up in pollution and environmental destruction.

Take the atom smasher at CERN that demands a city's worth of energy to tell us well, nothing new of note, but that "what we already seem to know, is probably true."

Or say (last week) a group of astronomers cheering at a "ceremonial explosion" on a South American mountaintop, in preparation for the construction of a new observatory.

Or say (last year) a competition pitting the British against the Russians to see who would be the first to penetrate a pristine sub glacial lake in Antarctica with a drill bit. (The Russians won. More staying power I guess.)

All this may seem a bit beside the point of your post, except that this quote of Tyson's, garnered from Wikipedia, intrigues me:

"Every account of a higher power that I've seen described, of all religions that I've seen, include many statements with regard to the benevolence of that power. When I look at the universe and all the ways the universe wants to kill us, I find it hard to reconcile that with statements of beneficence."

Now, I don't consider myself a standard religious believer; nevertheless it strikes me that if the basic story we tell ourselves about the universe AS A HOME FOR US, is one that sees it as a murderer of its own children, well then maybe the need for CONTROL is going to be the first thing on your mind, and maybe you will want to bend every instrument of mind and body, science and engineering to that project of control. And maybe you'll enthusiastically call for more funding. More investment. More control. Even as the returns on those investments dwindle.

But let's go back to the core assumption behind all that: the universe as murderer.

To my mind, maybe our biggest job in the face of descent, is to figure out how to contribute to the richness of our home AS IT IN MOST OF THE OLD STORIES, WAS ORIGINALLY GIVEN TO US (trees, flowers, fields, oceans rivers etc), rather than as we've gotten used to it (plastic milk jugs, superhighways, etc.)Our job is to give up the fantasy of overt control, and adopt a scheme that sensibly, systematically, limits us. And under this scheme our first job is to control OURSELVES. Control our expectations. Count our blessings first and our seventy-eight-degree-Fahrenheit wishes second.

To use a musical metaphor, whatever is clever ingenious, elegant, about our lives has to become a intentional variation on the ground bass of nature's generosity, and never depart from that foundation.

In the end that means, as you so often say, JMG, first and foremost: LESS.

It seems to me, though, that you can't begin that project of unfolding the fist of control--of rebellion against that foundational harmony--until you perceive that the universe we live in is in fact our HOME, and furthermore that "home," if it means anything, HAS to include a touch of what we used to call Providence, of the open-handed gift economy. Of course, any little jack pine seedling growing out of a crack in the cliff could tell us this, but we seem pretty deaf of late.

To get around to the point: I'm saying that the Tyson quote describes our universe in a surprisingly children-of-Dade-county-like way.

I'm saying too that this is, at first, sort of surprising. But then when you look at it, it's not so surprising at all:

"In my end is my beginning."


Unknown said...

Writing surfaces aren't limited to papyrus. Lots of other things can and have been used, including wood pulp. It is hard for me to imagine the collapse of civilization (or business, ...same thing?) due to lack of account books.

It seems to me that much of what passes for Christianity today doesn't bear much resemblance to its origins, including particularly the creation science types. I often think that we need to move Christianity back to its roots which included compassion for and care of the poor. Plus, there's a lot of power in the stories of scripture particularly if you look at them taking off the "glasses" used to read them the last 150-200 years or so and get back to a more original interpretation (i.e. St. Basil the Great of the 4th C).

peak.singularity said...

George Monbiot is starting to get it?

But how do you thread the fine line between positive thinking and wishful thinking?

Eric S. said...

I first read that article a few years after recently escaping from a very difficult, very draining association with a person who had, in response to a lifetime of abuse, framed her reality around a series of horror fantasy role-playing games, bits of fantasy literature, and bits of pagan mythology.

She was completely convinced that she was caught in the middle of an ongoing war between vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, and ancient gods all culminating in an apocalypse that would take place sometime "soon."

I'd encountered her while I was still really new to Druidry, or really anything outside of my straight forward Christian upbringing, and seeing someone so convinced of things that made no sense to me while I was still trying to square away my own brand new spiritual experiences threw me into a crisis of faith for several years during which I flat out refused to accept or acknowledge any spiritual experience I had and eventually just stopped having them all together. It took years of hard work to breathe back any real enchantment into my religious life, and even now it takes regular, daily practice to feel anything at all.

But I remember that article having an enormous impact on me at the time... It got me thinking about that weird place where raw, sensory experience of a life lived in this world, the swirling subjectivity of the mists of the Otherworld, and cultural narratives and "whispered stories" combine into myths... And in turn about the role that process takes in the rise and fall of civilizations, in the emergence of new religions and belief systems.

A few months ago as you were winding toward the end of your series on religion, I encountered this article that explores a very similar theme among teenagers. It is really interesting seeing the aspects of our culture that wind up making their way to people already living the grim realities of decline:

DaShui said...

Greetings ADJMG,

A couple of years ago a person I know, white,solidly middle class banker, his son started calling himself a "Latin King", took some guy out into a secluded location and attempted to beat him to death, leaving him for dead. His son now rots in prison, and the father blames himself, but I think its something more than a failure of parenting, something more like u described in this post, for young middle class men there is not much chance to feel ilke a man in an overly inclusive society.

BoysMom said...

Wadulisi, I suspect that some of the emergence of new stories among the poor happens in cities precisely because things don't get as bad in rural areas. Sure, rural poverty isn't any fun, but unless the crops fail, there's something to eat, and there's much work to be done to keep it that way, so people are occupied.

Brother Greer, I was quite surprised at the narrative being referred to a news story. I encountered the exact same story set in a Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edgehill book, Mad Maudlin, published in 2003 and set in NYC. Being fiction authors, I suppose they borrowed it, as that's what authors do.

Joe Mitstein said...

Brilliant analysis and summation. I want to play a sort of devil's advocate though, if only to highlight the cognitive dissonance so many people are feeling.

I really don't dispute anything you've described, but at the same time, the pace of technological progress (for lack of a better word) in the past decade--in terms of functionality, speed, and access--is staggering. I listen to local radio stations as they're broadcasting in India and China on my iPhone while I work; I can get real-time micro-news from any corner of the globe via Twitter; the name of a childhood acquaintance from 30 years ago can come to mind, and a moment later, thanks to Google and its links, I can see a current image of his face and find out where he lives and works now (as well as how much his house is worth, who his ancestors are, what his mother looked like in her half-century-old engagement photo, and on and on....)

All that is true, and what you're saying is true, simultaneously. During your blogging absence, I read your Not the Future We Ordered, in which you address the fact that people alive today have personally experienced increasing technological capabilities, and I was pleased you did so, as I think this experience of advancing technological efficiency and speed is probably the most common thought-stopper people employ for why decline can't possibly be around the corner.

Obviously the vast majority of people in the world don't have iPhones, but cheap cell phones are very common in poorer countries, so even there people have seen tremendous technological change. I know what I'm saying is obvious, but the dissonance between historically recent "progress" and longer-term decline is, in my mind, perhaps the greatest impediment there is to getting people to see the larger historical sweep that's ahead of us.

Even as the non-techie quality of life declines around us, as towns that once supported bustling main streets and near-full employment continue to wither away, I do think a great chunk of the population will continue to cling to first-hand experience of technological advancement as a thought-stopper for why any narratives of a long descent must be "demonstrably" false.

SLClaire said...

This post struck an emotional chord with me, for personal reasons (I'm mourning a friendship that appears to be ending) and also because my garden science project is experiencing difficulties this summer. I've been haunted by a sense that I've taken on more than I can accomplish. When I look at things more clearly I can see how much I have done in spite of the extra hours required for mowing the entire lawn with a reel mower rather than a gasoline-powered mower as I have done for all of June so far. But it does make physically apparent the limits of relying more on muscle power than fossil fuels. It also reminds me that it limits how much time I have to pass on how to practice garden science to others, which brings me back to your focus in this blog post.

This winter, when I reflect on this season's experience, what I learned and what I can pass on, I'll also reflect on the clue about Freemasonry and lodges in your response to an earlier comment. Maybe there is something there I can work with in the upcoming years.

ando said...


I mixed and matched a little and posted this on my Facebook page.
I expected to take a beating, but amazingly, my friends of all political stripes are hitting the like button. The times they are still a changin':

Sounds familiar....

"Civilizations fail, in turn, because their political classes lose the ability to inspire mimesis - the universal human habit by which people imitate the behavior and attitudes of those they admire - and this happens in turn because members of the elite become so fixated on maintaining their own power and privilege that they stop doing an adequate job of addressing the problems facing their society. "

John Michael Greer, The Archdruid

More importantly, I ate greenbeans from my garden for the first time this summer, last night. I am still getting the hang of this, so it is still a bit of a thrill.



Ien in the Kootenays said...

Thank you for these erudite, deep posts. I wish you were wrong and fear you are right. Meanwhile, I shall cultivate the garden and try to be a seed bearer.

Neo Tuxedo said...

Christian, you're asking JMG, not me, but here's how I'd answer your questions:

how would you reconcile your idea that global industrial civilization is already in a decline with the fact that the inflation adjusted global GDP has been rising at a steady clip of 3 to 5 percent per year for many decades now (with the exception of the years 2008 and 2009), continuing through to this day?

Thom Hartmann has pointed out on his radio show that most of the gains in GDP are going to those who already have more money than most of us will see across our entire lives, that the internal proletariat (though Thom, unlike JMG, doesn't use Toynbee's term) has actually experienced a net loss of net worth in the midst of this growth.

Also, if, purely hypothetically, it were to turn out to be possible to run an industrial society off of solar panels and wind farms, would this change your prognosis for our future, or do you believe that our trajectory points inevitably downward regardless of how much energy we can extract in the future?

The question is a wrong one; it's only a hypothetical in that, like the teachings of Jesus, it has been found difficult and left untried. (Apologies to G.K. Chesterton.) It's possible to run a perfectly satisfactory industrial society off of solar power and wind farms -- it just wouldn't be capable of the level of abundance to which 30-some years of eating our seed corn has accustomed Western Uncivilization. We had chance after chance to start building that kind of society, but we wasted them all because we had an International Communist Conspiracy to defeat.

Ing said...

JMG, since you started talking about narratives, and I really don't know when exactly that began or pierced my consciousness, I have been thinking about how to cultivate a narrative that works for me that can be shared with and perhaps by those I love. It's not really a simple thing, in part because my loved ones don't agree with me about diminishing natural resources and the potential consequences. Luckily, my partner desires to live more simply than the average and I believe my child understands the importance of sidestepping any and all debt. That feels like an accomplishment and a huge relief, but there's more to do. Choosing a narrative to cultivate is complicated further because truthfully I fall asleep along the way, don't always know how to gauge its usefulness, or question my sanity altogether. On one hand, I know several people who think anyone who doesn't live high on the hog or is struggling is living with poverty consciousness and that with a swipe of a positive thought card could change their perception and experience. This feels disingenuous and in some cases deluded to me; sometimes it's downright mean the way poverty or lack is punished. On the other hand, I can see how my desire to choose and cultivate a narrative might go around the same twist. It takes so much time and effort to tease these things apart, I completely understand why some people decide they'd rather not. I tend to do best in these efforts when I recognize it as a fulfilling creative endeavor with no guarantees. Just some meandering thoughts that got themselves a little more together than usual!

steve pearson said...

Very fascinating post.Poor kids, but better off, I guess, for having a story they can relate to.
A comparable phenomenon would seem to be the cult of Santa Muerte (saint death) that has arisen in Mexico in conjunction with the rise of the drug cartels and the associated levels of murder and other violence that have plagued the country.
Great to have you back,JMG. You were missed.
Regards, Steve

D.M. said...

I wonder what would happen if the accumulated knowledge of a civilization could survive its collapse relatively intact and be passed on to the next civilization, what kind of impact would that have?

Bill Pulliam said...

One item I've been waiting for someone to mention... those stories were being told 17 years ago. Those kids, at least some of them, are adults now and likely have kids of their own. What stories are they telling?

Living here among the rural side of the internal proletariat, I'm not sure they are telling any stories at all other than that the poor get the shaft, always have, and always will. That's not a new story. Most are just trying to smoke, drown, and medicate their sorrows away. There's also the old story of not being able to trust anyone but ourselves, we're on our own. This may be a function of the fact that life never really does change all that much for rural peasants, generation to generation.

I don't know if this is new, I haven't been in this area long enough, but if you are one of the few remaining Americans who still pick up hitchhikers, you generally get a story right out of the depression of hard luck, nothing left at home, hitting the road looking for anything better, hopes that some cousin of some guy they met once might have work for them in Oregon. Again, there have always been people who fell down on their luck, and it's hard to tell yet whether this is a trend.

Eric S. said...

Regarding Neil Degrasse Tyson... these are the two statements from him that pretty much killed my faith in him as an intellectual and as a scientist:

bryant said...

"The mother of Christ murdered her son and morphed into the terrifying Bloody Mary, a nightmare being who weeps blood from eyeless sockets and seeks out children to kill them. Opposing her is a mysterious spirit from the ocean who takes the form of a blue-skinned woman, and who can protect children who know her secret name."

Interesting to me how closely this resembles the myth of the Good Man towards the end of the webcomic Digger (circa 2006) by Ursula Vernon. I am wondering about carts and horse and which goes first. Or maybe it is just the zeitgeist of a collapsing empire.

Senador Lombrith said...

I'm really sorry, JMG! It was my first message, I wanted to do it right and then I wrote your surname wrong. From now on, only JMG.
Jordi Cano

Ing said...

Joseph Nemeth wrote: "The point, however, is that dying cultures have plenty of detractors, many of those detractors are literate and tell really fine stories, and variants of those stories filter down to the illiterate and suffering classes who embrace and blend them to provide hope in the face of a hopeless reality. Those stories, in turn, are intended to tear down the existing order."

That's interesting, my sense of it, both with regards to the children's stories and more generally, is that these stories bubble up and through the common fare. Being poor or not being able to read does not automatically suggest a lack of imagination or the ability to make sense of one's own experience through story. It seems to me that we all have the same imagery or elements at our disposal and it's our experience that shapes which ones we make use of and how they form into our stories; intercessors may or may not have played a part.

Neo Tuxedo said...

"Interesting to me how closely this resembles the myth of the Good Man towards the end of the webcomic Digger (circa 2006) by Ursula Vernon. I am wondering about carts and horse and which goes first."

In the annotations to the Sofawolf Press omnibus edition (which I helped fund via Kickstarter), Ursula V says that she drew inspiration from the Miami mythos; I think it was even via the same newspaper story our host linked.

John Michael Greer said...

Pinku-Sensei, of course the peaking and decline of resource availability hits different places at different times -- in our case, a little earlier than some others. There's a sense in which people in the Rust Belt are the involuntary early adopters of the future of industrial society as a whole.

Bill, I'm basing my prediction that these won't be the enduring stories of the dark age ahead on historical principles, as usual -- you can see things like Christianity stirring in the Roman world a good long ways back, but the stories go through a lot of changes before they get systematized into an enduring vision of meaning and values.

Godozo, yes, the schoolgirl crush that so many right-wing pundits seem to have on Putin these days is a good example of what I was talking about. Mind you, Putin's a competent leader, which we have in very short supply in the west just now, so I can understand why said pundits developed said crush!

Compound F, thank you! May I ask a favor of you and anyone else who enjoys Star's Reach? I went with a small publisher to keep the story from being edited with a rusty chainsaw by bonobos on bad acid -- the usual fate of fiction in the hands of big publishers these days -- but that also means no publicity budget worth speaking of. The one source of publicity the book has is word of mouth; if you could recommend it to anyone you think would enjoy it, I'd be most grateful!

Christian, don't confuse the money economy with the production of actual goods and services. The only reason GDP has grown in recent decades is the explosion of fictive wealth of various kinds -- basically, unpayable IOUs churned out by an increasingly reckless financial industry -- to prop up a faltering industrial system. I'd encourage you to look at the percentage of GDP accounted for by the financial industry over the last thirty years -- that's one way to see how much current "wealth" is simply smoke and mirrors.

As for your second question, infinite growth on a finite planet is an impossibility no matter how you spin it. If energy isn't the limiting factor, something else will be. Thus no matter who comes up with what gimmick, the road leads down from here.

Angel, well, I'll check it out.

Indrajala, no, but clearly I should. The worship of death in one form or another -- whether it's contemporary vampire fetishism or the cult of Santissima Muerte -- has become a huge cultural presence of late, and yes, that's a sign worth tracking.

Boneyard, no, I hadn't seen it yet. Good for the Greeks; they've realized that if you don't use money for your transactions, the financial industry doesn't get to take their cut.

Grebulocities, you may well be right. I've long suspected that faith in progress, like any other religious belief, will be given lip service long after most people have stopped putting any real trust in it.

Kevin, it's very typical for the gods of one era to become the devils of the next, so I wasn't at all surprised to see the Virgin Mary turned into a child-eating monster -- and let's not even talk about how many bad experiences with Catholic clergy might also feed into that. (I've commented before that while people from other denominations who left their birth religion have a galaxy of reasons for doing so, every single former Catholic I've ever met left the church because of an abuse of power on the part of a priest, monk, nun, or other Catholic religious functionary.) As for your broader point, no argument there.

Richard Larson said...

Yes I do have a couple of comments. The idea of an eternal life of bliss upon leaving a miserable existance would be easy to believe. I could envision a person laboring in the fields under the hot sun and oppression would find relief in the imagination.

The simple cure for mimesis, a new word for me to consider using thank you very much, would be passage of a law that hangs, yes by the neck until they are dead sort of thing, of the ten wealthiest people..., every year.

Nice to read you again Archdruid. And how does your garden grow?

John Michael Greer said...

Derv, oh, granted -- exactly what becomes the focus of mimesis in the wake of any given civilization can vary dramatically from region to region, and the unflattening of the world that's already under way is likely to give rise to many different narratives rather than any single unifying theme. More on this in future posts.

Kevin, yes, I was thinking of him among others. Give it a while, and there'll be figures of the same kind on a much larger scale.

Nate, I'm sure all teenagers feel frustrated and unfulfilled, but it wasn't that rare back when I was in that age range for teenagers to feel as though they had a galaxy of enticing possibilities open to them -- and for many of them, here in the US, that wasn't an illusion. Now, for a very large number of teens, there are few possibilities of any kind, and all of them pretty dismal. That's an important shift, one with huge political and cultural implications.

Renaissance, good question. It's been suggested that she may be partly based on the Vodoun loa Yemaya, who dwells in the sea and wears blue clothing.

Bogatyr, thanks for the update! I'm not at all familiar with the Neo-Cossack movement -- will have to look into it. With regard to Kaplan, my only objection to him -- which I made in an earlier post here -- is that he seems to think the industrial West can stay sheltered from the coming anarchy, and there I think he's going to find himself hideously mistaken.

Ben, no argument there -- when the shale bubble pops, it's going to get very messy.

Kristoffer, I haven't seen one. I'd encourage you to get writing on it!

Phil, I saw the same thing on this side of the pond, and it's a standard historical event. When a civilization is on its way down, creativity vanishes from its upper end and reemerges at the bottom of the social pyramid.

Kutamun, if you want to learn the secret name of the blue-skinned goddess, I suggest talking to some very poor ten-year-olds...

Yupped, we're early in the process. It'll be a while yet before it becomes clear which stories are going to become the primary foci for mimesis in the centuries ahead.

Sixbears, exactly -- and the fantasy that having a cell phone with all the latest features means things are still progressing, even when every other measure has gone into reverse, will become ever more popular as the descent accelerates.

RPC, it's by no means impossible that some new take on Jesus will become a significant focus for mimesis as we proceed.

Ric Steinberger said...

I think it was William Gibson who originated that quote about the future already being here.

Raymond Duckling said...

Kristoffer Kavallin> There is this piece from Vicente Leñero: "El Evangelio segun Lucas Gavilan" or "Luke Sparrowhawk's Gospel". I doubt you will find it in English, but it is relatively easy to find in Spanish.

This story narrates the adventures of Jesucristo Gomez, a Mexican construction worker from the late 70's and early 80's, and his friends around the Central Valley of Mexico. They go around lending a hand to the poor and the desperate, and humiliating the powerful for 30 years. Then Jesucristo is arrested under bogus charges, beaten up in the police headquarters, and then sent to the hospital once they realize he's seriously injured. He dies in an ambulance crash caused by Mexico City's 1985 Earthquake.

John Michael Greer said...

Yossi, exactly! Now if more people who care about science were only to recognize that...

Jordi, that's fascinating. The wave of globalization is very much in retreat at this point, and I don't know that it ever homogenized things that much; as the decline accelerates, I suspect we'll see a great deal more divergence.

Ben, I'll take your word for it -- I don't know a thing about the show in question.

Adrian, well, of course -- I noted that the stories were a bricolage of existing themes, and of course you're right that the media is one source of them. It's the use that's been made of them, and the narratives into which they've been inserted, that I find intriguing. As for the long drought, we'll be talking about this as we proceed -- climate change as a cause for the collapse of civilizations is nothing new!

Will, exactly. I don't know if Masonry will be able to step up to the plate this time around, but something on the same lines might be worth organizing for that purpose.

Ceworthe, er, "Ebola croissants"? I suspect your spell checker is running away with you. ;-)

Cathy, I have no idea; for all I know, there might have been one really gifted storyteller among the children who set the whole thing in motion. It does deserve more research, no question.

Crow, good heavens. I somehow managed not to run across that bit of Brecht before. Thank you!

Joseph, of course the bricolage is drawing raw material from every available source, and cycles back up into the ranks of professional storytellers and down again into the poor and desperate. All part of the normal process!

donalfagan said...

The idea that people no longer respect the wealthy reminded me of Robert Bly bemoaning that our leaders no longer had Zeus Energy. His retelling of the Iron John/Iron Hans fable with the hairy man, etc, received a lot of criticism at the time, but I do recall A) his feeling that boys and young men were emulating actors and musicians because they weren't getting recognition from older men in their environs, and B) his description that there should be a ritual wounding of a young man by an older man to signify his passage into adulthood.

I think you touched on A in this post, and the Star's Reach ceremony advancing from journeyman to master reminded me a lot of B when I read it.

neal said...

Early Christians. People raised from the dead. Why would the current myth involve the masses?

I would ask one of them, if any of this would stay put.

Seems to be a collective health and safety issue. Just pathogenetics, and any other mental response to something that is wrong.

Hard to watch baby steps in time. Like a garden, sometimes one needs to sleep lightly. Hail, fire, and such.

Rita said...

The tales of the homeless children also reminded me of the new popularity of Santa Muerte among non-Latino occultists.

Finished Stars Reach last night. I liked the notion that every intelligent species would go through some variation of greedy overuse of resources and resulting collapse. I will guess that this is a swipe at those who want to see Homo sapiens as uniquely evil.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- I know you generally find little of interest in contemporary mass culture, but the 2012 film "Beasts of the Southern Wild" strikes close to this. It's the story that a poor 6-year old in an isolated Louisiana bayou community tells herself as she tries to understand what is happening in her world, as poverty, illness, and rising sea levels are consuming it. Plus, it's hard to beat piglets wearing costumes and filmed in slow-motion being transformed into amazingly believable Aurochs!

Dammerung said...

as someone of an alternative religious bent myself, I can only hope that the stories that develop from our existential crisis not only destroy Christianity, but replace it with something more soteriologically egalitarian; humanitarian; and tolerant of differences.

Paul K. said...

I want to say a big thank you for your writing, and for this article in particular. It helps me make sense of the craziness I see around me.

I was at a conference recently where the speaker claimed that because of food delivery services from companies like Google, people were going to stop going to grocery stores, and even restaurants. I couldn't tell if this was made as a serious, careful proposition, or crafted for entertainment value and notoriety with the help of a Hollywood trained speaking coach.

For that narrowing sliver of the very well compensated, sure I can see them having everything delivered to their doorstep. For the rest, not so much.

In an interesting twist, what I see around these parts is people who, on the surface of it, make "a lot of money," but scratch underneath and look at the constant work, burn rate of the huge mortgage, property taxes, private school for the kids and it appears that they are caught in just another form of wage slavery. Albeit with a ton more leverage.

Anyhow I left the conference early to go tend to my vegetables...

Ben said...

JMG - Good to have you back! Hope your break was restful!
Short answer: 'the Wire' is set in contemporary Baltimore and delves into the multiple layers of failure that is urban America. In seasons 4 and 5, a set of 8th grade characters are introduced, and two of them deal with the constant threat of homelessness. While the characters are a little older than the children in the article about Miami, they adopt similar coping mechanisms.
Toynbee might have known what he was talking about. The lack of legitimacy enjoyed by both political parties here in the US does not bode well for the political survival of the USA. I know you touched on this in a past set of posts, but I'm not sure if the USA ever achieved 'universal state' status over the West. If it did, it did so in deed only, not in name.

John Michael Greer said...

Harlan, the idea that science ought to be applied to the domination of nature goes all the way back to Francis Bacon. It's been part of the tradition all along -- not the whole of it, but an important theme. As for Tyson, he's expressing with remarkable cogency the basic religious sensibility that underlies belief in progress, as it does most other Western faiths of the last two millennia or so: the idea that the world is a terrible place where we don't belong, and we deserve better. To my mind, that's a bizarre way of looking at things, but then my sensibility is a different one.

Unknown, much of what passes for Christianity these days has no resemblance to anything that used to exist under the same label. It's a common event -- more on this in posts to come.

Peak Singularity, bright and holy gods. If Monbiot has caught onto the fact that a purely negative approach to social change -- "Look at what those horrible people are doing! Please, someone, stop them!" -- simply doesn't work, we may actually see something useful come out of the green activist scene.

Eric, I saw that also -- another whisper of the same kind. I'll be talking in my other blog about why myth and magic so reliably gather around the end of one historical era and the first centuries of the next.

DaShui, I don't think it's just a failure of parenting, either. These are extraordinarily difficult times to grow to adulthood.

Sister BoysMom, not at all surprised, though it would have been nice if they'd given credit.

Joe, it's a very common habit in ages of decline to attention to those things that appear to be progressing, and ignore those that very clearly aren't doing so. It's amazing to me, for example, how many people have no idea that no human being has gotten further into space than low earth orbit since 1972 -- or for that matter, how many people manage not to notice how steeply standards of living for most Americans have declined over roughly the same period. Sure, we've got a few technologies that are progressing by leaps and bounds, but most of the everyday machines that surround you (cars, toasters, washing machines, etc.) have undergone only minor incremental improvements in the last half century. Thus you're quite right: fixating on an ever-narrowing list of things that appear to be improving will be a very common thoughtstopper in the years ahead.

SLClaire, sorry to hear about the friendship! That's always hard. The sense of limited time and limited energy is one that's worth cultivating -- a reminder, badly needed in some cases, that we can't accomplish everything and need to get a move on to accomplish anything at all.

Ando, congrats! There's a definite rush to eating your own homegrown food, no question -- I bet the beans tasted a lot better than storebought, too.

Ien, I can't think of better advice!

Ing, it's a challenging issue, no question. The thing to remember is that whatever thinking you do is done with narratives; if you don't choose one, one will be chosen for you by your culture and the other people around you, and that story may not be in your best interests...

Steve, exactly. The rise of death-worship is an important trend, and worth watching.

Bill Pulliam said...

Sl Claire re: mowing... I have been mowing with scythes for the last two summers. Once you get the hang of them, they can cover a pretty large area without a massive amount of effort or time. It is very hard to maintain a short suburban manicured lawn with a scythe, but you can keep it from looking like a hayfield.

John Michael Greer said...

D.M., heck of a good question. Are you proposing to make the experiment?

Bill, that's very typical, historically speaking -- rural areas rarely seem to become the seedbeds for new myths. When a civilization is on the way down, it's the collapsing cities that foster the important narratives of the age to come.

Eric, of course Tyson disses philosophy. If he didn't, he'd have to come to terms with the fact that his worldview depends on a set of simple epistemological fallacies that most bright ten-year-olds can see through with a little encouragement, and he's smart enough to realize that.

Bryant, I think someone else noted that, too. An interesting bit of borrowing!

Jordi, no offense taken!

Richard, that sort of rage against the rich is one of the themes Toynbee explores. We'll be discussing it as this series of posts proceeds.

Ric, thanks for the correction.

Donalfagan, I don't agree with the wounding business -- that's a hypersimplification of the need for rituals of initiation, which don't have to involve physical wounding at all -- but the need to be welcomed into adulthood in some formal fashion goes deep in the human psyche, and the abandonment of such customs in our culture is one of the reasons we have so many overgrown children who ought to be adults.

Neal, because the masses are where myths take refuge when the people atop the social pyramid fool themselves into thinking they have nothing to do with myths any longer.

Rita, bingo. The fable that human beings are uniquely evil, to my mind, is just another way of insisting that human beings are unique.

Bill, I'll keep that in mind if I feel like taking in a film!

Dammerung, Christianity has been all those things in some of its variants, in some times and places -- and other religions have been equally intolerant and violent in their own times and places. What you contemplate, you imitate; as long as the alternative religious scene remains fixated on Christian-bashing, it guarantees that it'll repeat the same mistakes -- as indeed, in important respects, it's already doing.

Frugal Muddler said...

Watched an interesting documentary a couple of years ago that this article brings to mind. It suggested that the biblical story of the Hebrews getting gifted Canaan was a myth hiding the fact that they were themselves remnants of a collapsed Canaan. Apparently Canaan was a two tiered society of God kings above and slaves below. The slaves revolted and left, collapsing everything. People wandered around, hooked up with others forming new tribes. One adopted the God later known as Yahweh from some tribe or other they encountered in North Africa. They resettled in Canaan, but needed to solidify their new identity via 'we are different' myths. So we see the use of myths as Canaanite go through their collapse on to new identity that has become the accepted account worldwide for thousands of years.

John Michael Greer said...

Paul, and they'll be promising jetpacks and 3D food printers right until the bottom drops out from under them, too. Progress has its true believers!

Ben, Toynbee has his flaws, but he got a lot right. One of the wrinkles he mentions is that not all civilizations manage their own universal state; some are absorbed into somebody else's. I could see that happening in the present case, with Europe (the heartland of the industrial world) being swallowed up for a few centuries in the Dar al-Islam, before that goes down in its turn.

Muddler, that's fascinating. I may poke around and see if there are any good books on the subject.

thrig said...

D.M.: hmm. I spent some time last night puzzling over the differences in authentic and plagal modes (a duality long since replaced by the major-minor one in Western music theory). While having access to such information might be nice, it is by no means essential, and such cruft could easily be dropped. Or better yet: compressed, so that the salient points can be conveyed clearly, in a few words, such that one need not wade through pages and pages of Rameau et al. (future copyists might also thank you). However, music theory, like computers, has much in the way of "business logic," so there may be a limit to how much of the tradition can be compressed, or details that would need reinvention as necessary. And without an active tradition of folks who understand, say, the Fugue, well...Hugo Riemann did, however, state: "I do give great weight to the proof that ideas containing a truth flare up again and again until they can no longer be suppressed."

Shane Wilson said...

I can see this already occurring in myself. I speak Spanish, and I could care less if Latin American immigrants speak or learn English. While I certainly realize that no culture is perfect, I'm envious of many aspects of traditional Latin American culture, including the focus on family, community, hard work, and making the most of very little. I think these traits are much better adapted to the future we are facing than mainstream Anglo culture. To the extent I listen to pop, I prefer Spanish pop. If I were in a position where I needed labor, I'd prefer undocumented Latin American to native born U.S. My biggest concern is that immigrants are being sold a bill of goods in their home countries when it comes to the American dream, particularly the future of said dream.
Khadija, humans, as social primates, are both prone to tribalism and promiscuity. So when you put different groups of humans together, both tribalism and "miscegenation" reliably result. My guess is that, over time" miscegenation" wins out. To my way of thinking tribalism reliably results in fighting and death, witness the Shia and Sunni In Iraq currently, while" miscegenation", for obvious reasons, results in life. "Miscegenated" cultures, for example, Mexico, can be very cohesive cultures. My guess is that the future of North America will involve both balkanization, in the true sense of the word as it occurred in the Balkans, and more "miscegenation". Race is a social construct anyway, but I doubt very seriously if the far future will consist of white and black people as they exist today. Most people outside the U.S. are struck far more by the cultural similarities than the differences among races in the U.S.

emsnews said...

Elaine Meinel Supkis here.

One commentator here mentioned my name. About the change in Roman clothing: it was NOT due to barbarian influence, it was the climate. The Roman Warm Period eroded into a much colder, mini-Ice Age like the recent one that started 500 years ago.

By 450 AD, it was quite cold. The toga was no longer sufficient garb. Wine grapes in Britain froze and died in winter and didn't return until the Medieval Warm Period, 800 years later.

In general, colder weather leads to barbarianism and collapse of agricultural societies. Herding and hunting societies thrive and farmers die.

Cities then are destroyed and looted. This cycle has happened at least every 800 years or so, more or less. And all this, during a single Interglacial Holocene event!

Shane Wilson said...

I see a Russia allied with China saving Europe from Islam. Already, we see admiration of Putin among far right groups. As push comes to shove, and collapse progresses, these ties will grow stronger. Eventually, friction will develop between China and Russia, as it has in the past, and this may open a path for Islamic domination, but not before then. Also, since modern Islam is basically a reactionary religion, as the U.S. collapses, I see the" Great Satan" moving from the U.S. to Russia and China, as they become the lightning rod for Islamic grievance as they ascend in power. Both already have their own "wars on (Islamic) terrorism" (Chechnya, Uighurs). Unless you see Islamic immigration affecting Russia in the same way as it has affected the rest of Europe?

Violet Cabra said...

Thank you for the powerful and thought provoking essay.

In my own experiences with my peer group (20-30 years old) I've noticed a marked searching for something worthy of imitation. I've lived on queer pagan land projects that were struggling with quarrels, were filled with urban spiritual seekers and were supportive of plant-based drug use, time in squats with dissatisfied youth gardening and studying political theory in their free time, listening to rap and punk music, and abusing alcohol and a pharmacopoeia of synthetic drugs. Currently I'm working on an organic farm, and living with mostly middle-class youth dissatisfied with their options, reading permaculture books, telling tales of wwoofing all over the world. When I look at my experiences one constant I see is drug/alcohol use. Another is how much people are searching, almost desperately, for something to imitate.

In the news today there is an article that claims 1 in 10 Americans dies from heavy drinking. Maybe these levels of drug use are constant across the board.

I imagine that the profound searching for something to imitate and drug abuse are symptoms of the same cultural decay and both will likely become more pronounced in the years ahead.

As a side note I finished the first volume of Spengler's Decline of the West this evening! I also ordered Star's Reach. Thank you for inspiring so much reading and study in me! ;7)

Ben said...

JMG - Now that you mention it, I remember Toynbee noting that the Syriac civilization was driven underground by the Greco-Roman civilization until its restoration by Arab Islam in the eighth century. Toynbee also suggested that Western civilization overran the Incans just after they formed their universal state and he suggested that they too could reemerge. Given what you said about Europe being overrun by Islam, do you think the Western universal state may arise centuries in the future, perhaps after the coming dark age?

John Michael Greer said...

Shane, that's becoming increasingly common these days. I have a conservative Catholic friend who hangs out with Hispanics by preference, as they share more of his values than the local gringo population does.

Elaine, contemporary sources contradict your claim -- people writing at the time recognized it as cultural influence from Germanic barbarians, which was very clearly shown in other cultural phenomena at the same time, and there were plenty of people who kept wearing togas for some time thereafter. (Have you ever handled a toga, btw? They were made of wool, averaged 18 feet long and 7 feet wide, and resembled nothing so much as a Highland Scots plaid mor -- that is to say, plenty warm.) I'm aware of the cooling trend, and of course it was a major factor in the social ecology of the time, but correlation is not causation and single-factor environmental theories of cultural change have generally not worn well.

Shane, the question in my mind is purely where the dividing line will be between Muslim and Russian spheres of influence. In Star's Reach I had all of Europe in Arab hands except Scandinavia and Russia proper, but that's merely one possibility; a lot depends on the relative distribution of Salah-ed-dins and Charles Martels on the contending sides.

Violet, drug and alcohol abuse are classic signs of a collapsing society -- think of the way that so many people in post-Soviet Russia drank themselves to death. Delighted to hear that you persevered with Spengler -- much to learn there!

Ben, that's one possibility -- another is that just as the Ottomans provided Christian Orthodox culture with its universal state, Russia or China could provide one for Europe. It's an interesting question that none of us will live long enough to settle.

Nathaniel Ott said...
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Nathaniel Ott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathaniel Ott said...

@JMG Mostly the people of my generation and the one after me, who realize that our futures aren't going to be as grand as we're told, tend to think it's always been and always will be that way. Honestly I can see some truth to it. Especially when it seems that more than ever society seems to be telling them that they can do whatever they want and be whoever they want to be. When your told that absolutely nothing is wrong, that's usually when you know that something is VERY wrong. Perhaps this is simply a staple of the times, but admittedly it can lead to some self defeating doom and gloom and more than a bit of cynicism.

RPC said...

I had a different take on Paul K's "people were going to stop going to grocery stores, and even restaurants". I think it may become true in the same sense as "the United States will become energy independent." That is, it's a positive spin on the fact that for the remaining members of the upper and middle classes the areas where it will be safe for them to venture will become more and more circumscribed!

Bill Pulliam said...

Violet -- curious as to what part of the world your explorations have happened in, wondering if at some point we might have been neighbors (in a very broad sense).

I think it is pretty universal for young adults to be looking for something to imitate. I am about to turn 53; the youth culture of my era was also focused around drinking, smoking, and snorting. Mostly what my generation chose to imitate in the end was consumerist material wealth -- as a musician acquaintance of mine said in about 1984, "Money is the long hair of the 80s." And we all know where that led.

I find now that a lot of alternative youth culture seems to be backward-looking. I do not consider this to be a bad thing! When you see a world that is absurdly unsustainable, ridiculously synthetic, and utterly artless, looking back to the way things were done in past eras can be a very informative choice. A few years ago we attended "Popinstock" -Jeff Poppin's (a.k.a. "The Barefoot Farmer") summer solstice happy hippy campout and music festival. I was heartened to see all the scruffy young hippy boys and girls playing fiddles and picking banjos.

But at some point the culture has to go forward. You can learn a lot from the past, but you can't live there.

Phitio said...

I'm wondering if you've ever made considerations about the role of this narrative:


Kelly said...

Hi Mr. Greer,
What a wonderfully fascinating post! I've read quite a bit of history in my day, but you always pull it together in such a fresh new way for me.

A couple of thoughts...How would the relatively recent move toward Eastern religions fit in here? Or even Islam or a more evangelical brand of Christianity? Are these just examples of the internal proletariat losing interest and confidence in the central narrative of progress and/or the upper echelon in general?

How do we explain, for example, why Buddhism/Eastern religions have been increasing in popularity? Does this shift merely represent slight movements within the same system – telltale signs of discontent - or are they serving a similar purpose for us now as they once did in India and China? Clearly narratives of the suffering of ordinary humans have once again become of interest.

In other words, do the new stories that get created in the downward swing of civilizations always tend to be complete deviations from what’s come before, or can they simply be recycled versions of past ones?

Thank you for your insights. I love the ADR and look forward with anticipation to it every week.


Khadija said...

@Shane Wilson,

Respectfully, it seems to me that you're reframing the issue into something other than what I was talking about.

In responding to Nathaniel's comment, I wasn't talking about "miscegenation." I was talking about wealth transfers via marriage. There was always plenty of "miscegenation" between White and Black Americans. First on the slave plantations, and later on during segregation and Jim Crow. By contrast, there was very little to almost no wealth transfers between White and Black Americans.

Because the American White collective of previous eras had laws in place to prevent the transfer of wealth via marriage from Whites to the Blacks they were having sexual and/or romantic relationships with. Most ethnic groups seek to preserve their wealth and resources "in house." And to prevent their resources from flowing out to outsiders. This is a normal human urge.

It's a patriarchal planet, so in most cases (relative) wealth and other resources are flowing from the husband to the wife when a couple gets married. Resources are flowing from the husband's group to his wife (whoever she may be).

In short, I'm talking about money and economic choices, the economic impact of marriage choices, and the generational effects created by all of this. Not romance. Not "miscegenation." Please don't reframe this as being about "miscegenation."

The type of comment I responded to has the underlying (and mistaken in my view) assumption that there couldn't possibly be any rational, pragmatic reasons why his father's (Black) friends were displeased by his choice. There are rational, pragmatic reasons for that response. I explained them.

My point is that other (non-African-American) ethnic groups (like the Jewish community and, from what I've seen, Greek-Americans) understand these dynamics. African-Americans tend to have limited comprehension* of these dynamics, and we suffer because of that.

[*Spending our money with and investing in ourselves emotionally feels like segregation, so there's no joy in that for many African-Americans. Spending our money with and investing in non-African-Americans feels like freedom, so there's an emotional "buzz" from doing that for many African-Americans. The problem is that this behavior pattern keeps us poor as a group.]

What most outsiders don't realize is that, as a collective, the African-American is not poor. What keeps the African-American ethnic group living in impoverished conditions is our dysfunctional (and rare among the world of ethnic groups) mass behavior pattern of taking our resources and spending them with everybody and anybody except our own people.

An article in the Seattle Times sums it up:

"Collectively, last year, black consumers spent more than $270 billion - but little of it with each other.

In the more insular Asian and Hispanic communities, a dollar turns over four or five times before it goes elsewhere, but studies suggest that most dollars earned by blacks aren't passed on to other blacks even once."

From the 1992 (nothing has changed since then in terms of collective African-American economic behavior) article, `Buy Black' -- Black Dollar Days Part Of Effort To Fuel Community Business. African-Americans do this, and then have the nerve to beg for charity and handouts from the larger society.

Most other ethnic groups, especially more "insular" ethnic groups, understand these things. Other folks keep track of where their group's resources are going even when they date and marry "out." I do the same thing, even though my ex is White and I date "out." When non-African-Americans date and marry outside their ethnic group, they don't automatically "space out" on their own "tribe's" collective interests (the way many African-Americans do). It would be nice if more African-Americans learned how to do the same.

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

some say science will save us

From a Wikipedia summary of a Cosmos episode, hosted by Neal DeGrasse Tyson:

"Tyson then notes that humans have discovered means of harvesting solar power, such as Augustin Mouchot's solar-driven motor in the 19th century, and Frank Shuman's solar-based steam generator in the 1910's. Tyson points out that in both cases, the economics and ease of using cheap coal and oil caused these inventions to be overlooked at the time. Today, solar and wind-power systems would be able to collect enough solar energy from the sun easily. Tyson then compares the motivation for switching to these cleaner forms of energy to the efforts of the Space race and emphasizes that it is not too late for humanity to correct its course."

From the abstract to Jon Kabat-Zinn's "Some reflections on the origins of MBSR, skillful means, and the trouble with maps", Contemporary Buddhism, Vol. 12, No. 1, May 2011:

"The author recounts some of the early history of what is now known as MBSR, and its relationship to mainstream medicine and the science of the mind/body connection and health....He locates these developments within an historic confluence of two very different epistemologies encountering each other for the first time, that of science and that of the meditative traditions. ... The author's perspective is grounded in what the Zen tradition refers to as the one thousand year view. Although it is not stated explicitly in this text, he sees the current interest in mindfulness and its applications as signaling a multi-dimensional emergence of great transformative and liberative promise, one which, if cared for and tended, may give rise to a flourishing on this planet akin to a second, and this time global, Renaissance, for the benefit of all sentient beings and our world." [end of quote from Kabat-Zinn]

Another American Zen teacher, Shinzen Young: "Science has beauty, depth, power, and practical utility. I believe that the two most impressive discoveries of our species are the Eastern method of meditative exploration and the Western method of scientific exploration. Some people claim that meditation and science have mated, but I think they are just starting to date. I believe the true mating will occur sometime later in this century and will give birth to a world-transforming paradigm shift."

Dammerung said...

The thing about Christianity is that it's always tied to The Book. As long as they have a 1700 year old The Book to refer to, I think there will always be an undercurrent of violent fundamentalism. I mean, The Book doesn't dick around about things like homosexuality or other alternative sexualities - put'em to death. And while a lot of modern Christians, of course, pick and choose what's convenient to lead a modern life, the words are still there waiting like a time bomb to be used by those whose baser instincts don't need much justification to begin with.

Raymond Duckling said...

Of topic, but I think you people may find it interesting:

1ab9a86a-8991-11e3-899b-000bcdcb8a73 said...

A plutocrat who gets it:

Memo: From Nick Hanauer
To: My Fellow Zillionaires

Like you, I have a broad perspective on business and capitalism. And also like you, I have been rewarded obscenely for my success, with a life that the other 99.99 percent of Americans can’t even imagine…

But let’s speak frankly to each other. I’m not the smartest guy you’ve ever met, or the hardest-working. I was a mediocre student. I’m not technical at all—I can’t write a word of code. What sets me apart, I think, is a tolerance for risk and an intuition about what will happen in the future. Seeing where things are headed is the essence of entrepreneurship. And what do I see in our future now?

I see pitchforks….

Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society…
(via zerohedge)

Ray Wharton said...

Concerning the respect for high society.

There is a distinction worth thinking about in my opinion.

One the one hand the current view that our societies elite (dominant minority) is wicked (stupid, evil, phatic boooo!) and can't be respected except by the manipulated fool; on the other hand their is a further generalization I have heard made that all possible elites are wicked and that therefore any follower is a manipulated fool.

We got ourselves a difference of logical type here, and a substantial difference for being able to make sense of the world which is developing around us. In the first case a particular authority has lost the ability to be inspire imitation, so others are favored and cheered for (go team!); in the latter there is a rejection of all NOTICED mimesis.

Like you say that people who claim not to have a myth generally just are not conscious of their myths; or the old philosophic joke that those who claim to not think metaphysically just have a bad metaphysics. Those who claim not to be followers (isn't that the vernacular for this phenomena?) just don't make note of what or who they are following.

An interesting aspect of following is that each one of up is inspired by many sources in many contexts, so as an author fills a page with words and phrases inspired my many source to create a blend which is original, our imitation of many sources is a key part of our creativity and originality.

The pain of losing respect for what once was inspiring is great indeed, and what is gathered together to fill that gap uncertain.

If humans only imitated humans I think that it is a house of mirrors, but mimesis can take in inspiration from animals, elemental processes, abstractions, fictional characters, Deities, misnomers, and many many things which I cannot name. For much of religion, much of magic this is key.

Some people tell me that when the current elite go their will be no more elite, others say that another elite will fill the same seats. I think instead that decline is like the mad hatter
hosting a game of musical seats, more chairs, fewer chairs, bigger chairs, upside-down chairs, electric chairs, and comfy chairs, throwns of skulls, throwns of mud, and pews all being added and removed and moved.

The denial of the possibility of an elite which deserves to be imitated is I think critical to certain strains of barbarism, the 'civilization = bad' idea is connected as well. The move from saying no to this social order toward saying no to all social ordering. Perhaps this makes people more receptive to being followers, and explains how such wild weird characters can receive many followers. What isn't noticed isn't guarded.

I take pride in having had many important teachers, teachers are my preferred sources of mimesis, I am eager to find good ones, and to find diverse ones, so that short comings and over specializations from one side can be balanced. Thank you to Greer, Cherokee, Bill, Cathy, Pinku, and too many others from this forum who have been a source of inspiration.

Cougar said...

It's funny, the mention of a blue woman. I started writing my own distopian novel about 20 years ago. Mostly I have been developing the characters and playing around, gives me a lot of pleasure even as the novel does not materialize. One of the characters is a blue woman/machine named Fortran. She is very sweet in many ways, but also quite violent bordering insane. She derives from our own uneasy relationship with technology and immortality, and for all practical purposes is a modern goddess with strange but quite lethal technological powers. I've written some short stories with her and her sister at play, set in an urban landscape of wealth and power where they casually go about their subversive business. I'm pretty sure I am now channelling some of the zeitgeist concerning which your current post alludes.

What's Money Got To Do With It?

Always a pleasure finding I'm not as far out on the edge is I might have feared.


Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

On drinking in America: American society has always been heavy drinking, at least for males. Rates of alcohol consumption in the last few decades were below historical averages. If the rates are going up again, that's news.

On the toga: The Roman toga was not everyday dress. Upper class males wore it on formal public occasions such as attending sacrifices, appearances in the Senate and arguing law cases. It was roughly equivalent to a three piece suit. On formal public occasions, one wears what's socially expected, regardless of whether it is comfortable and practical or not.

During the Republic and the first couple of centuries CE, proletarians wore short tunics and went barelegged. Wealthier Romans, including Emperors, wore long or short tunics at home and for informal activities.

I would suggest that the decline in toga-wearing might have been due to the decline of serious occasions to wear it. Public sacrifices were banned when Christianity became the state religion, and lawsuits and meetings of the Senate became a charade as the Imperial government acquired more and more power.

After the empire split in half, the most striking change in fashion in the Eastern empire, at least among the nobility, was a shift to stiffer fabrics worn in layers with more tailoring and less complicated draping. This happened through gradual evolution and had little or nothing to do with barbarian dress.

Neo Tuxedo said...

Raymond Duckling and 1ab9a86a-8991-11e3-899b-000bcdcb8a73, interesting article. It makes the same case that I'd make if I had the patience and the supporting data or even just anecdotes, and the same case that David Brin frequently makes at his blog. I'm just not sure his target audience is necessarily going to listen. After all, when he proposed raising the US minimum wage to $15/hour, Forbes (as he points out), called it a "near insane... proposal".

And, in these conditions, they may be right. It may be too little, as I'd say; it may be too much, or at least more than anyone can really deliver, as Forbes may have said (I'm not going to give them the clicks that would be involved in finding out) and our host would probably contend (based on things he's said in prior posts on this blog). But even if it was ever possible, it's probably too late now.

Maybe the society we had for a quarter-century after World War II -- the "middle-out" society as Hamauer and Liu call it -- could only exist as long as America had no serious economic competitors, and particularly as long as none of them were sitting on top of the resources that fed our prosperity. (I don't actually know what Archdruid Greer believes on the subject, but that seems to be what he's saying.) Maybe we're past the point of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic and into lowering haystacks off the boat deck of the Lusitania.

But I have to believe there's hope somewhere, sometime. I hope everyone can understand that I'd also like to believe there's some here, and now, for me.

Pantagruel7 said...

What would happen if Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky made a TV series and named it "The Wire"? Would you take it seriously then? One journalist remarked that "The Wire" never got an Emmy but it should get the Nobel Prize for Literature. I've read much of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky's work, and I've watched "The Wire." I don't think it deserves to be dismissed with an "I'll take your word for it." It has so much to say about the current state of our civilization.

John Michael Greer said...

Nate, oh, granted. It so happens that for a little while, a few decades back, not all of those promises were completely bogus -- but I know that just makes things even more difficult for younger people now.

RPC, that's also a useful way of thinking about it!

Phitio, the survival of the soul after death is a commonplace of most cultural traditions -- our current pseudoskeptics are very much in the minority here! It's less a narrative than a common ingredient in many narratives.

Kelly, today's American Buddhism is almost entirely an upper- and middle-class phenomenon, very much like the Roman upper class interest in Eastern religions in the late Empire. It's unlikely to have much staying power unless it can figure out how to appeal to the poor. Islam is another matter, and so is some form of Christianity, though it's likely to take a very different tack from the currently popular versions. It's not unknown for an older religious tradition to get retreaded for a new dark age, but there are usually substantial changes -- compare the Judaism of the First and Second Temples to the Rabbinic Judaism of the post-diaspora era and you'll have some sense of the potential difference.

Charley, and how many times has some vast new paradigm shift been touted as the thing that's going to save us all? Sooner or later it's going to sink in that a paradigm is only worth twenty cents...

Dammerung, yes, and you can find some equivalent reason to denounce any other religious tradition you want, too. What you contemplate, you imitate...

Raymond and 1ab, fascinating. We'll see if anything comes of it.

Ray, excellent! That gets you this afternoon's gold star.

Cougar, you may well be tapping in, yes.

Unknown Deborah, as I understand it, the toga started out as ordinary wear in Rome's early days, and gradually turned into formal wear -- a common pattern in the history of clothing!

Neo, would that proposal keep the United States from major trouble? No. Might it provide enough social cohesion to make it possible for something worthwhile to come out the other side of the impending crises? Maybe. This guy is basically taking a strategy from FDR's playbook -- and of course FDR was denounced as a traitor to his class and vilified by the boneheaded rich for his role in keeping the pitchforks at bay the last time around.

Pantagruel, it's always been a source of wry amusement to me that so many television users can't stand the thought that some people might not share their taste for the plug-in drug. TV bores me; I haven't owned one in my adult life, and don't propose to start now. Deal.

sgage said...

@ Pantagruel7

"What would happen if Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky made a TV series and named it "The Wire"? Would you take it seriously then? One journalist remarked that "The Wire" never got an Emmy but it should get the Nobel Prize for Literature. I've read much of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky's work, and I've watched "The Wire." I don't think it deserves to be dismissed with an "I'll take your word for it." It has so much to say about the current state of our civilization."

Some of us do not have or want TV in our homes, and so we simply _have to_ take your word for it. Many things have a lot to say about the current state of our civilization. Really not feeling a lack in quantity, quality, or diversity in that department. Good to know there's something on TV along those lines.

But there are only so many hours in the day, and we all have to choose how we are going to deploy those hours as we feel is best. For some of us, that does not include TV, that's all - no offense meant.

And in a hundred years, we'll see how "The Wire" stacks up to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky...

Avery said...

@Khadija: Your comments are great and I hope people take them more seriously.

@Pantagruel7: I realize this sounds like typical Internet comment sniping at this point, but I don't think it's necessary to be consume large amounts of film and TV in order to live in the modern world. Even if, like "The Wire" or Pixar productions, some productions have Shakespearian elements. For one thing, the full series of "The Wire" is 600 hours. The only reason I watched the whole thing myself is because I was a college student at the time. Furthermore, I know several people, JMG being only one, who seem to grasp the shape of things just fine without watching anything made in the past two decades. No need to criticize people based on what they consider a fun way to spend their leisure time.

My dad and I once came up with a funny story about a traveling entertainment show in the post-peak future that featured a bicycle-powered DVD player and projector. But that sort of thing doesn't happen in the actual ghettoes. Real life gets in the way, I guess.

Neo Tuxedo said...

Sad but true about FDR. Too many people didn't, and still don't, understand that the New Deal wasn't a Communist plot, but a desperate attempt to save capitalism from the worst impulses of the worst sort of capitalists. I sometimes wonder how the "economic royalists" (Thom Hartmann again) would have acted differently, over the last 80 years, if they'd been consciously running an experiment to see if they could exactly recreate the circumstances that prompted the American, French and Russian Revolutions, while keeping the masses so scared of the sort of repression that followed the latter two that they wouldn't actually dare to rise up. (I say "consciously" because it seems to me that they have been running such an experiment, whether they knew it or not.) The only conclusion I consistently come to is that, if they'd been doing it consciously, they'd at least display the rudiments of subtlety once in a while.

latheChuck said...

Maybe you've wondered, in some quiet moment, how it is that ordinary folks like us can be so aware of the Peak Energy future, while the rest of the world seems so clueless. Well, the July issue of "Proceedings of the IEEE", the flagship publication of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, contains the following article: "Smart Grids Versus the Achilles' Heel of Renewable Energy: Can the Needed Storage Infrastructure Be Constructed Before the Fossil Fuel Runs Out" (by W. F. Pickard).

Here are a few choice phrases from the abstract: ... by the close of this century: 1) ...approaching exhaustion of ... recoverable fossil fuel; 2) shortages...can be avoided only if immediate massive steps are taken... 3) there is little evidence... that the key governments are seriously concerned.

The author claims that every watt of generating capacity must be backed by 12 watt-hours of storage, and even then, over the course of four years, fossil-fuel backup was needed five times.

Roughly speaking, a AA battery contains one watt-hour of energy. World-wide, average power consumption per person is 2.7 kW. This is an average over all people in the world, and over all human activities, not simply residential electrical consumption. If we got all of our energy from AA batteries, we'd be exhausting 2700 of them per hour(24/7)... so if you were hoping to use solar panels to recharge batteries during the day, I'm not saying that's a bad idea, only that it's insignificant with respect to your actual consumption.

The good news is that the IEEE is publishing papers like this, for the engineers who the naive public expects to "think of something".

The bad news is that (as Pickard cites): "The Maginot Line was built more or less on scheduleo, except that its designers failed to get it right the first time, and there was no second chance."

Pickard also writes that if the US reduces its primary energy demand to only 1670 GW (avg), this could be supplied with wind for ~$13 trillion. Adding pumped hydro storage (1/3 the cost of lead-acid batteries) to get us through a calm week would cost ~$47 trillion.

Violet Cabra said...

Bill, I believe we were neighbors quite literally for a spell when I lived in middle Tennessee for two years, outside of Murfreesboro, in close proximity to the queer communes there!

Currently I live in my home-state of Massachusetts. While squatting I lived in New Mexico, New Orleans and Oakland.

In terms of cultural location: the subculture I belong to is that of the rootless intellectuals which Spengler describes as the spiritual forebearers of the fellaheen in the second volume of Decline of the West. Mostly queer, pacifistic, highly learned, thoroughly post-modern, and completely relativistic.

Thank you for your perspective on youth culture; as a young person I frequently view current youth expression myopically. I have no idea what my peers will ultimately choose to imitate, but I do hope it is less of an anachronism than consumerist materialism.

Ares Olympus said...

It seems like the Occupy movement contained some of this energy. As a political movement, they may have had no real effect, but as a "reclaiming public space" movement, they helped pull people out of their private entertainment centers known as suburban homes, and into the streets, and interacting with riff raff of all sorts, including real homeless, real addicts, and real petty criminals. So middle class kids, used to law and order, got a chance to practice resisting law, while actually having to see the need for it at the same time.

Perhaps in our "catabolic collapse", through every crisis events, there'll be different sorts of occupy-like public actions that will opens eyes to what's failing, and how to negotiate truth-to-power situations without resorting to counter productive violence.

I admit mostly from the outside, its hard to see what sort of culture and mimesis process comes out of this chaos, but it seems self-evident that it enlightens awareness for our predicaments that we'd most of the time not see, and perhaps seed unconscious imaginings from many participants that will help them see where chaotic leadership fails and they can make a difference in the next crisis.

Khadija said...

@Nathaniel Ott,

I hear you. A few additional comments and then I'll get back to listening to the conversation/lurking. [I don't want to take up much more time with this off-topic side conversation.]

It sounds like your Dad is roughly in the same age group as me. I have a couple of (slightly older) male cousins who joined the military in the 1980s for similar reasons as your Dad.

The impression I got from talking to them (and from a military guy I dated while I was in college) was that the military lifestyle was MUCH more socially integrated---as in people from different groups actually socializing with each other---than was the norm in most parts of the U.S. at that time (mid to late 1980s).

And MUCH more "naturally" socially integrated than what friends and I experienced at the various White universities (and later on professional schools) we attended during that era.

From my perspective, large chunks of the U.S. appear to have caught up with the level of social integration that has existed in the U.S. military at least since the 1980s. Although, as I said during another discussion, I suspect that this progress is fragile. And it's anybody's guess as to whether it will withstand The Long Descent. Based on the patterns observed in other places such as the former Yugoslavia and post-invasion Iraq, I wouldn't bet money on it.


Thanks! {smile}

Bill Pulliam said...

Violet -- closer neighbors than you might think. One of my oldest and closest friends lives on Short Mountain, not at the Sanctuary but Sanctuary-adjacent (Goat a.k.a. Goatboy). I visit him regularly; he is one of the reasons I am in Tennessee, though by the time I moved here in 2002 land in the Short Mountain Faerieplex was out of our price range. Thank that dang 4-lane to Woodbury for that; 10-fold jump in land prices when that was completed. Do/did you have a faerie name? I know almost no one in the faerie community by their "street names." I go by Bill bill there and many other places; my wife is Peggy bill (the uncapitalized "bill" predates me; long story, I acquired it from her not vice versa).

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Pinku. Haha! Liked the sith reference. Tidy work. As a challenge for your excellent imagination, try projecting the Oil price shocks of 1974 onto a few future based entirely on sunlight with a smattering of renewable sources thrown into the mix. That's the long term future, I guarantee it. PS: It is on my mind because I spent the entire day moving firewood in the rain and wind and am now tired and cold.

Hi Godozo. The origin of the sagging jeans was due to the proscribing of belts in jail. When you think about it, belts are both handy weapons and also a tool with which many people in that situation have hung themselves. The gansta culture followed the official culture which is a bit sad when you think about it. The ones to be scared of are the ones that you don’t expect. People displaying outward signs of fitting into a particular culture are saying, "I'm like you..."

Hi Kevin. The drug economy perhaps has very high margins at present. However, it too is subject to the economic, resource and energy tides that flow through the rest of the economy. It is no basis on which to fund your private army. My gut feel is that one possibility is that future warlords will be offering some sort of wide scale plunder and / protection racket which will be cheaper for the population than the government services that they will eventually co-opt. Just sayin...

Hi Renaissance Man. Nature will sort that problem out. I believe that the magazine publishing industry is struggling with a double whammy of declining circulation and diminishing advertising revenues. Not a good recipe for long term success. I should know, I got stiffed by a publisher on a recent publication which is why I now have the time for a blog. I'd suggest that there may be niche space for very low cost newsletters in the future but probably not much else.

Hi Harlan. Tyson has a blind side, he perhaps refuses to acknowledge that he is borrowing from nature to fuel his own existence. From the soil he taketh and thus eventually to giveth back. Just sayin...

Hi SLClaire. I hear you. Buck up little camper! Seriously, after 7 years, I'm still mucking around with infrastructure and having to look at systems and going, "nope that really was a bad idea after all", and then having the ignominy of having to fix them. I was out in the rain all day long today and it was a good learning opportunity to test - in extreme conditions - and address all sorts of systems here.

Tell you a little secret to perk up your spirits: I have to purchase 2 more solar panels, build a steel mount for them, and then move another 4 (digging yet another long trench for the cables) even though I haven't had to use the generator this year.

Sorry to hear about your friend. When I was young and dumb, at those moments I tended to burn bridges. Nowadays, I employ the thought: "if uncertain, do nothing". People eventually change and I've recently made contact with an old friend who went through a rough patch and had a lovely conversation. You never know the future and it has paid me well in the past to not hold on too tightly. Everyone has a different journey and sometimes they align with your journey. Enjoy them whilst you have them in your life, for tomorrow they may be gone.



Cherokee Organics said...


I'm starting to wonder whether the larger forces within the community understand the poor look of the images that they present to that community. Here is a good example:

Glencore tax bill on AU$15gb income = zip zilch

Seriously, I only mention Glencore because they are described in the article as "Australia's largest coal miner" and the headline caught my attention because it suggests that they are paying no tax on AU$15bn in revenue.

Sadly, they are not the only company or director that I’ve read about recently using this complex off shore loan trick. It is not a good look.

Then today, I heard an item on the news about circumventing political donations disclosure rules by offering memberships instead - which has the nice benefit of not having to be disclosed to the general public - and did a quick Internet search and turned up this article:

Remove taint around personal fundraiser

It is really hard to suggest to the average punter that paying tax is part of complying with the "system" when they also take note of these outrages. The average punter is not stupid and to assume so is an error of judgement. Even the dumbest dog that I have had the pleasure of knowing shows a level of rat cunning which can be very surprising.

Have the powers that be not read their history? Could they truly think that they are that isolated from their actions? Did they not see how the French revolution progressed? What’s wrong with them?

It is not a good look for them. Still I fully expect them to put the squeeze on the population further in the future.

PS: Gangsta culture doesn't have much of a foothold here - possibly due to the origins of our culture as a convict society? Hip hop music can be quite thoughtful Horrowshow - Dead Star Shine"> to the downright silly Seth Sentry - Room for rent.

PS: I really enjoy both artists and Seth Sentry can tell a great story. Still, there is very little gangsta rap here.

PPS: True story, I knew someone who got their Internet from their neighbours!!!!

PPPS: I've had flatmates steal my food, which was really annoying after a full day of work and then late night University.... Grrr...



Agent Provocateur said...

Toynbee's analysis of what happens when mimesis breaks down does not ring true to me. In my view, the desire to emulate the elite is not the primary glue that keeps societies together. Nor is the respect of that elite. No doubt these help keep a society function with less resistance; but a more fundamental glue is simply sharing the value system of the elite. Sharing the same values does not mean respecting the elite or desiring to imitate them. You can understand the elite to be scum and still be loyal to them. I suggest this is the more common situation.

When I worked as a UN peacekeeper, I lived and worked closely with people from all over the world. Many of these people actively supported reprehensible regimes in their home countries. Among there number were assassins (aka special forces), kidnappers and torturers (aka intelligence officers), bandits (aka “other armed groups”), murders (aka soldiers), plunderers and rapists (aka militia), and organized criminals (aka government officials). Most of these people admitted to the fact that they supported evil regimes. Indeed, the people who seemed to be least psychologically damaged were those who were most honest with themselves about this. These people did not seek to emulate or imitate the villains they served. They knew what kind of people they were. They did however share their values. Their loyalty was based on their exception to share the loot. At the very least, they expected to be fed. Their loyalty to their masters was based on this not respect.

You gave the example of Roman Empire. Many cities that were dominated by this empire lavished praise and gratitude upon the Emperor for his benevolent conquest of their dominions. Of course this was politically astute, but this notwithstanding, some historians understand this praise and thanks to be unfeigned. Their conquest ushered in a period of peace and prosperity for the merchants and client rulers of the empire.

Such was the case even though the Roman Empire was transparently exploitative and brutal. There was a imperial theology that helped justified and glorified the conquests and exploitation. Politics and religion were not distinct entities. No one was expected to really believe this theology, only act as if they did. It helped give people the excuse they needed to support what was transparently evil. The Patron client hierarchy of the Roman Empire did not require respect of the elite so much as a shared value system of exploitation.

All the titles later given to a certain crucified rabbi from Judea (wherever that was!) were first applied to Octavian i.e. Son of God, Prince of Peace, God from God etc. Publicly challenging this theology, and the value system it implied, earned you a savage death.

If you found yourself at the bottom of that system, your loyalty to it was not based on a desire to emulate your exploiters. If you were loyal at all it was because it kept you fed (and often entertained) and you were legitimately afraid to oppose it. The same holds true today.

Shane Wilson said...

What I was saying that you overlooked was that race as a foundational fault line dividing wealth and class in America is a direct result of North America's long history of legalized discrimination. Put the same ethnic groups (native, European, African) together under a different legal and social structure as exists in many Latin American countries, and within a few generations of initial contact, race as it is understood in North America becomes useless as a social, cultural, and class dividing line. Witness just how much racial mixing/intermarriage has occurred in the U.S. since the first tentative changes in the 60s. Wouldn't one of the solutions to your problem be outmarrying of black women, thereby bringing white male wealth in? By extension, the tentative changes we're seeing whereby black women are finding it more acceptable to outmarry a good sign?
I'm not sure that I see" white ethnics" or Asians, or even Hispanics as examples of cohesive ethnic groups in the U.S. Statistics I've read show the highest rates of outmarriage among Asians, and it certainly seems to me that ethnic identity has faded with" white ethnics" who migrated in the early 20th century.
Don't get me wrong, I certainly don't want to downplay the power of race as the most important fault line running through American society, but I'm not sure you are accounting for the drastic changes and upheavals society will undergo and the effects it will have on the current legal and social order. I don't see pursuit of wealth in the current social order as an effective survival skill over the long haul. Part of the transformation that is taking place is that what was once adaptive in the old, dying system is becoming maladaptive in the transformation. JMG has discussed at length here pursuing poverty as an adaptive strategy, and ways to live well poor here. He's discussed that the only way to win the game of musical chairs of wealth contraction is not to play the game. He's also shown the difference between fictive paper wealth and real wealth. We've discussed the scenario of a pitchforks/ tie em from a lamppost/ French revolution terror type situation occurring. Again, I'll ask, is pursuit of wealth under the current system adaptive when the wealthiest under that system are probably the most vulnerable? Will people be envying the wealthy then in a French revolution situation?
I'm reminded of a guy from Eastern Europe from the rightward side of the spectrum who was dedicated to the preservation of his national ethnic group from middle eastern immigration. No amount of discussion could convince him that ethnic groups were social constructs that reliably shatter during dark ages, and reform themselves as drastically different constructs afterwards. North America is no different. The current ethnic groups that occupy the current U.S. are not going to be the ones coming out the other end of the dark ages falling on us. The people of that time probably won't look like you or me. If I had to guess, I'd say they'd look like some of the most racially mixed peoples of Latin America. Preserving ethnic groups as they currently exist may be a lost cause, but seeing to it that the best cultural contributions of a given ethnic tradition are preserved for future generations could work. (As a ginger, my guess is it could take no telling how many thousands of years for natural selection to select for gingers again in some far northern latitude)

Raymond Duckling said...

Tuxedo> I agree the Plutocrat's strategy would be too little and too late. For all I know, he makes many mistakes, the most fundamental of which is confusing wealth with money. Rising minimum wage from - what was it? $7, $8? - to $15 is not going to duplicate the available wealth available to society.

The problem with money and the extremely wealthy is that while society in general keeps thinking about wealth in abstract terms, this huge fortunes give them an inordinate amount of power over everybody else. That's it, you cannot really buy solutions to the ultimate problems in life, and luxuries eventually grow shallow, but you can boss around pretty much anyone around you.

One way to achieve this is by creating artificial scarcity for those at the bottom of the pyramid, so everyone will be even more eager to please you in order to avoid this punishment. What this guy seems to have recognized is that you can overplay your hand and end up lynched by those that have been pampering you for years.

Not extremely brilliant, but the fact that this is at least being discussed makes me think they may end up doing something to mitigate of even arrest the bloodshed to come.

streamfortyseven said...

"Also, since modern Islam is basically a reactionary religion, as the U.S. collapses, I see the" Great Satan" moving from the U.S. to Russia and China, as they become the lightning rod for Islamic grievance as they ascend in power."

When people in the US speak about "modern Islam", they're not really talking about Islam, they're talking about a way in which a certain group of Muslims - followers of Islam - interpret and practice Islam.

This group of Muslims is known as the Wahhabists by Shia, Sunni, Sufi, and Alawite Muslims, and is a relatively modern schism - or heresy - from Sunni Muslim belief and practice. An informative article can be found here:

The history of the Wahhabist movement is closely intertwined with the rise and domination of the Saudi royal family in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and in the 20th and 21st centuries has been massively funded with billions of dollars of Saudi oil money; CAIR - the Council on American Islamic Relations - is one of the chief organizations spreading Wahhabism in the US and Canada, along with ICNA (the Islamic Council of North America) and the MSA (Muslim Student Association). The very great majority of US imams and mosques are Wahhabist - not Sunni, Shia, or Sufi.

The Saudis know they are running out of oil, and are thus seeking to colonize other countries in order to have a place to live when the oil resource is no longer present in such amounts to support them in their home countries. They use their money, therefore, to colonize, occupy, and take over lands where they can continue to live. This process isn't exactly unknown in North America, by the way ;-)

The recent elections in Europe demonstrate the existence of a growing backlash against, and resistance to, Saudi-funded Wahhabist presence and in some areas, domination.

The US government has also provided significant military support to Wahhabist groups, in an incredibly ignorant and boneheaded effort to expand the American Oil Imperium throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Modern groups funded and supported include al-Qaeda (the mujahideen of the Afghanistan conflict in the 1980s, Jamaat al-Nusra in Syria (which has funneled arms and money to ISIS) and various other groups. And the US has supplied large amounts of military aid to the Saudi regime, which has been passed, in turn, to various Wahhabist militants. More information can be found here: (note the misidentification of Wahhabism as "Sunni fundamentalism" - a result of the massive misunderstanding promoted by US media). Another good article is:
On an unrelated note, if electronic calculators and computers aren't going to be around, mathematics will still be needed - and books which describe and provide means of calculating the values of mathematical functions with slide rules, pencil, and paper, will be worth their weight in gold. One such book can be found here: And another, more advanced, here:

Neo Tuxedo said...

@streamfortyseven: I wanted to say something like that, but I knew I didn't have the information to support it, so I decided not to seek the opportunity to make a fool of myself. I didn't realize how specifically Wahhabi the problem was, but I've heard enough about Wahhabists that I really should've figured it out sooner. (In particular, I already knew the extent to which Western leaders in general and US leaders in particular have propped up, and otherwise used, Wahhabi followers because, as it were, "the oil must flow.") I didn't know CAIR was a Wahhabist. No wonder Christian fundamentalists are so exercised about it; in the immortal words of Gary Peter Lefkowitz, they're in direct ecological competition.

Khadija said...

@Shane Wilson,

Hmmm . . . you're not hearing what I've been saying. I've been wondering why is that [???]

It seems to me that you're reading my comments through a heavy filter of multiple assumptions. It also seems to me that---based on these assumptions---you're putting me into various "boxes" that I don't fit into. In short, you've been stereotyping me. [I can guess at some of the stereotypes that you seem to have been filtering my comments through. But I don't want to make counter-assumptions. I'd rather ask you to explain what you're referring to with a couple of points.]

Since written comments aren't very effective at communicating tone of voice, let me emphasize that I'm NOT angry. {smile}

I'm not an Angry Black Woman (whatever that is).

I'm not an Angry Black Woman stereotype (whatever that may be).

I'm not an Angry Black Woman (whatever that may be) who is opposed to interracial relationships. {chuckling}

In fact, I appreciate your courage in trying to engage me in conversation about matters that touch on ethnic and racial issues. Most people don't do that.

There's very little honest discourse about anything that touches on ethnic and racial issues, so it's not unexpected for people to often hear statements through various mental filters.

One glaring example here:

You said, "Wouldn't one of the solutions to your problem be outmarrying of black women, thereby bringing white male wealth in? By extension, the tentative changes we're seeing whereby black women are finding it more acceptable to outmarry a good sign?"

First, what are you referring to when you say "your problem"? How are you defining what you're referring to as "my problem"? I'd really like to know. I think I have a pretty good guestimate (read=assumption) of this, but I don't want to assume. I'd like to hear from you what it is that you're referring to by that phrase.

Respectfully, did you miss the end part on my earlier comment when I said (emphasis added in bold):""Other folks keep track of where their group's resources are going even when they date and marry "out." I do the same thing, even though my ex is White and I date "out."

Did you miss that? {small smile}

There's no way for you to have known this, but I'm a semi-retired African-American blogger who has encouraged other African-American women to participate more in the "mainstream" of American society. I've been lurking on this blog for years, and only gave my first (of few) comments here back in March. I mostly lurk.

In fact, I'm one the main African-American women bloggers who has been encouraging other African-American women to date and marry out. The above-linked post sums up the main things I've been saying to other African-American women online for years.

The above-noted links provide a good idea of who I am, and what I believe. I'm not sure who the stereotyped "strawwoman" you've been responding to is. Because the things you're saying (that are intended as responses to what I've been saying) have very little connection to the points raised in my comments.

I don't want us to keep talking past each other. So, before I respond with specificity to your questions, I'd like to have a basic idea of who I'm talking to. Because that affects how much I think can be left unsaid while still providing effective communication. Americans understand certain nuances about the U.S. that people in other countries often don't get (the same operates in reverse).

So, if you don't mind: Are you American? Are you White? Are you a guy (Shane sounds like a guy's name to me---a young guy's name, but you never know)? Are you over 30 or under 30?

Shane Wilson said...

I was listening to NPR discussing Cuba the other day, and they seemed kinda flabbergasted that Cuba was so highly educated, yet had such limited internet access. They were obsessed with providing them more access to the internet so they could "progress". I guess the thought never occurred to those doing the piece that increased internet access might lead an otherwise educated populace to become porn watching, Facebook updating screen addicts with short attention spans. Seems to never have crossed their minds that increased internet access would have the exact OPPOSITE effect than the one they were shooting for

Shane Wilson said...

@ Khadija,
It never occurred to me that you were angry, just that you maybe hadn't thought just how little the far future North America would resemble the U.S. of today. I did realize that you'd stated you were in an interracial relationship, but didn't respond to that. I'd mentioned in my last post that I was a ginger, so that should should disclose my ethnicity as regards the boxes Americans check off. In another recent post, I mentioned that I was part of gen x, so that discloses my age. What I disagreed with was your contention that tribalism and wealth accumulation/preservation ere effective survival responses to decline and collapse. They will indeed occur, but I see them as measures of population reduction, not preservation. Your post reminded me of posts on here by a guy named juhana, an Eastern European working class guy intent on preserving the national ethnicities of Europe. JMG and others discussed how dark ages reliably shred ethnicities and identities, coupled with lots of immigration, but he was undeterred. I was making the same point regarding North American ethnic identities post decline/ dark age. Once the structure supporting those boxes we check off goes away, in due time, so will those ways of identifying ourselves. If identities based on nation states in Europe don't stand a chance against the coming dark ages, I don't see how current racial/ethnic categories do, either. I certainly don't think it will happen overnight either. In due time, as JMG has said, we will all be impoverished compared to now, so a severe reduction of inequality is in order, and over time, it will be a downward compression, not upward. The basis of our wealth is our petroleum based empire, which is faltering.
As a member of a group that makes up only a small fraction of the population, I'm under no illusion that the well being of society depends on how well they regard queer people. I realize that homophobic societies can function just as well as ones that revere and have a place for queer people, so I know that acceptance depends on demonstrating that queer people have important roles to play in society and reaching back to older, pre western traditional cultures that had well defined roles for queer people.

Stacey Armstrong said...

@Shane Wilson and others. Apologies if this is pedantic. Evolution has been discussed here before. However I have often found it useful to think of natural selection as "the survival of the survivors". I think this phrase was coined by Daniel Dennett but I do not have his book on Darwin nearby. Specific attributes only need to not harm the organism for them to continue to exist. If I have misunderstood I am happy to be corrected.


Sam CC said...

Let me make a few points regarding Miami, and technology.

I'm not at all convinced about fusion North American/Latin American places like Los Angeles and Miami. Yes, there is an immigrant drive, but I think they are pretty much too late, they are late to the party.

With regards to technology there is no doubt that Americans remain the best fed, comforted, and entertained people on the planet. But therein lies the decline, doesn't it, for those who have the historical perpsective and imagination.

I am convinced that the systemic bias against craftsmanship and physical labor and corresponding bias in favor of entertainment, soft technology, and white collar work is taking its toll on America.

There are virtually no pundits who share my view, and none of my family and friends share it. If you talk to them, you get the impression that Americans are going to build fusion reactors, travel to Mars, live forever, and make a billion dollars, and all that's needed for this to happen is to go into more debt and remain "optimistic."

It's maddening because I simultaneously love America and yet can't stand it. I can't stand the country anymore.

sgage said...

@ Stacey,

"Stacey Armstrong said...

...Specific attributes only need to not harm the organism for them to continue to exist. If I have misunderstood I am happy to be corrected."

Here's the thing. The degree to which 'specific attributes' are 'not harmful' depends very much on the environment the individual finds itself in. And what so many people seem to forget is that the environment changes. Sometimes, selection pressures are rather low, especially in fat and happy times (in human terms, think the last 100 years of petro-prosperity). Sometimes, things get really, really tough.

And at those times, traits that might have been 'not harmful' or indeed even 'useful' in the previous scenario, no longer are, and in fact might be quite harmful. All of this is complicated/modulated/inflected by the fact that humans live in a cultural environment as well as a physical environment. Sometimes a species can afford to experiment and support all kinds of diversity - other times, not.

Neo Tuxedo said...

Sam CC, if you love what America says on the label, you're almost honor-bound to hate the actual contents of the package. It sounds to me like, in the words of a great Canadian poet, you love the country but you can't stand the scene.

"The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under." -- Screwtape, Letter XXV

Shane Wilson said...

I just assumed that natural selection selected for gingers cause it filled an evolutionary niche. Cuase we're some of the palest, most sun sensitive people, I figured that latitudes and climates with little sun would select for gingers. If anyone knows about the evolution of gingers, let me know. Lol

Agent Provocateur said...


R.e. your “The denial of the possibility of an elite which deserves to be imitated is I think critical to certain strains of barbarism, the 'civilization = bad' idea is connected as well. The move from saying no to this social order toward saying no to all social ordering. Perhaps this makes people more receptive to being followers, and explains how such wild weird characters can receive many followers. What isn't noticed isn't guarded. “

I think there are a number of false dichotomies there.

Let start with government. Now, and in all of recorded history, the vast majority of governments are just a group of guys (and sometimes the odd woman) running protection rackets. In its most basic form, the government is the elite. Failing that, such governments rules in the interests of the elite and them alone. All parasites eventually figure out that its best not to kill the host. Indeed a healthy host is as healthy parasite. It also helps if the host thinks it need the parasite or that the host does something for the parasite in exchange; this is where all the lies start. The best way to give this impression is to in fact give something hence noblesse oblige. Its still a lie as the transaction is always balanced in favour of those in power. That is the point of having power. It is important when discussing power, elites, and government to never lose sight of this essential nature of the relationship.

Is there anything to imitate there? No; and there never was unless you are a psychopath. Does such thinking lead to barbarism (I assume you use this term in a pejorative sense)? No. But seeing things as they are can lead to not allowing yourself to be used by others. There is not social program being advocated here, just a basic understanding of the dynamic of power, government, and elites.

Can government be more than just a protection racket? Yes, if the host uncompromisingly insists on distributive justice. The idea has its root in the eastern Mediterranean where a group of Judean hillbillies got fed up with being constantly overrun by the empire du jour. The original image of “God the Father” was that of the head of the household ensuring everyone had what they needed and no one was being greedy. A ruler was expected to do the same. The idea every really caught on but it never really died either. This was the original concept of the Kingdom (meaning rule) of Heaven (meaning God the Father).

Does civilization = bad? There is some basic physics at play here such that civilization (living in cities) has consequences … and they aren't good for the environment. All living things, and collection of living things, take energy and negative entropy for their environment and pass out that energy with higher entropy. The more the energy flow, the more the entropy expelled. Its just the way things are.

Will this insight tend to make people give up on civilization altogether and lead to barbarism? No; because civilization is already barbaric. Its just the violence is hidden from you because it is exported from your society (i.e. the entropy is exported). By its nature, industrial civilization is extremely barbaric (in the sense of violent): it threatens all communities of life on earth including itself. Industrial civilization is but one of many experiments in organizing human life. They are many ways to achieve social order that do not involve exploiting that community or other communities of living things. There are plenty of examples over the millennia of actual human communities living in far less destructive ways. All these had a social order. Not living in cities does not equate to the absence of social order.

DeAnander said...

I just want to add to the "straws in the wind" file (now that would be a depressing but interesting blog theme):

Again it reads like Wm Gibson or Bruce Sterling or various others in the cyberpunk/cybernoir/steampunk genres, but it's human-interest reportage from the front lines of C21 post-industrial decline. The future has arrived for some of Bucharest, and it's a very strange and yet strangely familiar future -- Mad Max, with overtones of Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere"?

More anon... I surely felt the cold breath of an unwelcome future on the back of my neck when reading both JMG's account of modern mythopoeia among "the least of these", and viewing these snaps from the underground (literally) life of a major European city.

Khadija said...


Here’s the Too Long, Don’t Have Time to Read universal point to my comments: People who don’t understand reciprocity—and refuse to practice reciprocity—won’t survive the Long Descent.

As others have noted, the future is now in certain segments of the U.S. population. The current violent implosion of the African-American collective is a good example of what happens to people who don’t understand and refuse to practice reciprocity.

I had neglected to make this clear earlier. Apologies.

@Shane Wilson,

Thank you for answering my “Who am I talking to?” questions. Okay, I can better calibrate my responses in light of that information.

First, I think we might be speaking in terms of very different time periods. I’m speaking of the immediate issue of those who are alive now making it through this beginning phase of the Long Descent. Some of what you’re saying seems to speak to a time frame that’s much further out in the future.

I believe that what you've described is an idealized and inaccurate view of what currently exists in Latin American cultures; as well as what’s likely to emerge in the future. Latin America’s racial dividing lines are only different in style than what exists in North America. Not substantive differences. For the past approximately 5 centuries (from the beginning of the Spanish conquest), Latin American countries have been what one Latin American anthropologist called “pigmentocracies”—where the social hierarchies are color-based.

The Latin American pattern is essentially the same pattern as in the U.S. The people who have been for roughly the past 500 years at the top are mostly the ones who appear to have the most European ancestry. The people who have been for roughly the past 500 years at the bottom of these societies tend to be the darkest ones (those who appear to have the most Indian and/or African ancestry).

The only difference is that, for the most part (except in Old New Orleans) American culture has never before entertained the idea of having an in-between mixed “buffer group” classification.

As far as that mixed “buffer group” in Latin America, one researcher has questioned whether or not the notion of a so-called “mulatto escape hatch,” or social and cultural “whitening” (her terminology, not mine) even exists or works for Peruvians who have some African ancestry.

I suspect this same entrenched pattern in Latin American societies is invisible to more than a few White Americans because they’re at the top of both sets of hierarchies. They don’t perceive it because they don’t have to—they’re not at the yucky end of the hierarchy.

Khadija said...

Part 2

What more than a few White Americans don’t notice (because they’re on top) is that these hierarchies aren’t changing with the influx of Latinos and with the outmarrying of Asians (moreso the women) with Whites. The basic pattern of Whites On Top & The Darkest Ones (Blacks in the U.S. context) At The Bottom isn’t changing.

What’s changing is that more people (for examples, Latinos, Middle Easterners, and the offspring of Asian women’s marriages with White men) are being allowed into the “White” category.

In the U.S. context, the only ones who are locked out of Becoming White are African-American Blacks who are visibly Black. [The biracial children of African-American Blacks can become more or less White if they appear White, like Cash Warren (Jessica Alba’s husband). An interesting thing I’ve noted in recent years is the divide between those half-Black biracials who can pass for White and those who can’t because they look visibly Black.]

For the reasons I’ve mentioned, even with the increases in immigration and intermarriage the same basic pattern of Whites On Top & The Darkest Ones (Blacks in the U.S. context) At The Bottom can keep chugging along for an additional 500 years. If all this was going to disappear simply as a result of intermarriage, then Latin America wouldn’t still have the same entrenched color hierarchy in place after 500 years of mixed-race baby-making.

You mentioned JMG's discussions about pursuing poverty as an adaptive strategy, and ways to live well poor.

Ah, okay, I think I see where our miscommunication began. There’s an underlying, universal point to my earlier comments that might’ve gotten lost in the discussion of particular details about the African-American collective. I should’ve made the connection in my earlier comments. I didn’t. I’ll try to remedy that here.

The Too Long, Don’t Have Time to Read universal point to my earlier comments: People who don’t understand reciprocity—and refuse to practice reciprocity—won’t survive the Long Descent.

The Archdruid has been talking about the narratives that societies and individuals tell themselves to make sense of their world. Some narratives are adaptive. Some narratives are not. I responded to a comment that, to my ears, had the underlying narrative of “Those mean Black people were angry with my father because he got with a White girl.” In most situations that I know of, that’s a dishonest narrative. Leaving aside whatever happened with Nathaniel’s father, it’s not that “mean Black people were angry for no good reason when an African-American man ‘gets with’ White women.”

Typically when other African-Americans are angry about those scenarios, they’re angry because of a lack of reciprocity. They’re angry because the individual in question took resources from the community (especially the church ladies), gave those resources to an outsider who did nothing to create those resources, and refused to give anything back to the community. Usually with the justification of, ”Well, I’m an individual; I don’t believe in group or collective stuff.” Yet, they weren’t functioning as individuals when they took that collective money and/or other collective support.

It’s be similar to how one might feel if somebody accepted a donation that one’s grandmother and other elderly relatives organized and spent it on a gambling and coke binge. And then when questioned about it said, ”I’m an individual and I’m doing my own thing.” That’s perfectly fine. Such persons should do their own thing with their own individual resources. And stop taking from the community “pot” when they know darn well the purpose of the community pot is to lift up the collective community. The flip side of this is that the church ladies need to screen people before they give them that type of fervent support; and stop engaging in that wholesale blind giving.

Khadija said...

Part 3

To make the connection clear: Surviving poverty during the Long Descent—much less living well as a poor person—is only possible with some type of mutually supportive network. One person can’t supply all their needs for themselves. One has to be able to cooperate with other people. A mutually supportive network only functions when the members practice reciprocity.

I recall reading accounts (at least one of them I think was on this blog) of various green planned communities that imploded in large part due to more than a few of the members’ refusal to practice reciprocity. In particular, I vaguely recall reading a comment about a communal fruit tree in such a community. The tree was picked bare overnight. When morning came, nobody knew what had happened (except whichever members had snatched all the fruit for themselves under the cover of darkness).

As others have noted, the future is now in certain segments of the U.S. population. The current violent implosion of the African-American collective is a good example of what happens to people who won’t cooperate with each other, and refuse to practice reciprocity. For those who pay attention and understand what they’re seeing, the disastrous goings-on in the modern-day African-American collective are a handbook of worst practices and how NOT to survive the Long Descent.

I had neglected to make this clear earlier. Apologies.

You said, ” Your post reminded me of posts on here by a guy named juhana, an Eastern European working class guy intent on preserving the national ethnicities of Europe. JMG and others discussed how dark ages reliably shred ethnicities and identities, coupled with lots of immigration, but he was undeterred.”

Lord have mercy, I’m being compared to Juhana! {catching the vapors and clutching my pearls---LOL!}

I find his views repellent. Nevertheless, when he says something that might be useful to know regarding the Long Descent, I pay attention. I’ve been reading a fascinating biography of an individual that, if I remember correctly, Juhana mentioned: a Balkan war criminal nicknamed Arkan who organized Serbian soccer hooligans into a death squad/militia. And, if I remember correctly, he was the commenter who mentioned a similar mobilization of Ukrainian soccer clubs in the current crisis in Ukraine. I’ve been pondering what groups might be a U.S. equivalent of this in the future. I don’t know. Time will tell, as it always does.

Cherokee Organics said...


Breaking mead news. And that is definitely why you should not comment after strong mead (apologies for using the word “And” at the beginning of a sentence). I strongly advise against this practice. Hehe!

I re-read my previous comment and realised that in my rambling and possibly discursive tone, I'd completely forgotten to get to the main point of all of those cool URL links.

The main point was that the powers that be have given away their mimesis in the pursuit of the trappings of wealth. It is a simple and easy social mistake to make, but at the same time they have made it. There is no getting around it.

The definition of mimesis in this context is, "the deliberate imitation of the behaviour of one group of people by another as a factor in social change."

As the population pursues self-interest over that of the commonwealth, they destroy that commonwealth. There is little room for any other outcome given that we live on a planet of finite resources, if that pursuit continues apace.

Oh yeah, there is also melodic hip hop here too: Urthboy - We get around.

Just not much gangsta rap... The culture here values homogeneity over all other considerations.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Violet. Permaculture is not a cure-all for existing problems. Like the scientific method it is a tool and as such it is required to be employed and practiced. There is a lot of talk, but not much in the way of action.

To produce an agricultural surplus without strip mining the soils here is truly one of the most complex tasks I have ever undertaken.

Permaculture design and organic gardening really have a lot to offer to achieve this outcome, but they must be implemented, practiced and then refined over time before their value becomes apparent. It takes a really long time to achieve that value too.

Social movements on the other hand do not cook the rice and perhaps this is what you are witnessing?

It is my opinion that it is only the middle to upper class that can afford to do internships.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Nathaniel. Thanks for the background story.

As an interesting question, how do you think that your background story compares to that of the homeless children in the Dade County story? What are the differences and what are the similarities? Do you think that you’d have a different perspective on the world? Would you ever personally imagine a story such as the one they told?

Our background stories often influence us in ways we'd never quite believe or even understand.

I grew up as something of an unsupervised feral – minus a father and with an absentee working single mother, so am always interested in peoples different takes on family life and the impact that has on their personal outlook, beliefs and motivations. It is fascinating - to me anyway - and also a window into what motivates that person.

Your quote: "My point being individualism was central to my upbringing, including by my father" was fascinating because I wonder, how do you personally know where your own thoughts start and your fathers stopped? In your situation - from my perspective - such an assertion would be really, really, hard to divine.

Hi Bill. A young person said to me recently on seeing some of the produce from here, that it would be really cool to be able to harvest some of their own produce. It was really heart-warming and an insight into what the person considered to be important and also valuable. PS: Have you ever heard of Mumford and Sons - Little Lion Man. Almost 46 million YouTube views and a banjo can't be wrong!

Hi Ray. Many thanks. Your analogy was very insightful. Nice work.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Agent,

Haven't you ever heard of the F35 joint strike fighter?

Jeffrey said...

Great essay. I am wondering if all of us here aren't somewhat like Tyson as we engage in this fascinating and deep analysis of our declining industrial civilization and its parallels historically.

My deeper question. Our we a tribe here on this blog that will grow as industrial civilization declines or
are we just as vulnerable as the scientist once the narratives born out of despair and poverty create new narratives.

That is the question I am left with reading this weeks essay.

Irrational Athiest said...

The examples you gave for mimesis fail to take into account the ubiquity of television and media. Historically, people had to emulate real people, but today, people emulate fictional characters.

What is your take on mimesis in relation to propaganda and modern media?

Shane Wilson said...

Interesting, for discussion. Russia stepping up in Iraq, while pope states the obvious, which we've discussed on here.

John Michael Greer said...

Neo, certainly that was Galbraith's suggestion in The Culture of Contentment -- he pointed out a good long time ago that the American political class was making all the same mistakes as the French aristocracy in the years before 1789.

LatheChuck, excellent! Good to see somebody crunching the numbers, in any forum -- particularly that one.

Ares, I don't think we're to the point yet at which a new mimesis gets under way -- the old patterns have a lot of breaking down to do, and such intervening phenomena as warlords with rock-star charisma will come and go before the new focus emerges. As for Occupy, well, let's just say I wasn't as impressed as you apparently were.

Cherokee, I don't think they have a clue. That's why they're going to end up dangling from lampposts.

Agent, nah, you're missing the point. Mimesis doesn't equate to warm fuzzy feelings for the people who happen to occupy the positions of power. Ask people to daydream out loud about what it would be like to be a big success, and far more often than not you'll get a simplified media caricature of the way the rich and famous live in America today. That's mimesis -- the colonization of the imagination by images projected by the current elite.

When you talk about how people in the Roman world, say, must have seen the Roman Empire as transparently evil, you're projecting your own state of mind concerning governments onto the rest of humanity and the rest of time. Your attitude is a classic example of what follows the collapse of a particular pattern of mimesis; where your grandparents or great-grandparents probably thought that, despite its problems and the idiots running it, the government under which they lived was a good thing, you've embraced a narrative that says all government everywhere is utterly evil, and that everyone's always seen it that way. That blinds you to the change in attitudes that this week's post was trying to discuss.

Shane, of course they want to get the internet to Cuba. How else are they going to sell the Cubans a bunch of consumer crap they don't need? NPR is Fox News through a mirror, you know...

Sam CC, exactly. These days, if you look up the word "decadence" in the dictionary, the United States is exhibit A.

DeAnander, that's fascinating. Expect much more along these same lines as we proceed.

Khadija, the fit of the vapors was classic! Thank you. ;-) I'll be discussing in future posts the way that ethnic distinctions tend to get shredded and remade during dark ages and their aftermath; the short form is that the Latin American experience (or, for that matter, the North American one) of enduring ethnic divides is very common in most historical situations, but not in dark ages. When everything else goes into the blender, color lines rarely survive long! But we'll get to that in due time.

Cherokee, what you've described is exactly what Toynbee was talking about -- a creative elite capable of inspiring mimesis loses that gift and becomes a dominant elite which is only able to demand obedience, for a while. Then that goes away, and it's lamppost time. Glad to hear the mead is good!

John Michael Greer said...

Jeffrey, we're not a tribe. The internet produces, at most, pseudotribes -- you don't get an actual tribe until you have people living with one another, and willing to sacrifice their own lives to protect the tribe from its enemies. Those are already beginning to take shape, but it's not happening online!

Irrational, it fascinates me to see how easily people forget that there were media before the electronic age. Renaissance despots had spin doctors who made sure that the portrayal of the monarch in woodblock-printed broadsheets, popular songs, and the other mass media of the time supported the despot's agenda. How much direct contact, for example, do you think the average Englishman or woman of 1580 had with Queen Elizabeth? She was as much a manufactured media figure as any of her equivalents today; it's just that the media were different.

Shane, of course the Russians are stepping in -- as usual, Putin is three steps ahead of the amateur in the White House, finding a way to exert Russian power abroad in a context where the US is hardly in a position to object! The man's smart, no question. As for the Pope, I hope he survives -- he's bucking a lot of very powerful interests.

Bogatyr said...

JMG: thanks for the link back to your old post about Kaplan. I read it at the time, but it had slipped my mind.

I’ve only read the one of his books, so I can’t comment on his position in any of the others. The one I have, though - The Coming Anarchy - is composed of the eponymous essay plus a number of others. One very specifically predicts the descent of the US into oligarchic rule - which was recently confirmed by Princeton research, and got a lot of coverage, including the comments here. Another warns of the dangers of having the country led by politicians and advisers who’ve never done anything in real life and are increasingly drawn from academic specialists. Based on these essays, I’d hesitate before saying that he believes/believed that the US, and the West generally, is immune to collapse…

As for the neo-Cossack revival, there was a flurry of academic papers about it in the 1990s, which are available if you have access to JSTOR. It all went quiet after that, but the book you should try to get through your library is Laura Olsen’s Performing Russia: Folk Revival and Russian Identity, which has a couple of good chapters on the subject. For people who aren’t familiar with who the Cossacks are, and where they’re coming from, I’ve written a short backgrounder on another blog of mine. It needs to be updated, since I’ve learned a lot more since I wrote it, but as an introduction to the Cossacks (and why they attacked Pussy Riot in Sochi) it may be helpful. Who are the Cossacks? (It's broken up into several pages - the links are at the bottom of each page, but Wordpress's formatting doesn't make it obvious). There are other entries about the contemporary Cossacks on the same blog.

Frankly, I think there’s a lot to be learned from them by anyone preparing for the Long Descent. Dmitry Orlov’s latest book gives one view of this (I haven’t read it, but I’m going by what he’s posted on his blog), but the neo-Cossacks give a counter-example, I think.

Shane Wilson said...

Thanks for clarifying. I'm finding a dearth of reciprocity, too, in dealings with people. I think it falls under the greater umbrella of" community" that no one understands now. There is a definite lack of reciprocity today. I am familiar with the light/dark socioeconomic grade in Latin America. I'd mentioned that I spoke Spanish and identify with Latinos in another recent post. I'm not sure how enduring the light/dark socioeconomic grade will be in the future. What I do have faith in is today's elites destiny with the lamppost, and that there will be a socioeconomic transformation from the coming dark ages. I look forward to JMG'S take on what will happen to our elites and ethnic categories.
I don't identify with NPR as news anymore than Fox, I just am curious to see what people are talking about, what's in the collective conscious.

Shane Wilson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Calm Center of Tranquility said...

I tend to agree with you JMG when you say "they don't have a clue. That's why they're going to end up dangling from lampposts." And then I read something like this:
Seems like they might have more of a clue than I thought.

John Michael Greer said...

Bogatyr, thanks for the details! I hope Kaplan has a clue -- a lot of people listen to him. The books of his that I've read, alas, suggest otherwise.

Center, talk is cheap, especially for people who have that much money! If these folks start agitating for higher taxes on investment income and an end to austerity policies, I'll consider changing my opinion.

Neo Tuxedo said...

@Shane: 'I'm finding a dearth of reciprocity, too, in dealings with people. I think it falls under the greater umbrella of" community" that no one understands now.'

I tend to trace it back to Margaret Thatcher's obscene statement that there is no such thing as society. This hideous message has been internalized by the people who exist above and below civilization, in one of the many effects of the Cold War that lingers long after the collapse of the International Communist Conspiracy. YMMV, of course, but at the very least, it didn't help.

Juhana said...

Relevant post, and it's fascinating that someone was mentioning Kaplan's "Coming anarchy" here. As I see it, big trade triangle of Europe, Africa and Middle East is unraveling very fast now. As there is no material wealth to spread to masses, old feuds are surfacing fast. Even faster than I thought possible, and I have been labelled as pessimist from early on among my peers.

Interesting thing is that fracture lines are running in all cases I am aware of along ethnic and religious lines, not along any left-right or any other political axis.

In Africa, states has been erased in all but name and different tribal militias rule inland with mineral company enablers. Hutu FDLR, Tutsi M23 (they are EFFICIENT, like Germans of the Second Reich down there), genocidaires of ultra-balkanized chaos of Nigeria, where Hausa/Igbo/Yoruba nightmare has seen new lows as religion is married with ethnic hatreds. You have never witnessed truly deep racist hatred if you have not seen how African tribes from different ecological areas hate each other. Whole Sahel area is one big war theatre now, where Muslim pastoralists from semi-arid plains fight bitter ethnic cleansing war against animist/Christian agriculturalists about 10 degrees north of equator. It goes all through that continent, from coast to coast. It's amazing that people in Europe are not aware of it. Just amazing. It's so huge vortex of violence and chaos now that you should not miss it, even if never working in the area.

Then there is old Sunni/Shiite division running through Middle East. Have you ever noticed how minority sects are almost always ethnic minorities also? It's identity game with Kalashnikov and RPG-7. All recent victories have been gained among one's own tribal contignent. Sunni triangle is now ruled by Sunnis, and Shiite areas by Shi'ites. Now main story seems seems to be Ishmaelite tribes against Alawites and Indo-Aryans of that land of Aryans, Iran. And against Kurds, who are traditional Sunnis. Personally I think that there is a lot of Arab national chauvinism involved. When borders are eventually redrawn with blood along tribal lines, then it's time for clan leaders to fight among themselves. Good luck for Western liberal goody-two-shoes when trying to fit that mess and following mass migration into progressive/liberal world view of that cultural black hole formerly known as Western Europe.

And then there are Slavic nations. No mass migration is going to take them down, they will fight for their survival. Force is strong in them. In the East Slavia (that's what Yuogoslavia means) different religious ethnic enclaves made little rehersal for what's coming among those tribes. Now Unitarian West Ukrainians are fighting against heirs of Constantinople, and in the Great Plains Cossack Old School Orthodoxy really is Old School. Caesaropapism as form of government is going to experience rebirth there some time soon, I believe.

Anarchy is indeed coming, but also to places Kaplan thought safe areas. Apart that one mistake, he truly has some prophetic blood running through those veins.

And then there is football, everywhere, and local grassroots identities build around it. I have nagging feeling that these unpolitical, working class identities are undervalued card in the table. They have erupted into paramilitary scene constantly after 90's Balkan Wars, and now it's happening again in Turkey and East Europe.

But as world of football identities is totally alien for those in high intellectual society, and these things have not yet happened in any Western nation, it has been overlooked time after time. These people live in same hoods, and KNOW each other by name, from childhood on. They are no fictional tribes indeed.

Nathaniel Ott said...
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Violet Cabra said...


We're in full agreement about the relative value of permaculture/organic gardening as buzzwords vs. their values as practices. The one is rather useless and the other is of great value. I've been organic gardening for about 7 years, for about 4 of those have been after becoming obsessed with Mollison's tome PERMACULTURE: A DESIGNER'S Manual. I've had somewhat of an involved relationship with Permaculture, let me elaborate a bit:

Permaculture didn't teach me how to make compost, start seeds to transplant, make raised beds or even do companion planting. While reading Mollison gave me a much greater appreciation for trellises and I've employed swales to good effect once, the primary sense I got from reading PERMACULTURE: A DESIGNER'S MANUAL was one of religious awe. I'm not sure quite how he did it, but Mollison managed to fill me with zeal for his method.

Eventually the zeal wore-off and skepticism took its place. Not condemnation mind you, but the religious feelings I have for permaculture have faded. I n

It has been my observation as well that it is mostly the children of the well-to-do that are into organic farming and doing internships and the like. To be fair though the farm I'm working at pays an hourly wage which is sufficient for me to be saving money. Then again I'm not an intern, but an employee.

Shane Wilson said...

I stand corrected, the MLK quote was about integrating into a burning house. I thought it was a burning church. Seems he got it as far as the corrupting influence of American imperialism and imperial tribute.

Nathaniel Ott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kutamun said...

Been thinking about the blue goddess, ISIS , or Oasis , conjoining with the Archdruids comments about the Islamic Caliphate , a blood thirsty blue goddess...
Realised Gazproms newsletter is called "bluefuels", leads me to LNG .....liquefied natural gas ( of which australia has plenty) , realised the EU has a project "LNG Blue Corridors" ,
To accomplish its objective it has defined a roadmap of LNG refuelling points along four corridors covering the Atlantic area, the Mediterranean region and connecting Europe’s South with the North and its West and East accordingly. In order to implement a sustainable transport network for Europe, the project has set the goal to build approximately 14 new LNG or L-CNG stations, both permanent and mobile, on critical locations along the Blue Corridors whilst building up a fleet of approximately 100 Heavy Duty Vehicles powered by LNG.

Interesting stuff eh ? A terrifying new interim Goddess in the step descent into decline .....


Khadija said...

@Shane Wilson,

You said, "I'm finding a dearth of reciprocity, too, in dealings with people. I think it falls under the greater umbrella of" community" that no one understands now. There is a definite lack of reciprocity today."

Agreed. A LOT of modern Americans have lost the social and emotional skills required for reciprocity. I expect that deficit will cause a lot of unnecessary hardship and suffering for these individuals as the Long Descent continues.

I think it's more than a little bit generational: Many of the people in my age group have done a poor job of raising their now-young-adult children. Folks' young adult children have good formal educations. The lucky ones have good, yuppie jobs. But too many people in my generation failed to transmit the values that my parents and grandparents referred to as "home training."

A couple of examples that I see with increasing frequency.

(1) The near-refusal to engage in in-person conversations with business associates and other non-intimates unless it's absolutely required. This is currently creating problems for one of my friends and her husband who live in a condo. Their neighbors in the rest of the building refuse to hold in-person condo association meetings. Instead, these nuts try to do everything by email. Even though doing things that way doesn't work very well. Even though an in-person meeting would be very efficient in clearing up the many ambiguities and misunderstandings that happen during email-only conversations. Many of these people also have the pattern of hurrying into their units to avoid saying "Good morning" or other basic greetings to neighbors. It's all very peculiar.

(2) People who are new to a setting (new person at a job, new person in the neighborhood, new person who moves into a building, etc.) who NEVER bother to introduce themselves to the other people who are already there. Friends and I have been noticing a drastic uptick in this behavior with each year that passes.

In a job setting, often a coworker (at least those who were raised with home training---smile) will take it upon themselves to introduce the new person around. But they don't always catch up with everybody at a worksite to make that introduction. So, it would behoove the new person to introduce themselves when they run across somebody at work they weren't already introduced to. But increasing numbers of folks aren't doing that. Even though, on a practical level, the new person is much more likely to need something (help, an answer to a question, etc.) from the established coworkers long before the established coworkers will need anything from the new person.

It's all strange and off-putting behavior to a lot of people. Basic, old-fashioned manners makes it so much easier to approach somebody if you happen to need something from them later on down the road. Unfortunately, as the collapse continues, many people will learn this lesson the hard way. {smh at it all}

Tom Bannister said...


I must confess this extinguishes, for better or for worse the last strand of hope or faith I had in Barack Obama. I admit I have made a mistake in having hope in him for so long, but there goes. If something isn't working I say its better to face that fact sooner rather than later. (Sorry if that's a tiny bit off topic)

Repent said...

There is a new South African band called Die Antwoord. It features poor people living alternate lifestyles in run down neighborhoods. They have over 50 million followers on social media. Their most recent music video 'Pitbull' released last month already has over 4.5 million views. I saw the video myself and I was beyond shocked. (It takes a lot to shock me these day).

Someone making a video like this in the 1980's would have been locked away in a psych ward just for making the video; and it would have been censored and not aired on TV.

Today the millions of followers that this band have attest to your thesis that disenfranchised people will find new people to mimic. I'm happy that I will not live long enough to see this age out, or the dark age fully emerge.

Again another excellent socially relevant essay !

Agent Provocateur said...


F35 Joint Strike Fighter? You had been into the mead hadn't you!

Agent Provocateur said...


In this week's essay you defined mimesis in terms of “admire … inspire admiration and affection ... shared values and purpose” Given you didn't address it, I assume you concede my point regarding respecting the elite: its not necessary but it certainly helps. I've suggested that what's more fundamental is getting one's share of the loot.

You have written: “When you talk about how people in the Roman world, say, must have seen the Roman Empire as transparently evil, you're projecting your own state of mind concerning governments onto the rest of humanity and the rest of time.” Not so. Many people of the time regarded the Roman Empire as rotten to the core and evil beyond words. In my case, I came to that conclusion through them and what they wrote about their society. The fact that Rome was transparently evil to a great many people of the time is demonstrated in part by the appeal of Christianity. At issue were two conflicting sets of values. One glorified exploitation and conquest; the other glorified what would be called now “social justice”. You referred to this appeal in your essay. Though the book of Revelations was a late addition to the Christian canon, its inclusion destroys any doubt one might have about the Christian (at the time) take on Rome and its empire. Recall the names given to these in that book: the Dragon, the Beast, the Whore etc.. Still, I'm not certain the lack of by-in by these Christians or many others of all classes had much to do with the fall of Rome though. Certainly not everyone thought Rome was a bad thing. I indicated that there is historic evidence to suggest that some were genuinely grateful to be conquered.

I like your second definition of mimesis better: “the colonization of the imagination by images projected by the current elite.” This sounds a bit like my reference to Imperial Roman Theology if the images projected are in fact those that embody the value system of the elite. If so, we are simply using different words for much the same thing; or perhaps looking at the same phenomena from different perspectives. If that is true, then I haven't so much missed the point as got there on my own and came to a different conclusion.

In your essay you wrote “Civilizations fail, in turn, because their political classes lose the ability to inspire mimesis.” Not so. Ruthless oppression is always an option and historically has often been very effective. How many peasant revolts were effectively put down during Roman times and since?

You wrote: “Your attitude is a classic example of what follows the collapse of a particular pattern of mimesis; where your grandparents or great-grandparents probably thought that, despite its problems and the idiots running it, the government under which they lived was a good thing, ...” No. My attitude is the historic norm. Peasants have always known that they were being ripped off and who was doing it. Being systemically looted by the upper class is what it means to be a peasant by definition. As for my grandparents, they were both members of the International Workers of the World. Sorry, they were hard core commies and had no sympathy for the governments of their day. Its in my blood. In modern times the sort of naivety you describe largely died in the First World War. People no longer sing as they go off to war to support empire.

You wrote: “... That blinds you to the change in attitudes that this week's post was trying to discuss”. No, I see the change in attitude, but I submit it is not due to disenchantment with the elite so much as disenchantment with the dream of getting crumbs from their tables. What is happening now is not so much a loss of faith in the elite as loss of faith in getting a share of the loot. No more loot, and especially no more food, then the society has got big problems. On that I'm sure we can both agree.

Khadija said...

@Shane Wilson,

Sorry, I missed your earlier comment(s) about Dr. King. Yes, Dr. King understood American imperialism and imperial tribute.

My family and I have never been among Dr. King's ardent fans. My older relatives were pleased with the opportunities that opened up because of the civil rights movement, but could not relate to Dr. King or other males like Dr. King. Especially not the older men in my family.

Quiet as it's kept (because it's almost like blasphemy to say this out loud), my older male relatives who were teenagers or adults during that era generally don't respect Dr. King as a man. My older male relatives have always been men who protected their wives and children.

They don't understand any "man" who puts his women and children on the front lines to deal with other men. Especially other men who are violent. They really don't understand any "man" who stands around and passively allows other males to violently assault their wives and children. They're firm believers that violent male criminals need counseling by way of Beretta or Smith & Wesson. With a bit of outpatient therapy in a funeral home; and inpatient therapy in the grave.

I share many of the same sentiments.

John Michael Greer said...

Juhana, thanks for the update. Chariot racing fans were a major political force in Byzantium, so football fans being a major force now should surprise no one!

Kutamun, if she's in league with whatever deity embodies the Second Law of Thermodynamics, we're in deep trouble...

Tom, I had hopes for the man when he was first elected; it's been an embarrassment, to use no stronger term, to watch him do a very good imitation of the third and fourth terms of George W. Bush, but even less competently.

Repent, the Long Descent is a very harsh road!

Agent, that is to say, you insist that your personal feelings about the illegitimacy of government have been shared by most people through history, and you don't see the specific shift I'm trying to point out because of that belief on your part. Loyalty based on who gets what crumbs is a different thing from mimesis! Now of course you're free to interpret history through whatever set of models you wish, but if you don't find Toynbee's model useful, a lot of what I'm going to have to say over the months ahead is going to mean little to you.

Nathaniel Ott said...

In regards to JMGs response to Jeffery regarding tribes. Yes, this is very much true! A real tribe is a collection of people who would be litterally willing to DIE for each other. This kind of goes back to the ethnicity conversation from earlier. Some of the tribes that may form over The Long Descent will indeed be primarily the same ethnicities. But this is not what will make them a tribe. Especially after the means of collective identity with people of the same ethnicity from an area on the other side of the continent is lost.

It will be the familial and personal ties that have grown over time and constant interaction with eachother. To the point that they may begin referring to themselves as a "People". Completely different from the "People" who live on the other side of the river, despite the fact that they share the same, former, ethnic identity. In the case of more ethnically mixed communities they will probably still regard themselves as the same "People" despite the fact that there members don't look alike. That doesn't mean that collective identy wont be important, nor that they wont be mistrusting or even hostile, to outsiders. Just that this will be based on the new ethnic identifiers rather than the old ones.

You could also apply this to national idententity and other groupings as well. In the example of the United States people already regard themselves as being different Americans from 'those' Americans of a totally diffent region or city, even within states. Its not too far a leap to assume that the geopolitical sphere of North America could look very diffent in a few hundred years.

Juhana said...

@Khadija: Can you explain me how White working class guy willing to nurture and protect his own community and culture, stretching back to ancestral times beyond written memory, is "repellent", but African-American or American Indian doing exactly same thing is "heroic"? That is part of American hypocrisy and general negativity towards Whites expressing their identity I have never understood. Why are Whites so special among races for your country that they cannot express same tribal feelings that all others do..? It would be fascinating to get explanation for that.

I just cannot understand these American sensibilities. And just to remind you: I have worked around continents, and I am labelled as MODERATE person among my own. I find myself often in situation trying to influx some open-mindness into my own peers... That fact just shows how far apart our worlds truly are. Even my moderate and non-violent opinions insult your orthodox Western liberal views. Amazing. You should meet some guys from my original hood. See how you would fit in with them. I think my company would be very pleasant and smoothing experience for you then, as warm breeze of reason among unemployment, hard manual labor, petty criminality and football madness...

@JMG: Yep, football ultras (aka hooligans) were involved heavily at those Turkish riots and unrest. This is happening more or less everywhere outside good ol' NATO bloc, and partly inside it in the Southern NATO countries. These identity groups are slowly becoming political force to be reckoned... Maybe there is also some modern-day Belisarius waiting to be unleashed upon them, as in Constantinople :).

As job opportunities have become scarce and people are more and more restricted to their original neighborhoods, with no hope for outward or upward mobility, these local identities are on the rise. Their level of alienation from existing political machinery of EU is amazing. Only acceptable political parties ever mentioned among night outs are either those labelled far-right or far-left by media, though scale is tilted into the far-right side. For example, in Hungary some football ultras are practically enforcers of Jobbik. Not to say that political conversation plays a big role, never :).

Also the amount of insulation from mainstream media and politics these identity groups have gained is astonishing, they have this parallel network of information distribution at place. Scene was not this politicized just ten years ago, things have been evolving fast.

And I was just telling what I have heard and seen, not my political daydreams. It seems that disclaimer should be raised for those fancy readers who have right opinions, opposed to my wrong opinions... Whatever they might be. I know only that my opinions are confused and uncertain, but always pragmatic. Enough food, rest and good workouts are central for those opinions :). Apparently some American readers of this blog know better what I am than I do myself. I seem to offend them by living in wrong reality, where people say and do wrong things that do not fit sensibilities that Baby Boomer generation in the Western heartlands brought to mainstream. I beg you pardon for that. Maybe I can start to live in right reality after some re-education or something. As I have said before, my deepest feeling towards this magnificent structure of post-World War Western industrial society is deep dissapointment and disillusionment, not anger. For anger you have to go for other persons, but they do not write into blogs like this. Why I would otherwise waste my time reading and writing here, as there are plenty of other venues where there is no risk of being misunderstood? Peace :).

Phil Harris said...

I have not noticed a 'death cult' yet here in Britain. At the moment we seem to be awash in fascination with cooking - and a lot of multicultural dish naming. More appearance than substance I guess, while at the same time we see more Food Banks, and we can still see queues at fast-food outlets. Or the culture is divided: that which is, and that which is advertised?

PS We get most changes from USA, for example mass drug use, with a few years time-lag. Did we get tattoos - including very large, think Illustrated Man), from US or vice-versa?
PPS And suburban small gardens taking out their lawns and laying gravel?

Bogatyr said...

Juhana: I share your views. Wait until Yemen collapses... Refugee flows from Africa and the Middle East are going to cause major problems for Turkey and the southern EU within a few years, I think. I concur that the reaction is very likely to be based on traditional ethnic lines. I don't think people are ready for what this means.

Have you read this article by the War Nerd, by the way? Like it or not, what’s happening in Iraq right now is part of a rational process.

More generally, for those of you in the New World, I was rather taken aback to read the following in an article in allAfrica:

"[President Obama] made it known that his administration would do all it could to ensure that all the terrorist groups across the world were decisively fought till the world is free from terrorism".

Phew. Good luck with that.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thank you. With the historical perspective that you have granted to us - the readers – currnet information and events can be viewed through that historical lens and greater meanings can be derived. I'll tell you what though, it has changed my perspective.

I strongly suspect that wealth is like a crutch in that it can support you. However, as a generalisation, most people become addicted to that support and they lose sight of the greater currents flowing around them.

Losing sight of the greater currents and pursuing wealth for its own sake means that people end up pursuing courses of action that are not in their long term interests.

I reckon it may be exactly the same problem as the cognitive dissonance problem of people not quite wanting to understand that their actions have real world consequences. It all comes back to people not considering the bigger system that they live in doesn't it?

PS: The mead was very good indeed.

I'm in awe at how the publicans of old could possibly have produced any serious volume. Any more than a glass a day is beyond my abilities at present.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG and everyone!

This is a shameless plug for my latest blog update on the realities of living on a small holding farm here:

Don't speak too soon

There are plenty of photos if you don't wish to read the text.

Thanks for taking the time to check it out and I welcome both suggestions and questions.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Agent,

Don't be silly! I was referring to your comment: "Many cities that were dominated by this empire lavished praise and gratitude upon the Emperor for his benevolent conquest of their dominions."

Australia has spent a bucket load of money on the F35 and not seen one working plane yet (as far as I understand). This could be viewed as a tribute or a wealth pump for sure.

Is it an optional expenditure? Cost over runs and demand for foreign exchange just seem to be handed over willy nilly - although I am certainly not privy to the discussions.

If I were a dominating empire, I would install regents which were sympathetic to my cause. Seems obvious to me.

Your quote: "Their conquest ushered in a period of peace and prosperity for the merchants and client rulers of the empire. "

As an interesting question, who do you think these people are today? Are you yourself not benefiting from their exercises? Just sayin, it seems that there are a whole lot of subtleties and grey areas to me.



Juhana said...

Typing error made straight: South Slavia. Name of that former country. Thanks and goodbye again :).

Robert Mathiesen said...

@Agent Provocateur:

Just a footnote to your comment, really, from the POV of Biblical text criticism ...

Although Revelation came late into the canon of scripture in Western Christendom, it is almost certainly one of the very oldest writings in the New Testament. Its Greek is the fluent, yet broken Greek of someone whose first language was a Semitic one. (Think of the broken, yet fluent English spoken in many large cities like New York by immigrants whose first language was not English.) Because of this linguistic fact, Revelation cannot have been written by any of the other men named "John," authors of the canonical gospel and three epistles. Indeed, if there is any book in the NT written by one of the Twelve, it is Revelation.

Margaret Barker, a very perceptive scholar, has powerfully argued that Revelation was written to oppose the person and works of the apostle Paul, who is characterized in it as "Balaam." One of the major bones of contention between this John and Paul was precisely the proper attitude toward Rome and its empire -- which amply accounts for the late acceptance of that book in Western Christendom.

And this question of Rome and the World is one of the major "fault lines" that runs through the entire history of Early Christianity -- which never managed to be(come) a unified religion that held to a single orthodoxy. Even the books in the New Testament -- in any of its several current canons -- do not obviously share a single orthodoxy, despite theologians' best efforts to tease a single orthodox doctrine out of them.

Bill Pulliam said...

So I watched that Die Antwoord video, and it made me chuckle, not be horrified. It is at least half-satirical and self-consciously over the top. There's nothing new about this. The cartoonish gore and violence are nothing beyond what is standard now in movies and premium cable TV, in those cases often presented in a purely dramatic, irony- and humor-free context.

I think we all need to be really careful about projecting the collapse of civilization onto the perfectly ordinary patterns of youth culture that repeat generation to generation. Shock-media is a universal. So is hedonistic indulgence in whatever forbidden earthly pleasures are in vogue in that particular decade. Ditto for glorification of the outlaw. "Slumming" by the children of the comfortable in whatever the current alternative is? Sure thing. Todays WWOOFers were yesterday's beatniks, sleeping from sofa to sofa. Both thought they were building a new world, launching the revolution, the vanguard of a new Renaissance. Both were simultaneously right and wrong. Demonization of the powerful and mainstream? One of the defining aspects of alternative youth culture generation to generation.

There is one big difference between the youth today and the youth of my day, in the world of Euro-Americans at least. When we were teenagers and 20-somethings, many were seriously alienated from our parents. The same age and socioeconomic group now is by and large quite close to its parents. What does this mean for the future and long-term change? We'll see in a few decades. It *might* make multi-generational households easier to establish and sustain, which could be a real plus in an era of growing poverty.

Juhana said...

Here is very rare glimpse into world of rising anarchy in the Europe. In other parts of the world same zeitgeist feeling of this world order's end gets other manifestations, like religious militias of Middle East. Normally this kind of guys do not talk to the cameras at all. If you can find a translator, it gives you glimpse to the mindset of future tribalism, which is already here in it's embryonic form. As great structure of civilization falls down, it's fall cannot be directed into politically correct direction. Whole terms about "correct behaviour and attitudes" are upheld only by that same structure that is falling. That is unpleasant truth that all those dreaming about peaceful eco-villages or hunter-gathering lifestyle shall learn hard way. Future is much like now, but bloodier and poorer and more depleted, and with no guiding universal moral code, at least in the West Europe.

“We are different from others because of the immeasurable hatred in our blood.”

At least he was honest.

thrig said...

D.M.: the other problem with the preservation of all knowledge—perhaps via books—can be illustrated by the exponential function. Let's say extant books double every 17 years[1], and there was 1 book in 1450, and that a culture lasts 5,000 years, and that somehow, against the odds and Harper government shuttering science libraries and other such events the rate of growth remains constant over that time. PeRT, so after 17 years there will be two books (two! ah-ah-ah!) or 2 = 1e^(r*17) or after some wiggling ln(2)/17 = r = 0.0407blabhablbh to get the yearly rate. Then after 5,000 years, we have in the year 6,450 some 34,532,976,954,948,659,993,186,712,639,156,368,749,560,596,203,286,328,112,496,327,260,351,971,301,263,334,124,290,048 books. I'm guessing not.

[1] Hamming noted this rate in his thoughtful "The Art of Doing Science and Engineering." He is quite the optimist, though, and makes disparaging remarks about the Club of Rome, so might best be counterbalanced by "Small is Beautiful" or the like.

exiledbear said...

I tend to agree with you JMG when you say "they don't have a clue. That's why they're going to end up dangling from lampposts." And then I read something like this:
Seems like they might have more of a clue than I thought.

The elite are beginning to figure out they need to pay people more so they can actually afford things (without credit), but the kinds of things they're all discussing are like pissing on a burning skyscraper - solutions that are not proportional to the problems.

Even blathering about raising the minimum wage has gotten them all chasing their tails, and again, that's just pissing on the burning skyscraper again.

But ultimately that was the solution to the 30s - pay people more so they can afford things again. The details got messy and violent before it was all worked out. Sometihng tells me it will get messy and violent again. Humans rarely learn.

exiledbear said...

Just to throw this question out there regarding the "mythology" of the homeless kids - what if it's true on some other level of reality that's nonphysical? These kids are reporting seeing some of these entities. Not just making up stories, but actually seeing something.

I guess techno-science would dismiss their perceptions, but like a cat that stares at a wall, I'm not saying you're seeing things, you're just seeing things that I can't see.

In any case those poor kids all alone have to figure it all out for themselves. Doing the best they can with what knowledge and resources they have. It's a tragedy.

John Roth said...

@several people

About evolution. I’m seeing the same mistake a lot of intelligent people make about the mechanics. That is, they assume that the 23,000 protein-coding genes and maybe 10,000 non-protein-coding genes independently assort. That’s very far from what actually happens.

Genes occur on chromosomes, and there are only 23 pairs. When sperm meets egg, these pairs swap in about 30-odd places; some pairs don’t swap at all, some of the longer ones might swap in as many as three places. The actual locations are sort of random.

To put a number on it, and this number will be wildly wrong in real cases, a typical block that gets swapped might have 500 protein-coding genes and 150 non-protein-coding genes. If one of these genes happens to have a large positive selection value, it can drag a lot of genes that are neutral or mildly negative along with it.

These blocks, which sort of resemble islands, can persist for a long time. The way those islands are distributed, and their relative sizes as the edges get nibbled off, is one of the two major “molecular clocks.” It’s why geneticists can say, with reasonable assurance, that adult lactose tolerance in Europeans arose once between 7 and 9 thousand years ago. They’re looking at an island that contains multiple genes.

The conclusion is that a lot of rather obvious characteristics, like the gene variants that give red hair and hyper-sensitivity to ultra-violet, have no positive value. They’re hitchhikers with something else that does have positive selective value.

This feeds into something that JMG has pointed out recently: publicizing a watered-down version of something can lead to radically wrong conclusions, massive confusion and a loss of faith in the original, and much more accurate, version.


Please don’t apologize for using a conjunction at the start of a sentence. That proscription is a “zombie rule.” That is, it ought to be dead and buried at the crossroads with a stake through its heart, but it’s still shambling about eating people’s brains and making them stupid about real English grammar.

Neo Tuxedo said...

Juhana asks Khadija: "Why are Whites so special among races for your country that they cannot express same tribal feelings that all others do..?"

In my experience, it's not that they can't, or even that they inherently shouldn't; it's just that, in my experience, people saying things like "We must secure the existence of White people and a future for our children" fell into two categories:
1) the ones who felt that the only way to "secure the existence of White people" was by completely eliminating the existence of non-White people even as an abstract concept;
2) and nobody else.

Multiply my experience by the majority of Americans who post here and a significant chunk of the international commenters, and maybe you'll understand why you get looked at like a cat that refuses to stop leaving partial mice on the doormat.

Agent Provocateur said...

Hi Chris,

Ahhh. Sorry. I completely missed the relevance of your comment. I see now. No argument from me on all you said. And yes, I do benefit from the current empire. That's not to say I approve of it though.


I'm sorry I did not express my sympathies last week for the manner of your grandmother's passing. I will exercise greater care in such remarks in the future.

Robert Mathiesen,

All good points. I wasn't aware of the potential for Revelation to have such an early date. Thank you.

I'm more aware of the Peter versus Paul issue (Do Christians need to be Jews?) than the John versus Paul issue. Both raise the issue of which Paul one is talking about. The writing ascribed to him fall into three groups: 1) those most scholars agree he wrote, 2) those where there is no firm scholarly consensus about whether he wrote them or not, and 3) those most scholars agree he did not write. If we restrict ourselves to the first group of writing, we see a very radical message against Rome. There seems to be a progression towards greater accommodation as we move through group 2 to group 3. Group 3 writing represents a view of almost complete assimilation to the dominate world view of the time (and now). This progression suggests a deliberate dumbing down of the message.

If we assume Jesus was killed for publicly criticizing the legitimacy of Roman rule and Jewish upper class collaboration (the Temple incident) and we accept only group 1 writing as Paul's, we see a very clear stance against Rome in very early Christianity. I rely on John Dominic Crossan for the preceding points. Christianity paid a very dear price to become a mainstream religion. The fault lines you mention are certainly still with us today.

Eric S. said...

@Nathaniel: "It will be the familial and personal ties that have grown over time and constant interaction with eachother. To the point that they may begin referring to themselves as a "People"."

The place you really see this happening is in the inner city gangs right now. I grew up around a lot of the gang community because my mother was a bilingual educator in Dallas, TX, and she was struck by how close-knit or familial the gangs were, providing the services that the government programs couldn't, or wouldn't to the families living in their territory. They even identify their alliances by names like "The People" or "The Folk" and use elaborate, rich symbolism and ritual to identify themselves and set themselves apart from outsiders and rivals. It's a violent, short, brutal life, but for those born to it, it's what there is. And these gangs and the alliances that hold them together very often cross and blur ethnic boundaries and become their own thing.

Earlier in another comment I also linked to an essay about street families on the Northwest Coast who have banded together and formed into their own tightly knit groups tossed together by situation and common experience and clinging to identities drawn from bits of media entertainment and pop spirituality adapted to fit life on the streets, sometimes even forming religious belief systems every bit as elaborate as the Miami children described in the article.

So even here in the US tribal identities are forming and making an existence completely outside of the world we see on the surface. Getting a taste of the sorts of visions of the world, tribal identities, and lifestyles that will be in the bidding for banner bearers of the next cycle of civilization takes no more than volunteering at a homeless shelter or prison and just listening to the conversations you overhear. As the Simon and Garfunkel song says "the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenament halls."

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@Violet and @Cherokee,

Re permaculture/organic gardening, I agree with both of you that the issue of how to produce a surplus without stripping the soil is the central problem--or as Aldo Leoplold put it, “the oldest task in human history: to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.”

As a gardener/conservationist, what I have found useful about permaculture is that it offers a system of thought and a design method which puts techniques into a context--as does biodynamic farming, for that matter. Also it offers an attractive, worthy set of values. One doesn't have to be a permaculturalist to make use of it.

I believe we are at the very beginning of learning how to garden and farm sustainably, using trad indigenous methods, scientific knowledge, and whatever else we can add in to produce good results--which will be different depending on where we live.

I have a small urban plot and am only trying for site-based ecological health along with some food--nothing like self sufficiency in this situation--which is why I admire folks like you both who are doing real work.

Serviceberry season is nearly done. I enjoyed giving samples of strawberry/serviceberry salad and serviceberry quickbread to several relatives. When they asked where they could buy the berries, I had to say you can only grow your own. They are not for sale anywhere that I know of. One of the benefits of the home garden. Raspberries are coming on now.

Congrats on the mead! My brother has made it before and had similar comments as yours, Chris. I guess that's why Valhalla included all the mead one could want: beer or ale for everyday, the good, less copious stuff for special occasions.


Pinku-Sensei said...

@Nathaniel Ott wrote: "@ Pinku-Sensei if it's alright with you I am totally stealing 'The Sith Jihad' for conversation with my fellow Star Wars nerd buddy who I'm sure is going to get drunk with the darkside and go absolutely bonkers over the term!"

Be my guest. It's a meme and memes are meant to be spread through imitation.

@Cherokee Organics wrote: "Hi Pinku. Haha! Liked the sith reference. Tidy work."

Thank you. If it weren't for Elaine Meinel Supkis providing the inspiration, I probably wouldn't have thought of it.

@William Church wrote: "I always enjoy reading your responses Pinku, it provides a lot of insights."

Thank you. I'm glad to be contributing positively to this comment section.

@Ray Wharton wrote: "Thank you to Greer, Cherokee, Bill, Cathy, Pinku, and too many others from this forum who have been a source of inspiration."

Oh, my, I'm not sure I rank that highly. I've only been contributing my comments here for the past six months. Just the same, thank you for including me in such august company.

Pinku-Sensei said...

@John Michael Greer wrote: "Pinku-Sensei, of course the peaking and decline of resource availability hits different places at different times -- in our case, a little earlier than some others. There's a sense in which people in the Rust Belt are the involuntary early adopters of the future of industrial society as a whole."

Tell me about it. I've been watching Detroit proper turn into a depopulated post-industrial landscape for the past 25 years to my astonished horror. Coming from Los Angeles, where immigration keeps the city full, I had a hard time imagining a city emptying out. The latest indignity is the shutting off the water for thousands of residents because of non-payment as part of settling accounts as part of Detroit's bankruptcy. That was reported to the United Nations, who classified it as a human rights violation, one that put the U.S. in violation of international treaties. Just the same, the shutoffs continue.

Vicky K said...

Bill P: It appears that we have only 2 degrees of separation. A dear friend here [north central Arkansas]was once a member of the Ida commune on Short Mountain and friends with many at the Sanctuary. He actually used his given name JoMichael rather than a fairie moniker. He is still in contact with many of his friends from his time on the mountain. I have heard of Goat from his gossiping about all the people there. I asked him whether he remembered you and he said your name was familiar. To verify that I am not spoofing, Goat repairs and refurbishes player pianos and orchestrals.

JoMichael has also mentioned that one of the denizens of the area has started a legal boutique distillery employing some of the bootleggers in the area.

Apologies to JMG for sidetracking the conversation, but coincidences like this arise rarely.

Bill Pulliam said...


"Why are Whites so special among races for your country that they cannot express same tribal feelings that all others do..? It would be fascinating to get explanation for that. "

REAL simple answer. Whites here conducted continent-wide, government-sanctioned, and near-complete genocide against the Natives (with apartheid-like forced relocations of the survivors), and mass enslavement of the Africans for about 200 years. If you don't understand the continuing echo of these episodes of our history, I doubt you understand much of anything about American culture, society, or politics.

latheChuck said...

To my accumulation of Information Technology for the Post-Peak Everything World, I have now added a typewriter. (To refer the the inventory as a "collection" would imply more effort exerted to "collect" than appropriate.) It joins such things as a dip pen (still looking for an inkwell), fountain pens, slide-rules, morse-code keys, and ham radios. The typewriter was at the peak of a heap of junk (cleaned out as a house changed ownership, I assume), and 70+ years of aging lubricating oil have left the mechanism sluggish. But not for long. There may come a day when TADR is distributed by Morse Code to typewriters. For $525, I could buy one like it already in good working order, but by keeping my eyes open and my imagination in gear, useful things come to me.

Bill Pulliam said...

Vicki -- It's a small world in freaky circles.. Moonshine: Short Mountain Shine! We have a bottle in our booze cupboard right now. A couple from the community started it up, learned all the tricks from the local old-timers. Good stuff, very smooth. There are several other legal moonshine distilleries now (isn't that an oxymoron?) in TN, but in my limited sampling Short Mountain is the best. Some of the other stuff tastes a little bit like fritos; theirs just has a light sweet fragrance to it, a hefty high-proof bite, and it warms you to the tips of your toes really fast. They grow some of their own corn on-site, organically.

latefall said...

At the risk of veering off topic a little, I have a few comments/questions.

When the fate of Europe is discussed many people tend to assume large portions in the south and middle to becoming muslim. I may read this wrong but to me that sounds a little like "it will cease to exist for all intents and purposes" when that happens.
My impression is actually that much of the Europe participating in making the new narratives is actually fairly islamic already (just look in a urban elementary school class). But there are very different flavors (not only the "official ones") to islam, which matter a lot I think. I am not sure on what point islam as a religion can or will make compromises but if I see pork-free, no alcohol, praying muslims living (happily) with promiscuous lesbian atheists in a community of choice there seems to be some wiggle room at the personal level at least (currently).
In a similar way the christianization of northern Europe may have been a strong foreign influence, but not the end of all things. There is friction and rebranding here and there of course but I am not sure all of it had its actual cause in religion. What are your takes on this? What bits of Islam do you think would be non-negotiable and what could have some stretch, especially after historical precedent?

Another question I have is:
If the narratives generally come from the urban areas - but the Urban areas gradually die out. What would be the likely consequence with regard to the surviving narratives? Wouldn't they have to make sense in a rural area as well?

I sometimes wonder, if many (the majority of?) people would start to see general predicaments, which form the basis of the discussions here. When would we know?
As I have become much more acutely sensitive to many of the issues - I see lot's of action on these front I don't remember seeing before. Now I wonder is it me that changed or is something happening. Today I had another discussion with someone heavily invested relatively high up the tech food chain. It took a few sentences only and we had established much common ground with disagreements being mostly quantitative. In this context Emmanuel Todd cropped up ( who may also be of interest with regard to islam...

I wonder if we would write a list of 5, or 10, or 20 friends, then check who may be "peak aware", and who is doing what in that regard - what picture would we get?
Would there be a demographic / local slant? What is the critical number for new narratives to coexist with the old ones? When will people start to be uneasy to admit to the old ones?

John Michael Greer said...

Okay, I'm drawing a line under the tribalism discussion. I've just fielded a small-scale flurry of attempted posts from usuall courteous readers, on both sides of the debate, who have flown up into the boughs over this. Since it's off topic, strictly speaking, and since I don't find it entertaining to watch the usual quarrels being rehashed for the godzillionth time, any further attempt to post about whether white Americans, or anybody else, are or are not justified in engaging in ethnic tribalism will be deleted.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled Archdruid Report.

Nathaniel Ott said...

Thank you JMG for ending the blood feud that seems to be brewing up here. I fear I may have had something to do with it starting in the first place, even though that was not my intent. Kind of why I deleted some of my earlier comments, that and I noticed I was revealing and talking way too much about myself. The fact that most of the arguments seemed to be around the people involved talking past and misunderstanding eachother just makes it all the worse. Really the misunderstanding part is why its difficult to talk to people that dont know you online about subjects like these.

They tend to get people really riled up. Wich is not be too bad when you have a face to face and actually detailed, calm, intelligent discussion about it. But online you have to rely on quick messages that if you don't know the person involved you usually assume things about them and it can be easy to misinterpret what they're saying. Admittidly I probably could have been a little clearer on some of my comments as well. Anyway I most certainly wont be bringing it up here again, and again, didn't mean to cause any drama.

Bill Pulliam said...

Latefall's observation about urban areas being the source of stories, but then they die out, has me wondering...

I remember reading years ago (forget the source) some things about late 20th Century research in British archaeology (new techniques, different concepts, etc.). One of the points I remember being made is that when you look at the ordinary everyday common people's lives, you don't so much see the great archaeological ages. Iron-age Yorkshire looks pretty much like Roman-era Yorkshire, which is like Dark Age Yorkshire, which strongly resembles Medieval Yorkshire, which is not very different from Renaissance Yorkshire. Cornwall is different from Yorkshire, but likewise it remains more like itself that like anything else as the centuries and millennia pass.

So, do we just pay too much attention to the urban areas and their myths, perhaps because they tend to be the seats of literacy? If life doesn't change that much for rural peasants, and most of the time most of the people are rural peasants, are the occasional rises and falls of the city-states really the most important, central, defining part of the human experience? For a brief time in North America, at the height of the Maize culture and the city states like Cahokia, culture became urban, hierarchical, complex, structured. For thousands of years before then, it was decentralized. Then the city-states collapsed, and it decentralized again (just in time for the Europeans to arrive). Europe was decentralized, then the classical city-states arose for a few centuries, faded, popped up somewhere else, faded, etc. Then came our current era of fossil-fueled industrial centralization and urbanization... which will fade also.

So, do these brief interludes of transient centralization really matter as much as we like to think they do (seeing as how we are all currently living in one)? Or is the ancient pagan (small-p) sensibility what really defines the human experience... birth, plant, grow, eat, die, summer, winter, sunrise, sunset, repeat from before the beginning of time until after its end.

The human brain is the most complex structure in the universe. People like to say this. And it is the human brain that has made this judgement. Centralized urban civilization is the epitome of human existence. We know this because the people who live in centralized urban civilizations have taught us this.

Ruben said...


If by "semi-retired blogger" you mean you don't write as much as you used to--as I think I said last time you stopped lurking, I would like it if you would come out of retirement.

Stacey Armstrong said...

I have been mulling this weeks post over for a number of days now. I have considered mimesis from a number of different angles. I have a two and a half year old who is continuously mimicking the world around her....the absolute best way to convince her of a best practice is through role modelling. It is startling to have your best and worst actions mirrored at you by a toddler. I will be curious to see if role modelling gratitude and empathy will follow suit.

I have also stepped back to try and think of a Canadian public figure (because I am hard pressed to think of a Canadian politician beside maybe Ed Broadbent) who has inspired me to contribute to something larger. As I searched I realized that the majority of my heroines and heroes are either fictional or a hundred years dead. Which category are we to put the creators of fictional characters?

Having almost finished Star's Reach I was already thinking about seed texts. Well played! It reminded me of a professor I had in University who set a very luxurious copy of Animal Farm as a required text. I accused him of dreaming of all the copies still existing a thousand years from now. He did not deny it.

I have heard of places where happy people exist and there are no books.


latefall said...

@Agent Provocateur: Thanks for your offer, but no worries please. She got off the stage in a not half-bad way at a not half bad time...

Expressing sympathy in such cases, while it is surely well intentioned, often makes me a little queasy (probably because I have a hard time being verbal about this myself).
Dying a little early after a generally healthy and fulfilled life does not strike me as deplorable compared to many other tragedies that beset people.

Varun Bhaskar said...

@ Latefall

I'm not sure how helpful having a narrative checklist will be during the descent. If you end up in the wrong location against your will, say as a refugee, how much room will you have to negotiate?

That being said, I don't think a checklist would hurt either and I have a few basic points I'm sticking to.

1) Distribution of political power - liberal democracy with all the necessary checks and balances.
2) Justice - Impartial, fact-finding, evolving. It's not about punishment it's about balancing the scales.
3) Health - not allowing anti-vaccers into my tribe (non-negotiable if I can help it).
4) No idolatry - meaning don't waste material building impractical things like pyramids in the desert when you'd be better off building rainwater harvesting tanks (I'm looking at you ancient Egyptians).
5) Anyone who can brew alcohol or roll a good joint is okay in my book.
6) Respect for libraries and free exchange of information.
7) Understanding the need for organized hierarchy (ever tried planting and harvesting paddy without a whole village?)

That's a good start, right?

You said that during the descent that things like race would become less relevant. I don't understand how that will work. If tribalism becomes resurgent during the descent, doesn't that mean that the things that highlight differences such as race, religion, region, and etc...see increased use? I mean I'm not saying that it will be consistent everywhere but won't it be likely that some places in the US will see race used as a tool of differentiation?



Phitio said...

"Phitio, the survival of the soul after death is a commonplace of most cultural traditions -- our current pseudoskeptics are very much in the minority here! It's less a narrative than a common ingredient in many narratives. "


Now I would suggest this

It seems to me more a reality than simple narrative.


Eric S. said...

@Latefall: Regarding your comments on what sorts of religions that come out of Islam will wind up spreading and gaining converts among liberal Western urbanites, I've started wondering if the Baha'i faith might be one to watch with interest. It's currently the second fastest growing religion behind Islam, and it re-interprets and re-invents traditional islamic teachings in much the same way Christianity did with Judaism and Buddhism did with Hinduism. I could especially see it starting to gain traction in the Islamic world if they manage to put together a significant empire in the twilight years of the industrial age and wind up losing it to the last waves of crisis. And the narrative is malleable enough to spread to a lot of cultures and build up its own distinct interpretations.

Regarding your other question: "If the narratives generally come from the urban areas - but the Urban areas gradually die out. What would be the likely consequence with regard to the surviving narratives? Wouldn't they have to make sense in a rural area as well?"

As a civilization settles comfortably into its old age, one of the things that pretty reliably happens is a mass relocation of the majority of the population from rural areas to urban centers. When the temples and social wellfare programs that allow the homeless to survive break down, and the supply lines and financial infrastructures that allow the middle and working classes to crunch numbers and do road construction in exchange for money to buy food at the markets all start to break down, people pour out of the cities in search of food, work, and a better life, carrying their stories with them and adapting them to their new homes. In our time, a lot of those seedbearers will likely be climate refugees so a good place to look for narratives would be in low lying coastal areas with a high poverty rate. Miami and New Orleans are both pretty good bets.

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