Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Wrong Kind of Magic

Carl Jung and his physicist friend Wolfgang Pauli suggested in a too rarely read 1952 book that synchronicity—an "acausal connecting principle," to use Jung’s carefully phrased description—brought events that occur at the same time into a relationship of unexpected meaning. Whether or not they were right in general, there are times when synchronicities arrive with all the subtlety of a cold wet mackerel across the face, and last Friday was one of those.

That afternoon, after a busy couple of weeks centered on the hundredth anniversary of the Druid order I head, I finally had the spare time to put my feet up and do some reading, and the book at the top of the stack was James Howard Kunstler’s latest, Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation.  Anyone who’s read Kunstler’s previous work will no doubt already be guessing that Too Much Magic is lively, curmudgeonly, and highly readable, as indeed it is.  It’s best described as a seven-year update to his bestseller The Long Emergency, and its message is stark: the storm is upon us.

Then, not long after I finished the book, the storm really was upon us.

Meterorologists can tell you exactly what it was that sent a wall of powerful thunderstorms a couple of hundred miles wide sweeping eastwards across the Rust Belt from Wisconsin straight to the Atlantic coast, leaving chaos in its wake. Here in Cumberland, we noticed the haze thickening in the west toward late afternoon, taking on that drowned murky look that everybody locally recognizes as a warning of bad weather on the way.  By nightfall, lightning was going off like flashbulbs at a 1950s press conference, and about a quarter to nine, hurricane winds and sheets of rain struck as suddenly as though somebody had flipped a switch. The winds and the rain pounded us for an hour or so, and then gradually faded out; the lightning kept flashing for another hour or so after that.

Like the smartest of the three little pigs, Sara and I had provided ourselves with a brick house, one that was built well before the post-Second World War vogue for cheapjack building methods that Kunstler has rightfully excoriated in several of his other books. We got by without any real damage—granted, the big mulberry tree out back dropped a half ton or so of limb onto our driveway, but since we don’t own a car, all it did was scare the bejesus out of the local woodchucks. We lost power, but since we don’t use a lot of electricity anyway, that wasn’t a huge problem; we had a late dinner by candlelight, and then broke out the hand-cranked LED lamps and spent the rest of the evening by their light. By morning we had power again, but if we hadn’t, it would not have been a great inconvenience.

Yes, I’m including the lack of air conditioning in that. Cumberland gets hot and humid in the summer, but Sara and I don’t use air conditioning; that was a deliberate decision of ours, when we moved here three years ago. Human beings evolved in an equatorial zone, without air conditioners, and billions of us get by in very hot climates without them today; given the opportunity to adapt, the human body can handle hot and humid conditions easily. Of course the opportunity to adapt is precisely the issue here. I have immense sympathy for the people who found themselves suddenly evicted from air-conditioned comfort into the subtropical heat of a mid-Atlantic summer; if I hadn’t spent three years getting used to an unfamiliar climate, researching and relearning the skills that people here once used to get through summers in relative comfort, and making use of features built into a house that dates from long before air conditioning and was designed to be livable without it, I’d be miserable too.

It’s arguably high time that more people began acclimatizing themselves to a world in which they can’t simply turn on the air conditioning any time it gets hot and muggy.  In a broader sense, that’s the core message of Kunstler’s book. Since the end of the Second World War, most Americans—and, to be sure, a fair number of people in other countries—got used to being able to call upon practically unlimited amounts of cheap energy to do, well, just about anything they happened to want, so long as somebody else could make money off it.  Strawberries in winter? No problem; we’ll just fly them in from the other side of the planet. Rocks from the Moon?  Easily done, since all it takes is nearly unimaginable amounts of energy.  Cold dry air indoors in August?  Sure thing; we can just throw some gigawatts at it.  In the phrase Kunstler uses, we’ve all gotten far too used to getting things done by magic.

Regular readers of this blog will be expecting me to quibble about his use of that last word, and indeed I will.  Let’s save that for a bit, though, because what Kunstler is saying here deserves attention. The sort of magic he’s talking about is the kind you find in fairy tales and The Thousand and One Nights, not to mention an endless stream of shoddy fantasy novels and Hollywood extravaganzas churned out more recently, and the factor that defines it is that the people who use it never have to worry themselves about how it works.

Consider the old story of Jack and the Beanstalk.  All Jack has to do is plant the magic beans; he doesn’t have to figure out how they’re going to produce all that plant tissue overnight, so he can climb into the sky the next morning. For that matter, he doesn’t have to figure out how the giant’s castle stays up there in the sky, violating the laws of medieval and modern physics alike. He doesn’t have to do much or understand anything; it all just happens. That’s the sort of thing you get when the elegant symbolic narratives of an earlier age get dumbed down, stripped of their interpretive context, and relegated to the nursery. 

To be fair, many of them had been there all along, for good reason.  Most societies that haven’t gotten around to writing, and a good many that have, teach their children by telling them colorful stories, and then teach their adolescents a good deal more by explaining to them what the stories they learned and loved as children actually mean.  Since the end of the Renaissance and the abandonment of the lively sense of the symbolic that permeated medieval and Renaissance culture, only the first half of the equation remained in the Western world; the stories themselves were retained for a few more centuries out of a vague sense of nostalgia, until they were finally pushed aside in our era  by shoddy mass-marketed consumables whose only meaning or lesson is that somebody wanted to make a fast buck.

I’ve come to think, though, that the rise of modern technology over the three centuries since the dawn of the industrial revolution was guided, in no small part, by the lingering echoes of these old stories. No law of nature or of human nature required us to use the gargantuan treasure of nearly free energy we took from the Earth’s carbon stash in precisely the ways that we did, after all. Some of the things we did with all that energy packed enough of an economic or military advantage that it was a safe bet that they’d be tried, no matter what stories were rattling around the crawlspaces of the western world’s collective psyche, but that’s hardly true of all. Visit a large department store sometime, go up and down the aisles, and ask yourself: how many of the things for sale there imitate some detail in a fairy tale?

The magic garments and ointments and jewels that turn serving girls into beautiful princesses, the magic boxes that bring summer in winter and winter in summer, the magic boats that sail under the waves and the magic birds that carry people through the skies, even the beanstalks of smoke and flame that took a modest number of space-suited Jacks (and a very few Jills) up through the clouds to look, unsuccessfully, for a giant’s palace—we’ve got them, or more precisely, we think we’ve got them. In point of fact, what we’ve got are simulacra of these things, the nearest approach to them that you can get by throwing terawatts of energy and the raw materials of an entire planet at them, which in most cases is not actually that close.

In a brilliant passage in Where the Wasteland Ends, a book that has lost none of its relevance or power forty years after its publication, Theodore Roszak compared the dream of flying to the tawdry, tedious experience of air travel. He was writing at a time when airlines still boasted about the quality of their in-flight meals and the leg room their passengers could enjoy on the flight, and when airports were not yet quite so reminiscent of medium-security prisons, complete with armed guards herding inmates toward the confinement that awaits them. Nowadays?  A ride in a New York subway is more inspiring, not to mention more comfortable. The same is true, by and large, of the other simulacra of fairy-tale magic that surround us these days: we may be able to get strawberries in winter, like the little girl in the Brothers Grimm story, but they’ve been picked green, artificially ripened with ethylene, and squirted with imitation strawberry fragrance, and they taste like mildly sugared sawdust.

That is to say, the fake magic that clutters up our lives today doesn’t satisfy the needs it claims to fulfill. We all know this.  We’ve all had our faces rubbed in it as long as we’ve been alive, starting with those childhood Christmas presents that looked so enticing in the store and turned out to be so bleakly vapid once the artificial glow of emotionally manipulative marketing wore off them, and extending straight through the upcoming election, which will inevitably be packed with rhetorical bluster about hope, change, and other vacant buzzwords destined to be discarded in favor of four more years of business as usual the moment the polls close. We all know this, and yet so many of us keep chasing after the latest shiny simulacrum, like greyhounds on a racing track in hot pursuit of a mechanical rabbit they’ll never catch and couldn’t eat if they did.

That futile pursuit of fake magic is a central theme of Kunstler’s book. It’s on display most memorably, perhaps, in his encounters with Google employees who insist that the Long Emergency can’t happen because, like, we’ve got technology, or with the TED conference attendees who flocked to hear the latest rehash of that weary 1950s fantasy, the flying automobile. (I’m asked now and then whether I’ve been invited to give a talk at one of the TED conferences. I haven’t, and I don’t expect ever to get such an invitation; any audience that can be entranced by jabber about flying cars will pretty much by definition not be interested in anything I have to say.) From vertical farming aficionados whose skyscraper-centric vision ignores the rising spiral of factors that are turning skyscrapers into an obsolete architectural form, to green energy wonks who can’t imagine why a society in freefall might not be able to scrape together the resources required for their favorite gargantuan construction program, right up to Ray Kurzweil, the computer geek’s Harold Camping with high-tech Rapture prophecy to match,  Kunstler spends much of the book exploring the ways in which wishful thinking founded on a debased, fairy-tale image of magic has come to replace reasoned thought in contemporary American culture, to our immense peril.

Last Friday’s storm, again, was a useful lesson in the nature of that peril. Behind the magic boxes that keep the heat of summer away stands a huge and hypercomplex system of power plants, transmission lines, transformers, and the whole suite of services and social structures that go into keeping the system running. None of it can be dispensed with, and none of it comes cheap, but it’s only when something pops up on the far end of the probability curve and knocks the system silly that most people are forced to notice that the whole thing doesn’t work by fairy tale magic—and even then a great many of them spend their time complaining because the relevant authorities can’t make the magic pop back into being overnight, like Jack’s beanstalk from those magic beans. The slow shredding of the infrastructure that makes the magic possible rarely enters into the collective conversation of our time, and the logical consequence of that process—the statistically inevitable point at which, for each of us in turn, the magic goes away once and for all—goes not merely unmentioned but unimagined.

Still, that’s where we’re headed. We haven’t yet reached the point at which people in outlying areas whose homes lose electrical power in a storm are quietly informed that they will have to pay the full cost themselves if they want power back, or told that they’ve been put on a list and it may take weeks or months or years before their turn comes up. Still, given the increasingly long delays in restoring power after increasingly frequent weather-related disasters—well, the Bob Dylan line is inescapable: you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.  The same wind from a different quarter is blowing through the lives of all those jobless Americans who are losing their unemployment benefits and dropping off the far end of the nation’s joblessness statistics; nonpersons in very nearly an Orwellian sense, they’ve been tossed out of our imaginary happy land of fake magic into a harsher world.  That world is waiting for the rest of us, too, and we’ll each arrive there sooner or later.

Getting ready for that harsh transition, it seems to me, is one of the crucial tasks facing any thoughtful person in our time. It’s not going to be easy, quick or cheap, and a great many of those people who are busy finding reasons why they should cling to their fake magic just that little bit longer are, I’m afraid, going to find it very awkward to discover that the time they spent doing that would have been better spent acclimatizing themselves to the post-fairy tale world.

One of the more useful tools for that task, as I’ve suggested more than once in these essays, is magic—the old art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will, the stuff that I wrote about in my recent book The Blood of the Earth, the stuff that the fake magic of wand-waving movie stars is meant to imitate.  It’s not the only important tool that will be needed, to be sure, but it has something significant in common with every one of the other things that belong on that list:  they all require hard work. You can’t just plant some magic beans in the garden and expect someone or something else to make things happen.  You can’t wait for the authorities to take care of it, because they won’t; you can’t wait for some inventor somewhere to solve the problem for you, because it’s not a problem that can be solved, and the inventors are too busy daydreaming about flying cars to get around to it anyway; you can’t wait for the Rapture or the Singularity or the space brothers or something to make it all go away, because it’s only modern culture’s monumental sense of entitlement that makes people think that some supernatural agency is going to come at a run to bail them out of the consequences of their own actions.

That is to say, if you’re waiting for any of these things, you’re relying on the wrong kind of magic.

Now there are plenty of things that individuals can do right now to make it easier for themselves, their families, and their communities to make the shift to what I’ve called the post-fairy tale world. I wish Kunstler had put a little more of his book into talking about those options; it’s important to try to shake people out of the delusion that everything’s going to be just fine if we just have faith in progress or what have you, but it seems to me that it’s at least as important to give those who do wake up some alternative to the paralyzing despair that comes so easily to those who have been taught all their lives that the only alternative to business as usual is misery and mass death. Even so, Too Much Magic is a useful glance across the topography of the postpeak world in which we now live.

Speaking of books, I mentioned a while back—it was in a discussion of After Oil: SF Visions of a Post-Petroleum World, the forthcoming anthology of peak oil science fiction written by readers of this blog—that if anybody ever decided to create a magazine for post-peak SF, there would be no shortage of talented writers to fill its pages. I’m delighted to say that the challenge has been taken up. Post Peak Fiction, edited by Arwen Hubbard, is a new quarterly magazine with exactly that focus. Hubbard is currently offering subscriptions and soliciting donations via this link on, and is also inviting story submissions via the magazine’s website. I’d encourage readers who enjoyed the story contest, and want to see more of the same, to help get this project under way.

End of the World of the Week #29

"The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now." Those two sentences opened Paul R. Ehrlich’s 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb, a book that proclaimed in strident terms that with three billion human beings on the planet, overpopulation had gone too far, and mass death in the very near future was the inevitable result.

It was a popular belief at the time, and fed into a great many then-current predictions of imminent doom, not to mention such dystopian films as 1973, Soylent Green. For that matter, it’s all but certain that in the long run population levels on the far side of three billion will prove to be hopelessly unsustainable, though the exact mechanisms by which the excess will be reduced may be rather more complicated and prolonged than Ehrlich proposed. Still, the point that a great many of Ehrlich’s fans have tried to evade since the 1970s is simple enough: his prediction was wrong. The global death toll from starvation during the 1970s was not that much greater than it had been during the 1960s, and world population continued to climb past three billion to its present seven billion without triggering any of the catastrophic scenarios Ehrlich detailed.

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


Source_Dweller said...

Archdruid, an interesting week down south. Regarding air conditioning, or rather the low tech alternatives, I expect we'll hear a bit more from you. The brick house is a bonus, of course, and Grandma would have known how to keep it comfortable. A project underway here in my back yard is rehabilitation of a small electric tricycle (think primitive miniature truck) for use as a taco-cycle! Of course the off-shore origin of said vehicle presents a problem as spare parts can't be had, even from the original manufacturer! Globalization and throw-away goods! However, we persevere, and a local mechanic may be able to help us out - the only significant use of electric vehicles being on golf courses, which he keeps running.
Happy to hear you and Sara avoided serious harm or damage. Regards, Robert

DavidEBCN said...

Hi JM,

I was quite interested by all your previous posts about magic as the art to produce changes in conciousness, and the distinctions between thaumaturgy and theurgy (sorry for the speling if wrong)

If I understood it correctly, someone like Steve Jobs (to mention a modern mainstream example) was a "mage" in the sense that he used his strong will to make changes in the conciousness of his coworkers around him at Apple (what his biographers call the "steve jobs distortion camp)".

I personally don't like his lack of ethics or coherency with his "stated" values, but I cite him as an accepted model of leadership by modern society to showcase what "magic" can accomplish. Does it make sense?

I would also would like to ask you if you are familiar with Patanjali Yoga Sutras siddhies and Samkya philosophy by Kapila, and if it has similarities with your own esoteric tradition, or not at all.

Thank you for your clarity, wisdom and personal example.
David from Barcelona

Andrew B. Watt said...

A lovely piece as usual, Archdruid. And useful to me personally.

I'm curious — if you got an offer to speak at a TED conference, would you? I imagine you'd have to start with an explanation of what a curse was, and why what you had to say to the flying-car aficionados might meet that definition... but I must admit that I am almost always wrong about guessing ahead of time what you would say about anything. You have your own mind. All the same, I'm interested... would you accept the offer if it did arrive?

Matt and Jess said...

Stuff families can do: we've recently discovered that even families can go car-free, thanks to the amazing invention of cargo bikes. We discovered some pretty great ones in the US like the Yuba Mundo and Madsen. I had no idea these existed but apparently they are quite common in places like Copenhagen.

Puzzler said...

You, Kunstler, and Orlov are my three weekly regular blog stops. I'm glad you each bring a different perspective to our attempts at fortune telling. Thank you.

Odin's Raven said...

Congratulations, Mr. Greer, on the success of your Declaration of Independence from modern America.

Here is something upon which you might like to comment. It seems that in your general vicinity, lives a woman who has created a garden based on the Findhorn principle of co-operation with the spirits of Nature.She calls it Perelandra.

As an enthusiast for self-sufficiency and organic gardening, let alone as a Druid, do you accept and promote such practice?

Presumably there must be material and spiritual benefits to substituting co-operation with the spirits of nature for dependency on petroleum spirit.Probably a degree of humility would be required if they won't let themselves be treated as enslaved djinn instantly providing everything that human whims demand.

Perhaps there could be a cut-over to increasing reliance on the spirits of Nature as reliance on oil diminishes, ameliorating the discomfort of the decline of this civilization and seeding new attitudes which could be helpful in forming another.

Is this not the sort of thing which an Archdruid and his associates would be expected to be in the forefront of researching and developing?

(By the way, my too late comment last week pointing out someone else's review of Kunstler's book might be more relevant to this week's topic.)

Carlo said...

I can't stop feeling inspired by the notion of putting a song back into my world, re-enchantment. It's going to be a wild ride, but let's not despair - after all, we have each other.

latheChuck said...

You've left me hanging... where do I go to find the adult content (and I mean that in the best kind of way) for the grim(m) fairy tales?

On a personal note: I just bought at auction a 1990's era DX-394 general coverage HF receiver which runs on 115AC or 12VDC, and receivers AM, SSB, and CW. The thought is that it could be paired with a very simple, highly efficient, CW transmitter. According to info on the Internet, it was manufactured with some unfortunate cost-cutting which is easily remedied by a competent radio technician (such as myself). The next thought was that if/when I get bored with it, it may be yours if you want it. I've got just $80 into it so far.


latheChuck said...

I wonder how much electrical system maintenance (including tree trimming) was deferred to compensate for deadbeat customers, paying neither mortgage nor utility bills? The financial storm magnifies the impact of the weather storm, and then, what happens when the insurance companies need to liquidate some of their investments to pay storm-damage claims? The weather feeds back into the financial storm!

Getting a grip, I admit that it wasn't a hurricane; it just feels like one to the people without power. But there's a lot of hurricane season yet to come, and seasons yet to come.

thevermontpatriot said...

As a fan of Vermont secession, i have followed Kunstler for quite some time. I have a dream that our 700 thousand, soon to be 350 thousand souls after what I like to call "the great culling", can create a sustainable society based on a mutual respect for each other, the environment and the cultures around us. A pipe dream for sure but you've got to dream big.

I have been a devoted follower for over a year now and I am a firm believer in all your wise suggestions for future acclimation to our de-energized future, but I have not heard of any suggestion of how to defend our rights, our freedoms, our family garden against the crazed and confused masses. Is there a warrior class within the druidry world?

Raymond Wharton said...

Adjusting to increasingly unfamiliar weather is making gardening a very difficult skill to work on. This June in my part of Colorado was 8 degrees warmer then the previous, also warm, June. Growing a garden on the piece of property I am practicing on (not my own, which is ok by me) is only possible by virtue of large amounts of simulated magic -turn desert into oasis- and this year even that is barely enough. Hopefully when I move to my first home (which will have no attached debt) in Oregon I will find more luck getting things other then bind weed to grow.

The most difficult part for me is that the path I have selected to deal with the era of decline (a trajectory modified from an earlier life ambition) is a lonely one, except for one close friend and a few all too brief visitors. Much of what keeps people from reacting in a useful way is social pressure.

But I learned one good thing from video games, if you don't know what's next its no bad thing to just keep leveling up. Sawyer, carpentry, and leadership skills are the big ones for this month.

I hope The Storm lets me get a few more preparations in place before the brunt of it hits me when I'm at in life, it could be a close race.

Richard Larson said...

Thought for an instant you were going to tell about a ghastly experience. Good thing you are a planner then. A megaphone pattern of storms - within that storm system - is termed a derecho.

I knew you would have an issue with JHK's use of the word magic in that book!

The wife set up the window AC today. I was happy to have kept it off this long, as she is constantly informing me I am being brainwashed by my more recent studies. Quite the opposite I'm afraid my love!

The problem with owning a going business is one is locked into the system. The business then sucks the person right along.

However, I am building a hugelkultur behind the shed!

Lauren said...

Thank you for another wonderful post. I lived in San Antonio, Texas as an adult without air conditioning for five years in an older house. Like many things, the thought of no air conditioning is worse than the experience of it. I don't have too much sympathy for those without electricity complaining of temperatures in the 90's. I have however decided to can some of the chickens I processed today instead of freezing them all. Even though we have a rather large solar array, I would like to have more non-electrical security as we in Texas are routinely warned of possible grid outages in July & August due to high demand.

I've also not watched TV the past month as that is the purveyor of fairy-tale life in my opinion. When I heard that Andy Griffith had died I remembered how much I enjoyed the Andy Griffith show set in Mayberry. No telling how much of my idealization of small-town America, and a very unrealistic view of life in general (aren't all drunks cute and funny like Otis?) came from fantasies portrayed on TV. Once one attempts to let go of delusion, it's amazing to realize how deep it runs and the apparent innocence of the delusions.

Thanks for pointing to reality.

latheChuck said...

As a tiny first step to comfort in the face of electrical grid failure, I've bought a set of solar-powered sidewalk markers. As long as the sun shines during the day, I should be able to bring them inside and use like candles for the evening. Since the ones I got have standard AA-size NiCd batteries to store the solar power (not all of them do), I could also swap solar-charged batteries into my radio.

I know... they're not going to last forever. The batteries will wear out after a few years of use (which is why I have a few unused units stashed in a closet). But in the mean time, they help me find my way to the back door without requiring a grid-powered yard light, and reduce the risk of injury.

John said...

Glad to see you got through the storm relatively unscathed. Similar storms rolled through my area a few years ago and knocked out power for a week or more. I remember thinking at the time that if such a storm hit during a time of diesel fuel shortage, the power company wouldn't be able to bring in trucks from outside the region and what would be a week long outage could easily stretch to a month or more. I found those storms and the thoughts that accompanied them to be a powerful spur to improve my little homestead, first to withstand power outages of a week to a month in duration, later to be ready for the day when the grid goes down permanently. I live in a rural area at the end of where the grid goes, so I expect to lose access to the grid sooner rather than later.

Since most of my neighbors have not come to a similar conclusion for reasons enumerated in your previous essays, I expect to embark on a busy second career helping them improvise solutions once the crisis hits.

Say this for peak oil; it keeps life interesting!

hari said...

Hello. I wanted to ask if you could point me in the direction of a good book about dreams and dreaming. I couldn't finish the book I most recently started. I will, but I got sick of the "materialize baby materialize" mentality throughout it. The very next book I picked up was Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. Perfect timing, the introduction was the perfect antidote to the silliness of the dreaming book. Mystery Teachings was great. Thank you for writing it. Can you recommend a good book about dreaming? I'm currently considering gettting my hands on The Tibetan Yogas of Sleep and Dreams (that's approximately the title, anyways), and a book from a Jungian perspective that offers 10 assumptions about dreams, and a book about dreams in history. I was hoping you might be able to help. Thank you. :)

Jennifer D Riley said...

Offered for whatever lessons anyone may glean: yesterday I visited my garden plot across town. Noticed it needed watering, took a count of produce waiting to be picked. Decided to wait a day. Returned today. Knifecuts where my produce used to be, unofficial harvesting. Have no idea what the other plot owners have experienced but let the general manager know, just FYI. A useful lesson in... The garden plot is by no means my only food source, and no one guards it...but thought it's had some crafty, observant interlopers. I seem to remember England had stringent poacher laws, not that I expect stringent anything. Again, offered for reflection.

John Michael Greer said...

Dweller, are you interested in learning how to work metal? Learning from a local mechanic, or books, how to manufacture spare parts for the tricycle might be a good entry into a very practical second career.

David, I don't follow popular culture closely enough to know much about Jobs, but what you've described sounds like thaumaturgy. As for Patanjali and the Samkhya philosophy, I don't claim to have any profound knowledge of them, though I've read a bit; there are important differences, as there are between any two systems of spiritual training, but my take is that it's the same work done in somewhat different ways.

Andrew, everything I've seen so far about the TED conferences has stuck so thoroughly in my craw that I've never taken the time to read up on them. If I got an invite, I'd give it fair consideration, but I might well refuse; I've had uniformly bad experiences speaking to the kind of privileged audience that, to judge by Kunstler's description, comprises the TED scene.

Jess, good! I'll check 'em out.

Puzzler, thank you.

Raven, Machaelle Small Wright has her own way of working with the raw materials of natural magic, and it seems to work well for her and for a good many others. It doesn't happen to be the way that I work, but that's simply a difference of personal style.

Carlo, I see you've been reading The Druid Magic Handbook! Good.

Chuck, I don't know of a good source. A lot of this was stuff I received from teachers orally. As for the receiver, hmm! If you do get bored with it, let's definitely talk.

Patriot, why is it that people who like to daydream about societies based on mutual respect always, without exception, go on to project all their own negative features onto "the crazed and confused masses" or some other scapegoat? The difference between a warrior and a mere killer is that the warrior has done battle with his own rage and fear and shadow characteristics, and conquered them, so he doesn't have to keep projecting them onto other people and then trying to defeat them at second hand.

Raymond, understood. Social pressure is a trap; it's those of us who ignored the social pressure to buy into the real estate bubble who came out the other side sitting pretty, and a good many of those who bought into it too heavily have been destroyed. I expect the same thing to happen this time around.

Richard, excellent! I hope you're posting notes on the hugelkultur on the Green Wizards forum.

Lauren, there's much to be said for canning and other means of preservation that don't depend on regular electricity. Good for you.

John Michael Greer said...

Chuck, good. Something doesn't have to last forever to be a good transitional technology -- and I doubt the PV cells will be the thing that gives out, so you'll probably be able to salvage and repurpose them when the lamps finally fail.

John, excellent. That's exactly the lesson I'd like to see people taking away from this round of storms. Life without electricity can be perfectly comfortable, so long as you're ready for it and know what you're doing!

Hari, that's not a branch of work I've pursued, so I'm sorry to say I can't offer any useful advice.

Jennifer, it's a real issue. I suspect we're not too far from the point at which gardens will be guarded and people caught robbing them will get beaten within an inch of their lives and told to leave town or else.

Thijs Goverde said...

Heh. This psot was nicely synchronous with mu musings for the pas few weeks: I've been re-imaging modern day technology as fairy tale magic for the background of the LARP event I'm working on.
I'm going to need (and thankfully get) some help with that - I'll point my co-writers to this post, both to show them how 'magic' and our predicaments go together and to give them some idea of how a wise and kind archdruid might operate!
(Central to my event's story will be a benevolent archdruid and his society of green wizards. Erm. Maybe I should apologise for that?)

Regarding the grid: latheChuck mentioned maintenance 'including tree trimming'. I was slightly at a loss, before I realised a siginificant part of your grid must be above ground.
Come to think of it, part of ours is too but that part is rather sturdy and never near the giant trees it would take to knock it out.
Sadly, one reason for that might be that we just don't have that many trees.

@matt & Jess: Yup. The Netherlands are a place as much like Copenhagen as it gets, and you see cargobikes everywhere. It's a fairly recent thing, though. Four years ago, I was the first to ride one into our son's school yard. So we've only like a four-year start on you.
Mind you, the Netherlands already had an excellent bike infrastructure in place - bicycles are our national form of transport. That's one of the advantages of living in a realy small, flat country I suppose...

Christophe said...

Air conditioning -- the wrong kind of magic indeed! Though late June and early July have been wearyingly hot in the US, our body thermostats do adapt to seasonal changes in short order if given half a chance. When I first moved to Java, heat exhaustion seemed sure to be at the top of my autopsy report. Two month later, I asked my neighbors how long this welcome cold spell would last, for surely it had cooled off considerably. They informed me that I had arrived at the end of the cold season and it was, in fact, getting hotter every day. After a year in the tropics I had to bundle up just to leave the lowlands and head up the volcanoes' sultry slopes.

Our bodies are miraculously adaptable, and focusing our attention on their endlessly complex balancing mechanisms will bring a deeper awareness of true magic than any technological convenience could promise. In fact, many of our technological "conveniences" are designed to divert our attention away from the pressing needs and ingenious responses of our bodies, our psyches, and our environments, thus distractedly piping us away from the magic of the world we inhabit.

Which is not to say that we should make no effort to give ourselves respite from extremes of temperature and weather -- that's why we build houses in the first place. The simple technologies built into older buildings have a lot to teach us about living comfortably without huge energy inputs. Over the recent hot spell, I stopped working on the upper floors of the dilapidated brick townhouse I bought in Pittsburgh and did projects in the always cool basement instead. Two-foot thick sandstone foundations may look like waste to modern builders, but they surely looked like good sense to our energy-constrained ancestors,and probably will again to our energy-constrained descendants.

Jeffrey Kotyk said...

"...relearning the skills that people here once used to get through summers..."

One simple item worth having is a Japanese style paper or cloth hand fan (they're called sensu). They might look pretty, but they're actually quite practical, portable and easy to make, break and repair (you can even perfume them). A gentle movement of the wrist and a draft of air cools the neck, beating the heat.

The Croatoan 117 said...

I live in the NOVA suburbs of DC so we got to experience the derecho. I must admit, that I got a certain level of perverse enjoyment watching people freak out about the loss of modern conviences such as AC.
I often tell my junior soldiers, who are shocked to learn that the real military isn't nearly as fun as playing video game versions of it, to "learn to embrace the suck". I suppose that this concept probably applies to what we have in store for our collective future.
I found it interesting to watch the reactions of adults, to the loss of electricity, versus my 2 year old and 5 year old. Adults largely saw it as a huge and unpleasant inconvience. My children saw it as a fascinating and exiting adventure. Besides, to a 5 year boy there is probably nothing cooler than firetrucks, broken trees, and downed powerlines-and the subsequent clean-up crews with chain saws and hydraulic lifts.

team10tim said...

Hey hey JMG,

I suspect that you would find the folks at TED talks more receptive than you think. The talks are by professionals with 'cutting edge' insights (by which I mean unconventional and counterintuitive). The basic premise of the talks is that access to important ideas will make the world better.

The implication is twofold. One, that the world is magically going to get better with all these cool new ideas. Two, that access to these ideas requires openness to new concepts. Implication one requires a commitment to implication two. The TED talks actually have a surprising amount of integrity because of the 2nd requirement. This Ted talks Jeremy Jackson: How we wrecked the ocean should illustrate the point. You might have to science up your message to make the language accessible to the audience, but they are not going to reject it out of hand because their ultimate goal is only possible if it is approached with integrity.

Just to be clear if you were to start a TED talks in brown robes and a long beard with "I'm the Archdruid and I'm here to talk about deindustrialization" you would lose everyone right away but if you stepped up to the mic in exactly the same apparel and said I'm a student of history and I'm here to talk about the civilizations that have collapsed and the dynamics thereof" you would have a ready audience.

John Michael Greer said...

Thijs, anything that gives good press to archdruids is welcome. As for trees, yes, most of our grid is above ground, and outside of urban cores, there are trees all over the eastern third of the US, so when they start falling the grid is in deep trouble.

Christophe, amen for basements! I do a lot of work in ours during the summer, when it's usually around 65 degrees F. -- that is, 25 to 30 degrees cooler than the outside temperature.

Jeffrey, an excellent point. The southern half or so of Japan gets sweltering summers, so they've had plenty of reason to come up with elegant, low-tech solutions.

Croatoan, "embrace the suck" would, I think, be the all-purpose military version of what I was getting at with "collapse now and avoid the rush"!

John D. Wheeler said...

Excellent post, as always.

One quibble: while the exact path was not determined, certain characteristics were required do develop the technology to exploit the vast reserves of natural resources. I daresay if there is any intelligent life in the universe (and I left out 'elsewhere' on purpose), they are very likely to come to the same crisis. The question is if and how they did or will work through it.

I wholeheartedly agree that any progress from here on will require hard work and sacrifice. If and when we send a colony ship to Mars, it will make the Mayflower look like a luxury cruise. And I also enthusiastically agree with the last point of your critique of Kunstler's latest work, that people need a positive vision to overcome the paralyzing despair that comes from peeking behind the curtain and seeing the Great Oz is just a person.

hadashi said...

"Embrace the suck" - I love it! Looking forward to my second sweltering summer here in the lower half of Japan. And for me, before there was Science Fiction, as a boy I was very much into tales myths and legends from many lands. It did bother me a little, as the oldest child, that it was usually the youngest son that had the brains/kindness/adventurousness to win the princess's hand (or build his house with bricks). I haven't commented for yonks, but I've been reading (you, Orlov and Kunstler - the big three curmudgeons). And now to tackle the unreadable antibot words . . .

Knut Petersen said...

Regarding fairy tales, there is again C.G. Jung, who not only reclaimed alchemy, synchronicity, the collective unconscious and divination as serious issues to contemporary discourse, but he also researched meaning and connection of active imagination (read: discoursive meditation!), dreams, myth and fairy tales. The C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland offers regular lecture cycles on fairy tales.

You can go for any book of Jung, yet some, like "Das göttliche Kind" (with Karl Kerényi) are closer to the subject matter. Also, Joseph Campbell's "Hero with a Thousand Faces" is an evergreen on the myth of myths.

JMG, you are probably aware of all this, but some readers are possibly not.

P.S. I loved to hear you fiercely distinct warriors on the one hand, as shadow-projecting scapegoat hunters, and guards on the other hand: There is a middle way between tending submachine guns and blue-eyed innocence! By the way, I learned that those tiny ancient Egyptian bakery-breweries were typically guarded by four men armed with clubs...

consciousblogger112233 said...

Good post JMG.
I never used AC in my entire life and use electric ceiling fan but it is necessity because i stay in very hot and humid climate.The modern houses built by very corrupt builders don't have ventilation to ensure continuous supply of fresh air or light.
In our villages,houses were built of thick stone walls with open space in middle.In summer we used to just sit in verandah and enjoy cool breeze.But modern concrete houses makes is compulsory to have ac and fans.
I am glad you could easily overcome electricity outage with your timely preparation.Keep posting these nice posts.
I learnt a lot since i started reading this blog

Jason Heppenstall said...

Matt and Jess raised the issue of cargo bikes (almost wrote 'cults' there :)) as an alternative to car transport.

What a fine example of synchronicity! I've been looking into buying one recently, and even went to test ride one this morning. They are all over the place here in Copenhagen, with several different models.

The classic is the Christiania Bike, manufactured in a workshop down in the famed commune here. These are solid three wheelers that can carry a lot but the gearing makes them difficult to use on anything but flatish ground.

A similar model, the Nihola, is a bit more modern looking. I have ridden these (delivering newspapers) and find them to be a bit delicate. Also, it feels like you are going to fall off when you go around corners. Not my favourite.

The third type is called a Bullit Bike. These are long and thin two-wheelers and the load goes in the low-slung middle. The gearing allows them to tackle hills, but you pay for it with more complex components and less load space. They are also quite flashy i.e. likely to get stolen.

Finally, there are the Black Iron Horses (Sorte Hjernhest) which have an unusual steering mechanism but look very solid and can carry a lot. Again, I heard they are very hard to use in hilly areas.

There are also a couple of cheaper Chinese models that I have seen around recently but I don't like the look of them.

So, I'm wondering which one to go with. I'm most favourably inclined towards the Christiania Bike just because I see 30 year old models trundling around the streets still functioning fine ... but I won't always live in a flat place so I'm worried it will be unusable then. I will need to travel up to 25 miles at a time on it, in varied terrain.

In that case I'm considering buying or making a small auxiliary electric motor to help it up hills with various (heavy) goods which I plan on selling.

I'd be interested to hear if anyone has any opinions or experience with any of these.

Kristiina said...

Whew, I've spent years thinking what synchronicity might really mean. It is an interesting topic, but difficult to discuss, as language is structured on something like causality. Poetry, maybe... Getting the outside and inside to resonate synchronously: making the outside like the inside and inside like the outside. This actually, is what is irking me a bit in the definition of magic as change according to will. In my experience, the moments of synchronicity don't contain any pushing which, in my perception, is the action of will. I've never surfed, but I think it may be like finding/catching a suitable wave that lifts and carries. Of course, to be able to catch any sort of wave one has to have the skills - to have learned surfing. I think in Druidry Handbook there's a recommendation concerning learning the magical skills, that one just has to have the willpower to do the practice to aquire the skills. But to my eyes, absolutely crucial is having very, very keen attention and sensibility. Walking over one's preferences with one's will is going to give practice to exactly the wrong inner muscles. For example, to be a top-notch animal tracker one has to have extremely keen attention, totally uncluttered by any thought of performing/achieving, and very high sensitivity that has not been walked over roughshod with will. To me, it looks like attention and sensitivity are the wildest part of the inner herd, and the will has to learn a totally different way of coping with situations so that the attention and sensitivity can function at top form. Or is it that magical will is something different from this? To me it seems there is something that I tend to call intention shooting out of the situations where synchronicity is happening.

The term hallucinatory wealth has stuck with me: it describes perfectly the drama that is going on right now. As if our culture is stuck in a swamp that produces hallucinatory fumes, that take quite a while to clear out after one has managed to somehow crawl onto dry land. And as with any addiction, the addicts are furious at anyone trying to point out that they're not living in bliss. And as with addiction, some who manage to crawl out choose to stay at the edge of the swamp sermonizing those who are still stuck. For myself, I notice that I am tempted to be shocked, shocked at what is going on, foaming at my mouth thinking about the cost of crimes banks are foisting upon us. But I'm wasting my time. And it is also part of the withdrawal symptoms of addiction: first thing addicts want to do when coming dry is they naively assume they can help other addicts. But it is just another way to stay in the drama of addiction, a bit less hard on the body but the ambience stays the same. So, turning one's attention, changing the wavelength one listens to. This is my intention now.

tubaplayer said...

Another excellent post JMG which I enjoyed very much.

It reminded me of the winter of 2009 which was the first winter that I lived here. We had a 72 hour power outage throughout the whole village. That was one of my first eye-openers to life here. Nothing happened. The shop opened and closed as usual keeping tally with a battery powered calculator and some fairly primitive technology called pen and paper. The pub opened and closed as usual with the help of candles. No pen and paper technology there though. There never is. The landlord just chucks the cash in a drawer and fishes out the change. I have no idea to this day how he keeps his accounts.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

Anyone complaining of 90 Fahrenheit (32.2 Celsius) wouldn't survive long over here, as in my mind that is a cool summer’s day. I worry for the forest when the thermometer pushes beyond 104 Fahrenheit (40 Celsius).

On summer days, I tend to start early working outside until about 1pm and then keep to the indoors until about 4pm before heading back out again. Over winter I tend to sleep much longer. Living rurally, I've become accustomed over the past few years to bending and modifying my behaviour with the weather. It feels right.

Speaking of the weather, I sometimes get the impression, and I could be wrong, that other countries tend to have fairly consistent seasons. Over here in contrast, I have no idea what the next season will bring. The plantings and systems here are established for maximum resiliency rather than maximum yield. There are two food forests: one for a drought year; and the other for a wet year.

There are reports from the Bureau of Meteorology that an El Nino event will occur this upcoming summer, but what that means for the upcoming growing season, I have no idea.

The cold weather here has bottomed out and it is starting to slowly get warmer again. Most afternoons the chickens tell me when the sun will set as they all toddle off obediently to fight each other for the top wrung. People may be able to deceive themselves, but chickens don't lie.

When I built the house here, I copped a bit of flack because it is based on an old farm house design (apparently this is bad architecture), yet incorporates heavy insulation, has a small footprint and distinct lack of windows (affordability constraints due to them all having to be fire resistant). Even those who I thought would be supportive in the alternative building sphere were quite negative as it was a bit of an affront to their well established views. Oh well, can't be helped.

Anyway, when building it, I had the pleasure of renting in a project housing estate and I understood firsthand how badly those houses perform on a day to day basis. They are built to be mechanically heated and cooled. It is a disaster. Still, people choose to live in them. My thoughts are that they swap quantity (ie. size of the house) for quality (ie. ability of that house to shelter its inhabitants).

Most people look at the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, or are impressed by the tiles or the stainless steel fittings and fixtures. Truly these are as ephemeral as the wind. Sad.

Interestingly too, I may have mentioned that the power companies will now cut off supply to high fire risk areas on high risk days here. I kept telling the neighbours this would happen but I take no pleasure in it actually happening. This is a good thing anyway as a lot of large fires are caused by electricity faults. However, a cynic may also point out that it is an effective bit of load shedding - ie. cut off the hand to save the arm. It is also interesting to note that there seems to be quite a few houses up for sale hereabouts (people seem to be relocating to towns).

PS: On amusing note (well for me anyway). I hadn't heard of Ted conferences and had to look them up. Right. Previously, the only US reference to "Ted" I'd heard about was the film with the potty mouthed, drug taking, teddy bear on at the moment! However, fortunately my imagination doesn't extend so far that I can imagine you having any involvement at all with such a base enterprise.



Jeffrey said...

Cities in the humid tropics create these horrible micro climates where all the concrete store vast amounts of passive solar heat. Dense urban living crowd folks in tiny apartments with minimal air flow. And then hundreds of thousands of air conditioner compressors blow out hot air adding more heat. Cities like Manila, Panama City or Miami without air conditioning would be hell. No problem however in rural areas where a low tech solution is a hammock in the shake of a mango tree and dwellings are built with breezeways.

A particular problem in temperate regions like the midwest of the USA is that temperatures in the summer often reach levels that you don't see in coastal tropical cities.

France experienced 14000 plus heat related deaths in the summer of 2003. Folks there live mostly without air conditioning. I have always found it surprising how this event gets so little press.

Justin said...


Long after the contest ended, the stories chosen, and the book sent to press, I finished my entry, "No Direction Home". I might as well submit it now, given the synchronicity of Bob Dylan lyrics.

No Direction Home. The story of Mike Sawyer, a man waking from the dream to find a world gone wrong.

Justin said...

Oh, btw:

The written story is part of a larger internet performance art piece about a software engineer on the verge of a transitioning into the upper tiers of his profession leaving to try his hand at collapsing into now. The piece begins as a picture show of art here.

Given that the story is way over size limits and deadline, I figure stretching it to include pictures won't hurt, at least not so much as my first picture entry may have.

Bill Pulliam said...

The only thing unusual about the recent storm was that it hit the eastern media centers. Just about every summer, thousands of folks in the less popular parts of the south and midwest get slammed by these, but that gets pushed aside by the latest Kardashian wedding or terrorist non-attack. Large areas Memphis were blacked out for three weeks after a 2003 derecho, no national media attention.

I can't help but wonder when I hear about the "emergency cooling centers" that have been set up for "victims" forced to endure a few days without their central air, what about the folks who never have the stuff because of poverty? Do you let them into your cushy "cooling centers" on other hot days?

I was amazed at an ad I saw a few years ago at my mother's house where the TV is never turned off. Some ordinary-looking 30-ish white guy was arguing with his thermostat about whether or not he could turn the A/C a couple of degrees colder. It was an add for an HVAC system, not for energy conservation, of course. At one point he exclaims "but I'm sweating!" Thing is, he was also dressed in blue jeans and a long-sleeve shirt! And apparently sweating is a sign of extreme distress, not the body's perfectly normal, healthy, and routine response to finding itself in a warm place.

Raymond -- gardening in Colorado is one of the things that made us move back to the southeastern U.S. When you realize that you are 100% dependent on water from the local water district, and you don't legally even own the rain and snow that land on your own roof, the whole system falls apart. There are a few things that can be grown on an unreliable 15" of precip a year, but it is a pretty limited palate.

Now in Tennessee, when I need to water (which some seasons is almost never, this year is quite often), I get the water from the natural creek and springs that occur on our own property, to which we own full legal rights. If we lived in town here, our water would likewise be from local municipal wells and springs, and we would own all our own rainfall if we chose to store and use it.

hawlkeye said...

Like another recent poster, I also track the same three blogs (on the subject of Industrial Addiction Recovery 1200-step programs): Orlov, Greer and Kunstler. Aside from the symbiotic enrichment of their mutual content, I love the Russian’s caustic wit and scathing portrayals of the doofiest Americanisms, the Curmudgeon’s cynical twist and naturally New Yorkish invective, but you know, there’s no-one like the Druid out there to really get you thinking…thanks, John!

I must comment about the Perelandra question: I’ve been practicing the “co-creative” approach as presented by Machaelle Small Wright since the first edition of “The Perelandra Garden Workbook” came out in a three-ring binder in the mid-eighties. I’d been panning for a few years in the New Age creek, gleaning nothing but gravel, and then discovered a nice little nugget called Findhorn. Finally, a spiritual dimension to physicality and a wonderful initiation myth, but that story was short on practical applications.
My view is that Machaelle Wright carried the Findhorn torch over the pond, and fleshed out some duplicatable techniques for the practical, hard work of inter-acting with the intelligence of Nature.

And y’all thought talking about Peak Oil was tough! Try telling everyone that you not only talk to the plants (most gardeners do, more and more will admit it) but that they talk to YOU, and you follow their instructions…. really, it’s easier to let the results speak for themselves and change the subject back to Peak Oil!

And the idea is still more palatable to New Agers than Perma-Cultists, who are largely stuck on the human-centered, dead-material school of benign eco-manipulation. (And many Permies have a similar bias against hard work; privileged Betty Crocker roots, poor things, chop chop.) But I’m also trained and Perma-Culturated, and have some hope for that arena. I’ve also tried presenting this to Bio-Dynamic groups, and most of them would rather do “what Steiner said” than what he might say today, which is Listen to the Source.

Ever since I was a kid, I knew the Native Americans were on to something with the notion that everything had a spirit, a guiding intelligence, from plants and rocks to lakes and mountains. The world was made up, not of dead material stuff, but “aliveness”, whether science said it was dead or alive or not. So I spent a great deal of mis-spending trying to learn about naturespirit from them, to no avail. A wild ride behind the buckskin curtain, to be sure, but the Perelandra work puts the tools in my hands. The tools ARE my hands…

When I teach this stuff today, most folks are really stuck on the deadness of everything. I say, plants are much more of a Who than a What. And it’s much more polite (and ecologically sound) to converse with Someone rather than continue to pretend they are Some-Thing. This season, after over 20 years, I’ve graduated from gardening this way to farming this way. I grow what I want to grow, but I do not decide WHERE anything will grow; the layout is self-designed; plant-selves, that is. Of course, that’s hardly all there is to it…

The trick is bridging the translation gap between non-verbal species. Which is largely regarded as fairy-tale magic by the culture whose fingertips do their heavy lifting. For a while longer.

I’d be glad to blab on about all this in the forum, if anyone’s interested…

gregorach said...

On the subject of adaptability to climactic extremes... I can't remember where I encountered the idea, nor can I currently find any references, but as I understand it, an individual's ability to adapt is quite strongly influenced by the conditions they experience growing up - and this is a result of actual physiological differences established in childhood. People from cold climates are always better able to cope with cold conditions, people from warm climates are always better able to cope with warm conditions, and - most importantly here - people who experience a wider range of conditions are better able to adapt than people who do not. Unfortunately, this means that people who have grown up in climate-controlled environments are less able to adapt to varying conditions than those who did not - and this effect is permanent.

Maria said...

A note from the unemployed sector: I posted my resume on Monster last Friday, and within 72 hours I had half a dozen emails and phone calls inviting me for interviews with insurance companies. Upon investigation, I discovered that they weren't interested in my office fauna skills, they were looking for sales agents (a postion I could hardly be less suited for), and that they weren't interviewing, they were "inviting me to a meeting to learn about insurance sales and see if I'd be interested in making it a career" -- which, of course, would require me to pay for their training. The vultures are circling Obamacare.

On a different topic, your comment to Patriot about the difference between a warrior and a killer produced a ligtbulb moment in me, regarding people who are so toxic they damage everyone they come in any sustained contact with (except other equally toxic people, of course, with whom they band together to project their collective shadows onto their current scapegoat). It was exactly what I needed to hear at the moment when I most needed to hear it, and I thank you.

phil harris said...

We are not in need of AC in northern England, but we are for sure tied to utilities. Electricity used to fail regularly in our rural area, mostly because of winter storms, but old domestic systems coped. (We had a coke-fired stove and a coal shed.) We are probably secure though for a good number of years for electricity from the grid, but ... oil / LPG furnaces (boilers in our speech) need electrics to work.

In the nearer term perhaps, the whole water system locally in our rural area could be worth a thought or two . We used to have a Regional Water Board, but these were privatised across England, and our whole region’s water is now owned by a private Chinese company. We have water flush toilets in local housing, but these are relatively new (living memory) round here, because people only had buckets of well water in earlier times. Water for a dozen or so houses and a farm now arrives via the original (first and only) ‘trunk’ distribution asbestos/cement pipe that reliably breaks from time to time. The water company is legally obliged to mend the pipe, providing drinking water for the said houses the meanwhile: no big deal. But I am reliably informed there is no way the old pipe will be replaced. Twenty years from now ... who knows?

I am looking at back-up systems, though the old well water will need some finding and checking for heavy metal contamination as well as bacterial levels. Otherwise, this is pretty good farming and gardening country, and the past is still an available example, but by golly, all sorts of shocks wait just round the corner for our (very) imminent old age and for any folks following on.

Kids, as someone already remarked could find this pretty cool, but their parents are going to have to be practical and knowledgeable and I hope not have too heavy a top-down farming and employment structure modelled on the good old days. Those at the lower end were highly dependent on the particular psycho-social nature of the particular owners and managers, and on the balance of often competing interests.

Hmm ... Phil

Don Plummer said...

Well, I would gladly take the cold, slimy mackerel in the face if we could avoid things like derechos and oven-like heat. I've never liked hot weather, even during the days when nobody had AC and I was as acclimatized to warm and humid as anyone. But I realize, of course, that I'm not given that option.

My experience last Friday was that I had just finished watering the parched garden(!) when I noticed the sky turning dark. Good, I thought, we're going to get some rain, although I also concluded that my just-completed task may not have been necessary. As I was putting the watering can away, I looked up again and saw the clouds had formed what I call cow nipples hanging from the sky--usually an indicator of tornadic weather. So I went in and turned on the TV (yes, I still have one, though I almost never use it). The local news weather alert team was showing radar images of the approaching storm. The radar map uses color to indicate the intensity of the storm, beginning with light green and moving in intensity to dark green, yellow, orange, then red. The center of this storm was purple. I had NEVER seen purple before. I battened down the hatches, called my wife, who was at work, telling her not to even attempt driving home (it was near her quitting time) until the storm had passed, and turned off the computer just as the power went out. Some folks here in the Columbus area are still without power.

Some of the comments last week detailing the physics of last week's derecho were quite fascinating and enlightening. Thanks Kurt Cagle and Bill Pulliam for your enlightening comments.

John, we just got involved in something that I know is dear to your heart--my wife and I signed up as taste testers for a local brewer to help him hone his craft. When we lose air conditioning, hopefully at least we'll still have good brew to fall back on during these hot days!

Try to stay cool, everyone.

John Michael Greer said...

John, granted, but those characteristics define only a very narrow subset of our technology. If we do ever get into communication with extraterrestrial intelligence, I suspect one of the big shocks will be just how much of our science and technology will suddenly be visible as outward projections of the furniture of a social primate's mind.

Hadashi, good to hear from you! I was the younger of two, so had similar feelings about how it's usually the third child.

Knut, very true -- and yes, I've been reading Jung since my teen years, ever since I learned that he used to run with Hermann Hesse.

Consciousblogger, I hope there are still people who remember how to build those stone walls! That's a technology worth saving.

Jason, I hope you're also keeping the Green Wizards forum posted about the cargo bikes.

Kristiina, that's a common misunderstanding of the magical will, one which I address in my book The Druid Magic Handbook. The magical will isn't about bulldozing your way through obstacles, or flattening perception; it's more properly seen as intentionality, the structuring of consciousness toward a goal, and resembles the state of mind of a competent sailor in a windpowered boat, who knows how to read the wind and currents and uses that knowledge to get them to move his boat toward its destination.

Tuba, "cash left at end of day" may be the only measure the pub owner needs!

Cherokee, how humid does it get in your corner of Australia? The town in southern Oregon where I lived for five years used to break 100F all the time in the summer, but it was very dry, thus much easier to bear, at least for me. As for drug-taking teddy bears, I'd managed not to hear of that until now. Probably just as well.

Jeffrey, the French heat wave got a fair amount of attention in the peak oil and climate change press over here. I think it's very much what you're acclimatized to; the temperatures that were causing panic and death over there are routine in large parts of the US, and would count as cool and comfortable in the tropics.

Justin, you might consider submitting the story to Post Peak Fiction Magazine.

Bill, for heaven's sake, don't you know that the one eternal law of American society is that the middle class must never be allowed to get even the least bit uncomfortable? I think it's because the whining sound that arises when they do get uncomfortable is unbearable...

John Michael Greer said...

Hawlkeye, glad to hear it. I've had similar interactions with the Anthroposophists, I'm sorry to say -- Steiner would be horrified to see the extent to which his followers have embraced a fundamentalism based on his writings, instead of embracing the openness to personal experience that was central to his teachings.

Gregorach, it's certainly a factor, but it's by no means the whole story. I grew up in a cool rainy maritime climate, spent five years in the high desert, and now live in a place that counts as temperate because the freezing winters and hot muggy summers mostly balance each other out -- and I've found it fairly easy to adapt to the latter two.

Maria, you're welcome! With regard to insurance et al., I suspect the sky is going to be black with circling vultures before long. Obamacare is a trillion-dollar giveaway to the health industry, at the expense of the rest of us, and I doubt its beneficiaries will be slow to take advantage of it.

Phil, those backup systems will be crucial. I'm appalled to hear that your water's been privatized -- here in the states, most areas still have publicly owned water utilities, and anybody who tried to sell off the local water system would be faced with a decent sized mob toting shotguns. Get that well water tested!

Don, a good mug of beer will make up for a lot of hot weather. Sounds like an excellent arrangement.

DW said...

JMG: you may find this little rundown of a glitch in the electric delivery system somewhat entertaining in light of your post...

It's a rundown of what went wrong last year when a large part of Southern California was blacked-out due to an operator error. I figured you'd get a chuckle out of their reasoning for the "failure".

Related - I think you'll find the power lines out to the most rural area won't get fixed NOT because the utility can't afford it (assuming they haven't been privatised), but because those in the cities won't want their rates to go up to pay for the service out to the rural areas. As you'll see in that presentation, more and more rules are being foisted on the power companies to maintain 100% reliable service at an ever-increasing cost (gotta run those fancy servers at 60hz)...but with the pressure to not raise rates given the recession (ahem) something's gotta give...

SLClaire said...

John, there are large parts of the U.S. in the hands of private water companies, including all of St. Louis County, MO, where I live and which is the largest-population county in Missouri. (St. Louis City is a separate county; it has a public water system and less than half the people that St. Louis County has.) For several years our water company was owned by a large German corporation. A few years back, they sold off the American Water part of the system and it's now a stand-alone, publicly traded corporation based in New Jersey. Missouri American Water is part of the American Water conglomerate. Search it to see the extent of their service area. My husband worked for the water company for 10 years, first as a mechanic, then as a meter reader. They could be worse and we always have plenty of water because they draw it from the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, but still, it's not local control.

Back to the main subject, your excellent post. If I could write as well as you, it's what I would have said about AC. We were in a motel room in New Jersey during the derecho. We use motel stays as an opportunity to check out what's on TV (I justify this as a sociological study ;)). Because weather is one of my interests, when I have control of the TV it's showing the Weather Channel. I watched the radar of the derecho as it passed through Ohio and beyond. Bill, you're so right; the only reason it's a big story is because it hit highly populated areas of the East Coast We had two derechos come through 30 hours apart in July 2006. For the first one, our weather radio announced a severe thunderstorm warning just as the first 60 mph gust hit. Our experience during both was very much like you described, John. We lost electricity, like close to 3/4 of a million others in the greater St. Louis metro area from one or both of the storms. Our electricity was out for a combined total of 7 days; my in-laws were out for 9 days. The 30 hours between the two storms was at the tail end of a heat wave, and a few people in the city died of the heat during that time. But we were prepared for lack of electricity and did fine without it. Sure was a lot of whining in the local media, however, similar to the whining on the Weather Channel following the recent derecho. You'd never remember that most people in the St. Louis metro area didn't have AC until sometime from the 1960s through the 1980s. We didn't have central AC till we moved into our current house in 2002; it came with an old central AC unit, which we replaced with a much more efficient model and vowed to use only during the very hottest part of the summer. Like now; yesterday's high was 105F and the low was 83F officially, more like 77F where we live. In June, when the highs got into the upper 90s but the humidity was low for St. Louis, overnight lows were 70F or less and we didn't want or use AC. With dew points high enough that it's not cooling off much below 80F at night, we have turned it on for a few days and set it to 82F so we don't get too far out of the acclimation zone. We view it as a luxury and we are prepared to do without it when there is no electricity or if electricity becomes too unreliable or costs more than we are willing to pay.

rabtter said...

I've been trying with difficulty to acclimatize to the heat. I've managed to keep the A/C off for most of the heat wave, finally turned it on the first time last night because the disruption to my sleeping patterns were beginning to affect my job performance. Fitness level and overall body mass seem to be relevent to how well one tolerates the heat, I seem to do better as I get leaner and fitter. I stay out in the heat quite a bit when I'm home so as to help acclimatize, still it isn't quite enough. I'm trying to get weaned off of it, for the time being I need occasional access to A/C.

You hinted magic (I think so anyway, I may have misunderstood) as a tool to deal with the heat, so meditation may help one acclimatize?

A sensitivity to heat developed for me at about age 22, not sure why, I was lean and fit at the time and doing manual labor on farms in the hot humid southeast. Now its decades later and I'm no longer lean and fit, the sensitivity to heat has worsened.

Jen Gash said...

Passed from my brother, neice to my mum and then onto me, this was enthralling, provoking reading for a muggy Thursday in South Glos... Thank you.
Living in Magnolia world, which I somehow chose to do 7 years ago, I struggle every day to remind ourselves of this myth we are living and help my kids (and husband!) realise this without crushing their spirit. Teaching them how "fit in" alongside not fitting! the glorious paradox!
I will subscribe to your blog and spread it widely!!!!

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Yes indeed, JMG: we do well to resist the temptation to use technology in the unthinking manner of beanstalk Jack.

(a) One candle in our cultural darkness is Charles Petzold's book "Code". Here is a detailed explanation, at the level of individual ones and zeroes in the bitstream, of the work of microprocessor and RAM. The same spiritually necessary work is done in a book which I have noted, but have not really read, namely Null-and-Lobur's "Computer Organization and Architecture". (b) Much can be done in physics by working on the really good authors - Halliday and Resnick in frosh year, French-and-Taylor later on. (c) I suspect all the research mathematicians in the English-speaking world are unanimous in praising Spivak's treatment of univariate calculus. It is delightful to see how politely, how gently, Spivak skewers that beanstalk Jack of the mathematics world, the facile and obfuscatory "dy/dx" notation. (d) Some day we will have people hanging out in sheds and community hackerspaces, determined to understand semiconductors not by buying them but by making them, literally by doping the silicon with their own shop tools, as that guy in France has with his own shop tools been making vacuum tubes. I gather that there is some discussion of this guy at

LatheChuck: We are in more or less the same intellectual space on radio, since you have the DX-394 and I have the DX-300. I was lucky enough to get a service manual for the DX-300 a few months ago, at a hamfest. I have not read the manual yet, but I do note that it covers some of the theory underlying the design - stuff like what capacitances are adjusted where when you tune (a task which on the DX-300 includes tweaking a preselector).

The DX-300 got tepid reviews around 1980, when I bought mine. But I am endeavouring to keep this DX-300 running. A radio buddy has it in his shop right now, having cleaned the nylon off the pesky preselector gears. The reason for my endeavour is that the DX-300 would serve as a tool for monitoring international shortwave broadbast bands in the event of an Internet collapse.

The DX-300 does with random-wire antenna pull in radiotelegrpahy from the ARRL flagship, W1AW in Connecticut. For heavier radiotelegraphy monitoring, and indeed for transmitting, I am setting my sights on a low-cost, low-power CW-dedicated transceiver, perhaps an MFJ built for 40 metres with plug-in modules for 30 metres and 20 metres, likely with an MFJ antenna tuner. If you as owner of the DX-394, or JMG as a future owner of that DX-394, need to chat about the DX-3xx series (getting photocopy of the DX-300 service manual from me?) or about other radio matters, you can ring me up on the phone number displayed at the foot of my ww dot metascientia dot com homepage.

TKS ES GUD LUCK ES 73 DE VA3KMZ = Tom (Toomas Karmo, near Toronto)

Andy Brown said...

I have a few things going in my favor when it comes to cooling. Rhode Island doesn't tend to have lengthy heat waves especially here in the woods (in fact, like the Poconos and Catskills, coastal RI is one of the places that New Yorkers used to come to escape the heat in pre-AC days.) But when it is hot, I work at home, which lets me manage the blinds, and the granite basement under the house (where I'm typing this) is a cave-like cool. But my relief at this isn't so much from today's heat as from the fact that I have a bit of cushion with which to adapt to climate change, which promises to begin cooking this part of the country with increasingly extreme weather.

Toby_Jackson said...

To anyone harboring doubts about TED (and especially to JMG) it's good to consider that there are several different schools of thought represented there. Yes, the future-tech geeks abound, and Bill Gates pops in all the time to talk about all his nuclear-energy plans, but there's lots of good stuff in there about fields as vaied as education, statistics, creativity or addictions counselling.

And then there's universally brilliant stuff like this jaw-dropping talk from Dr. Jill Bolte on the power of consciousness and the brain's right hemisphere. I strongly encourage anyone who hasn't seen it to check it out:

John Michael Greer said...

DW, thank you -- most amusing, and also most enlightening.

SLClaire, okay, then I'm just spoiled -- everywhere I've lived has had a publicly owned water utility. (And, despite the claims of free market fundamentalists, I've had perfectly good service at moderate prices from all of them.) As for air conditioning, treating it as a luxury is a workable option; we chose not to use it at all because, coming from a completely different climate, we felt that getting used to the local summers was going to be crucial.

Rabtter, heat is physical but the perception of heat is largely psychological, and misery is almost entirely subject to change in consciousness. That doesn't mean you can or should white-knuckle it; it means that getting in under the hood of consciousness can do wonders for your perception of how hot and miserable you are.

Jen, thank you! Glad you enjoyed it.

Tom, thanks for the book recommendations! Yes, roll-your-own vacuum tubes are toward the cutting edge of the do-it-yourself scene, and hand-doped semiconductors can't be far behind (though I'm fond of the dulcet glow of vacuum tubes myself). Putting together a ham station of my own has had to take a back seat to other priorities for now, though it's on the list -- and some simple rig that can handle CW on modest wattage is very much what I have in mind.

Andy, my basement is similarly pleasant. I'm coming to the conclusion that earth-sheltered housing really is the wave of the future!

Toby, well, perhaps so. Still, I don't know that it's a productive use of my time to entertain a bunch of very rich geeks -- have you seen what it costs to attend those conferences? The changes that matter will come, as they always come, from the grassroots, not from the circles of wealth and privilege.

Yupped said...

Been living without air conditioning in an old house in Connecticut for ten years now. Having high ceilings and window screens helps a lot, as does knowing when and when not to open the doors and windows. We've managed to make it all work, except for the "it's summer" smell that wafts up from the basement in July. Oh well. It's all part of life's rich aroma I suppose. And it makes the arrival of fall seem all the sweeter. There's something strangely enjoyable about sitting on the porch at night waiting for when its cool enough to sleep. It's another opportunity to practice "acceptance", which at least for me has proven to be the foundation for peace.

Last summer in the Northeast we had Hurricane Irene, and then the freak October snow storm, which both downed trees and caused one or two weeks of electricity outage. People were very shocked, but have now mostly forgotten it. I expect they will be reminded again, soon enough. But a lot of people did quickly fall into a non-powered routine and made it work for a couple of weeks. Some were showering in the warm water from garden houses laid out in the sun: not quite a solar shower but headed in the right direction. It seems for some people necessity, rather than careful planning, is the mother of invention. Of course, for quite a lot of other people getting angry and complaining a lot seemed to be the default.

Mickyle said...

Synchronicity indeed..... The first letter-writer this week, Source-dweller, seemed to tap a flowing spring with his story of rehabilitating his electric trike, leading to several comments about cargo bikes. They have been a major focus for me for several years, and only this last December did I get my own, a Yuba Mundo, a brand mentioned by Matt & Jess. Cargo bikes, as great as they are as car-replacement machines, are (to me at least) half the equation. I made my Yuba Mundo into a cargo/electric bike. It is, I submit, a powerful alternative to driving, doing a lot of the same job as a car on an order of magnitude or more less machine. (Pics of my beautiful orange beast, and my basic rap about their potential potency in the bigger picture, can be seen at my brand new site, )

I enjoyed Jason H.’s take on the Copenhagen cargo bike scene. Here in the states - and particularly in mine, Oregon, whose largest city is the epicenter of the American cargo bike scene - the “longtail” cargo bike movement was pretty much entirely a result of one product that first came out 15 years ago, the Xtracycle. The XC is an after-market retrofit for your existing bike to lengthen it and turn it into a cargo bike, with a couple hundred pound capacity, passenger(s), cargo, or both. I think it’s fair to say that bikes such as my Mundo are a step up, in that the frame is a single piece, purpose-built cargo bike frame; and in fact they rate its total load capacity at a third of a ton (!). (Well, they say 660 lbs....but what’s 6 and two/thirds more pounds between friends?)

My bike is the core of a larger project of replacing driving with human/electric power. I see an enormous and largely untapped opportunity for folks to revitalize body and spirit, save lots of money, and (in a seemingly intractable realm, to many) move a big step further on the “collapse now and avoid the rush” scale. Cheers ~ ~ Mickyle

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

I'm not sure what the teddy bear film says about our society. It's probably not good though, I've always assumed that such things are for either: shock value; or the aim is to desensitise people to general themes. Maybe even it is a mirror, or just pure escapism? Who knows? But it is a bit off.

As to the relative humidity question. For about 9 months of the year, the relative humidity here is well over 80% (moving to the 90's over winter). However, during summer, on hot days it can drop to the low teens during the day and rise back towards the 40% to 50% range at night.

The highest night time temperature over summer here would be about 22 degrees Celsius (71.6 Fahrenheit) which makes for very pleasant evenings. The trees work to cool the environment here. As a contrast, Melbourne suffers from the heat island effect, and can for a few nights per year stay well above 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) during summer. It makes for some grumpy heads the next day!

A weather station in a place like this is invaluable. When I was very young, people used to have mechanical barometers on their walls and they are actually an useful bit of kit. After much observation, I get them, but they were so everyday back then, that no bothered explaining their purpose.



wall0159 said...

John, et al,
It's really true what you say about attitude determining how one experiences "uncomfortable" physical conditions. I got inco cycle commuting abck at uni, and used to really love riding in the heavy rain -- the realisation that one can get no wetter is really liberating. Of course people think you're rather mad.
When I lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, the Scots thought I was a bit insane cycling through the winter (lots of sleet and snow -- not as cold as a North American winter though). Cycling on icy snowy paths is beautiful and exhilerating. Now I live in Brisbane, where the weather in the middle of winder is like a cool Scottish summer's day. Even here, people complain about the cold and the cycle paths are deserted on days when it's grey and a bit drizzly (even though it's about 25 degrees C (77 deg F)). My 2.5 yo son loves riding in the rain, of course -- he has no preconceived ideas.
Regarding cargo bikes, I've recently got an xtracycle. It's a retrofit kit that attaches to an existing bicycle and extends the wheel-base by about 18 inches. There are a few variations, including the Surly Big Dummy. They're cargo bikes, but ride more like a normal bike than the Dutch/Danish style cargo bikes. I plan/hope to cycle commute with 2 kids on mine, and hope to do cycle-camping trips and the shopping -- pretty versatile.

Repent said...

My eldest daughter was born almost exactly 9 months after a monster snowstorm stranded me in my apartment for 3 1/2 days. (There was a mammoth local population boom that year. People find things to do when the power goes out and you can't get around!)

You should expect a large local population boom in Cumberland in about 9 months. We should all expect that the 'nuclear' family of a mom & dad and two kids will be a distant memory once birth control pills and abortions become uncommon again. Welcome back to families with 10-14 kids.

Justin said...

Do you think the scale of what is ahead will leave a lasting impression on human culture given the literally global reach of this collapse.

One contentious assumption is whether the general lessons gravitate around hard axioms about factoring resource consumption, waste and depletion. If that premise is considered, will the experience give the moral lesson of ant and grasshopper stories the weight of universal taboos against things like murder or somewhere further down the spectrum, like the looser taboos against slavery and child labor.

Even if you found all this speculation codswallop, any kind of reply to the thought would be interesting to hear and take into consideration from my perspective.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Glad you rode the storm out ok with no major damage.

Speaking of synchronicity, I picked up "Too Much Magic" from the library on my weekly trip to town. I intend to settle in with it, this afternoon. As I recover from my weekly trip to town. I found it interesting that even though we have an enormous, 5 county library system, there were only 2 holds on Mr. Kunstler's book.

I tried to get "Blood of the Earth" through my library. I was informed 1.) they have no plans to purchase it (even though they carry several of your other books) and 2.) I can't get it through Interlibrary Loan as it is too new.

When I moved out here to "the boonies" in February, in the first week, I lost electricity. Followed the next week by water failure, for a bit. I'm a fairly adaptable fellow, so I just muddled through without much discomfort. I am much better prepared for the next time.

I went with some friends to a community garage sale at our fairgrounds over the weekend. 250 tables. Of mostly, junk. I had some pretty modest items I was looking for ... a pyrex loaf pan, maybe a good sturdy pot or two. Towels, preferably blue. A pair of binoculars, nothing fancy, just for looking at birds around the yard. I came home with nothing.

My friends apologized for me not finding anything, but I pointed out that given my tendency toward hoarding, not finding anything was a positive thing. More and more when I have a yen for something, I really examine why I want something. Where the impulse comes from. Usually, not from a very good or honorable place.

Oh, dear. The authentication word is pretty clear, but the little picture looks like a barrel with a smudge coming out of the top. I think it's going to take more than one attempt to get this posted.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Hmmm. The little barrel was II ! But, I didn't care for the intermediate screen where Yahoo wanted my mobile phone number. Of course, Hotmail has started doing the same thing too. We won't let you look at your e-mail, until you give us our phone number. No, I don't think so :-) . I just sign out and start all over again. That page comes and goes.

What's really funny is that, out here in the boonies, the cell phone reception is so spotty that I returned to using a landline. Not that there's any option for landlines or continuing on from that page ... at least, nothing clear and unambiguous.

John D. Wheeler said...

I have to second Maria's opinion on the distinction between warriors and mere killers. It is precisely what I needed to hear, too, as I am most definitely in "battle with my own rage and fear and shadow characteristics".

Do you know of anyone who can help with this (besides God, of course)? Preferably someone who has come to grips with or at least understands catabolic collapse....

Chris Balow said...

JMG, you mentioned that you had researched how the people of pre-Industrial societies handled the type of heat that we've been seeing here in the eastern U.S of late. Could you, perhaps, share any links or reading suggestions along these lines? I wonder if you'd gathered any ideas from Chinese history--much of that ancient land is, like much of the U.S., under the influence of a "humid subtropical" climate regime and subject to similarly sweltering summers.

John Michael Greer said...

Yupped, excellent. I sometimes think that the real mother of invention is the long moment of silence that follows half an hour of angry complaining, in which it sinks in that nobody's listening.

Mickyle, seriously cool.

Cherokee, that's fascinating. Here it's exactly the opposite. In the summer, the humidity routinely is in the 90% and up range; in the winter it drops like a rock. So we get muggy, sweaty summers and ice-cold winters.

Wall, having grown up in Seattle, I learned a long time ago that getting wet isn't an issue, though I get people to think I'm rather mad by the simpler expedient of walking everywhere. Still, if bicycles do it for you, by all means!

Repent, well, presumably you weren't the only person stranded in your apartment! As for the 10 or 14 children, though, we'd all better hope not. The Earth has three times as many people as it can support already, and that kind of birth rate will inevitably result in horrific scenes once the fossil fuels stop flowing and there isn't enough food even for the people we've got.

Justin, given that we're going to be pounded by resource limits, multiplied by our own stupidity in mishandling them, for one to three centuries of decline and another four to six hundred years of dark age thereafter, I suspect it's going to leave a trace. How deep of one? Good question; that depends on a lot of factors that are hard to guess in advance.

Lewis, good luck getting it in any way other than purchase! It's far enough out there that I doubt many libraries anywhere will get it.

John, you'd need to find either a good psychotherapist or a good martial arts teacher. Alternatively, Jung's useful little shadow detection mechanism makes a good personal practice: any time you find yourself thinking that something someone else does makes you furious, it's a safe bet that the anger comes from the fact that the person is reflecting your own behavior and attitudes back at you.

xhmko said...

Regarding TED, I have seen two oustanding talks on TED. One from a New York high class Chef who had discovered a mediterranean producer of Fois gras, which I'd never heard of but which is whee they get geese and stuff them so full of grain that their liver's swell, and the liver is called fois gras. Well he met this guy who never stuffed his geese but let them free range and provided a vast assortment of herbs and plants for them to forage on. In fact, his place was such a goose heaven that wild geese apparently would flock in and just take up residence. Apparently his fois gras won many an award, but he was too modest and compassionate to take it any further thn his little operation. Changed the chef's attitude to fois gras completely.

The other was about a guy who explored the possiblity of closer interaction between crows and people. He'd invented a crow vending machine and slowly using the crows stubborn curiousity based intelligence, managed to get them dropping coins into this machine in exchange for nuts. He was hoping to perhaps find a way of working with wild crows to do rubbish collection.

Because your technology is a technology of consciousness and awareness rather the flashy Jetson's Singularity variant, you may still find some people would take an interest in your thoughts over there. But I totally agree that its really just so uninspiring doing your thing for people who couldn't care less for the thing your doing. And with some of those crew so hyped up about flying cars, trying to convince them that future is all feet is like Sam trying to sell his gradening ethos to Sauron.

xhmko said...

On methods of dealing with heat. I grew up in one of the hottest parts of Australia. It ranged from a very dry heat, to monsoonal downpour humidity. When I was about ten, I was listening to the radio and heard that everybody has a slight updraft of air surrounding their body and generated by their body heat, which carries microsopic particles of dust, skin and hair. My immediate conclusion was that that meant that I was always surrounded by a gentle breeze flowing up over my body, inducting cool air. I sat there, next to radio and focused on sensing my skin and feeling that cool air and hey presto, I started to notice cooling sensation. I had attempted meditation techniques when I was maybe 8 or 9, figuring that if I cleared my mind of all thoughts, that the nothingness would be as close to God as I could get, but this updraft cooling system was one of my earlier experiments with what I now consider to be a physical aspect of magic. Taking real circumstances, understanding their relationships, honing in on them and refining your ability to harness them.

I not long after that, still in childhood and fuelled by my studies of the "paranormal" started to feel like this updraft of air, may be realted to auras, and that depending on how you feel, subtle changes to the currents flowing off you may be perceptible to the experienced, or the sensitive observer. I'd like to know your thoughts on this.

goedeck said...

Your mentioning of skyscrapers becoming obsolete like battleships reminded me that people going to the wikipedia daily page might have noticed an entry about The Shard. The first thing I was reminded of was the Ryugyong Hotel.

"I am John Greer.I am the man who has deprived you of [false magic] and thus has destroyed your world.

Just kidding haha.

xhmko said...

I would like to add to my comment about TED after seeing your response to Toby. Two things, one that you're right, the changes we're discussing every week in this forum come from the grass roots and not the circles of wealth and priviledge, and two, that it's the sick that need healing, a quote I've heard attributed to Jesus as to why he hunug around with some of the wealthier people in the society at all.

I daresay, though, that while you may open a few eyes, the chances of walking away from a gig like TED may leave you feeling a little like you just sang a rendition of The Stars and Stripes of Corruption during halftime at the superbowl. Controversial, yet innefectual.

I am confronted with this kind of choice quite often as a musician in a Junk percussion/brass outfit. My personal aim in an outfit like this, which mostly plays acoustic shows is to lead by example and show how funky a plastic barrel or a tin can with rice in it can be, and thereby showing how life without endless new commodities can go on. We have been hired from time to time to perform at events where the circles of wealth and priviledge gather, and honestly they're the most boring disheartening affairs we get the displeasure of being paid fairly well for. I'm in debt though, so I make this choice in the hope of maybe opening peoples eyes to the potential reuse of societies waste in useful ways; hoping that monkey see, monkey think laterally and incorporate what monkey sees into monkeys own life. I'll leave it to you to guess the odds of this being the usual response. Our best gigs often are working with 10 year olds who heads are neither in the sand nor in the clouds nor studying the movement of their bowels internally.

phil harris said...

Somebody is having problems getting your book The Blood of the Earth. I have just finished reading the paperback edition here in the UK. It was nearly twice as expensive though as your previous book on Schumacher economics, and the hardcover would have been a lot more. Libraries don't like soft covers? BTW - a good read; thanks. Can I paraphrase? 'Keep calm; stay sane; doing something could help do that, as will staying away from narratives designed to manipulate and get at emotional drives and fears. Start looking after yourselves more rationally, now or asap.' Something like that? Better read the whole book though, folks – highly recommended!

With regard to comparisons between respective water supplies here and in USA: this house water bills increased dramatically with privatization. Maybe we pay a more realistic rate now, but it was irritating to see some salaries morph from usual civil-service rates to megabucks with share options!

Thanks to you and SL Claire for pictures of US water supply.


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

What a difference another continent makes. There are quite a lot of places in Australia that have one or the other aspect of your climate, but generally not both (as it is usually the other way around or just one aspect constantly).

As a thought exercise, if I had a blank design for a house in your climate, it would include:
- The external walls would be made of lightweight timber materials with a rot proof timber external cladding (+ heavy duty moisture barriers) and include heavy insulation (avoid excessive transfer and retention of heat and cold from the external environment);
- The external walls would be shaded by permanent verandas at least on the south and west sides (keep the summer sun off the walls);
- The majority of the house would be off the ground on stumps and include insulation under the floor (reduce the conduction of cold temperatures during the freezing winters for most of the house);
- The windows would be double glazed (perhaps even triple glazed) to keep the extremes of weather out;
- The windows could be opened and screened to allow for cross flow movement of air during summer;
- A large solid brick chimney not adjoining the external walls could be used as a thermal battery during summer (cool) and winter (heat);
- A cellar would be included so that cool air could be exchanged into the house during the humid summers and it would also operate as a thermal battery during this time. A good place to store preserved food too;
- The roof would be clad with reflective steel (glavanised steel or zinc alume) to reduce the transfer of heat between the outside and the inside;
- Because of the humidity, I'd also include a commercial duty moisture barrier under the roof cladding to protect the roof trusses from excessive moisture;
- Given the roof will be protected from the extremes of moisture I'd also add as much bulk insulation as you could stack up there. Glass wool or mineral wool would be best in a humid environment as they don't tend to rot.
- Oh yeah, I'd tie the roof trusses to the under floor with steel straps so that the roof is able to withstand cyclone wind speeds. The walls can be braced with either plywood or again steel straps. The timber bearers would be tied securely to the stumps.

It'd be a pleasant house to live in given your climate.

If you wanted to do it on the cheap though, I'd probably just grow shade trees on the south and west sides of your current house. I hope you mulberry tree wasn't on either the south or west side as you will loose the shading on your external walls there and they'll be much hotter now.

You know it's really weird, but I have a white mulberry tree here which got a bit freaked out by a warm spell a month or so back and sprouted leaves and even some small fruit (inedible though - even the birds won't touch them).

The trees here are telling me quite loudly that climate weirding is really happening.



hawlkeye said...

John Wheeler: check out the Mankind Project, an international group that offers "weekend warrior" trainings, often parodied, but deeply effective, in my experience. Recognizing one's shadows as a source of one's inner purpose, learning to behave with integrity and accountability...great stuff, life-changing. Yes, plenty of Bobos, too, ah well...

I learned how to adapt to the heat and humidity when I worked on a farm in northern Virginia for a few summers a couple of hills over from Cumberland (Frederick, actually). I found it amusing, but believable, that British soldiers received hazard pay for fighting in the region during the summer!

At that time, there was a silly song on the radio, based on an equally vapid film called "Working Nine to Five" about how rough it was for the office fauna. All the farm workers joked about how we worked Five to Nine, picking corn in the morning dew at first light all the way to sorting tomatoes in the dimming dusk. In the crazy hot afternoons, we'd still go out there, but for shorter bursts, saving up the shady chores.

My point is, there's no way to adapt to the weather if you're working the grindstone of punching the modern time-clock. In the desert, you make like a lizard in the afternoon, and find a cool rock to rest under. Being able to choose the specific timing of one's tasks seems to be as important as any adaptive technology, cool rag around the neck kinds of things...

I work on another adaptation trick by avoiding wearing sunglasses unless I'm driving directly into the setting sun. I find my eyes are able to adapt to glare changes from indoors to outdoors much easier if I don't reach for the shades every time I open the door... Sunglasses and air-conditioning: hand-and-glove.

Little notions like this only happen if I'm really willing to do whatever it takes to mold myself to the world, instead of expecting the world to conform to my comfort. Since when has THAT ever been normal? Oh yeah, just a blip of an energy bubble...

CGP said...

JMG, thank you once again for an interesting and informative post.

Regarding people becoming impatient with how long it's taking to have their power reconnected, how much is this due to a lack of understanding by people of the underlying issues (i.e. infrastructure and energy availability issues) and how much of this impatience is justified by pointing to power companies funnelling profits to executives' pay rather than infrastructure updating?

Lance Michael Foster said...

JMG, from your book: "…Trying to rank worldviews of different cultures according to some scheme of progress yields self-serving nonsense. Ancient Egyptians understood the universe in one way, and modern Americans understand it in another, not because Americans are right and Egyptians were wrong – or vice versa! – but because the two cultures are talking about different things, in different symbolic languages. A worldview that describes the metaphysics of human life in the language of myth cannot be judged by the standards of a worldview that takes analysis of the physical world in the language of mathematics as its starting point.

To say that the industrial world’s technological progress proves the superiority of its worldview merely begs the question, since the Egyptians did not value technological progress. They valued cultural stability and achieved it, maintaining cultural continuity for well over 3,000 years – a feat our own civilization is not likely to equal. By their standards, for that matter, our society’s ephemeral fashions, cultural turmoil and incoherent metaphysics would have branded it as an abject failure at the most basic tasks of human social life." –John Michael Greer, ‘The Ecotechnic Future,’ p. 236

For Americans, you pointed out our reliance on physical, measurable (through mathematics, etc.) reality as a narrative. However I see at least three competing "narratives" that make up our "incoherent metaphysics" (perfect characterization on your part!)

1. The JudeoChristian, which focuses on the symbolic language of fall from grace, salvation, good vs evil, and the end of the world, among others (Manifest Destiny for example is an offshoot).

2. Enlightenment, Reason, and Science, which focuses on technological and material improvement and progress to a Utopian state where all needs are met and all men are created equal. This is the one you mention above.

3. Industrial cornucopianism, a blend of the first two, where through our technologies (American know-how) and the limitless abundance of God, there will be oil wherever we drill, everyone can achieve all their heart's desires through hard work, there will be flatscreen TVs and Internet for all (along with all you can eat buffets), and anyone who questions any of this is "an enemy of the state, of the people, and of God Himself."

john said...

JMG said: "Now there are plenty of things that individuals can do.... I wish Kunstler had put a little more of his book into talking about those options...."

Could this be your next book please? Many things are worth doing. Getting them done could use a lot of help from clear and creative thinking, ancient wisdom, and magic.

Bill Pulliam said...

Repent -- you forget that the last time Appalachian families had that many children they also had enormous infant mortality rates (as well as very high mortality through all other age classes). You can't have any kind of sustained population boom without food. Babies die, women stop cycling, children starve, adults die from routine infections. It's gruesome, but ultimately self-limiting.

Why is Google feeding us all these images of numbers in the verify "words"? It makes me wonder what they are up to that they have enlisted all of us to do their image analysis for them... Y'all do know that each of these pairs of words includes one that they know the correct answer should be, and one that their automated image processing was unable to decode so they are tricking us into doing it for them for free, right?

John Michael Greer said...

Chris, there are two parts to it. The first is to rig your house to keep heat out, which involves most of the same things that keep heat in in winter; to maximize ventilation when you want it, and close it off when you don't; and to provide shade to keep the sun off your house. Cherokee provides a pretty good summary of that below, and so will any decent book on Seventies appropriate tech. The second is simply to get used to it -- let your body acclimatize to the heat and humidity, so it's not a big deal. There are plenty of fine details, but those are the basic principles.

Xhmko, oh, I'm sure that there are interesting talks. The question in my mind is whether it's worth my while to add to them, for the benefit of an audience that probably won't do anything with the ideas I have to offer but roll their eyes and go to the next talk on flying cars.

Goedeck, just another hideously ugly eyesore. Move along...

Phil, privatization over here is always sold as a way of cutting costs, and always leads to cost increases. Go figure...

Cherokee, good. The one major miss is that you don't want the house off the ground -- that just lets cold air in winter, and hot air in summer, get at another surface. What you want is insulation around your foundation, going down a couple of feet; underground, the temperature stays pretty much stable year-round, and so the planet itself becomes part of your thermal mass.

Oh, and you don't want shade trees too close to the house, or you might just end up like a lodge brother of mine, who had one tree land in his living room and another flatten his garage...

Hawlkeye, the British diplomatic service used to classify Washington DC as semi-tropical, so the hazard pay makes sense!

CGP, no doubt that's also a factor.

Lance, yes, and there are other factors as well; a whole book could be written on the roots of the American metaphysic.

John, I've got a manuscript on the subject, based on the Green Wizardry posts a while back; I'm waiting for the publishers to get their act together and get me a contract, is all.

Bill, no doubt!

wagelaborer said...

We had a derecho 3 years ago, May 8, 2009, a day that is endlessly rehashed around here by those traumatized by it.
The TV weatherman totally missed it. We had a massive thunderstorm first, and everyone I know turned on the TV for the all-clear, which came at 12:30pm, followed by the derecho about 15 minutes later.
What are they doing with the downed trees? They BURNED them here! 4,000 burned trees just in my city, and thousands more in other cities affected.
What a waste, not to mention the thousands of years of carbon released into the atmosphere.
I'm thinking that a good future employment opportunity would be a portable saw, which could be hauled from disaster area to disaster area. Most people would have preferred to mill their old oak, hickory, maple, black walnut, pine and other massive trees, rather than have the city haul and burn them.

Bill Pulliam said...

Structurally, humidity can be a bigger issue than heat. The reason many houses were built with open crawlspaces was to reduce humidity to deter termites and dry rot. Our house (built in 1886) has an open crawlspace; sometime several decades ago it was enclosed but without adequate ventilation or roof drainage so there was massive damage to the joists and sills that I had to put a lot of work in to repairing. So keeping water out from the underside of the house can be a bigger priority than thermal flow. You can also insulate the underside of the floor between the joists, but leave the lower part of the joists open for ventilation. But you wills till lose the heat sink function of the earth under the house. You can also open/close seasonally, which is what I am working towards.

Inside the house humidity can also be a much bigger problem than heat. Books can be damaged in a few years by excess indoor humidity. This is why traditional libraries have fireplaces in them to drive out the damp. Humidity also damages leather. Summertime or tropical humidity is a real challenge on this front. If you use no A/C at all you need to make sure to take advantage of every relative dry spell in the summer to flush out the house and draw in drier air.

Small window unit A/Cs are not huge energy hogs if used only for spot cooling/dehumidifying. You get more heat transfer from them per unit electrical power than you get heat from electric resistance space heaters. If you are not ready to go A/C free, you can use these (for now) to make a cool dry room for books, clothing, and sleeping.

Apparently Google is using us to read street addresses from streetview images... at least that is what I found when I googled it...

birgit said...

Our power was out for 3 days, and we were miserable in the heat; I am 49 years old and put off using the AC until I got married 6 years ago; I prefer to hear birdies and cicadas through the open windows. This Maryland weather is more oppressive than it was even a few years ago.
I think the young people feel the weather change and have expressed it it in the current fad for zombies; global warming being primeval zombie plankton looking to recreate warm inland seas after we unearth and burn them.

Stephanie Whiting said...

JMG, what about women in the post-peak world? It's a question I've wanted to ask for weeks, because most "skilled trades" that you talk about are male-dominated fields. I'm a female that doesn't want to see women relegated to subservient positions like less technologically advanced societies commonly have. I had intended to join the military last year, the Marines specifically. I got all the way through ten weeks of Officer Candidate School, graduated, and declined a commission because I didn't believe the propaganda, and I had doubts about the American empire that were confirmed many times over in your blog. It was only a month after I got back that I found your blog, in fact. One of my friends had told me much about your ideology without using your name before I left, and many of those ideas were with me as I debated accepting a commission.

Where do you see the role of women going? What of the military? All of my friends from OCS will be serving there... so many of them don't understand the political climate that we're going to face, the hard limits of reality and peak oil.

I think you are wrong about TED, by the way. I've listened to many of their talks, but I've read most of your posts. I like to hear both sides, even if yours is the more rational. I never knew of peak oil, but when I heard it, it all made sense. I think there are others like me in places like TED.

By the way, I'm also a designer by trade, and your posts about advertising were hard to swallow... I never knew I practiced black magic. :) I may try to put my skills to use and help Arwen with the magazine though, if she's interested...


Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Thank you, JMG, for kind comments on my posting yesterday.

Yes, I agree with you that vacuum tubes are more appealing than transistors. It is like the difference between calculator and slide rule, on which you have written. In both cases we have the difference betwen a device with opaque innards and a device with its principles of operation kept open to inspection.

In transistors, we have scary stuff about "depletion zones" and "conduction by holes" and the like, the whole proceeding emitting a rebarbative odour of quantum mechanics.

In tubes, by contrast, we have a visibily glowing cathode or cathode heater, and we can remind ourselves that even the electrons could be tracked visually if the tube builder had incorporated some phosphor screens. Indeed if things go wrong in a tube, what goes wrong can be visible: (1) a dangerously heated anode, I gather, will emit a glow of its own, and (2) I gather that air leaked into the glass envelope will glow dimly blue.

This line of thought induces me to draw notice to a 1930s cinema presentation of (tube-based) radiotelegraphy, at (or do a YouTube search on the title, "From Backblocks to High Seas"). Of all the wonderful 1930s radio-themed cinema clips available at YouTube, this one must rank at or close to the top. The narration, the work of the Government of New Zealand in promoting its home-to-ship radiogram service, is detailed and literate. It is striking how simple the arrangements are, with a liner in mid-Atlantic simply listening for its callsign transmitted from Wellington, then sending an ack, then copying down the radiogram with typewriter.

I must apologize for typos in my previous posting. "Having cleaned the nylon off the pesky preselector gears" was supposed to read "having cleaned the nylon OF the pesky preselector gears" (LOL, ROTFL, ai-ai-ai oi veh), and my homepage with phone number (as might be needed if someone has a query) is www dot metascientia dot com rather than ww dot metascientia dot com. Transmit at haste, repent at leisure.

Tom = Toomas Karmo = VA3KMZ, near Toronto

Justin said...

The point about longevity is interesting to consider as a comparison to the Egyptians. I've begun to think of the image laden medium of video as our hieroglyphics. My general thought is that the introduction of images to information vectors is a sign of cultural density. Our glyphs even have sound, provided you have the technology to play them.

John Michael Greer said...

Wagelaborer, are you willing to get working on a portable sawmill of that sort? It sounds like a good plan, but somebody actually has to do it.

Bill, that's what we do -- any time the humidity is low, and the temperature isn't unbearable, the windows are open and the winds of heaven are blowing through our home. Venting moisture produced inside the home as quickly as possible to the outside is also an imponrtant point.

Birgit, a marvelous metaphor! Of course you're right that the heat is worse, and it's going to get far more worse in years to come. Now's the time to find low-energy ways to stay functional despite it.

Stephanie, most of the trades I've mentioned were done by women as well as by men in the world before fossil fuels -- much of the beer in Elizabethan England was brewed by women, just for one example. (All English surnames ending in -ster are derived from feminine job titles in Old English -- a brewster was a female brewer, a spinster a female spinner, a baxter a female baker, and so on.) The notion that women in all premodern times were inevitably cooped up at home with the kids is a projection of the 1950s American suburban experience onto the past.

As for subservience, well, that's a much more challenging question, as well as a more complex one. My sense is that, at least here in America, something has shifted on a very basic level in gender relations, and I'm far from convinced that the end of the petroleum age will reverse that. Still, how it works out will depend in large part on what you and the generations of women that follow after you choose to do about it; I don't see any reason to think that such things are preordained.

Tom, thanks for your latest, and for the links -- and don't sweat the typos.

Justin, thus the superiority of the Egyptian technology, which still works after 3000 years!

Lance Michael Foster said...

Baxoje min ke. I am an Ioway Indian. I have always seen the world animistically, as a web of mutual relationships, I and Thou. I had to learn that some (most) people didn't see the world that way. May I suggest two resources for those who struggle between their western upbringing and the realization that there is more, yet not quite to the point of being able to accept animism. And this also ties into JMG's underlying theme that magic, that existence, requires ethics as a cornerstone: 1. Aldo Leopold's "Land Ethic" and 2. the book "Ecological Ethics" by Patrick Curry.

hawlkeye- Regarding your relationship with plants, the original work at Findhorn and Stephen Buhner's books are real resources.

jeffinwa said...

The wife and I look forward each week to your discussion starting posts; thanks John, quality all the way.
Regarding guarding the gardens; big stick, sling shot, bow and arrows, shotgun?
This is an issue that I've not been able to come to terms with; I'll have to consider what the shadows are communicating to me about myself.

Hal said...

In my experience, changing your consciousness with respect to heat as a result of willful effort is easier for some people than for others. The incantation I always used anytime I returned to the deep south back when I was living in California was, "It feels just like a warm hug to me."

I had little trouble with heat, but cold is not so easy. Still, I managed to get through last winter with just turning on a small electric space heater a few times, and truth be told, that was mostly for my old dog.

Now adjusting to AC whenever I go someplace they have it on is very difficult. I can't believe how cold they chill some businesses and other public establishments. I'm working on an incantation for that. "Does it really need to be this cold?" doesn't seem to work.

Bill Pulliam said...

Wagelaborer -- Windshake and splitting can lower the value of windfelled hardwoods for furniture, cabinetry, and musical instruments. It still generally makes good firewood, and around here nearly all windfelled trees are cut up and hauled off for firewood pretty quickly.

Portable (even tabletop electric) sawmills are readily available. The same gasoline that powers all those chain saws could also power one of these. It's a matter of it seeming worthwhile when faced with price competition from industrial global lumber supply chains. If you wanted this just for yourself or your own community, not for profit, that is another matter.

If you just enter a random number in your recaptcha regardless of what the image seems to show, it takes it just fine so long as you type the real word correctly... resist unwitting collaboration!

el emer said...

Thanks for interesting points & something new to me: cargo bikes! I'd really like a trike that could haul 'stuff.' Having gone carless for decades now, I plan marketing 1 to 3 times/month & take a cab; still looking for way to haul on hilly terrain...

JMG, glad to see Carl Jung is alive & well here. Saw him speak on TV;must have bee 1978? 1979? It was when I was back in NYC helpingnmy ailing dad & eperiencing my 2nd blackout in NYC. 1st was in high school there, I think.

Hope you don't perceive this as 'hammering' on a point, but my concern with how to pay for healthcare now just hit home again.And without Medicare (& Medicaid covering premiums, etc) I just couldn't cover it.

I agree that ACA (actually=Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act) is vast expansion of for-profit insurers. I just wanted Medicare E (expand for everyone).

But ACA has help for pre=existing, kids til age 26, etc. Federal money pays states to expand Medicaid for millions.

I know this is only 'band-aid' & temporary while we decline into something where genuine medical care & knowledge is fairly bartered, exchanged, etc.

But for all those ACA will help, what alternative is better in your philosophy?

How does your family address medical care & needs?

Isn't this something, along with appropriate tech for homes & food & transport, we need to address?

el emer

Justin said...

Justin, thus the superiority of the Egyptian technology, which still works after 3000 years!

Yeah, maybe. Some of us are still making marks on canvas, wood, iron and bone, I guess we'll just have to see.

SLClaire said...

OK, shameless plug time ... I've been wanting to write a post on living without AC or with minimal amounts with it under St. Louis summer weather. Finally I took the time to do it. John and Bill, you'll notice I'm in agreement with you on the importance of keeping humidity out, not too surprising since we live in similar climates.

Warning: long post ... you'll want your favorite summer beverage handy while you read it, should you choose to do so. (I have something to say about that too.)

Do you suppose it's significant that my verification word is redneyl? ;)

xhmko said...

Bill, the little question mark next to the input tab where you type in what you see to verify your comment, brings up a pop-up that offers an explanation about where the text comes from. It is, as you say using us as an OCR device, free of charge. It says nothing about the numbers though

DaShui said...

AD, I'm shocked at all this fear mongering on this blog!
I've decided to re-imagine global warming as an "endless summer."
As for rising sea levels-Grab your board, surfs up!
I plan to be the first to surf Omaha Beach. In Nebraska, not France.

See y'all there!

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@hawlkeye--I'm not an expert on eye health, but I think you may be hastening the formation of cataracts by exposing the lenses of your eyes to radiation.

@Lance Michael Foster--it doesn't undercut your basic argument, but the narrative that you labeled Judeo-Christian is merely Christian. Judaism has a different narrative, based on a cooperative relationship between the human race and its Creator.

Joel said...

"Rocks from the Moon...all it takes is nearly unimaginable amounts of energy."

Well, that, and access to scarcely-imagined varieties of information. The sort that takes engineers aback, so that they say "You want that to how many significant figures? Are you sure?"

"...shoddy mass-marketed consumables whose only meaning or lesson is that somebody wanted to make a fast buck."

That's not fair to the generations of commercial writers who have carefully crafted stories so as to inspire gnawing status anxiety, to hammer home the message that violence is redemptive, and to encourage everyone to challenge leadership in ways that only the largest institutions are equipped to handle.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

Yeah, of course. Your average summer temperatures are lower than here so it makes sense to use the Earth's constant temperature to provide cooling. Nice thinking.

Over here, it is the other way around because of the higher average ground temperatures over summer.

However, because I'm in a bushfire area, I have had to enclose that under floor space (0.5m or 1ft 7in minimum ground to lowest point of timber clearance) with a fire rated wall (basically fibro cement sheeting over wet area and fire rated plaster). The timbers under the floor have been packed with glass wool insulation to address the issue that you raised. Interestingly, I've tested the plaster and fibro cement stuff in huge bonfires out of curiosity and you can still clearly read the writing on the plaster the next day and it didn’t break up. Scary stuff.

A nod to Bill who picked up on the two main problems: Termites and damp timber. The building codes never considered these issues because of the focus on preventing ignition of the timbers during a bushfire. Truly adding layers of complexity on an already complex system is a reason why few people will build up in an area like this now - until it eventually becomes less regulated and easier again in the future.

Termites here love damp timber so you have to keep the timber in the house dry. I had to add some stainless steel mesh (ie. Fire resistant) vents right around the house to ensure the crawl space stayed dry. But, I could only do this after the paperwork was completed and everyone had gone somewhere else.

I was on tenterhooks for weeks hoping the inspectors didn't look under the floor too closely given that we'd just experienced the two wettest years in recorded history (both over 1,400mm or 55in of annual rainfall). Anyway all sorted now and the humidity inside the house now is usually around the 50%ish mark which is pretty nice and the crawlspace has dried despite the conditions.

Sorry to hear about your lodge brother and hope that he and family were OK and insured.

I love trees and living here, but they can also be very hazardous. Every year someone around these parts is killed by a tree in all sorts of strange and often unusual circumstances. The trees around here are massive too as they are regrowth from the clear felling in the 1860/70's and are up to 50m (150ft) tall - eucalyptus obliqua (messmate). Higher up the mountain they have eucalyptus regnans - mountain ash - growing which are the second tallest tree in the world. They’re big.

The previous shade tree comment around houses should read - plant small deciduous trees to shade the external walls of a house. Any large trees within dropping distance of your house are a problem.

I sometimes suspect that it will be our ability to bounce back from disasters which will be one of the treads down the catabolic collapse staircase.



Bill Pulliam said...

hawlkeye -- re: ManKind Project. What's the difference between New Age and Neopagan? Some zeros at the end of the price. We used to joke in Colorado that maybe we should advertise our pagan gathering in New Age journals with appropriate jargon for 30 times the price and see how many people we would actually get.

Seriously, if you want to dance and drum naked, achieve transcendent states, explore consciousness, id, ego, and shadow, and make connections with whom you can share all this, there are plenty of places that you can do this every month for free. Even more seriously, actual traditional initiation rituals exist within a cultural context of meaning and support; you leave the initiation into a society comprised of fellow initiates. Taking someone from a society that has no such traditions, putting them through a grueling weekend that (by some accounts) involves debasement and psychological trauma, then swearing him to secrecy and returning him to the society of people who do NOT share the experience and with whom he is forbidden to discuss it... just sounds like a real recipe for trouble to me if you have not pre-screened your initiates VERY carefully.

There are many other paths to similar ends that integrate you into a community, rather than separating you from it. Some are religious, some are not, but they all take longer than a weekend.

Brother Kornhoer said...

Bill Pulliam,

You're right about the June 29th derecho only being noted due to it hitting the media center of DC - look what swept through South Carolina and Georgia less than 72 hours later with little notice in even the local media (link to Weather Underground map): Go to the time at the top center and advance the hour on the pop-up, and see how fast those thunderstorms were moving!

Mr. Greer - I'm looking forward to the rest of this series. I sometimes wonder what the chances of a true military takeover in the US are (as opposed to our current state of fragmented power with the plutocrats holding the plurality). If something like that does happen, I doubt it would be open - it would be disguised in the existing forms of government. In the 1930s, there was a plot by some wealthy fascist admirers in the US to implement fascism here, reportedly by strong-arming FDR to appoint a Secretary of General Affairs who would actually run things. I suspect any future plot to be perhaps even more subtle.

Villager said...

T -echnology
D -esign

I'm not being snarky - that's what the letters stand for.

TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.

It's clear to me which side their toast is buttered on. They are a feel good, everything's gonna be all right - just hang in there and here's this nice East Indian Fellow who's bringing education to our unwashed masses via the internet. Please stand and applaud when he finishes - organization. Indeed they do cater to the rich and privileged and yes, John, your ideas will not take root in such soil.

Mart said...


I don't know much about TED but note there is also TEDx who for example recently held a blunt talk on climate change.

I thought Ray Kurzweil was fascinating when I was younger, but things change. Didn't you dream about space travel as a kid also?

I was wondering if you might discuss timelines (what we may expect when) in a future post?

For example, we recently moved from London to Melbourne partly because it seemed a safer bet. Now we are looking to move house as we have little space for our baby daughter and no land. That will mean getting a mortgage which is bad, but I'm a software developer and there is plenty of work available at the moment. It's not clear how long that will last though and it's not clear whether we should stay near the city for work or move further away to a lower population density.

There's lots of things we could consider when moving - water supply, climate, house construction, community, arable land, future work, friends... the mind boggles!


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

A theme that crops up most weeks is that of the role of women in society in any possible future.

It is interesting to address this issue by looking at magic and the recent past.

Both my partner and I are Gen X’ers and we grew up in a time when we were told that women could have it all. It was a piece of thaumaturgy and repeated as a mantra.

As a first point, I would suggest that the generation that perpetuated this mantra were saying: "do as I say, not as I do".

Secondly, I would also point out that society was never structured to allow this mantra to come to pass. Seriously, I have been told by women working as a receptionist that they could have a career in reception. They believed it too whereas, I just felt that it was a sad belief. The concept of a career is a myth and historically, people tended to do a bit of all sorts of tasks. Specialisation is a tool to dumb you down and make you dependent on the larger system.

Also, the belief that you could have it all has seen families develop with two working parents and this has further devalued the domestic economy. Even on this blog you read comments by people showing real fear about getting involved in such an enterprise. Preserving, gardening, maintenance of domestic animals (chooks, pigs etc.), home brew, cooking the list goes on... These are valuable skills and not to be sneered at. Both my partner and I have post graduate education and have professional standing in the community so we have seen both sides of the fence and can make this assertion from a position of experience.

Also the, you can have it all mantra, has strange and unintended consequences. A couple of friends now have partners who are over 40 and going through the IVF process. Truly, IVF is no panacea for age related infertility. I also worry for their mental health as it is not good at the moment.

The acceptance of limitations is actually quite an empowering concept and it is an antidote to the oft repeated mantra that you can have it all.

The truth tends to be a binding agent whereas thaumaturgy can be used as a divisive tool.

Sometimes I think it would have been better for society if the message given to women from the 70's onwards was pick your course in life carefully as time is short and whilst there are many options to choose from, picking from amongst them will limit your choices elsewhere. A much more realistic and empowering message than magic.



latheChuck said...

As far as electronics technology goes, I'm 99% in favor of transistors over vacuum tubes. The main reason is efficiency: heat is waste, and vacuum tubes get hot no matter how feeble the task; transistors (usually) to a much lesser extent. I browsed around the web, and found a design for a simple single-tube stereo headphone amplifier, and it draws about 400 mA from a 12V battery. (The 12V supply for this project is much less than most vacuum tube projects, by the way.) Let's round it up to 5Watts (amps x volts). (As a rule of thumb, a person can generate about 100 W on a bike or treadmill for sustained periods of time.) What else can we do with 5W? Well, with 10W I can run the whole receiver side of my shortwave transciever (transmitting my voice to Spain may take 250 W). With 4W, I can transmit a 1.5W radio signal in the VHF or UHF bands, enough to communicate for miles (or to a satellite, with a suitable antenna). If I'm listening on headphones in a quiet room, one thousandth of a Watt (peak) is enough audio-signal power to understand speech. Transistor audio amps (as used in a mobile phone headset) are about 90% efficient, so the "5W vacuum tube audio amp" is probably using at least 1000 times more power than necessary.

Transistors, in well-designed circuits, do not "wear out", but vacuum tubes to. Transistors are susceptible to trauma from static electricity, but tubes can fail traumatically when dropped onto the floor.

As for sustainability, the manufacturing of vacuum tubes requires some exotic, high-purity materials (e.g., thorium, barium, tungsten, graphite sheets, indium), energy, and industrial infrastructure (glass blowing, high-vacuum pumps, and spot-welding of wire internal structures). The semiconductor industry pushes the highest technology of the day, but that's for the highest-complexity products (laptop computers, portable entertainment devices). It's not clear to me whether either industry could carry on at a "post-carbon civilization". In the long run, I'd rather have a stockpile of transistors than tubes, though, and I'd be careful to protect them. They might last forever.

(By the way, I've got seven slide rules laid out on my desk at the moment (four linear, two circular, and one cylindrical), and will be adding another to my collection in a few days!)

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

Speaking of cargo bikes, I saw one on the streets of Arlington, VA in the last few weeks. As spouse and self drove by in our car a man and his young son (early primary school) were riding a tandem bike with a large wooden compartment in the front. It looked homemade (not that there's anything wrong with that).

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

And speaking of "rocks from the Moon" - yes, they are very expensive. And on the other hand, as evidence as to just how the Earth-Moon system arose, they are conclusive. Read about it in Wikipedia. It's an amazing and expanding universe.

hawlkeye said...

Lance – I haven’t heard of Steven Buhner; I’ll check him out, thanks!

Deborah – I always have a hat for some shade, but what did corneas do before Ray-Bans?

Bill – Sorry, but I won’t be pigeon-holed into your little joke by defending MKP or anything like it, including the Permaculture courses you like to skewer. There are a million ways to scam money, including teaching some good things. Since our culture has crap for initiation, we should just forget about it, unless we can get it from a “real” culture for free? I’d unlock this cell if I had the key…

Sure, there are tons of paths to learn all this stuff for free; so obviously the ones that charge money are all full of baloney? Some are, of course, but thousands of men have received benefit from MKP; I spent a little over 500 bucks and the whole process took over two years, meeting weekly with the same group. Of course, it’s easy to dismiss a characterization as biased as yours, and your conclusion that the result of “the weekend” is more alienation from one’s community is bizarre; the motivation of most men I met during this process is to become better men and community members, to be more of service, however they come to define that in their own lives.

Since the dominant industrial culture doesn’t have much of a clue about any of this stuff, some of us dolts might benefit from buying it if we can. If you want cogent criticism of the “men’s movement” and MKP in particular, boy have I got plenty; yet hundreds of men do this one every weekend all over the world for years now, so they must be doing something right… I maintain my recommendation.

A more likely recipe for disaster would be a howling crowd of drunken NASCAR fans, spending their last dollars on beer, gas and the lottery to restore America to greatness, not a bunch of well-meaning bobos embracing the true ingredients of life and learning to cook with them, some for the first time. It’s not perfect, nothing is, but it’s hardly as worthless, useless and pointless as you imply. Sometimes it tastes pretty good.

LewisLucanBooks said...

On trees and shade and possible problems to structures. I lived in a very poorly insulated place, a few years back. I did a lot of winterizing, things, but the summers could be brutal, as the little house had a south alignment. Great in the winter, not so much in the summer.

I finally had a brain storm and planted mammoth sunflowers on the south and west. Besides being useful and very interesting and pretty, they shaded the house and cut the inside temperature by quit a bit.

John Michael Greer said...

Jeffinwa, depends on circumstances and local custom.

Hal, that's funny. I have zero problem with cold -- I just put on a sweater and make a cup of tea, or when it's very cold, wear fingerless gloves to type -- but humid heat's a real challenge. I suppose it depends on what you're used to.

El Emer, yes, you're hammering. Glad to hear you're considering a cargo bike -- an electric motor backup ought to help with those hills.

Justin, no reason not to use an old technology if it works!

SLClaire, excellent! Thanks for the link.

DaShui, hey, the Niobrara Sea used to have some great surf, so long as you don't mind dodging the mosasaurs. Enjoy!

Joel, nicely put.

Cherokee, thanks for asking! Bro. David and his family are fine, and as far as I know they're covered by insurance. As for rebounding from catastrophes, precisely -- one of the ways of tracking how far catabolic collapse has proceeded is to notice how much of the damage from natural disasters is made good, and how much is just left. As the latter becomes the standard approach, you've got a society in steep catabolic collapse.

Brother K., if that happens, it probably won't be the military that does it. The plot against FDR came to light when the general that the plotters picked to head their putsch smiled and nodded and reported the whole thing to the authorities. A lot of military people take their oath to defend the constitution very seriously.

Villager, that was certainly my impression: a bunch of wealthy, privileged people who like to be entertained by hearing exciting new ideas.

Mart, there is no one time scale. Catabolic collapse is fractal -- it takes place on many different geographical scales at many different speeds. Thus there are nationsm, regions, cities, and neighborhoods that are already deeply into catabolic collapse, and others that are only brushing the surface of it. As a very rough approximation, imagine the climate and the economy getting 1-10% worse every year from now on, with the percentage determined each year by a random roll of somebody's old Dungeons and Dragons d10.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, excellent! You get today's gold star, for uttering one of the core secrets of magic in public: "The acceptance of limitations is really quite an empowering concept." It can be stated more forcefully still: power, in any context, comes from the deliberate acceptance of limits.

The standard metaphor in magical schools these days, embarrassingly enough, is the internal combustion engine: pour a little gasoline on the ground and light it, and all you get is a fire; put the same amount of gasoline, mixed with air, into a rigid steel cylinder, where the possibilities for expansion are limited to pushing a piston, and you have power that can accomplish a great many things.

Fortunately, like all the real secrets of magic, this one could be trumpeted from the rooftops and nobody will get it who doesn't already understand it. Still, it really is that simple: refuse limits and you deny yourself power; choose your limits deliberately and you do the opposite.

Lathechuck, yes, we've had this conversation! My hope is that some people will go whole hog into homebrew vacuum tubes, other people will go whole hog into DIY semiconductors, still others will try other options, and the best technology for postpetroleum electronics will emerge out of the creative chaos that results.

Mistah C., homebuilt is good -- as the factories grind to a halt, homebuilt is the foundation of the next economy.

Bill and Hawlkeye, I'm going to ask the two of you to draw a line under further discussion of the MKP et al.; it's not really on topic, and I know there are very strong feelings on both sides of that one. Ironically, I used to have lunch now and again with Bill Kauth, the founder of the ManKind Project, when I lived in Ashland -- we would meet at the Elks Club, enjoy their excellent sandwiches, and talk peak oil. He was eager to have me do his Warrior Training, but I'd already heard enough from others who'd done it -- both those who benefited from it, and those who found it a miserably unhelpful experience and refused to have anything to do with the Project thereafter -- to know that I would end up in the latter camp. As my grandmother used to say, it takes all kinds to make a world; some people find their initiations in New Age weekend workshops, some prefer Pagan covens, some would rather do as I did yesterday and spend much of a day in a 19th century Masonic hall in sweltering heat initiating candidates into the Royal Arch degrees, and so on down the very broad list of options.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- fair enough; you covered the main points in my re-rebuttal more succinctly and more calmly than I did anyway.

I'm reminded of the last season of the cable series "Big Love" (yeah, I know, mass-culture reference) in which the polygamist family is trying to convince the youngest wife that her multilevel marketing scheme is a cult, and the head of her MLM scheme is trying to convince her that her polygamist family is a cult...

Jim R said...

Bill and hawlkeye, ... can't we just get along?

Some random thoughts have crossed my mind from this thread, and this week.

First, my current career has me firmly placed at the very center of the matrix, and my family and others around me seem to think I'm slowly going crazy. I've been trying for about six years now to figure out which direction to head, and have a sort of half baked plan that revolves around some inherited family land in the Deep South. I've mentioned it before in this forum. If I did this, I'd be exploring some gardining techniques (e.g. biochar) that are totally alien to current practices at that location. But I haven't really done anything much about it yet.

Someone mentioned Findhorn earlier in this thread. Back in the '70s I would daydream about going to the UK and joining them, after reading Peter Caddy's book... It is extremely difficult to simply pull up roots and make a major lifestyle change, especially when I can't point to any one thing which is terribly wrong with the current one.

Anyhow, there's been some retro-future discussion of surviving technologies here, this week. As a close watcher of current technologies, I do have an opinion, though I don't think anyone can predict with any certainty how it will unfold. Watching The Woodwright's Shop this week, it occurred to me that Mr. Underhill is still taking advantage of modern abrasives, refractories, and metallurgy (repurposing a bandsaw blade, for example). But he does a wonderful job of recreating the woodworking technology of 300 years ago.

As for hand-doped semiconductors, unless you're talking about poking a cat-whisker into a galena crystal, you're going to need probably 85% of the technology currently being employed to etch several hundred million transistors on a chip smaller than your little fingernail. Perhaps you could make solar cells -- my brother once made some for a science fair project by oxidising a copper sheet and pulling some current off of the Cu-Cu2O junction thereby created.

On the other end of salvage tech, I'm not sure how long we would, in a world with little infrastructure, be able to dust off that old '486 based PC box and load Ubuntu on it. As JMG points out every time this comes up, without the major infrastructure project that gives us an information highway, it will be of rather limited use, anyway. UUCP, anyone? And modern boxes are very much created with builtin obsolescence. The new UEFI system ensures that a device will not run Ubuntu, nor anything else if it can't "phone home" for permission from a certain big software monopoly.

Perhaps someone should put together a TED talk on technological triage, and keep it handy for the day (never?) when society reaches a recognition of reality and says "OK, what do we do now?"

Some technology areas to consider:
-- high vacuum / cryogenics / liquified gases
-- ultrapure materials
-- precision optics
-- 3D printing?
-- superconductivity?
-- DNA analysis / synthesis?
The list could be extended quite a bit ... perhaps a topic for the GW forum.

DeAnander said...

@latheChuck, just curious, you wouldn't happen to be the gentleman from whom I almost bought "Theophilus" (a Colvin gazelle) some years ago, in Olympia WA? if so, iirc I gave you one of my spare copies of Energy and Equity :-) which somehow completes a circle...

Mark Angelini said...

We had a round of power outages last week which left my family taking time to re-assess how reliant we are on electricity, and fossil fuels. It's nice, too, to have a moment to enjoy a break.

We'll be building a root cellar and an outdoor kitchen (with a cob oven and rocket stove cook tops) by the end of this Autumn, so we can store and cook food year-round without any offsite inputs. The roof over the kitchen will be made to allow in natural light and harvest potable water for us hominids and the chooks. That should put us a few steps closer to post-electrical comfortability, and might even increase resale value.

This is a nice TED talk on humanure and urine:

Toby_Jackson said...

Just wanted to pop back in to say I definitely agree on the two main points - 1. that there probably wouldn't be much lasting impact on their scene from having an Archdruid grace their stage and 2. that these people are mostly patting themselves on their own backs instead of actually driving much needed change here and now, but that I nonetheless have gleaned substantial insight from a select number of amazing, paradigm-shifting talks, and think that their website is a great resource if you have the wits to weed out the fluff. Holy run-on sentence, Batman.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG & Cherokee Re: limits in magic...

This points up a prominent pattern in a lot of popular new age and neopagan Magick-with-the-fashionable-K. Limits are despised. It's all about limitless abundance. Astrologically they hate Saturn (the one who sets limits, boundaries, and structures you have to work within), they find Earth the dullest and dreariest of the classical Elements, discipline is for wimps, steady quiet work is a bore. If I were conspiracy-minded, I might think these attitudes have almost been designed and promoted as disinformation to keep people dissipating their magic rather than focusing it. Of course in a culture devoted to dissipation at every level, there's not any real need for a conspiracy to get folks to dissipate in this realm along with all the others!

As for fascist takeover of the U.S., as I mentioned (last week I think), I believe that being post-peak oil means we are also post-peak socialism and fascism, at least on the national-industrial scale. Those are systems run on cheap abundant energy (i.e. oil). Despots and collectives will have to operate on much smaller scales and within much tighter limits, with very few resources available for mass (forced or voluntary) expansion. But of course this will not prevent people from trying, and failing, and leaving things even more royally messed up.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,




Kristiina said...

I complained above about the idea of magical will. My memory has become weird - I vaguely remembered I had read a definition of magical will that I somehow liked, in The Ladder of Light by Israel Regardie, but it had somehow evaporated from my mind. I went back to re-check, and saw what made the evaporation happen. After giving a beautiful description of magical will, he goes on to tell that the body is not evil, and should not be tortured, and then proceeds to explain how magical will is to be learned by cutting the body when the will is not obeyed by the body. Well, certainly the violence and coercion we have done and do to animals, children and our bodies is said to be for their own good and beneficial, and the violence is also rightly deserved by the "erroneous" behaviour.

It may well be there are people who need to have their will trained through pain and fear. For me, the journey and goal are pretty much the reverse. I happen to be one of those people who have a strong will to start with - strong will in the totally ordinary, common-sense meaning. A strong will can help you get what you want without any magical training. At some point in my life it dawned on me that although I had got what I wanted, it gave me no joy or happiness. So I had to figure out what went wrong. I'd say I was originally something like the Plato's carriage where mind was the (ever discontent) driver and body and emotions were the horses, who had to obey the driver.

What I´ve been dissolving in myself has not just been my own toxic character, but the toxic culture I've inherited. Interestingly, in pace with dissolving the current culture from my inside I've been able to establish a part-time existence in a lifestyle that is fully collapse-compatible. But only part-time: the recent post in Club Orlov really resonates with me: although the complexity of my life is voluntary, it does not make it any easier. Living in several different realities seems to be happening to almost all who try to find ways out of the current dead end.

So, I understand that magical will can be used as a technical term. But will that is developed while the body and heart are subjugated will not lead to a balanced and full development of the human potential. And I do claim balance will be the road to synchronicity and the magic that can develop from there. I think the term volunteer when talking about the garden sprouting plants not intentionally planted is describing the dynamic I am thinking about. And comparing magical technique to an internal combustion engine is also telling: I see the point, but there are powers bigger than combustion engine formed all by volunteers: the derecho youall have been experiencing is one example. What interests me is what can be done with all-volunteer cooperation?

On the "adult" (hehe) content of fairytales: I highly recommend Marie Louise vonFranz, she was Jungs' pupil. For example, her Shadow and Evil in Fairytales is excellent, but anything she has written on fairytales is worth reading.

Les said...

The talk of aircon and adapting to the environment is very interesting.

Adaptation is probably easiest if you don’t actually think about it: when I was a kid, we lived for a while a few kilometres down the road from the official “hottest place in Australia.” I still have vivid memories of running around with the other kids in bare feet, splashing through the puddles (of molten tar on the roads) and not being let inside in the evenings until I’d sat down and thoroughly picked off the bits of tar that adhered to my feet. The other major entertainment was trying to jump into the middle of the willie-willies (dust devils, you may know them as?) as they went dancing through the desert around the school.

All high energy activities in a pretty hostile environment. It never even occurred to us that it was hot.

Could I do it today, 40 years on? Ask me after next summer, when we’ll see how we’ve gone labouring on the farm in the (nowhere near as drastic) heat.


John Michael Greer said...

Bill, it may be a mass culture reference (and I'd never heard of the show in question before now), but it's still funny.

Jim, my take on every one of the technologies you've listed is "gone forever in a matter of decades." I'd like to see us hang onto basic electronics, mechanical engineering, sanitation, and the last three centuries or so of advances in sail design for ships.

Mark, excellent! That's a constructive approach.

Toby, many of the talks and the speakers are great; it's the event and the audience that make me wonder if it would be worth my time.

Bill, Dion Fortune claimed that the whole limitlessness meme in popular spirituality had been deliberately spread by the Inner Planes to keep untrained people from getting in over their heads; as long as they fixate on limitlessness, they're not going to be able to magic their way out of a wet paper bag, so won't be able to hurt themselves or any other. It seems plausible enough to me! ;-)

Cherokee, you're welcome.

Kristiina, The Ladder of Lights was written by William Gray, not Israel Regardie, and the exercise you mention was one of the dubious inventions of Aleister Crowley, who I would not recommend to anybody as a guide to sane and effective magic. Please do get your facts straight! I'm quite familiar with the sort of sadomasochistic misunderstanding of the magical will you've described, which Crowley did so much to promote and which has done so much damage; as I've tried to explain, that's a garbled and ineffective version of the way the magical will actually functions.

Plato's chariot is a workable metaphor; Crowley wants to beat the horses senseless, while the passive approach so popular these days is to drop the reins and let the horses do what they want, which generally amounts to grazing in the nearest patch of grass. In the wide middle ground between those two extremes is the way of the magical will, which enlists the energy and willing cooperation of the horses to move the chariot toward a better destination.

Les, exactly. In New Orleans, people put on sweaters when it gets down to 70 degrees F. because it's so cold; in Alaska, 20 degrees F. is T-shirt weather. The human body is an extraordinarily adaptable thing, so long as it's given the chance to adapt.

Jim R said...

The technology list in that last message was definitely starting at the top. Somewhere between that and "-- composting", we also lose things like electronics and electricity.

To build a radio, as someone else pointed out upthread, you also need glassmaking, advanced metallurgy, and pretty-good vacuum skills. Can't do it without some metals beyond iron, copper, and the other classics.

To me, some thoughtful triage is one of the best ideas discussed in these newsletters. Future humanity could benefit greatly (or suffer greatly) based on careful consideration, right now, of things like the phosphorus cycle. Or places where Indium can be mined, and/or possible substitutes for it. There's a whole periodic chart full of 'em to consider.

Kristiina said...

Ouch, I stand corrected. I have the book right here, and its name is The Tree of Light. I am duly embarrassed. And don't really know what is going on with me - my facts used to be pretty straight, but now it is as if they are melting away, dissolving.

Zach said...


Very nicely done. I will have to get my hands on that Kunstler book.

I've been away from the magic glowing screen for a while, at a Boy Scout camp in northern Michigan, so I have yet to read the other comments. I did get to experience that line of thunderstorms from within a canvas tent...

Item #1: Back in the late 1980's, a good friend of mine was doing graduate-level research on the stability of stability of the North American power grid. When I asked him for the quick summary, he answered that the fact that you can flip a switch and expect the lights to come one was pretty much a miracle. I'm confident the situation hasn't improved.

Item #2: I remember an example of "magical thinking" from the news footage of the Katrina disaster. A rescue boat was cruising down a flooded New Orleans street, and found a family sitting on their (flooded) front porch. "Come on, get in the boat!" "Don't need to get in the boat -- you just need to turn the **** pumps back on."

The rescuers were unable to persuade the family to leave. Their belief that "all" that had to happen was for somebody to "turn the pumps back on" was unshakeable.


DW said...

In other news...

A Washington State public utility is suspending it's conservation rebate program which has saved over 6M therms over the past three years through winterization and efficiency upgrades...because wholesale natural gas prices are too low for the program to work as designed...

Astrid said...

Hi Mark,

When you get your outdoor kitchen done would it be possible to post something about it on the Green Wizards forum? I'd be very interested.

latheChuck said...

Other "surviving" technology areas to consider... what can we do about assessing soil nutrients? I'm actually more concerned about knowing when to STOP adding nutrients, then when to add. If I were serious about using urine, on a quarter-acre lot (minus house), I'm sure I could overdo it. When I buy a soil test kit, it's got several little vials of mysterious substances which change color to indicate nutrient levels. Could a set of recipes be developed using relatively simple things, such as vinegar, baking soda, wood ashes, red-cabbage juice, etc? Or would it be better to catalog the changes in leaf and/or flower form that would indicate nutrient imbalance?

I know a bit of chemistry, but I'd rather focus my attention on electrons in circuits than in reactions.

latheChuck said...

Deanander- Sorry, but I've never been to Olympia, WA. That particular circle remains incomplete.

DeAnander said...

Chiming in late... JMG referred at one point to "the health industry" profiting from Obamacare, and I couldn't agree more except that I have started resisting that name for it. It's not an industry that really promotes health or creates health; it's an industry that profits from, invents, and often even *causes* illness (iatrogenesis), sickness. Maybe we should call it the Sickness Industry. Anyway...

Meanwhile, the sun is rising and setting these days wearing an ominous new-penny copper colour, here in BC PNW. Why? We're shrouded in the smoke from Colorado's wildfires. Officials warn that "air quality is compromised" in the Okanagan valley. Couldn't be a more timely reminder of the maxim that there is no such place as "away": we are all breathing the same atmosphere. The Mordor-esque (mordid?) light, the present high-pressure system and hot weather -- fire season always feels a little spooky but this year even more so, like a presaging of worse to come. It is hard watching the sun sink into the haze of burning forests, thinking about carbon release, wondering whether the trees would have been such eager tinder if we hadn't destabilised the rainfall pattern...

Re TED -- they let Paul Stamets (mycologist extraordinaire) speak pretty freely about his passion for fungi. It was a great talk, and he didn't wear a suit and tie. IMHO the motive for a TED talk is not so much the actual live event -- which imho is indeed a cocktail-party entertainment for the affluentsia -- but rather the inclusion in their online video library of a lecture from the Archdruid. Many people who never attend a TED conference do browse the online library and absorb interesting presentations, and a "collapse now and avoid the rush" talk would be a great addition to the collection. Just a thought :-)

LunarApprentice said...

Lathechuck & JMG:
I've seen DIY vacuum tubes, but DIY semiconductors? I looked around to see if anybody was doing this a couple years ago, came up with zilch. Having to extract and purify silicon or germainium is one very energy-intensive, onerous process. I just don't see it one a DIY scale.

I'm banking on vacuum tubes for the long haul if we're lucky. Is anybody REALLY demonstrating DIY semiconductors?

Joel said...


Liquid air is an old technology, and can be made by hand: early balloonists used some, after most of the nitrogen had boiled off, to stay conscious at higher altitudes.

Some high-temperature superconductors are accessible to hobbyists: the recipe for YBCO is fairly straightforward, and I think even BSCCO might be doable if one were willing to devote a lot of resources to it. It only takes liquid air to make either work. But garage tech would only lead to novelty devices, similar to ancient Greece's use of the steam engine.

Liquid air plus glassblowing plus zeolites equals high vacuum. This is all a lot of work, but still accessible for tiny niche applications.

Small quantities of high-purity materials are accessible to dedicated and well-funded shops. I think electron-beam lithography could be used to make bespoke integrated circuits at fairly small pitch with only a modest subset of today's technology; it's 70's tech, basically, plus ridiculous amounts of labor. That said, I don't know of any well-informed person who denies that affordable microprocessors need lots of cheap energy. A far-future device would compare to today's microprocessors about the way Philip II of Spain's little robot compares to the welders on a modern assembly line.
3D printing and DNA analysis both depend on affordable microprocessors, sorry to say. I hope we can save some of the biological discoveries, if not the means we used to learn about them.

Joel said...

JMG: Can you recommend any sources on the real meaning of these fairy tales?

Hal said...

John Michael, feel free to use my incantation, or any variation that works for you! Am I correct in thinking such a device is an example of what you mean by magic? I thought maybe that's why you delved back into magic in this post (other than the obvious ref to JHK's new book) along with a discussion of dealing with heat (also quite topical these days.)

That's also why I made the light-hearted comment about an incantation for over-cooled public spaces. It seems the definition of magic you have given works for changing my personal relationship to heat or cold, but can it be applied to others, such as a business I would like to moderate their thermostat? Or is that veering into thaumaturgy? What if I can somehow get the owner to adopt my incantation?

As far as the thermal mass question is concerned, didn't we have this discussion before? I believe I voted in the anti-mass camp last time, at least for my climate.

John Michael Greer said...

Jim, fair enough. I'd note, though, that the skills needed to build a simple vacuum-tube radio would have been well within the reach of any medieval European or Chinese alchemist, if they'd known what to do. (For that matter, I've suspected for a while that electricity from simple metal-acid batteries was one of the central secrets of the old alchemists, but that's a matter for another day.) The phosphorus cycle, and nutrient cycles generally, are another matter still -- that's something I consider vital to preserve, along with much else in the way of practical ecology.

Kristiina, hmm. You might want to get a thorough checkup from your preferred medical provider.

Zach, I heard about that. I suspect there will be a lot of deaths driven by exactly that sort of nonthinking in the years immediately ahead of us.

DW, sigh. Looks like it's up to individuals with a clue...

Chuck, soil biology will take care of soil chemistry as long as you give it the chance -- which means adding as much composted organic matter to your soil as you can, and avoiding anything in concentrated form. Urine's a good example; best thing to do with it is to use a composting toilet that takes urine as well as feces, and then re-compost the result with plenty of kitchen and garden waste. Mix that into the soil, digging it in well, and the soil microbes and mesofauna will turn it into something that almost any plant will thrive on.

DeAnander, okay, that's the first good argument I've yet heard for doing the TED thing. I'll put that into the hopper.

Apprentice, good question. I know that the old cat's whisker diode is easy and useful, and I've heard claims that a basic transistor can be made without extreme difficulty, but I don't know of anybody who's doing it. Chuck, you're our semiconductor fan; any suggestions for where to look?

Joel, what I got was via oral transmission, which means my teacher may have made it up, or his teacher might have. Other than heavily Jungian interpretations, I don't know a source in print.

Hal, it's very simple magic. To go further, you have to go beyond language into symbolism -- the language that the deep mind understands -- and, through regular practice, get your deep mind used to working with a given symbolic alphabet. Trying to get somebody else to change when they haven't asked you for your help in changing is thaumaturgy, yes, and I don't recommend it.

el emer said...

Thanks, JMG, but I was trying to say that I'd prefer to go motor-less. Gears or something. I guess I'll need to learn more about what to do with my hammer.

So, while I'm singing 'If I had a Hammer,' I raise a glass to everyone's good health--

--el SIB-ling

August Johnson said...

LunarApprentice - Well, maybe not exactly Si or Ge semiconductors but has made several homemade negative resistance devices.


Ing said...

"(For that matter, I've suspected for a while that electricity from simple metal-acid batteries was one of the central secrets of the old alchemists, but that's a matter for another day.)"

Fascinating! ... but I must stay focused ... no matter how tempting ...

Unknown said...

A great article! Just before Jurassic Park (the movie) was released, Newsweek published a sizable article that included a bit about how science fiction authors (I love sci fi) have inspired scientists and inventors repeatedly through the past couple of centuries. Sometimes nothing conveys imaginative concepts like a good piece of fiction. My reading of "Druids" by Morgan Llywelyn inspired me to write a song to "sing the sun up" every morning as part of my daily Druidic practice. I published that song (it's free) for others to use, too.

About the electricity- we do use too much... but we benefit greatly from the internet, and my niece who will give birth on Thursday to a little boy who needs immediate surgery will benefit from every bit of electricity that contributed to every step of research over the years that will allow the surgery to happen. With it he should live a healthy, "normal" life, without it he will likely not live long. There are many ways we can and should reduce our demand for electricity, there are some that do not make sense, or at least sensibility, to just voluntarily give up. We're working on it....

latheChuck said...

Re: DIY semiconductors. First of all, I'm not interested in superconductors (though they're handy for MRI machines and such), but semiconductors (diodes and transistors), which are handy for long-distance communication and high-speed computation...

The Amateur Scientist column of Scientific American magazine carried a brief article on DIY semiconductor construction in June, 1970. (The complete collection of this column is available on CDROM.) This article uses chemical reagents which may no longer be available to the general public due to vendor caution regarding mis-use, but the procedures seem fairly simple.

The currently active web site "" has several projects regarding low-tech electronic devices. These projects use much more commonly-available materials.

Much of industry operates on a "winner-take-all" basis, with "winning" evaluated in the current energy and capital-intensive technology context. Also-ran technologies disappear. In another context (e.g. Post-Carbon), other technologies may be revived. As the Scientific American article asks, "Why make a poor transistor when you can buy a good one for less than $1?" Maybe when you CAN'T buy one any more...

latheChuck said...

Regarding soil quality: on Krista Tippit's program "On Being", she interviewed a chef who wanted kosher grain for his restaurant. A rabbi had to walk beside the combine as the wheat was harvested, so that no unclean weeds would contaminate the grain. When the rabbi saw wild garlic, not only did he have to ensure that it didn't get into the wheat, but this was understood to indicate a patch of soil in need of more manure. I guess the condition of the wheat wasn't enough.

What else can I learn about soil quality based on what's growing, and how?

Tony said...

@ lathechuck: A friend and I actually had an idea recently for looking for a
set of fast-growing, almost-weedy plants that have varied requirements for
nutrients; there are definitely plants that need very little in the
way of one nutrient or another, and I was thinking it might be
possible to put together a set of small seeds that you could put on a
patch of dirt and see what grew well and what didn't; that being said,
I suspect it would only really be useful for detecting massive deficiencies which almost any soil work would fix.

@ JMG: On the subject of our technological change being driven by fantasies, I can't help but be reminded of an incident in the lab I work in. I told a lab-mate I was taking the train to the DC area to visit family. His face screwed up, and he said something to the effect of 'Why would you take the train, this is the 21st century! Fly!'. This when I'm only trying to go about 250 miles between two cities with nice amtrak stations...

Andrew H said...

A bit late in the day for this reply, but I wouldn't write off semiconductors just yet; at least not simple ones such as single transistors.

There are several videos on the internet, made by Jeri Ellsworth, demonstrating making several types of transistors in her home workshop. She does start from a bought silicon wafer. However silicon is not that difficult to make and purify given reasonable amounts of high intensity heat energy. I can see that given a bit of time, experimentation and enough resolve it could well be possible using a suitable solar reflector as heat source. ( I have seen demonstrations of one burning holes through plate steel, more than hot enough).

Whether it would be worthwhile economically (in terms of effort and resources) remains to be seen but I don't think that it would be impossible given at least a reasonable level of support and interest.

Unknown said...

I too was wondering about the reference to fairy tales' missing meanings and contexts, and I poked around a little and found these. I'm not sure any of them goes straight to the question, and I haven't read anything past the snippets yet, but thought I'd share:
Jack Hines (who seems to be reknowned in the field): The Irresistible Fairy Tale; Breaking the Magic Spell; Why Fairy Tales Stick
John Thackray Bunce: Fairy Tales: Their Origin and Meaning (19th C.)
Jonathan Gottschall: The Storytelling Animal
Brian Boyd: On the Origin of Stories
Arthur W. Frank: Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-Narratology
Ruth Bottigheimer: Fairy Tales: A New History
Bruno Bettelheim: The Uses of Enchantment
Sheldon Cashdan: The Witch Must Die
If anyone has read any of these, please share your thoughts.
Also, since I comment so rarely: Thanks, JMG, for all you do.
Be well, everyone.

RPC said...

latheChuck: a useful discovery for me was ultralow-self-discharge NiMH cells. I use AccuEvolution which I buy from BearWobble just down the track from JMG, but the other brands are essentially equivalent. It turns out that in a trickle charged application like solar lights, regular batteries are discharging at a significant fraction of the charge rate. Replacing the 800mAhr cells in my Bogolights with 2500mAhr AccuEvolutions made a huge difference in usability.
xhmko: maybe 6-8 live births per couple in a lifetime, but traditionally a couple lost half their children before the kids reached double digits and society lost another 20% or so around the age of twenty (the boys to hunting or war, the girls to childbirth). Look up the diseases against which children are vaccinated in the first world; they're not pretty.

rabtter said...

On sleeping in the heat, a bamboo sleeping mat provides a minor improvement in comfort.

John Michael Greer said...

El Emer, gears or no gears, you're going to be expending the same amount of energy. Using an electric motor isn't necessarily a bad idea.

Ing, all in good time. If you know your way around alchemical literature, though, look up references to the "secret fire" and see how many of them make sense if you replace the phrase with "direct current electricity."

Unknown, of course it's reasonable to use electricity for productive ends while it's still available. It's also useful to figure out how to keep some electricity available over the long term, i.e, after the grid goes down forever. The point of cutting energy use isn't to win some sort of prize for virtue; it's partly to lessen the burden you place on the biosphere, and partly to get ready for the time when you won't be able to count on existing infrastructure to keep you supplied with it.

Chuck, excellent. Sounds like you've got some good leads to begin work, then.

Tony, I trust you said, "Sure, I'd much rather spend hours standing in lines, get groped by uniformed perverts, and then get crammed into a sardine can with wings that sits on the runway for an hour in full sun, when I could have a pleasant, comfortable trip with plenty of leg room, plenty of scenery, and a cafe. Like you say, it's the twenty-first century!"

Andrew, certainly solar reflectors can be used for that. My question is this: are you willing to get to work on DIY semiconductors? The only way any of this is going to happen is if individuals stop saying "Gee, it would be neat if somebody else did X" and get off their duffs and do X themselves.

Jonathan, thank you!

hawlkeye said...

Chuck and Tony,

Be glad we don't have to rely on rabbis to be farmers...

The whole idea that weeds are unclean is pretty whack; psycho-roots of our obsessive reliance on toxic chemicals to get rid of the icky bugs and evil weeds.

The composition of various weeds in a field can tell you a lot about the history and fertility of that field.

You can find this book in collections of BioDynamic titles:

Weeds: Guardians of the Soil by Joseph A. Cocannouer.

I trust this helpful suggestion will not draw the ire of any other posters like my last one did...

Uwe said...

Hi JM,

This is not a comment but a quote I think you might like (translation of the final passage from Wolfgang Münchau's last Spiegel column ) After basicly saying that people would spend their money if they expected the end of the world he concludes
"The end of the world is the ultimate solution to the Euro crisis - but only if a sufficiently large number of people believe in it and as long as it does not take place. One of those two conditions may cause this plan to fail. But since on the other hand a sufficiently large number of people seem to believe in an even more abstruse fairy tale - that large nations can save their economy through austerity - a plan for a preannounced end of the world does not seem so much off the wall."