Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dark Age America: The Senility of the Elites

Regular readers of this blog will no doubt recall that, toward the beginning of last month, I commented on a hostile review of one of my books that had just appeared in the financial blogosphere. At the time, I noted that the mainstream media normally ignore the critics of business as usual, and suggested that my readers might want to watch for similar attacks by more popular pundits, in more mainstream publications, on those critics who have more of a claim to conventional respectability than, say, archdruids. Such attacks, as I pointed out then, normally happen in the weeks immediately before business as usual slams face first into a brick wall of its own making

Well, it’s happened. Brace yourself for the impact.

The pundit in question was no less a figure than Paul Krugman, who chose the opinion pages of the New York Times for a shrill and nearly fact-free diatribe lumping Post Carbon Institute together with the Koch brothers as purveyors of “climate despair.” PCI’s crime, in Krugman’s eyes, consists of noticing that the pursuit of limitless economic growth on a finite planet, with or without your choice of green spraypaint, is a recipe for disaster.  Instead of paying attention to such notions, he insists, we ought to believe the IMF and a panel of economists when they claim that replacing trillions of dollars of fossil fuel-specific infrastructure with some unnamed set of sustainable replacements will somehow cost nothing, and that we can have all the economic growth we want because, well, because we can, just you wait and see!

PCI’s Richard Heinberg responded with a crisp and tautly reasoned rebuttal pointing out the gaping logical and factual holes in Krugman’s screed, so there’s no need for me to cover the same ground here. Mind you, Heinberg was too gentlemanly to point out that the authorities Krugman cites aren’t exactly known for their predictive accuracy—the IMF in particular has become notorious in recent decades for insisting that austerity policies that have brought ruin to every country that has ever tried them are the one sure ticket to prosperity—but we can let that pass, too. What I want to talk about here is what Krugman’s diatribe implies for the immediate future.

Under normal circumstances, dissident groups such as Post Carbon Institute and dissident intellectuals such as Richard Heinberg never, but never, get air time in the mainstream media. At most, a cheap shot or two might be aimed at unnamed straw men while passing from one bit of conventional wisdom to the next. It’s been one of the most interesting details of the last few years that peak oil has actually been mentioned by name repeatedly by mainstream pundits: always, to be sure, in tones of contempt, and always in the context of one more supposed proof that a finite planet can too cough up infinite quantities of oil, but it’s been named. The kind of total suppression that happened between the mid-1980s and the turn of the millennium, when the entire subject vanished from the collective conversation of our society, somehow didn’t happen this time.

That says to me that a great many of those who were busy denouncing peak oil and the limits to growth were far less confident than they wanted to appear. You don’t keep on trying to disprove something that nobody believes, and of course the mere fact that oil prices and other quantitative measures kept on behaving the way peak oil theory said they would behave, rather than trotting obediently the way peak oil critics such as Bjorn Lomborg and Daniel Yergin told them to go, didn’t help matters much. The cognitive dissonance between the ongoing proclamations of coming prosperity via fracking and the soaring debt load and grim financial figures of the fracking industry has added to the burden.

Even so, it’s only in extremis that denunciations of this kind shift from attacks on ideas to attacks on individuals. As I noted in the earlier post, one swallow does not a summer make, and one ineptly written book review by an obscure blogger on an obscure website denouncing an archdruid, of all people, might indicate nothing more than a bout of dyspepsia or a disappointing evening at the local singles bar.  When a significant media figure uses one of the world’s major newspapers of record to lash out at a particular band of economic heretics by name, on the other hand, we’ve reached the kind of behavior that only happens, historically speaking, when crunch time is very, very close. Given that we’ve also got a wildly overvalued stock market, falling commodity prices, and a great many other symptoms of drastic economic trouble bearing down on us right now, not to mention the inevitable unraveling of the fracking bubble, there’s a definite chance that the next month or two could see the start of a really spectacular financial crash.

While we wait for financiers to start raining down on Wall Street sidewalks, though, it’s far from inappropriate to continue with the current sequence of posts about the end of industrial civilization—especially as the next topic in line is the way that the elites of a falling civilization destroy themselves.

One of the persistent tropes in current speculations on the future of our civilization revolves around the notion that the current holders of wealth and influence will entrench themselves even more firmly in their positions as things fall apart. A post here back in 2007 criticized what was then a popular form of that trope, the claim that the elites planned to impose a “feudal-fascist” regime on the deindustrial world. That critique still applies; that said, it’s worth discussing what tends to happen to elite classes in the decline and fall of a civilization, and seeing what that has to say about the probable fate of the industrial world’s elite class as our civilization follows the familiar path.

It’s probably necessary to say up front that we’re not talking about the evil space lizards that haunt David Icke’s paranoid delusions, or for that matter the faux-Nietzschean supermen who play a parallel role in Ayn Rand’s dreary novels and even drearier pseudophilosophical rants. What we’re talking about, rather, is something far simpler, which all of my readers will have experienced in their own lives.  Every group of social primates has an inner core of members who have more access to the resources controlled by the group, and more influence over the decisions made by the group, than other members.  How individuals enter that core and maintain themselves there against their rivals varies from one set of social primates to another—baboons settle such matters with threat displays backed up with violence, church ladies do the same thing with social maneuvering and gossip, and so on—but the effect is the same: a few enter the inner core, the rest are excluded from it. That process, many times amplified, gives rise to the ruling elite of a civilization.

I don’t happen to know much about the changing patterns of leadership in baboon troops, but among human beings, there’s a predictable shift over time in the way that individuals gain access to the elite. When institutions are new and relatively fragile, it’s fairly easy for a gifted and ambitious outsider to bluff and bully his way into the elite. As any given institution becomes older and more firmly settled in its role, that possibility fades. What happens instead in a mature institution is that the existing members of the elite group select, from the pool of available candidates, those individuals who will be allowed to advance into the elite.  The church ladies just mentioned are a good example of this process in action; if any of my readers are doctoral candidates in sociology looking for a dissertation topic, I encourage them to consider joining a local church, and tracking the way the elderly women who run most of its social functions groom their own replacements and exclude those they consider unfit for that role.

That process is a miniature version of the way the ruling elite of the world’s industrial nations select new additions to their number. There, as among church ladies, there are basically two routes in. You can be born into the family of a member of the inner circle, and if you don’t run off the rails too drastically, you can count on a place in the inner circle yourself in due time. Alternatively, you can work your way in from outside by being suitably deferential and supportive to the inner circle, meeting all of its expectations and conforming to its opinions and decisions, until the senior members of the elite start treating you as a junior member and the junior members have to deal with you as an equal. You can watch that at work, as already mentioned, in your local church—and you can also watch it at work in the innermost circles of power and privilege in American life.

Here in America, the top universities are the places where the latter version of the process stands out in all its dubious splendor. To these universities, every autumn, come the children of rich and influential families to begin the traditional four-year rite of passage. It would require something close to a superhuman effort on their part to fail. If they don’t fancy attending lectures, they can hire impecunious classmates as “note takers” to do that for them.  If they don’t wish to write papers, the same principle applies, and the classmates are more than ready to help out, since that can be the first step to a career as an executive assistant, speechwriter, or the like. The other requirements of college life can be met in the same manner as needed, and the university inevitably looks the other way, knowing that they can count on a generous donation from the parents as a reward for putting up with Junior’s antics.

Those of my readers who’ve read the novels of Thomas Mann, and recall the satiric portrait of central European minor royalty in Royal Highness, already know their way around the sort of life I’m discussing here. Those who don’t may want to recall everything they learned about the education and business career of George W. Bush. All the formal requirements are met, every gracious gesture is in place:  the diploma, the prestigious positions in business or politics or the stateside military, maybe a book written by one of those impecunious classmates turned ghostwriter and published to bland and favorable reviews in the newspapers of record:  it’s all there, and the only detail that nobody sees fit to mention is that the whole thing could be done just as well by a well-trained cockatiel, and much of it is well within the capacities of a department store mannequin—provided, of course, that one of those impecunious classmates stands close by, pulling the strings that make the hand wave and the head nod.

The impecunious classmates, for their part, are aspirants to the second category mentioned above, those who work their way into the elite from outside. They also come to the same top universities every autumn, but they don’t get there because of who their parents happen to be. They get there by devoting every spare second to that goal from middle school on. They take the right classes, get the right grades, play the right sports, pursue the right extracurricular activities, and rehearse for their entrance interviews by the hour; they are bright, earnest, amusing, pleasant, because they know that that’s what they need to be in order to get where they want to go. Scratch that glossy surface and you’ll find an anxious conformist terrified of failing to measure up to expectations, and it’s a reasonable terror—most of them will in fact fail to do that, and never know how or why.

Once in an Ivy League university or the equivalent, they’re pretty much guaranteed passing grades and a diploma unless they go out of their way to avoid them. Most of them, though, will be shunted off to midlevel posts in business, government, or one of the professions. Only the lucky few will catch the eye of someone with elite connections, and be gently nudged out of their usual orbit into a place from which further advancement is possible. Whether the rich kid whose exam papers you ghostwrote takes a liking to you, and arranges to have you hired as his executive assistant when he gets his first job out of school, or the father of a friend of a friend meets you on some social occasion, chats with you, and later on has the friend of a friend mention in passing that you might consider a job with this senator or that congressman, or what have you, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, not to mention how precisely you conform to the social and intellectual expectations of the people who have the power to give or withhold the prize you crave so desperately.

That’s how the governing elite of today’s America recruits new members. Mutatis mutandis, it’s how the governing elite of every stable, long-established society recruits new members. That procedure has significant advantages, and not just for the elites. Above all else, it provides stability. Over time, any elite self-selected in this fashion converges asymptotically on the standard model of a mature aristocracy, with an inner core of genial duffers surrounded by an outer circle of rigid conformists—the last people on the planet who are likely to disturb the settled calm of the social order. Like the lead-weighted keel of a deepwater sailboat, their inertia becomes a stabilizing force that only the harshest of tempests can overturn.

Inevitably, though, this advantage comes with certain disadvantages, two of which are of particular importance for our subject. The first is that stability and inertia are not necessarily a good thing in a time of crisis. In particular, if the society governed by an elite of the sort just described happens to depend for its survival on some unsustainable relationship with surrounding societies, the world of nature, or both, the leaden weight of a mature elite can make necessary change impossible until it’s too late for any change at all to matter. One of the most consistent results of the sort of selection process I’ve sketched out is the elimination of any tendency toward original thinking on the part of those selected; “creativity” may be lauded, but what counts as creativity in such a system consists solely of taking some piece of accepted conventional wisdom one very carefully measured step further than anyone else has quite gotten around to going yet.

In a time of drastic change, that sort of limitation is lethal. More deadly still is the other disadvantage I have in mind, which is the curious and consistent habit such elites have of blind faith in their own invincibility. The longer a given elite has been in power, and the more august and formal and well-aged the institutions of its power and wealth become, the easier it seems to be for the very rich to forget that their forefathers established themselves in that position by some form of more or less blatant piracy, and that they themselves could be deprived of it by that same means. Thus elites tend to, shall we say, “misunderestimate” exactly those crises and sources of conflict that pose an existential threat to the survival of their class and its institutions, precisely because they can’t imagine that an existential threat to these things could be posed by anything at all.

The irony, and it’s a rich one, is that the same conviction tends to become just as widespread outside elite circles as within it. The illusion of invincibility, the conviction that the existing order of things is impervious to any but the most cosmetic changes, tends to be pervasive in any mature society, and remains fixed in place right up to the moment that everything changes and the existing order of things is swept away forever. The intensity of the illusion very often has nothing to do with the real condition of the social order to which it applies; France in 1789 and Russia in 1917 were both brittle, crumbling, jerry-rigged hulks waiting for the push that would send them tumbling into oblivion, which they each received shortly thereafter—but next to no one saw the gaping vulnerabilities at the time. In both cases, even the urban rioters that applied the push were left standing there slack-jawed when they saw how readily the whole thing came crashing down.

The illusion of invincibility is far and away the most important asset a mature ruling elite has, because it discourages deliberate attempts at regime change from within. Everyone in the society, in the elite or outside it, assumes that the existing order is so firmly bolted into place that only the most apocalyptic events would be able to shake its grip. In such a context, most activists either beg for scraps from the tables of the rich or content themselves with futile gestures of hostility at a system they don’t seriously expect to be able to harm, while the members of the elite go their genial way, stumbling from one preventable disaster to another, convinced of the inevitability of their positions, and blissfully unconcerned with the possibility—which normally becomes a reality sooner or later—that their own actions might be sawing away at the old and brittle branch on which they’re seated.

If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, dear reader, you definitely need to get out more. The behavior of the holders of wealth and power in contemporary America, as already suggested, is a textbook example of the way that a mature elite turns senile. Consider the fact that the merry pranksters in the banking industry, having delivered a body blow to the global economy in 2008 and 2009 with worthless mortgage-backed securities, are now busy hawking equally worthless securities backed by income from rental properties. Each round of freewheeling financial fraud, each preventable economic slump, increases the odds that an already brittle, crumbling, and jerry-rigged system will crack under the strain, opening a window of opportunity that hostile foreign powers and domestic demagogues alike will not be slow to exploit. Do such considerations move the supposed defenders of the status quo to rein in the manufacture of worthless financial paper? Surely you jest.

It deserves to be said that at least one corner of the current American ruling elite has recently showed some faint echo of the hard common sense once possessed by its piratical forebears. Now of course the recent announcement that one of the Rockefeller charities is about to move some of its investment funds out of fossil fuel industries doesn’t actually justify the rapturous language lavished on it by activists; the amount of money being moved amounts to one tiny droplet in the overflowing bucket of Rockefeller wealth, after all.  For that matter, as the fracking industry founders under a soaring debt load and slumping petroleum prices warn of troubles ahead, pulling investment funds out of fossil fuel companies and putting them in industries that will likely see panic buying when the fracking bubble pops may be motivated by something other than a sudden outburst of environmental sensibility. Even so, it’s worth noting that the Rockefellers, at least, still remember that it’s crucial for elites to play to the audience, to convince those outside elite circles that the holders of wealth and power still have some vague sense of concern for the survival of the society they claim the right to lead.

Most members of America’s elite have apparently lost track of that. Even such modest gestures as the Rockefellers have just made seem to be outside the repertory of most of the wealthy and privileged these days.  Secure in their sense of their own invulnerability, they amble down the familiar road that led so many of their equivalents in past societies to dispossession or annihilation. How that pattern typically plays out will be the subject of next week’s post.


1 – 200 of 251   Newer›   Newest»
Mark Sebela said...

Thanks John.

It seems there are many who fear anything but the status quo.

" A new conservative school board majority here in the Denver suburbs recently proposed a curriculum-review committee to promote patriotism, respect for authority and free enterprise and to guard against educational materials that “encourage or condone civil disorder.”

Repent said...

It has become folklore that people join the 'Illuminati' by overt acts of evil, Like killing a friend:

That some people are so desperate to get into the elite that they would resort to things like this, proves your point that the elites aren't taking in new members.

Also, as you said I know of at least one family member who considers himself part of the elite and he fits the bill exactly. Its about having the right job, going to the right school, even having a cottage on the right lake that makes him feel like he belongs. I'll be truthful he's hurt a lot of family and other people in the process, but I'm worried about what will happen to him when the bottom falls out? What will happen when the utopian retirement fantasies of the baby boomer generation all come crashing down? The baby boomers had a generation gap with their parents generation, and those generations following them are experiencing the equivalent of walking in the shadow of an elephant. We can never do what they have done, go as big, as far, as complicated as what they have done.

We need an exit for the elites, a gentle... put them out to pasture outcome, that will prevent them from becoming desperate when they realize they are trapped. I wait with baited breath for your next post !

(Also happy anniversary, if I remember correctly this is a special month for you and your wife this year)

rabtter said...

I saw a factoid about shale (it may have just been the Bakken) yesterday that unfortunately I can't locate now. Bloomberg reported in March that profits were up 6%, but debt up 100%. I think the scale of the problem has been misunderestimated.

William Knight said...

Many of us regular folks will certainly feel some big time satisfaction at seeing the elites proved not just wrong, but stupendously wrong. But isn't this mostly what motivates your prediction of an imminent collapse - a well-deserved comeuppance is a coming?

This notion of an imminent collapse seems to be rather outside your general thesis - that our civilization is headed towards a dramatic transition that plays out over decades, not years.

A near term collapse could certainly be in the cards, but I don't really see the hard evidence or solid indicators for it just yet.

Radoje said...

Historically speaking, the old elites have rarely had the wherewithal to make the change necessary to become the new elites. From the time of Ghengis Khan to the breakup of Yugoslavia, it is usually a lucky few that see which way the wind blows and are willing and able to make the change needed to weather the storm. I would posit that our current elites (aside, perhaps, from the one running merc companies like Blackwater- or whatever they call themselves these days) are even less likely to weather the approaching storm, due to the nature of what makes them elite. The virtual nature of so much that passes for wealth and productivity these days has very little application in the non-virtual "real world". Making money gaming the financial system won't even get you a job as bookkeeper for the next warlord that breezes into town. I agree with Dmitri Orlov when he says that mafias will be best poised to fill the power vaccuum.

diogenese said...

The Black death in England is a perfect example of your treatis , though the "nobility "survived in place infinatly poorer , the "middle management of yeomen were destroyed .

Thomas Daulton said...

Here's a comment which is not related to this week's column but is an example of the collapse process you've outlined: gathering power of warlords at the borders. I just noticed this article this morning, I wanted to bring it to your attention right away rather than posting it on a prior article from last month.

The anti-immigrant homebaked (half-baked?) militias planned to block a border crossing in Texas in order to protest the dire existential menace to this country of orphaned children immigrating from Latin America. The organizers claim that they received threats from Mexican cartels, should they carry out the protest.

The "Liberal media" is basically laughing at the militias, saying that they're a bunch of big-talking cowards who were scared away by a growl from the US Border Patrol about fines, and don't want to admit it. But on the other hand, is it all that unreasonable to think that Mexican cartels might indeed want to put the kibosh on a plan to cut off their profit route?

Nobody seems to be taking the militias' claim seriously, (and I can hardly blame them). I find this rather odd, since apparently fundamentalist Muslims halfway across in Syria must urgently be bombed because of the dire threat they pose to U.S. interests, but nobody -- not even the militias making the claim -- seems to bat an eye at the claim that a foreign drug cartel has made threats against U.S. citizens living at home. Either nobody believes there is any slight grain of truth to the militias' story -- or else, nobody wants to admit in public that Mexican drug cartels can act with impunity to protect their interests on U.S. soil.

But if the militias' claim happens to be true, it would fit well with your theory about the role of Mexican cartels as warlords raiding the Empire from just outside the borders. The drug trade could be considered a "reverse wealth pump" and of course the warlords wouldn't want it to be shut down.

I don't have any information or any way to verify these news reports, and I am certainly not on the side of the anti-immigrant militias -- I think they're crazy to the point of perhaps being delusional. So the whole thing might just be a fantasy. But if there is any grain of truth to this whole matter, then it fits the pattern you have outlined, JMG.

Kyoto Motors said...

Far be it from me to hand out gold stars to archdruids, but some sort of recognition is in order for the simple term "fossil fuel-specific". Or maybe it's just me... But I'd never come across that one!
As for the elites, well, I've witnessed some of what you've described first hand in the "art world". Lots of artists seem to be jostling and hustling their own way into the inner circle. Only to be tossed out in short order. At best they're court jesters...
At that, I'll bid you good night and see where this week's conversation is at in the morning. Thanks as always.

Yupped said...

Well, I recognize myself in the impecunious classmates - but fortunately I did so a couple of decades ago and was able to take evasive action in time. But looking back on the late 70s and early 80s, when I was coming out of college, it seems to me that the establishment elites made a conscious decision to open up more opportunity to a broader group and a new generation. That's what I see when I look at that whole yuppie phenomenon, of which I was once a part. Lots of new young professionals and corporate jockeys getting brought into the system, presumably in return for their spending themselves into a fury and adding a new layer to the bottom of the economic pyramid. All part of keeping the system together perhaps.

Whether that was what actually happened, I don't really know. But something shifted it seems. This time around, though, I don't see the same thing happening. It just feels like the establishment is quietly circling the wagons around the graveyard. Partly I think that the new money that got pumped into the system in the last few decades enabled a greater mobility for some members of this broadened elite to move into the same towns and neighborhoods together. And with that came even more tunnel vision, more faith in the system and more faith in their role within it. Not much that can be done about that now, except perhaps getting out of the way.

Liam Jackson said...

The vulnerability of elites/BAU is a tune worth humming, its a great warm up for outside-the-box policy discussion. Proviso is, so long as avoid polarising left/right language, which can take more practice than quitting smoking.

Wanted to give a quick rave for the authors & ed in the After Oil compilation, an excellent range of credible visions, realistic but not hopeless & often touching, thank you all.

tom peifer said...

Nice read. One tidbit on the overlooked details in the fantasy transition to a fossil Free Future: In addition to the trillions of dollars on infrastructure, the TIME required. That aspect was robustly highlighted in the Hirsch report.

Still glad I moved to Costa Rica, at least I don't have to heat.

Many thanks, another stellar piece !

Pinku-Sensei said...

“The pundit in question was no less a figure than Paul Krugman, who chose the opinion pages of the New York Times for a shrill and nearly fact-free diatribe lumping Post Carbon Institute together with the Koch brothers as purveyors of 'climate despair.' PCI’s crime, in Krugman’s eyes, consists of noticing that the pursuit of limitless economic growth on a finite planet, with or without your choice of green spraypaint, is a recipe for disaster.”

I mentioned on your blog before in a comment that I recycled into 'A Steampunk calculator' and six other sustainable technologies from The Archdruid, that, if any mainstream economist should understand Peak Oil and other resource limits to growth, it's Krugman. In a New York Review of Books article, Krugman revealed that he was the research assistant for William Nordhaus’ landmark paper, “The Allocation of Energy Resources.” He “spent long hours immured in Yale’s Geology Library, poring over Bureau of Mines circulars and the like.” If someone with his experience with the economy of energy doesn’t get Peak Oil, then it’s probably hopeless for most economists to comprehend the issue. Krugman will examine the costs of pollution, but as for the economics of resource depletion, he won't hear of it. That's why I list him among the conventional economists when I lecture about economic schools of thought to my classes, but mention Kunstler and Joel Salatin when I describe the ecological economists. I'd mention you, but I don't think I'd show "The Sproutwood Faerie Festival" to my classes. That's the only film IMDB lists you in.

Krugman will acknowledge one limit to economic growth--decreased population growth. He recognizes that population growth is slowing down in the U.S. and it's a problem for economic growth. Escapefromwisconsin, who comments here, did an admirable job of summarizing Krugman and his readers on the issue and I link to his entry from mine. Krugman thinks that a stable or slowly shrinking population would be good for the planet, but the way the economy is currently structured would mean that the economy would be stagnant and not provide enough jobs for everyone. That's one area where he thinks the system needs reform to accommodate this reality. The idea that the system might collapse irreversibly to achieve the same goal in a way more severe than the Great Depression seems to be literally unthinkable for him.

patriciaormsby said...

This is a great series, JMG! Something to file away to be shared with anyone displaying a mote of awareness of our impending fate. I definitely look forward to next week's!
I love your church lady example. It is something I can relate to on a personal level. I never sought out prestige, but it looks like I am being handed it by default right now, because the one (possible psychopath) who was ruthlessly seeking it flubbed it so badly, she offended anyone she thought might rival her, and disappointed anyone who believed in her invincibility. Withstanding her attacks (Japanese lady style--all smiles) has been exhausting. I'm nothing but the tallest (or second tallest if I'm lucky) left standing.
Years back, Karel Van Wolferen wrote The Enigma of Japanese Power, which criticized Japan for being like a captainless ship, because no one among the elites dared rock the boat, and Japan just keeps going along on the same course until it hits the rocks. One of the benefits of this critique to Japan was that they started seeking out "outside pressure" in order to effect needed changes. Problem is, they are taking that pressure almost exclusively from America and its moribund world view...
While Van Wolferen made it seem like Japan was unique in its stubbornness, what you have pointed out suggests that this is not the case at all. It may be more pronounced in Japan. Confucianism values stability. Pressure seems to be borne more equally throughout society, with everyone valuing their own place in the hierarchy, with the possible exception of the outcasts. (I met a man who aims to study Japan's homeless and I look forward tremendously to his results.) The one "genial duffer" I had the fortune of meeting in the upper Shinto hierarchy has a life much much harder than my own. That applies visibly to the Emperor and his family as well, and plays no small part in the stability Japan manages to enjoy, reef ahead notwithstanding.

Cherokee Organics said...


My gut feeling is that there is some sort of external pressure building up in the financial world around quantitative easing. There are credible reports that there are considerations that it may be apparently curtailed over the next few months.

I could be wrong, and this is purely my opinion based on gut feel: Quantitative Easing (QE) programs appear to be the equivalent of knowing at some point in the future you'll have to drink the Kool Aid, but at least you don't have to do it today. On the other, once the QE programs are unleashed, it becomes very difficult to stop them without the equivalent of drinking the Kool Aid. Also, there is the black swan of external powers applying pressure to stop the QE programs, or them starting their own or dumping the currency.

I've often felt that fancy labels such as QE were intended to complicate otherwise relatively simple processes and are used in society as a sort of smoke screen. Is that a form of magic?

QE is utilised to sustain asset / paper asset prices after all.

Oh yeah, that sort of thing goes on in community groups!

I'll tell you a funny story from many years ago now. My lady entered a cake in a local competition run by the Country Women's Association (CWA). The prizes were awarded by no less than the ex-Premier of the state who owned a farm in the local area.

My lady's cake won first prize and the ex-Premier said at the presentation ceremony that he liked it so much he went back for a second tasting. (It was an apple lumberjack cake for those that are interested). Anyway, my lady and I were in the crowd watching the ceremony and going, "yeah, we came, we saw, and we kicked the CWA's .....". Well, the head of the CWA group right after the announcement that we'd won, started saying that we broke the rules because we put sultana's in the cake, blah, blah, blah. She even started dismissing the ex-Premier's opinion in front of the crowd. He took it gracefully in his stride though and was firm in his opinion. It was a very unimpressive display on her part. Still, we got the prize, so yeah, whatever. A true story and also a quite fascinating insight into that particular group. Was it inclusive and welcoming? Not really...

Another descriptive for stability might be the process by novelty is avoided. Stable systems by their nature abhor novelty.



PS: If anyone is curious about the farm here, there are some cool photos showing how to go about moving large rocks using low tech methods in this week’s blog: Rock and Roll

Bogatyr said...

For once, I'm even more negative in my view than you are, JMG! I suggest that the Rockerfellers' "greenwash" has precisely zero to do with public opinion, and everything to do with giving the suckers who will buy their stocks the opportunity to feel smarter than the Rockerfellers while paying prices that will maintain the Rockerfellers' fortune.

On a separate topic, the UK's Royal Mint has started to sell gold coins directly to the public, "to entice investors away from shares and into gold sovereigns". Anyone care to speculate what's going on here?

Kaitain said...

The last few paragraphs about the illusion of invincibility that surrounds the elites prior to the deluge that sweeps them under reminded me of a quote from Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer”: “The power of the intellectual demagogue comes not from convicting the masses of the venality of the regime but by demonstrating its helpless incompetence”.

Right now, we are indeed seeing a ruling elite not only in America but in the EU as well that appears to be all-powerful but which is indeed showing abundant examples of “helpless incompetence”, as evidenced by debacles like the responses to Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill, the Wall Street crash of 2008, the ongoing fiasco in Iraq and the rollout of Obamacare. Or consider the way that Vladimir Putin has been able to run rings around Bush, Obama and their assorted poodles and mini-me’s in Europe. Sooner or later, leaders will arise who realize this and are able to take advantage of the situation. Perhaps we might even see the rise of Caesarism as predicted by Spengler, assuming that things don’t fall apart completely.

So I am very curious to see what new demagogues, movements and “strange bright banners” will arise to take advantage of the rising tide of incompetence on the part of the elites in both America and Europe.

Kaitain said...

John, you mentioned George W. Bush as the archetypical rich kid who got into an elite university because he came from a prominent, wealthy family and baring some catastrophic screwup was set for life.

It would seem then that Barack Obama could be considered a classic example of the second type who makes it into the elite, namely the ambitious social climber who managed to get into an elite university (made easier since he was the son of a professor), then caught the attention of some of the local elites in Chicago and climbed the ladder because he was very, very good at kissing up to the right people and making himself useful to them. Bill Clinton would be another good example of that particular type.

Cherokee Organics said...


To be fair to Paul Krugman, at least he acknowledged that the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow. I've seen people in this forum struggle with those two concepts surrounding renewable energy.

However, he then fails to extend that thought one step further into what I call: What next land?

Where does the base load power come from if the sun isn't shining or the wind is blowing?

It keeps getting lost on people that today's renewable energy installations that are being installed predominantly rely on a functioning electrical grid. Without that grid, and the know how and experience to use them without the grid, the panels will make excellent tiles for a chicken house.



PS: Before anyone bores me with long diatribes about possible hybrid solar and/or wind systems that both grid feed and include battery back up - make sure that you have day to day experience living with that stuff. There are even less of those systems about the place than electric vehicles (which are less than 1% of the vehicle market here).

Pinku-Sensei said...

diogenese said...

"The Black death in England is a perfect example of your treatise; though the 'nobility' survived in place infinitely poorer, the 'middle management' of yeomen were destroyed."

That's one subject I neglected to mention in Plague in the news and in history. I used to play a game called "Kingmaker," which simulated the Wars of the Roses. Plague was an important random event in that game. When it struck a city or town, any royal heirs there, along with any player-controlled nobles, were killed. The nobles would respawn back at their castles the next turn, but the royal heir was gone forever. We players took the loss of the heirs in stride; there were so many that there was almost always another to capture and crown king or queen when the time was right. That written, we made sure to stay out of the cities as much as possible. They were bad for our nobles' health!

On the subject of collapse, I use this game as an example of how a plague that hits a society on its way up that manages to keep its system of government intact has very different effects than on one that is in the middle of collapse. Yes, the population went down, but the English monarchy keep right on going and the lives of the survivors were better after the plague than before it. That's not how the plagues that hit the collapsing Roman Empire played out. The Eastern Empire shrunk (the Western Empire was already long gone), the population shrank, and the survivors were worse off than before.

John Michael Greer said...

Mark, you're welcome. Thanks for the link -- that sort of thing is going to become ever more popular as the bottom drops out.

Repent, thank you -- we celebrated our 30th in July, actually, but the good wishes are appreciated. As for the elites, those who don't head for the exits in short order are likely to end up decorating lampposts a little further down the road. I'll discuss how that happens next week.

Rabtter, bingo!

William, as I've pointed out dozens of times already this year, the kind of collapse I'm talking about is the kind that takes place in the real world -- in this case, a major economic crisis, lots of bankruptcies and layoffs, widespread social unrest, and quite probably the unraveling of another round of political systems into autocracy or failed-state chaos: that is to say, one more roadbump along the route of the Long Descent. It's a source of wry amusement to me that so many people literally can't hear that, and fall into the knee-jerk habit of thought that says the only alternative to business as usual is total catastrophe.

Radoje, excellent. Yes, I'll be talking at length about the radical simplification of the mechanisms of power that always accompanies the end of a civilization and the beginning of a dark age.

Thomas, exactly. If a bunch of Roman local magnates were to decide to block a border crossing being used by Alaric the Visigoth or Attila the Hun, what kind of response do you think they'd have gotten?

Kyoto, thank you. As for art, it's an embarrassing reality these days that the social function of art is the manufacture of collectibles for the clueless rich: basically, upscale Hummel figurines with an inflated price tag.

Yupped, my sense is that the yuppie phenomenon was a deliberate attempt to gut the radical youth movements of the time by drawing as much talent as possible into the defense of the existing order. It worked, too -- it's just that the funds needed to keep that running aren't so easy to find any more.

Liam, no argument there -- but I've had some practice. As for After Oil, glad you enjoyed it! The sequels are just as good; stay tuned for publication dates...

Tom, oh, granted. I could have spent half a dozen posts taking apart Krugman's babblings.

Pinku-sensei, I think he knows the score, or would if he could bear thinking about it. If Post Carbon is right, though, his entire world is toast, and it takes quite a bit of moral courage to face that reality squarely.

Mister Roboto said...

So the next dislocation is coming soon, is it? The astrologer in me would like to dare a prediction as to when. I think it will happen at a maximum between the start of November and the start of April 2015. But if it's going to go down "very, very soon", I would put my betting money on between November 5 and November 19. Which would be a shame, as I was hoping for at least one more mostly normal Christmas. Oh well, these things do tend to go down during the months of Libra and Scorpio, don't they?

John Michael Greer said...

Patricia, I think it's more visible in Japan. Here in the US, there's a great show of innovation and creativity and change, but it all amounts to moving in the same direction at the same pace for the benefit of the same people.

Cherokee, if the plug gets pulled on quantitative easing, the wheels are going to fall off the US-centric global economy in short order. Frantic money-printing operations are the only thing that's keeping the US afloat these days.

Bogatyr, nah, the Rockefeller fund that made the greenwash announcement is one of their charitable trusts, not one of their moneymaking corporations, thus has no stock of its own to boost. In the US, charitable foundations are the usual vehicle for this sort of exercise on the part of the very rich -- it's very much like the way that medieval despots used to finance the building of a new church as a way of distracting attention from their everyday practice of slaughter, rapine, and random brutality.

Kaitain, exactly -- Hoffer's spot on as usual. And of course you're right about Obama; the US presidency these days is basically a PR position with nice perks and a great retirement package, so it's one of the prizes available to either end of the elite spectrum.

Cherokee, many thanks for a dose of cold realism. I've noticed repeatedly how many people seem to think that there's got to be some source of sustainable baseload power -- we want one, so there's got to be one!

Pinku-sensei, I played that game, too, back in the day. I probably need to do a post here on the likely role of pandemic disease in the transition to the deindustrial dark age. Given that Ebola cases are doubling every twenty days at this point, that may be a more immediately relevant point than most people like to think...

Mister R., on non-astrological grounds, I expect things to kick off this autumn, probably with the messy bankruptcy of a big player in the fracking industry. Still, that's a guess, not a prophecy.

Andy Brown said...

Americans have long had a belief in the idea of meritocracy - that people ultimately end up in their place in the hierarchy based on the desserts of their abilities. (Even progressives who complain about structural disadvantages for minorities, lower classes and others are only complaining that our meritocracy remains imperfect.) Of course, it's convenient to elites in that it helps when the "unsuccessful" blame themselves rather than the elites for their low status. But there's a serious side effect when elites drink their own koolaid and also come to believe it.

Personally, I took the route from rural public school to Ivy League campus, and I saw enough of our future elite to be cured of any faith in the meritocracy. But more frightening than their mediocrity was their obliviousness to it. Their sense that they were indeed superior beings. Through some combination of luck, privilege, inertia and talent, these people achieve positions of power and influence, and they are either delusional about the true limits of their abilities or they are well-practiced at pretending to be.

I have no faith in our leaders to do anything but crash things in spectacularly idiotic fashion.

Random Man said...

Elites have traditionally held land and resource producing companies. I don't expect that to change.

Still, what is obvious in our world is that much of the extreme behavior among the elite is due to what might be called paper wealth, which is denominated in a yardstick, digital dollars, which can change, or fail outright, at any time. It happens to be that the elites have managed to inflate and gain the benefits of inflation, but it's looking like this is coming to an end.

This suggests to me that the entire global order is about to come unwound. I strongly urge everybody here not to underestimate the severity of the change that is upon us.

Ray Wharton said...

Interestingly as I was studying RPG theory I read an aside article which analyzes Status as a group phenomena. Came to very comparable views, namely that optimal play as a conformist positions one at the upper middle of the group, and that the very top of the group is allowed to deviate from conformity with in narrow bands because of prestige they maintain that is not based entirely within the group.

"with an inner core of genial duffers surrounded by an outer circle of rigid conformists"

I can see pretty clearly for the arguments of either your post, or slight extrapolations of the lumpley article, why elites are bound to evolve into a dead end niche, and, just how dependent on that niche they become.

So, as the hierarchy starts to face collapse, is there a general order that the conformists and duffers tend to get removed in? Also, as this process opens up power vacuums, are there decreasingly dull elites that secede until the system reaches a level of barbarism?

Mean while I am going to take care of business in the next few weeks which would be made difficult by the disruptions which may be coming. See family, take a job opportunity to put away a bit of currency.

jcummings said...

I owe you an apology. When I first started reading your blog, I was stymied by how clearly you wrote about limits and whatnot, but that you were also so hard core towards the folks in the "its different" camp (of the its worse variety) of which I would have counted myself.

But I see now, courtesy of this series of posts, that your vision of what constitutes a typical collapse is much darker than I'd imagined. Darker than my imaginings for sure.

I think, for myself anyway, your writings in the months before you took a break felt like a distant academic treatment of some topics surrounding collapse. Now, though, you're in the trenches and its ugly. Thanks.

Glenn said...

JMG said:

"Cherokee, many thanks for a dose of cold realism. I've noticed repeatedly how many people seem to think that there's got to be some source of sustainable baseload power -- we want one, so there's got to be one!"

Around here it's called hydro. Problem is, it's hard on the salmon in the Columbia. No easy answers. Not so easy answers include using less or intermittent power. I find it a useful exercise when pondering the loss of some electrical device dependent on constant power to ask "how was this done a century ago?" Sometimes the answer is, "it wasn't done." It really helps put my priorities in order.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

k-dog said...

There is plenty to be said to show that Paul Krugman's article which ends with "So here’s what you need to know.................

Is a total CROCK and I don't mean Australian alligator.

It reads more innocuously than the poison in reality it is and Richard Heinberg refutes Krugman well with his concise and numbered list. Crisp and tautly reasoned as you say. But Krugman does not care and it would be a waste of time to write any refutation with the intent of influencing Krugman. The refutation is written for the edification of the rest of us.

Krugman is not believing what he writes. His job is to be the rainbow unicorn for the ruling elite and that's what he did. For him, all in a days work.

Paul Krugman is in the big word you whipped onto your blog today; the impecunious classmate par excellence. Though he is most certainly well off enough now he could be honest. Someone should tell him. Scratch below his glossy surface and you’ll find your anxious conformist who is terrified of failing to measure up to expectations.

He wears the suit and makes august pronouncements and in good times what he says is taken to be true. Perhaps next week you can mention that there is a point where people stop paying attention to the utterances of the August elite. In good times all are content to go along with believing their utterances as true whether they are or not. But in bad times everything they say will be taken as false. True or not.

You described the ruling elite with outstanding accuracy and clarity. You describe them as being initially approachable but as time goes by they become remote. Lost in bubbles of misconception and ignorance.

Are there means by which the process the ruling elite disconnecting from the ruled can be slowed or altogether abated? Are there priestly or fraternal organizations which have rules and procedures which keep your 'church ladies' from getting too far out of line?

It is the unrestrained exuberance of false optimism that will seal our fate in a catabolic collapse from which we will be unable to recover. What Krugman wrote is genuine poison. He is no friend of a sustainable future or one who seeks to minimize the pain of inexorable change.

k-dog said...

And I'd also like to express my thought that I hope you had an nice equinox. Paying attention to the four corners has made me more aware of the change of seasons. So much more aware I recommend what I do. I burn a candle.

On his blog Pinku-Sensei mentions that the true astronomical equinox is not until Sept. 26 this year. That being the case. In my heart I'll pay homage all week:)

Bogatyr said...

Gloucon X wrote "That’s why if you really believe the worst is coming, then you need to forget all this army of one, rugged individualist stuff, and start working on forming some kind of community".

Amen to that. It's what is occupying my mind more and more. As it happens, I wrote a blog post about this yesterday, before reading JMG's latest. It's written for a martial arts audience, so there's some assumptions made about background knowledge, but since I quote JMG and namecheck escapefromwisconsin, you can check it out here, if so inclined: Systema and the zombie apocalypse.

Also for what it's worth: about 10 years ago, I was very active in British politics, and the process of getting ahead - for someone like me with no previous connections - was exactly as JMG describes...

jean-vivien said...

There is movement in the oil industry lately...

not sure if it fits into a larger pattern...

Gloucon X said...

“The Senility of the Elites”

Thank goodness peak oil is coming along to finally rid us of these fools. My only fear is that it doesn't come soon enough, and they remain in power for another 20 or 30 years, or even longer. And I’m afraid that they would too, because the masses of American people also appear to be senile and devoid of creativity. After 40 years of policies designed to crush them, they still haven’t formed any effective opposition, and none appears to be even in the Zygote stage.

MawKernewek said...

Apparently the latest get-rich-quick scheme is the 'rent-to-rent' phenomenon which has allowed some investors to make a killing in the UK property market by leveraging an ability to provide a year's rent up front guaranteed to the landlord, and rent individual rooms out to a profit:

Odin's Raven said...

Watch out for those barbarians recruited to defend the crumbling Empire. Stilicho was loyal and Romanised, Hengist not so much.

Al-Baghdadi and his ilk are likely to leave any survivors bowing towards Mecca and living in a 7th century desert long after stock markets and financial scams and oil and the comforts of contemporary life have been forgotten.

Violet Cabra said...

Frequently I engage with people in serious conversations about the state of the world, probably 4-5 times a week I share in a good, hour long, intense discourse. One thing that has frequently caught my interest is the belief that the elite is invincible, that it could never find itself at the business end of a guillotine.

What makes this belief doubly intriguing is that it isn't shared across the board. By and large the most vocal proponents are middle class, middle aged men. Even when I present persuasive reasoning and thought experiments they will not budge from their rhetorical position. Instead they grow silent. The conversation is over.

Younger women, especially those who have a basic historical understanding of European history, usually have already thought about how the unravelling of the elites could play out. Older ladies also usually “get it”. I've seen young men sometimes comprehending the vulnerability of the elites, but just as often arguing for the invincibility of the world order, but almost always with considerably less brittleness than older guys. Perhaps women are more flexible in their thinking? Dmitry Orlov noted that most of the people who died from alcoholism and suicide after the fall of the USSR were recently unemployed middle-aged men.

I consider the “invincibility of the elite” as little more than a thought-stopper. It helps people who have great emotional investments in the status quo not think too deeply about how fragile the world order actually is.

Hypnos said...

What do you think of the book "The Son also rises"? The author has used family names across centuries of European history to argue for remarkable stability over who the elites are. The way the Soviet Communist Party apparatchiks managed to turn themselves into oligarchs seems to support his point.

Taking an example from my own country, Italy, which always comes to mind when you talk of elites dangling from lampposts*, several mid to high level fascist politicians managed to recycle themselves into the post-war democratic power structure.

I am worried that, particularly in the early collapse phases, current elites will manage to entrench themselves into power by maintaining a minimum level of modern weapons technology, while the rest of the population is shunted off into subsistence farming. No peasant revolt could ever take on a castle protected by drones.

This would suggest that at least some of the "impecunious" students are adopting a potentially successful strategy, if it puts them inside the castle before the drones take off.

* I am sure you will know this, but perhaps quite aptly for the current fossil-fuel related collapse, Mussolini ended up dangling from an ESSO (that'd be Exxon) gas station in Piazzale Loreto.

Diana Haugh said...

I recommend Barbara Tuchman's "The March of Folly-from Troy to Vietnam" for an illuminating read on how sclerotic elites make exactly the worst decisions possible in times of systemic decay

beetleswamp said...

Right about the same time the Rockefeller story came out, I heard an interview with Chris Hedges about how he felt the climate change parade in NYC was playing into the hands of the elite. Judging from the patterns in recent media psy-ops it seems as if the next crash could be softened a bit by demonizing the environmentalists and then doubling down on the fracking bets without those pesky regulations in the way.

thriftwizard said...

Thank you for that. I was raised, possibly even hot-housed, in a highly-academic family to be one of your second category; throughout my schooling, first in state, then in “public” school, I was always “the girl most likely to”… who, in the end, didn’t. Perhaps, couldn’t. Even now, in my mid-50s, I am still made aware quite frequently how much of a disappointment I am to them; I should have been running the country by now! Or, at least, a multi-millionaire like one of my cousins. But you have just laid out the mechanics of the current system so clearly that I’ve realised that my offbeat way of thinking and lack of insecurity would never have let me fit into a system that will act to preserve itself at all costs. That said, I’m happy enough to have carved out a small niche for myself in a semi-alternative world that runs alongside the mainstream economy, where I (and mine) at least stand a chance of surviving the long-delayed crash and not adorning a lamp-post.

Your thought-provoking post has struck some sparks in my head about our education system. My family value our UK dual state & public school education system far above all other things in public life (and I will always agree that a good education is a prize beyond compare) yet it seems to me that this particular Emperor lost his clothes some time ago. It no longer teaches people how to think, and now merely teaches them what to think; any attempts to reason things out for oneself will result in zero marks in the all-important universal exams, without which you will never get to the right universities or into jobs within that system. In a sense, this has always been the case, up to a point, the point at which most people left school to get on with real life; first 14, then 16, now 18. Further education was originally only for intellectuals or for those destined to lead, but has now been dumbed-down to keep our young people off the unemployment figures. Youngsters (and sadly, also teachers & governors) who do attempt to think for themselves now find themselves firmly rejected & excluded, and many end up damaged by this. But at the end of the day, surely it will be the system itself that suffers the most damage, as it has ruthlessly removed all obstacles to business as usual & silenced the voices of dissent who might have alerted it to its own failings. The means by which people could educate themselves outside the school system - evening classes, public libraries, the Open University, which is now no longer free or even open - have steadily been eroded away by lack of funding; after all, it’s all out there on the Web, isn’t it? If you have the skills & will to find it… A complete lack of intellectual rigour, plus plenty of bread & circuses, in the upcoming generations may serve to keep the juggernaut rolling along for a few years yet, but I do wonder how angry people will get when they realise how they have been cheated. Though maybe that’s an If, given a generation so thoroughly trained NOT to think. But surely even Celebrity Come Dancing can’t pull the wool over people’s eyes indefinitely?

In short, it seems to me that our various education systems have evolved away from their stated purpose and now only serve the interests of those at the top of the tree. Whether they were originally designed to do that or not, I cannot help wondering why those who serve in them are so completely unable to see that they are no longer doing the job that they wanted to do?

YJV said...

What happens if one of the inner elite carefully and secretly nurtures his conscience for years, and given the opportunity puts in motion a drastic set of events aimed at reform (and probably brings the whole set of dominoes down)? Gorbachev comes to mind here.


Kylie said...

JMG: Thanks to your discussions about community skills in earlier posts, I decided to go for a leadership position in my local textile crafts guild. Talk about your 'preserve one thing': the guild is an impressive store of expertise, literature and equipment on working wool and other fibres. Anyway, I'm going to be president next year and I'm learning a hell of a lot about working with people, leadership and the fine art of STFU. The group's membership is slowly changing and turning younger and more professional.

As part of this, I recently had to run the AGM and locate a new officeholder. I was panicking slightly about the odds of someone stepping up, when the question rephrased itself in my head from 'I have to convince someone at this meeting to take this job' to 'The person who will take this job is already in the room: I just have to call them forth'. That change in the 'story' suddenly made the situation a lot clearer and easier to deal with. I don't know if that was amateur theurgy, but I thought about your definition of magic at the time.

Kutamun said...

grew up in a rural farming community in north western n.s,w. , Auatralia . It was very Anglo Saxon ..god save the queen and all that sort of thing . The farmland around there was some of the best in Australia , and this " squattocracy " were family and descendents of very well connected English families . My father, as a rural laborer after a few beers would take great delight in parodying them , the bitter division between " townies " and landed gentry ran ( and still does ) very deep ..
Despite the reputation of egalitarianism , there is a covert but deeply entrenched class system in australia , centering mainly around an extensive private school network . With the privatisation of formerly government run commodity marketing desks ( "the middle man ") , many of these old boys rural clubs have fallen into ..ahem "impecuniarity " ( thanks JMG - love that word) , and as a result have sent their progeny to the city to work in the corporate and banking sector . With the rise of mass migration to australia , the Squattocracy has been largely forced into the background , but nonetheless it remains , as any plebian who attempts to enter the hallowed halls of corporate business and finance will quickly find out ..
People i have met from U.K who are recent arrivals are stunned and dismayed to hear of the existence of this fossilised but still powerful structure , and some have even become angry at the suggestion ( moreso when they hear the full horror of indigenous genocide in this country ) ..
I suppose they are remnant Romans , these Aristocrats , originally drawn from far flung country estates all over the U.K .. Wheni think Roman i think "british upper class " , not the Italians ..wbo are most likely the descendants of Goths and Vandals ...
Are they senile in this country ? .,i think they are still very Roman / British .. ie having a bet each way with the Chinese and Americans , and trusting that "The Lucky Country " with its high resource base ( whites law) and relatively low population will come through in the short term .
It seems there are many of the elites from U.S , UK , and China who are snapping up properties and seeking residency in the "lifeboat provinces " of Canada , NZ , Australia this David Camerons "devolution " ( go figure) in practice ?? . While in Hobart a few years ago i noticed a local newspaper article ( The Mercury ) indicating that the Guggenheim family were buying swathes of property down that way .. I wonder if there is historical precedent for this type of elite migration from the imperial centre to the more profitable , less populated periphery ?? ..certainly we seem to be recently coming under enormous unprecedented pressure to dismantle our excellent and hard won health and education systems in this country ... To emulate the failed U.S model ..,,,

Don Plummer said...

Some stream-of-consciousness thinking here, John:

I am on PCI's email list, so I saw the report about Paul Krugman's rant. I haven't read either Krugman or Richard Heinberg's response, but I suppose I should. I wondered if you would be commenting on it in this week's report.

Your description of how elites are groomed makes me wonder if the fact that our current president is something of an outsider is partly the reason for the vicious animosity we see, hear, and read from his pseudo-conservative opponents. True, like his predecessors, he has become another puppet to the US war machine, among other elite institutions, but still, he was an outsider. Or do his Harvard and Columbia backgrounds suggest he actually was groomed by the elite selection process?

Speaking of the US war machine, I just heard this morning that last night US bombers targeted oil refineries and oilfields in Syria. The reason they were targeted was because they are a source of revenue for ISIS. Still, I wonder about the US targeting of oil infrastructure.

And another report I saw yesterday suggested that the Ebola outbreak could very well destabilize west African society and their "already fragile" governments. As if Western governments weren't also "fragile," though for different reasons.

Indeed, we live in interesting times.

Radu Visan said...

In a great series, this is so far the greatest post. It explains clearly why change cannot come from the top and why the system itself cannot be changed from within. No one with that stated goal would be allowed in and even if someone could possibly bluff their way into the elite, they would quickly find themselves in the position of a virus surrounded by white blood cells once they try anything. So, thank you for yet another article that explains what many of us understand, but can't quite articulate.

In our own little corner of the Old World, until recently the elites were made up of opportunists that in the nineties attached themselves like ticks to the decaying communist infrastructure. Now, almost everything worth privatizing (read: stealing with impunity) is long gone, so there is a readjustment going on. Those elites that have been legitimized one way or another are eliminating those that have not, and society as a whole is moving to the model of the European Union, which, from my limited point of view, resembles what you described in the US.

Meanwhile, the various local mafias are steadily gaining power, influence and acceptance, because they offer one of the main ways for the lower class to gain any kind of prosperity, the other being trying their luck west. They are made up of gypsy clans and the urban poor and share the combined cultures of those two groups. They have been fascinating to watch and could potentially gain some dominance in the far future, if not for the fact that, historically, external influences have been more often than not more important than any internal movement in shaping the society of Romania. The current powers might even adapt and stay in place if there is no outside pressure, but that's obviously not going to happen. Essentially, any prediction regarding to whom I'll be paying taxes in my old age seems useless.

To end in a funny note about George W. Bush and the cultivation of new elites, a quote form the late and great Robin Williams seems appropriate:

“Some are born great. Some achieve greatness. Some get it as a graduation gift.”

Strovenovus said...

Paul Krugman's role as defender of our increasingly fragile status quo(the blue side of the promissory note in his case) is a neat example of your column's larger point.

I am not certain what is more dangerous: outright denial or false hope.

Thank you for this excellent, thought-provoking post.

Eric S. said...

When you say “spectacular financial crisis” are you thinking 2007, 1929, or somewhere in the middle? What would it look like for ordinary people outside of Wallstreet? Also, what would be your advice for bracing for the overnight crises that can sweep through here and there, and for financial crises in particular? Most of the practical advice you work through on the blog is geared towards life changes of a sort that takes years of skill building and slow transition. What are the best ways to prepare for immediate impact of the sort that happens in days or months?

Kaitain said...

Great theme music and video from Steely Dan:

This post and the above music video also reminds of a cartoon I once saw in an Omni magazine (yes, I was one of those nerdy kids who grew up reading Omni, watching Star Trek and playing D&D) which showed a corner office on Wall Street with a sign beneath the window which said “In the event of stock market crash, windows open automatically”.

DaShui said...


Dont forget there are local elites, too. They go to a state college,work in local government, or own their own small company.
My father qualified as a local elite. Decades ago he made the mistake of trying to enter the (trans)national elites by becoming a a board member of the Atlanta fed reserve. He got some of our state's congress critters to lobby for him.
He discovered unless one had an Ivy league diploma, worked in a big wall street corporation, and/or a fed. regulatory agency one had a snowball's chance in hell, of entering The Club.

Rita Narayanan said...

The issue of elitism in the Modern World is quite different to the old order of definitive hierarchy.I have watched people and leaders in India who(supposedly) created an an egalitarian state having the clout that few Maharajas had and with that their family/trusts.The perks and resources are all invisible and not accountable but available for the taking.The families of people like Gandhi & Nehru have had the best education and connections that can much for holy poverty!The *late night* work is done by persons who then rise to respectable positions and pillage resources.

Infact * liberalism* has created an elite that creates more problems for real respectability of the comprehensive kind.Look at the Clinton *do* in NYK vying for space with real governmental obligations.

Even the environmental elite while dealing with money and oil refuses to deal with the complex and highly controversial issue of sociology and population.One forgets that it is the human mind and intent that lays the ground for the nature of growth just dealing with the morality of money/oil will only result in the eternal Maypole dance.

Another thought provoking post from the compliments :)

Scotlyn said...

@pinku-sensei I wonder if you have encountered an "ecological economist" of a previous generation, by the name of Frederick Soddy?

@JMG you have explained a mystery of my otherwise delightful '78-82 Ivy League college experience. This was that while classrooms were perfectly comprehensible, social settings often made me feel like I was speaking the wrong language...

I can see now that my solidly fundy hick redneck cultural credentials were the reason college opened no magic doors for me other than those of my own mind...

Having been thrown back onto my own (thankfully adequate) resources immediately after, I have been nothing but grateful ever since to have had the gift of four years to read to my heart's content!

Ben said...

HI JMG, for what its worth, I agree with Pinku, you may want to throw in a post about the impact of epidemic disease on civilizational collapse. I know you touched on it in an earlier post, but it might be worth an specific post. I doubt that Ebola will be one of the major pandemics this century b/c the symptoms are fairly unmistakable and it isn't that easily transmitted person to person.
As for senile elites, our current crop of political, economic and cultural leaders are surrounded by yes-men. I'm sure this is always a problem for people 'in charge' at all stages of civilizational growth and decline, but the problem seems pretty bad now.

Dammerung said...

Just recently, one of the Federal Reserve cretins referred to risks to the stability of our financial markets as "well contained."

I'm pretty sure that's a proof positive sign for me to spend my weekends standing on a street corner downtown with a sign that reads, "The End is Near!"

Mister Roboto said...

Some comments seem to indicate that JMG is predicting some kind of apocalyptic scenario in this post. I believe what he's actually predicting is more of a major economic dislocation that will seriously and fundamentally change the nature of "Business As Usual" to a rather greater extent than the previous dislocation of a few years ago. I suppose a lot of people who have an emotional need to live their lives with their heads in the proverbial sand will react as if it's The Apocalypse, but that doesn't mean such an interpretation or response is appropriate. (Am I right, JMG?)

Karl said...

"next to no one saw the gaping vulnerabilities at the time"

If you have the time, it is worth reading through the memo to Tsar Nicholas by P.N. Durnovo.

web archive link

"It should not be forgotten that Russia and Germany are the representatives of the conservative principle in the civilized world, as opposed to the democratic principle, incarnated in England, and to an infinitely lesser degree, in France. Strange as it may seem, England, monarchistic and conservative to the marrow at home, has in her foreign relations always acted as the protector of the most demagogical tendencies, invariably encouraging all popular movements aiming at the weakening of the monarchical principle.


More than that, one must realize that under the exceptional conditions which exists, a general European war is mortally dangerous both for Russia and Germany, no matter who wins. It is our firm conviction, based upon a long and careful study of all contemporary subversive tendencies, that there must inevitably break out in the defeated country a social revolution which, by the very nature of things, will spread to the country of the victor."

magicalthyme said...

I thought perhaps you were exaggerating when you called Krugman's latest "shrill." On reading it, I was shocked at the panic I sense behind it. Fact-free, indeed. And relying on the IMF?!? Laughable. Interesting that toward the end he claims the problem is scientists don't really know what "the economy" is. But he can't be bothered to actually explain what he means by "economy" either (just 'splain it like I'm 8 years old, please).

My focus has been directed elsewhere, but I've drawn similar conclusions to yours. The sudden emergence of ISIS/ISIL as the next bogeyman -- even al Qaeda is afraid of them!!!1! -- to justify more war (couldn't possibly be to lockdown Iraq oil once and for all), combined with Obama's sudden use of executive power to train 50,000 ex-vets to install solar, tells me that his advisors suddenly saw fracking our way out of this mess for the pipedream that it is. All about to blow in time for the midterm elections, so panic to keep the stock market afloat until after early November in the short term, and try to do what needed to be done 30 years ago for the long run.

In the meantime, I lost my peaches to last years tough winter, apples were reduced due to too much rain, smallish tomato and eggplant crops due to too little rain in July/August and cold, cold spring. But the potatoes and raspberries came in like gangbusters. And the work for money crop is suddenly blooming, so I'm flat out taking in what I can. Pretty much all will be spent on insulation and what-not, for long term *real* savings.

Interesting times we live in...

Moshe Braner said...

Cherokee: "Where does the base load power come from if the sun isn't shining or the wind is blowing?"

- I've been trying to point that out occasionally in the local media, given the general enthusiasm around here for "net metering", with all the talk about "the grid is your battery". (In reality it's just a subsidy for air conditioning.) Of course I get a roaring silence in reply. Same when I occasionally suggest that natural gas will not be cheap forever, or that we may want to learn to use energy when it is available, e.g., wash the clothes when the sun shines so they can be dried on a line. Nothing that will convince almost anybody around me, but perhaps planting seeds of future new ways of thinking.

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

JMG, the Fed likes to obfuscate it's language to the point of incomprehensibility, but according to the Fed deciphering experts, they are indeed phasing out QE, a process they call "tapering", which is supposed to conclude in October. But they always allow wriggle room to change their mind if the economy fails to stay on track. (They can't admit that it's already off the rails and hasn't been responding to their vast stimulus). But I think the reason they are trying to "taper" is that they've become scared of the amount they've already done.

So they decided to complete the taper in October, the month where market crashes are normally scheduled.

In totally unrelated news, the US dollar is breaking out against other currencies, commodities are cliff-diving and the US stockmarket is having a very nasty week, in other words, it is all looking uncannily like the early going in the 2008 marketopalypse.

NosVemos said...


Not sure if you came across this recent salvo by David Graeber in the latest issue of the Baffler.

The gist would hardly be news to you, but Graeber is something of a rising star in the academy (well deserved, IMO, for Debt alone) and wields a good deal of influence.

Greg Belvedere said...

I heard an economist on the radio quote Galbraith last week and I thought of this blog.

"The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable." - John Kenneth Galbraith

I have definitely heard that sentiment reworded here and it does look like Krugman is fulfilling his function. Amusing that a critic of austerity does not hesitate to cite reports from an organization known for advocating it everywhere.

I also heard an author promoting a book about elite colleges called Excellent Sheep. Both that interview and this week's blog seem to confirm my suspicion that the only people who can break into the elite circles are those people who will uphold the status quo.

An interesting note on your comment about The Jetsons from a few weeks ago. Jon Oliver ran a segment that compiled video clips of news personalities comparing new technologies to The Jetsons. In most instances the comparisons seemed to cast the technologies in a negative light.

exiledbear said...

Lemme see if I can find the video -

Anyway, to TL;DW for you he touches on Ivy League education and says that it has more to do with giving you a permanent sense of confidence, and it's that, that is important and not the actual education itself.

You would probably comment about how that's actually a low level form of magic, and I'd agree with you. I think in a lot of ways, Icy League institutions are actually really fancy acting schools for how to play the part of the "elite". Or how to play the supporting role. And like with acting only a small fraction ever get to play the part they're studying for. You have to have a passion for playing that role, I guess.

But when the story changes and the elite get written out of the story, well, then they have to go, don't they? But what story is it that replaces the current one, I wonder? I guess that's the fun of playing in this human story - you never do quite know what's going to happen next, even if you can see some of the broad outlines.

In any case, it's going to be a DIY world, where even if you can't do it well, if you can DIY, you're better off than someone who can only trick and manipulate people into doing it for them.

Andy Brown said...

I see the homology between your descriptions of the senility of a religion (Progress) and of elites - including their shared tendencies to indulge in blindered, teleological fantasies about how the future MUST inevitably be more of the same.

I know you've only got a few paragraphs and are offering a very schematic sketch of coming elite failure, but don't you worry that heart-warming projections of decorated lampposts, clattering tumbrils, and wholesale comeuppance seem dangerously close to the apocalyptic fantasizing that you've warned us against?

I don't know my ancient history, so I'm thinking of the destruction of the late Soviet nomenklatura. Most of them were swept out of existence, but many were not - and fresh elites were born from the struggles among former Soviet officials, criminal mafia and the security apparatus (like Putin). It has been a messy, muddy, process without much satisfying clarity, much less justice. I guess I'm expecting more of the same.

Have I stretched the analogy too far?

Janet D said...

RE: the focus of getting into the right school. Well, when I lived in the DC area about 10/12 years ago, there were a number of preschools where there were LONG wait lists (e.g. when your child was born, you had to put him/her on the wait list for the preschool, otherwise forget it) AND pass the entrance "exams"/tests to gain admission. I won't even go into the private schools where first graders had at least 1-2 hours of homework a night, plus assignments such as having to give a 5-minute oral presentation by the end of the year. The whole system was (& still is) undergirded by the belief that your child had to be "ahead" of others, and if he/she got into the 'right' preschool, then they could enter the right' grade school, and so on. The pressure was enormous. A couple of our teen babysitters only slept 4-5 hours per night due to the amount of school + extracurriculars they were carrying. All to potentially become part of the 'elite'.

We got out of there fast and have largely homeschooled our two kids (9 & 12) out West, who, amazingly, score in the 95%+ on all exams with only 3 hours of school time per day (plus numerous outside skill-based activities). The system is nuts.

@Thomas. I am always amazed that the idea of secession is so big in Texas (this is not a comment on the idea of wanting to secede, which I, at times, can understand). I cannot believe that so few people there seem to grasp that the Mexican drug lords would be all over Texas like flies on, well, you know, should Texas try to stand on its own. That may well happen anyway, but why rush to that point? I have tried discussing this with my rels in Texas and some of their friends, but all I get back is, once they get rid of Obama, they'll be able to defend themselves with all those guns they have. I could have a mountain-sized pile of automatic weapons and still would not want to face a drug lord & his army. They define "vicious scorched earth" policy. is so unfortunate that so many of those who seek power are psychopaths. Always has been the case, always will, I suppose. Glad your Japanese lady (they ARE so often like that) went down in her own flames.

Zach said...

The description of the grooming of the elites brings to my mind C. S. Lewis's excellent talk on the topic The Inner Ring:

In the passage I have just read from Tolstoy, the young second lieutenant Boris Dubretskoi discovers that there exist in the army two different systems or hierarchies. The one is printed in some little red book and anyone can easily read it up. It also remains constant. A general is always superior to a colonel, and a colonel to a captain. The other is not printed anywhere. Nor is it even a formally organised secret society with officers and rules which you would be told after you had been admitted. You are never formally and explicitly admitted by anyone. You discover gradually, in almost indefinable ways, that it exists and that you are outside it; and then later, perhaps, that you are inside it...

People who believe themselves to be free, and indeed are free, from snobbery, and who read satires on snobbery with tranquil superiority, may be devoured by the desire in another form. It may be the very intensity of their desire to enter some quite different Ring which renders them immune from all the allurements of high life. An invitation from a duchess would be very cold comfort to a man smarting under the sense of exclusion from some artistic or communistic cĂ´terie. Poor man—it is not large, lighted rooms, or champagne, or even scandals about peers and Cabinet Ministers that he wants: it is the sacred little attic or studio, the heads bent together, the fog of tobacco smoke, and the delicious knowledge that we—we four or five all huddled beside this stove—are the people who know.

Lewis is preaching about the futility of reaching for the Inner Ring, as when it is sought for itself, it will vanish. Wise advice then, even wiser today perhaps now that both the official and the unofficial hierarchies look to be reshuffled in short historical order.


MindfulEcologist said...

“Ecological antagonism begets social and emotional antagonism.” Catton, Overshoot.

Your post brought to mind Catton’s teaching in the classic of ecology, ‘Overshoot.’ Catton’s no holds barred approach to telling it like it is can be very difficult to take. One idea that really challenges me is that the mess the industrial world finds itself in is a species of ecological succession. Where are the absolute bad guys in this larger understanding? Typical left leaning I was raised railing at the elites.

Catton was at pains to make clear that really assimilating the ecological point of view could keep us from indulging in the blame-game. Just maybe, he hoped, we could recognize the collapse of the detritivore ‘Homo Colossus’ as a natural progression. Not a plan from the wicked cabal of the rich or the religious or the communists or any other scapegoat of the week.

You really seem to get it. You made the same point framing the introduction of the elite in primate behavior. That all the basic features are on display among the elderly church ladies brings the point all the way home. How do you deal with the critical intelligence that clearly sees the pain increasing behaviors of those in power, morns the missed opportunities and yet avoids raging at the machine, as it were? The study of history and ecology teaching the events of these times are not as unique as they might appear?

The context of the Catton quote seems apropos to this week’s discussion as well:
“Desired changes entail unwanted changes. Changed human activities involve changes in man’s environment. Environmental change leads to succession; it can threaten human life. Non-competitive human interaction is imperiled by excess numbers and proliferating technology. Ecological antagonism begets social and emotional antagonism. These were the principals people needed to learn to read between the lines of the news in post-exuberant times.

…Pressure has darkened our future. While we can hardly turn it off, we can somewhat mitigate its insidious impact by learning to understand how and why it has happened.” Catton, Overshoot pg. 208

More at Mindful Ecology dot com

exiledbear said...

Yupped, my sense is that the yuppie phenomenon was a deliberate attempt to gut the radical youth movements of the time by drawing as much talent as possible into the defense of the existing order. It worked, too -- it's just that the funds needed to keep that running aren't so easy to find any more.

Come on, this is money that can be created out of thin air. You cannot say the money isn't there for X. The money isn't there to begin with, or it's always there, take your pick.

You can say they decided not to create the money for that purpose. Now what reasoning they're using to decide not to create the money, now you can say a lot of things about that.

exiledbear said...

When you say “spectacular financial crisis” are you thinking 2007, 1929, or somewhere in the middle? What would it look like for ordinary people outside of Wallstreet?

In some sense you're living through it, right now. All those people out of work are not likely to find another straight job again. These declines only look short and sharp when you're looking back at them after decades have passed.

But if you want a general pattern (or how 1929-1932 happened), you'll wake up and read headlines about the stock market having crashed, closed, and reopened to even more declines.

Unless you're directly tied to the finance world, nothing happens right away. You go to your factory job like usual.

Eventually the crash finds a bottom and a rally commences. But the rally only retraces a fraction of the decline before it too rolls over. Then the real decline starts, the one that just grinds on and on and on.

It's during the first 1/3 to 1/2 of this grinding decline that the effects of all the gyrations start to affect you. Your factory job goes away forever, it seems like. If you have debts, all the things that are attached to the debts start going away too. Your house, your car, all start to leave you. Then the family starts to break apart. Kids are desperately fobbed off on relatives that are able to support them, while mom and dad try to find their own means of survival.

Dad takes to riding the railroads while Mom tries to keep body and soul together via prostitution or does whatever service labor is available.

Or - you find about 1/3 to 1/2 way through, you find that the price of your cash crop falls through the floor, and that you can't grow anything to sell at a profit. You just borrowed a lot of money to expand your farm, and now the bank is going to take the whole farm away from you.

You desperately manage to shift enough finances around to hold onto the car, and you load it up with your family and all the possessions you can fit on it and head for California in your last desperate gamble to start over again.

You're the lucky one though, because the people who can't leave are literally starving to death. There are riots when the Red Cross shows up to provide relief food, but can't distribute it right then and there. The starving rural populace shows up with guns and demands access to the food now.

For more stories I'd spend a little time to watch this series, start here:

Bruce Turton said...

The recent spate of reports about the future of renewable power generation as a 'replacement' for the FF's economy we live in is rather disturbing in the 'enthusiasm' being derived from them by those who wish to continue to live as lavishly as we do now. This seems to be the mental lounge for those 'greens' who can only promise more of the same for the future without the CO2 of the past and present. Heinberg's refutation of Krugman, and many others, as to the continuance of BAU does not seem to register with too many on any side of the fences we have built.

thecrowandsheep said...

One of the common critiques of the apocalypse-collapse scenario in this blog is that many scenarios assume that the authorities will idly sit on their hands in times of crises and let it all go to pieces. JMG has often pointed out that those in charge will do everything in their power to maintain the status quo, or thereabouts, during such times (or be replaced by those who will). At the same time, this urge to maintain the status quo is also the very mechanism that dooms the system in the long run, since this also stands in the way of the necessary reforms that would be required to alter the congenital flaws contributing to overall decline.

Of course reform is risky business, even for the brilliant statesmen with which we are so blessed today. As mentioned before on this blog, FDR managed to pull it off, albeit with a continent-scale industrial and natural resource base to smooth over any rough patches. Mikhail Gorbachev was not so successful. His reforms removed the negative feedback mechanism that was keeping the soviet system hanging around (and in decline), and without that mechanism, the country descended into rapid collapse.

Renovator said...

Kafka's horrific story "In the Penal Colony" keeps coming to my mind as I read your writing of late. I wonder how many elites will allow themselves to be masticated by their own failing machine as a final "patriotic" bow to the dying status quo just as the nostalgic officer does in the story. Most I think will run and hide, but perhaps some will go down with the ship, not knowing what else to do?

Mean Mr Mustard said...


I do hope there will be a reprise of Hagbard's Law next week...

Back when I was Office Fauna, I could usually only routinely converse with staff no more than two grades above my humble middle management station. I knew my place, and my wry cynical observations were most unwelcome in their positive go-getting world. And when things went awry, those who were some way beyond two grades above would demand, formally through the management chain, that the red traffic light of the 'balanced scorecard' be immediately recalibrated, rather than investigate the problem - lest it should threaten their serene career path...

At the time, I thought - but couldn't say - it was like sticking tape to the red light on the dashboard warning of brake pressure failure. I left before the crash.



Mettrodome said...

Some other points of the elite "cutting their own branches":
-expecting the next generation to fund their social security while they are still paying off school debts and/or working low wage jobs.
-expecting stocks to do well by cutting employees/moving off-shore/avoiding taxes. All of which will eventually lead to at best and unstable consumer market (who's going to buy their product or service when no one has solid employment or income?), and at worst an unstable society.

I generally don't bring this up with the older generation because they either accuse me of being jealous or resort to "it'll be different this time/they'll figure something out"

Avery said...

Andy wrote: It has been a messy, muddy, process without much satisfying clarity, much less justice. I guess I'm expecting more of the same.

I will try to respond to this myself. I believe the tone of this cycle of posts may be a response to the following passages in Warren Johnson's Muddling Towards Frugality:

p.159: As the economic pie grows smaller, the natural tendency will be for everyone to try to maintain the size of his own piece. Obviously, everyone cannot do this, and to the degree that some are successful, antagonisms and hostilities would be generated. Worst of all, if some coalition of powerful interests were able to take us too far from a reasonable path in which we all shared the burdens of change fairly, it could generate a violent attempt to redress the balance. A situation of this sort would be ripe for the demagogue or the fanatic to capitalize on, and if such an imbalance were created and hardened into permanence, it could divide the country bitterly. What is needed, of course, is not a rigid defense of self-interest, but free-flowing adaption.

And the point you're making is his suggested solution on pp.167-8: Rather than try to bring about fundamental changes in our political system (changes that never get far anyway), the trick will be to maintain the proven resilience of the system we have. How can this be done? I would refer back to the difference between the comic and tragic perspective described in Chapter I. ¶ If we maintain our sense of humor, and accept the world as it is and endeavor to make the most of it, then I would say that we should have no fears about the future. * * * The political process will be a good indicator of how sensible we are and what kind of public temperament we create. There will inevitably be intemperate language, and self-righteous demands hurled in all directions. If we shrug them off and go about our lives, our elected representatives will do the same. There is no single group powerful enough to bend this country to its evil will, no single leader strong enough to lead millions of people somewhere they do not want to go, and no way to blame politicians for the ills of the country.

I believe what JMG has been saying recently is that the vision described on pp.167-8 of this book has failed; for some occult reason, America has lost its collective sense of humor and has been divided into two hostile, bitter sides endlessly throwing barbs at each other (and yes, this is almost certainly because of all the lying and manipulations by the side you are opposed to, and has nothing to do with you and your friends). The chance for America to take on the role of the comic hero has failed.

Now, I see comic heroes on the streets every day. One is sitting next to me at the Boston Public Library right now as I read the library copy of Muddling Towards Frugality; he is, as Johnson puts it (p. 23), of the type whose "goal is simply to survive and to enjoy himself as best he can. He is unwilling to fight; instead, he tries to outwit his enemies and the authorities." But these people will never become leaders in the political system, for the exact reasons this week's post outlines. Several generations from now, their children will become heroic leaders of a different kind of imagined community -- their own neighborhoods, most likely -- when the welfare system fails. But that's not what's needed to run the nation. Our country right now is in the sway of muddlers who are slowly losing the humility needed to admit they are muddling; against Johnson's hopes, our national reserve of humility and humor is slowly trickling away at the grassroots level. Eventually, when we are totally fed up with muddlers, they will be replaced with tragic heroes (i.e. fanatics), or the secession some are hoping for will take place, or both.

Rita said...

A bit of history to shed light on how far some will go to gain access to the outer shell of the elite--many positions of power in the Chinese Empire were held by eunuchs. Men did volunteer to be castrated in order to enter the Imperial Court. Aside from abandoning a sex life, they also had about 10% chance of dying from infection after the operation.

Several people responded to last week's blog with comments on the unwisdom of turning thousands of disgruntled veterans loose in the USA. Someone I know is in the Army and frequently comments on attempts to demonize those who suffer from PTSD. He recently posted about the fact that an official diagnosis can prevent the sufferer from legally owning firearms. His concern was that such rules might discourage some from seeking the help they need--but one can see other interpretations. Any rebellion against the status quo or against clearly unfair treatment could be cast as mental illness and parlayed into disarming the discontented. Even paranoids have real enemies, as we said in the 60s.

sgage said...


"... my sense is that the yuppie phenomenon was a deliberate attempt to gut the radical youth movements of the time by drawing as much talent as possible into the defense of the existing order."

This is how it has always seemed to me. I was there as it unfolded, and lost many friends and acquaintances to yuppie-dom. (Yes, in my circle we referred to it as 'losing' them.)

To me, it was the same dynamic that brought us the Reagan years - stark raving denial of what we had to deal with. We seemed to be so close, but oh well...

dagnygromer said...

Somewhat off topic. I just read "japan's social depression" by Charles Hugh Smith and it sounds like this is the start of a breakdown of Japan's belief in the religion of progress.
I just finished reading JMG's "Not the Future We Ordered".

sgage said...

@ Dammerung

"I'm pretty sure that's a proof positive sign for me to spend my weekends standing on a street corner downtown with a sign that reads, "The End is Near!"

This one's for you ;-)

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Heavens, Karl. Your link to the Durnovo Memorandum (from February of 1914, from Durnovo to the government of the Tsar) is in the highest degree chilling.

I had in the interest of time management to skim roughly half of what Durnovo wrote.

I must also herewith confess that I knew nothing at all of Durnovo until I investigated on the one hand your link, and on the other hand

But the half of the memorandum which I did read proved so deep as to challenge my juvenile mental map of European history.

Durnovo feels (I had never thought this through) that the Russia has no natural quarrel with Germany. He asserts that the Tsar's contracting an alliance with Britain, i.e., the Tsar's turning his back on a shared interest with Germany, is deflecting Europe from a predominantly peaceful path into the path of general war.

You quote, Karl, two frightening passages.

I will add just one more, from near the end of the memorandum. Here Durnovo analyzes the probable consequences of a defeat of Russia by Germany in the then-still-hypothetical conflict:

((QUOTE)) the event of defeat, the possibility of which in a struggle with a foe like Germany cannot be overlooked, social revolution in its most extreme form is

Material like this bolsters one's faith in JMG's project of discerning the broad outlines of our dark future.

thinking how better decision-making
before 1914 could have made a difference,

Tom = Toomas Karmo


near Toronto

www dot metascientia dot com

PS: Monty Python, on Russian history (loosely paraphrased or adapted): "So there was Ivan the Terrible, and Dmitri the Mediocre, and Catherine the Great, and Vyacheslav the Not-Too-Bad, and Nikolai the Quite Frankly Unacceptable..."

beetleswamp said...

Looks like Eric Holder is getting the boot. Some people see it as a form of damage control but I'm wondering if, after working so hard to push through police state reforms in an accelerated time frame, they are cutting him loose so a fresh face can take advantage of the coming social destabilization for even more 'reforms'.

John Michael Greer said...

Andy, exactly. The word "hubris" comes readily to mind...

Random, while it's pretty much a given that an elite will end up controlling land and other productive resources in a deindustrial America, the membership of that future elite may have very few survivors from the current elite. That's a point I'll be developing in more detail shortly.

Ray, we'll be getting to that. The process by which elites consume themselves, and are consumed by others, is well documented and rather colorful, in a Grand Guignol sort of way.

Jcummings, thank you. A lot of people think that because I'm talking about a prolonged collapse, I'm talking about some sort of kinder, gentler apocalypse. Not so; the decline and fall of a civilization is a horrific process, not least because it just keeps on going -- for the rest of your life, straight through the lives of your great-great-grandchildren, should you be among the minority who leaves descendants that far into the future. Stay tuned; I have even more unwelcome news to pass on.

Glenn, exactly. The question that has to be asked isn't "how can we keep on doing what we're used to?" but rather "how can we get used to doing what we're going to have to do?"

K-dog, there are various means to keep the normal human tendency to form elites from wrecking the societies in which it happens. None of them work indefinitely. That is to say, societies have a life cycle, and hardening of the aristocracies is an important part of the way that cycle ends. A happy equinox to you and yours!

Jean-Vivien, it's payback for the sanctions on Russia; the Russians aren't going to put any money into bailing a US bank out from the consequences of its bad investment decisions, is all.

Gloucon, nobody in America wants to rock the boat, because they know that when the current order crashes to an end, the tribute economy that funnels so large a fraction of the world's wealth to the US is going to go away forever, and no matter how poor they are now, they're going to be worse when the US becomes a Third World country -- as it will shortly do.

MawKernewek, oh man. And of course nobody's thinking about what happens if this process, which inevitably pushes rents up, outruns the ability of renters to cover higher rents...

Raven, good. Oddly enough, we'll be talking about that precise topic next week.

Violet, the inflexibility you see in middle-aged, middle-class white American men has a very simple and straightforward cause. The system that gives the elites their power is the same system that gives middle-aged, middle-class white American men their privileged position relative to everyone else. When that system finally cracks, it's not just the elites who will lose their privileged access to wealth and influence...

Eric S. said...

Exiledbear: Excellent summary, and I definitely see that part, I'm just trying to figure out if that's the scale we're discussing the possibility of for right now, this autumn. There are definitely differences in scale with the various financial crises that have happened throughout history. How far things fall, how long they last, and how complete the recovery at the end all considerably affect how lives will be affected by events. I've seen several friends lose their jobs this month, and knowing what they're going to be facing right now in the immediate future does affect their own course of action and their prospects. Also, if we're looking at a whirlwind decade where there's no longer a learning curve for life transitions and skill building and we've got to make do with whatever progress we've made, that limits options and may mean switching strategies. There's a big difference between saying "these patterns could well be the shape of the rest of your lifetime" and saying "brace yourself for a major crisis in the next few months," and the two statements call for very different responses.

WesternNorthCarolinaFarmer said...

If you have ever read Dale Carnegie's book "How to Win Friends and Influence People", the basic premise is that ALL people think they are good and moral. That they have legitimate reasons for what they do. This makes all people prone to arrogance and complacency. And more so for the elite because they how so much power, money and control. This helps explain their self-destructive and society-destructive behavior.

Scotlyn said...

"Hardening of the aristocracies" - a wonderful term that sounds like a vascular disease of advanced society...

John Michael Greer said...

Hypnos, we'll get to that next week. The very short form is that asymmetric warfare is the wave of the future, and high-tech gimmickry is far too easy to hack -- all you need is a few former computer scientists in that crowd of peasants who can cobble together the necessary gear from scrap, and do to the drones what the Iranians did to the US spy drone a while back. You're right that it'll probably be tried, but we'll talk next week about why it's certain to fail.

Diana, that's a great read, too.

Beetleswamp, except that it's not the fault of regulations that fracking is a failure. It never was more than a gimmick for extracting money from investors using a brief, self-terminating surge of oil as an excuse.

Thriftwizard, I had a long talk not long ago with somebody who's in the academic industry; she's fully aware of its flaws, but she's also emotionally invested in the teaching process, and feels that it's worth staying in the system because there are still people she can reach and help. I'm not going to pass judgment on her decision; it's not the one I'd make, but the call isn't mine to make. I've suggested here more than once, though, that it's going to be crucially important to create a new framework for adult education that can survive the coming financial implosion of the academic industry -- and that's going to be the focus of a series of posts down the road a bit.

YJV, that's not my interpretation of Gorbachev, or for that matter of his fall from power. There are always people in the managerial class who fantasize about turning against the system that they serve, but it rarely comes to anything, since they'd have to give up their privileges to do that, and that's something they're by and large utterly unwilling to do.

Kylie, nicely done! If it was amateur magic, it was the work of a talented amateur.

Kutamun, it's far from unusual for the very rich to try holing up somewhere as things fall apart -- consider the proliferation of villas in rural Roman Britain in the last century or so before the Saxon conquest. As that might suggest, the results aren't good. More on this soon.

Don, Obama's an outsider to the circles of the rich -- he's one of the carefully groomed, carefully vetted impecunious classmates who has been advanced by one of the cliques of the elite for their own purposes. As a result, the rich, and the hangers-on of rival cliques, hate him.

Radu, exactly. Living in a small country in a strategic corner of the world, you're facing a very interesting couple of centuries, and it's anyone's guess whether your local mafias or their close equivalents from larger countries nearby will end up on top of the heap at any given point.

Strovenovus, I was wondering how many of my readers would catch that!

Eric S. said...

Switching from the more immediate topics of this week, and into the broader topic of Dark Age America, and the way the elites and the existing governmental systems fall: The more closely I read about the year to year process of the collapse of the Roman Empire, the more I realize that what I'm actually reading is a bizarre mix of Roman Business as usual and budding medieval society. Reading about the reign of Emperor Gracian, and his relationship with the priests of the Old Religion (and the old power elites). It's fascinating seeing the old Roman aritocracy trying to tell an emperor who is the model of an early medieval ruler that he still has duties to serve them. Then, seeing those old pagan aristocrats deifying him in the classic sense even after he gives up all of his traces to the old power structures. All against a backdrop of invading Huns and Goths. It's unsettling how normal everything looks on one end and how completely strange on the other... but it's the middle ground, the pagan senators and priests clinging desparately to the old system that really shows how strange of a time it was.

Bruno Bolzon said...

JMG, have you seen this?

gordon said...

"Hardening of the aristocracies", beautiful!

Glenn said...

John Michael Greer said...

"Kutamun, it's far from unusual for the very rich to try holing up somewhere as things fall apart -- consider the proliferation of villas in rural Roman Britain in the last century or so before the Saxon conquest. As that might suggest, the results aren't good."

Right now, it appears that the U.S. is serving as that refuge of last resort for the rich. It explains _some_ of the current hollowing and wealth transfer here. It bodes ill for them when things do go. There's no place left for them to run to.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

D.M. said...

My comment that I typed up last night must have not went through to submission.

Anyhow, the largest oil company that I am aware of out here is Marathon. My money is on the oil company that is involved in the most shale deposits is the one going to go bankrupt.

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, good question. At least 2008, and possibly all the way to 1932 -- it's impossible to say in advance, since so much depends on who decides what and who has what financial toxc waste squirrelled away in whose balance sheet. As for what to do about it, that's probably a subject for a post all its own; the very short form is that you should minimize your dependence on the money economy as much as you possibly can.

Kaitain, I wasn't a Star Trek fan, but I certainly read Omni and played D&D, and come to think of it, I remember that cartoon!

DaShui, of course! The same process works at all levels from the zenith of the system all the way down to local church ladies, very much including all those groups that want to change the system, no matter how much they think they've gotten away from hierarchy.

Rita, thank you!

Scotlyn, well, there you go. I have a sister-in-law who did the Ivy League thing a little before you did, and I think she's still bitter about not having broken through the invisible ceiling. Your approach was the more sensible!

Ben, you'll want to read up on Ebola, because both your comments are incorrect -- its early symptoms resemble flu, it can stay latent for up to three weeks, and it spreads from person to person quite well -- right now, the number of cases in Africa is doubling every 20 days, which is not the profile of an easily contained virus. Current estimates are that if things continue as they're going, 1.4 million people will be infected by January 1, 2015; at that rate, we get 2.8 million by January 20, 5.6 million by February 9, 11.2 million by March 1, 22.4 million by March 21, and so on. It doesn't take all that many more doublings -- I'll leave the number for you as a math exercise -- before the total number of infected people passes the total population of the planet.

Now of course it's not going to infect everyone on the planet; there are geographical barriers to get past, and odds are that the currently very high rate of transmission is being driven by extreme poverty, overcrowding, and poor sanitation. That said, unless something happens fairly quickly, Ebola will spread to East Africa; once it's there, stopping it from getting to the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent will be a very difficult thing; and if that happens, it's probably a safe bet that over the next five years or so, it's going to hit the Third World globally and make forays into the more developed countries as well. We are potentially looking at the Black Death of the 21st century, and the easy assurance with which people in the developed world insist, inaccurately, that it's not something they have to worry about is among the major factors that are driving Ebola toward pandemic status.

Dammerung, or holing up in the basement and waiting for the financial rubble to stop bouncing, take your pick.

Mister R., exactly.

rabtter said...


The drones I'm sure would rely heavily on radio. Radio really does require everyone to play nice to function. If you're a HAM operator and get caught playing around with a spark gap transmitter the FCC will yank your license. You can saturate the radio waves with noise fairly easily and you may be able to be destructive to radio receivers. Its not difficult or costly to produce a multi-megawatt somewhat directed electromagnetic pulse with equipment of the type that Ben Franklin tinkered with on a regular basis. A 100 megawatt pulse is within the reach of a determined individual, and a gigawatt pulse may be.

John Michael Greer said...

Karl, thanks for this! "Next to nobody" leaves room for a few smart people to see what's coming, and clearly Durnovo was one of those.

Magicalthyme, exactly. It's got to be very frustrating for Obama to get all this stuff boiling up in the middle of his carefully scripted second term.

1ab, I don't try to translate Fed jargon -- I can read alchemical texts and incantations written in Enochian, but some kinds of gobbledygook are too much even for me! That said, it'll be interesting to see if that's how things work out.

NosVemos, many thanks! Yes, I saw that, but it's worth noting.

Greg, I know astrologers who get very irritated when people compare them to economists -- and for good reason.

Bear, have you ever read about exiled aristocrats living in poverty, dreaming about the good old days when they had lackeys scurrying around their big estates, etc., ad nauseam? My guess is that there'll be quite a few equivalents in various corners of the world after the current system here in the US falls apart.

Andy, the difference is that the Soviet and post-Soviet societies were working with the same basic technology of administration, in a nation that hadn't changed economically and culturally that much. In an era of rapid decline, an elite that's become too specialized and too dependent on complex systems can find itself unable to cope with radical simplification. More on this as we proceed!

Janet, congrats on your escape. It sounds like a ghastly life to me, too.

Zach, excellent. Thank you.

Mindful, well, I bought a copy of Overshoot when it first came out, and it's had an immense impact on my thinking, as I've mentioned here more than once!

Bear, thanks for the correction. It's not the money that's run short, of course -- it's the real, nonfinancial wealth.

Bruce, exactly! Cornucopianism with a coat of green spraypaint is still cornucopianism.

John Michael Greer said...

Sheep, exactly. The elites can usually be counted on to take decisive action to counter short-term crises; it's the long-term shifts they fail to deal with.

Renovator, good. Yes, I suspect there'll be a fair number -- and also a fair number who simply don't notice what's happening until it's far too late.

Mustard, exactly. Once pursing one's career path takes precedence over the survival of the system, it's time to dive for cover.

Mettrodome, excellent. Yes, those are first-rate examples of sawing off the branch on which they're sitting.

Rita, I'm sure that such labels will be used. The Soviet Union used to label their dissidents as mentally disturbed, too -- and it's interesting that these days, if the Soviet Union did it, it's a safe bet that the US either does it or is about to do it.

Sgage, exactly. That's what I saw as well. Bitter jokes about "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" were heard.

Dagny, thank you. I'm going to want to look further into that; as usual, CHS has his finger on a most important pulse.

Beetleswamp, an interesting question. He also may just have been shoved aside by somebody who covets his position or wants to embarrass the faction to which he belongs.

John Michael Greer said...

Farmer, you know, that may just be the most creative use of Carnegie's platitudes I've yet encountered. Thank you.

Scotlyn, as indeed it is.

Eric, exactly. Get used to it; we're going to see equally bizarre scenes in the years ahead.

Bruno, yes, I've seen it. Did you notice that it's retailing the identical claims that have been made all through the fracking bubble, at an even higher pitch, without even noticing that the big chart at the top of the page shows production clearly leveling off, preparatory to -- ahem -- decline? You can expect to see much more of that in the next few weeks.

Gordon, thank you.

Glenn, the interesting thing is that foreign elites are heading to the US, and American elites are heading to Tasmania, Uruguay, etc. There's a very dark comedy waiting to be written about that.

DM, we'll just have to wait and see!

Calm Center of Tranquility said...

Just a quick comment about ebola. Currently, my understanding is that it's not quite as easily transmissible as you make it sound - for example, the 3 week latency is also supposedly a period when it's not transmissible at all. Nonetheless, I think it may well become a problem even here in the U.S., as there are some interesting signs about this epidemic that remind me of what you write about early in the post. Perhaps the most important was the editorial written by Michael Osterholm in the New York Times. Osterholm, btw, is one of the most highly respected authorities in public health.

After warning that this epidemic might be a history changer, he points out, "we are in totally uncharted waters and that Mother Nature is the only force in charge of the crisis at this time." He postulates two possibilities - the first, like you suggest, migration into the larger geographical area, but second, the possibility that the virus becomes airborne - that is, transmissible like the flu.

Right now, ebola is somewhat difficult to catch because it requires that you get an infected person's bodily fluids into your own body. But Osterholm's second scenario might do some very 1918 things to its transmission rate, and good sanitation, less crowding and relative wealth won't make much difference.

For such a powerful voice in public health to make this type of warning in a venue as large as the NY Times... that's very disturbing indeed.

(Full story here:

Michael McG said...

Great post Michael! I expect the elites have little choice now, they are caught up in the same evolutionary processes we all are and must go through the normal course of reality servings.

Moshe Braner said...

rabtter said:

"The drones I'm sure would rely heavily on radio. ... You can saturate the radio waves with noise fairly easily and you may be able to be destructive to radio receivers. Its not difficult or costly ..."

- Drones are not invincible, but if what you are saying is true then how come the various groups that are currently targeted by drones are not using those techniques to neutralize the threat?

Ben said...

JMG - I was reading about hemorrhagic fevers in the 90s. In middle school. I've studied immunology and biology at the college level. Am I a doctor? No. But I worked full time in the medical field for seven years and I am not blithely ignorant about the topic of infectious diseases. Yes, under the scenario you sketched out, Ebola could come soon to a city near you.
That said, I still contend that Ebola will not be one of the major pandemics of this century. If one takes basic contact precautions, the virus is not that likely to spread by simple contact. It is not airborne, so far as we know, and it does not live long outside of the human body. Yes, it can spread rapidly in areas with poor sanitation and lack of education about the virology of the disease. More likely, IMHO, Ebola will continue to spread and take vital health care resources away from other far more widespread diseases like malaria, TB or simple dysentery, thus compounding the crisis in Africa, and possibly, beyond.
The industrial world is currently at greater risk from some airborne virus like influenza, which is a disease that most people in the industrial world are familiar with, and thus complacent about. Or, maybe some antibiotic resistant disease, like TB, which modern over-use of antibiotics is making more common and deadly could fill the role of one of the four horsemen for a while.
To sum up, I appreciate the math and the lengthy response, but I respectfully disagree that Ebola will be the first major pandemic of the century. As you've pointed out multiple times, declines in basic public heath are plenty deadly without revisiting the worst parts of the long 13th century.

Bike Trog said...

I thought of a term to use during catabolic collapse: Iconoclass.

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

JMG - the Fed succeeded so well with the obfuscation in recent years that they actually confused themselves about what they were saying more than they confused their audience (=the market basically), leading to some bizarre backflips and painful-to-watch press conferences.

Is there a term for the exact opposite of a mage? I think that is what the Fed is, somehow.

Anyway, most professed Fed-watchers get it wrong too much to be useful, but there are some who are very much better, so I'm happy for them to understand the Fed so I don't have to.

There has been persistent weakness under the surface of the markets ever since it began to sink in that the Fed really has been tapering and is going to try to complete the taper.

It is a given that as soon as things get turbulent they will panic and promise more of the sugar fix ... at which point the response to that will be, I suspect, interesting.

Joseph said...

JMG, I just came across your blog and I found this article very interesting. Your politics seem to be decidedly left-wing/socialist, but in perusing your other articles and comments I think you are perhaps being a bit too hard on the socialist countries of yesteryear. The Soviet Union and its allies were certainly far from perfect, but their authoritarian aspects were necessary, as Marx explained quite cogently, in order to protect the new societies from subversion from inside and out; ultimately they fell short, of course, due to a variety of reasons, but I fail to see what is so evil about providing your citizens with free or highly subsidized healthcare, education, guaranteed employment, vacations, pensions and opportunities for personal growth through cultural activities. The working class was in power, if only indirectly, in these societies and may never have it so good again.

exiledbear said...

Obama's an outsider to the circles of the rich -- he's one of the carefully groomed, carefully vetted impecunious classmates who has been advanced by one of the cliques of the elite for their own purposes. As a result, the rich, and the hangers-on of rival cliques, hate him.

Remember that smarmy guy who was dead set on becoming class president and doing all those extracurricular activities so he could go to an Ivy League school? Yeah, he's one of those. Probably even got a "most likely to succeed" in the yearbook, probably put there himself because he worked on the yearbook, as well as being class president.

I find it highly amusing that that kind of person is now faced with ambiguous and nuanced problems that can't be solved by just ticking off an item on a to-do list. No problem sets with right or wrong answers now, just bad choices everywhere you look. And he's failing at it. Hard.

I mean, you can still perceive the earnestness after all these years, like when he was asking Jobs why we can't make iPhones here anymore. Much like I guess how Marie Antoinette must have been puzzled when she heard the peasants didn't have any bread to eat.

Whatever happens to them, history won't be very kind to them in remembrance. Nobody will even bother to remember their legacies, what little there are. Probably a few sentences or a catchy phrase, much like we remember "the barracks emperors".

I would like to see them bitter and exiled having to do everything themselves. That would be a more cruel punishment than just hanging them. That crowd doesn't like to do anything themselves if they can get away with it.

Mark Rice said...

I gather that the purpose of this weeks essay is to present a mechanism by which the elite lose their grip on power and get displaced. It is a plausible mechanism. It does go a long way towards explaining the decline in the quality of leadership we are now seeing. This helps explain the decline of the fourth estate too. We now have a free press that does not behave much like a free press.

But I still suspect many of the captains of industry will remain in charge after the fertilizer hits the ventilator shaft.

I have thought there is a skilled and perhaps ruthless element in the elete. Perhaps these people would rise to the top regardless of which system is in place. Examples include the Koch brothers. Bill Gates and Steve Balmer managed to use and outsmart IBM to make a fortune and rise to the top.

I admit most of our politicians are "genial duffers". W and Obama are great examples. But these politicians do not have much power. Dick Cheny was not genial and he had real power. I admit that those with real power have not excercised it wisely. But getting and keeping power can be a different skill set than providing good governance.

John Michael Greer said...

Center, what part of "case load doubling every twenty days" don't you understand? That's happening right now. I find it fascinating that so many people are obsessing about the possibility that Ebola might evolve airborne transmission when it's already spreading at an exponential rate. It's as though a dam burst, and you were sitting downstream in the path of the flood saying, "You know, if the concrete chunks from the dam suddenly sprouted wings, they could do a lot of damage."

Michael, exactly. They're running out of options fast.

Ben, medical practitioners who are using every possible precaution are still coming down with Ebola. The case load is doubling every twenty days. Those hard facts don't support your easy reassurances, you know. As I noted above, it's frankly weird to watch people engaging in dismissive handwaving and coming up with something else to worry about when we've got a lethal epidemic spreading at an exponential rate, and nobody anywhere is gearing up to do what would be necessary to keep it from becoming a global pandemic.

Trog, good!

1ab, I think that sort of thing is endemic in the economic field. So much of modern economic theory makes so little sense when applied to the real world that it's not surprising that the Fed gets lost in its own jargon sometimes.

Joseph, I'm not a socialist -- I'm a Burkean conservative -- and before you launch into a panegyric about the glorious workers' paradise, I suggest you look up the word "gulag" and think very hard about what it implies. This blog isn't a place to shill for totalitarian regimes.

Bear, exactly. And this is the type of person we have guiding the destiny of the world's largest empire today!

Mark Sebela said...


Me thinks you are far too impressed with your captains of industry. Just by being born white middle class American males gave them advantages most people never got. Where is the skill in that? Now ruthlessness that is another matter entirely. For a good read on the subject try "The Self-Made Myth: And the Truth about How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed" I think Bill gates and Co have made far too many enemies building their empire to be able to escape the future.

D.M. said...

Oh we definitely will have to wait and see. I was debating the collapse of the fracking bubble with a co-worker of mine, which of course they denied that it was a bubble at all, along with some of the usual thought-stoppers including saying that the information was complete bull poop. At least I will get to say I told them so, for whatever that it is worth, once this all starts going down.

Scotlyn said...

Thank you... After reading this post & reflecting back to those times, I feel a bit like a bluestocking Prometheus (without the liver & eagle business after) having stolen the fire of learning from the Academy of the Gods while they weren't looking... Tee hee!

Marcello said...

"Ben, medical practitioners who are using every possible precaution are still coming down with Ebola"

I would suspect that in most cases they made mistakes, as overworked people will tend to.
Then again I would emphasize that we should not overestimate western advantages. Our hygienic standards are certainly better than western Africa but the amount of people who do not take basic measures such as washing hands etc is still staggering. Our sanitation system is better, but largely geared for BAU and in several western countries already under stress from it.
And for education, given the number of people online shouting that ebola is a ploy by the evil corps to sell harmful vaccines or what have you I wonder if we are better off than Africa at all.

Jason Heppenstall said...

If one wants to encounter some real senile elites one has only to come over to the UK and spend some time visiting the stately homes that dot the country. When the rug was pulled out from the landed upper classes as the sun sank on the British Empire this class of people found themselves high and dry and scrabbling around to make ends meet. Luckily for them it didn't end with them dangling from the battlements as the empire was more-or-less peacefully dismantled.

These days one can be 'upper-class' but poor, whereas many of those born into the 'lower classes' have ended up as the mega-rich. Still, at least the old guard had the good sense to invest their pumped wealth in some very fancy real estate, as I doubt, somehow, that people will be keen to tour the McMansions of the formerly uber-rich 100 years from now, if they are still standing.

Speaking of class it occurred to me that these systems are merely an efficient and streamlined way of conveying the next crop of useful idiots into the higher echelons of power without all the extra effort and expenditure that might be needed in more classless societies. This thought struck me the other day when a friend revealed that she is sending her unacademic son to a private school, the yearly fees for which are several times my annual income. She more or less admitted that he was being sent there BECAUSE of his lack of prospects, and hoped that he would meet some future people of influence on the rugby fields with which he might be able to ingratiate himself. So really it's just a entry ticket to be allowed to step onto the ladder leading up into the bubble of privilege.

Incidentally, having been sent to private school myself, I have experienced this system's inner workings. Luckily for me I somehow fell off the conveyor belt and ended up quietly growing trees and making cider in Cornwall, rather than growing an ulcer and making millions in the City of London.

Cherokee Organics said...


Last century, when I used to travel, I was in Nepal at a beautiful old school hotel in Kathmandu.

It was quite the experience, I really enjoyed Nepal, the people and the awesome scenery. I trekked for 18 days around the Annapurna mountain range and because it was at the time way off the beaten track, I never saw anyone other than locals for days on end. Local rum and snickers bars quickly became the single indulgence at the end of a long day. Who would have thought that it was possible to walk uphill for an entire day? That thought would be alien to most Australians - as the continent is reasonably flat! hehe! Plus, it had also never occurred to me that: a) clothes could freeze solid overnight; and b) a person could go 18 days without bathing and still wake to see the next sunrise. Ahh, fun times.

Anyway, as I'm foremost a practical kind of person, I'd noticed that in Kathmandu, they had scheduled brown outs for the electricity grid. This meant that at specific times during the week, the electricity supply would be cut. Before that time, it had never occurred to me that that was a possible situation.

Yet there it was in front of me and it sort of hard to ignore.

Roll on a decade and a bit and they now call that arrangement over here: "load shedding".

There is no sustainable source of base load power using the technology that we currently deploy - except for off grid solar and wind that is and even that has a limited life span. No one wants to pay for the system inefficiencies with such systems either as I scrape through winter only to be over supplied in every other season. Just sayin... There is no such thing as a free lunch!

PS: I’ve been wondering whether the powers that be really will switch off QE. I can’t see it happening, but I could be wrong. The current overseas shenanigans seem to me to be a smoke screen for domestic issues. People I speak to are genuinely worried here by the threat of terrorism. It seems sort of a weird concern to me, because I’ve read that at least one Australian woman a week is killed by her partner. Just sayin…

Hi Glenn,

Yeah, local history and folklore is a really good guide as to what is possible or not.

Hydro is just not possible here due to the lack of large reservoirs. Interestingly too, I reckon the current grid systems here struggle with the fluctuating demand for electrical energy. It isn't a constant demand and solar and wind are not a constant supply. Most of the large scale generators can generate a reasonably constant supply and this is their main difference - including hydro. However, at the end user, I've read a lot of complaints about fluctuating and extreme voltages on the renewable energy forums.

Hi Moshe,

Top point! I use electricity in quantity when it is being generated from the sun. This means adapting your life to the cycles of the sun and weather. It really isn't that different from agriculture.



Eric S. said...

@Ben: "If one takes basic contact precautions, the virus is not that likely to spread by simple contact. It is not airborne, so far as we know, and it does not live long outside of the human body. Yes, it can spread rapidly in areas with poor sanitation and lack of education about the virology of the disease."

Now consider the percentage of the global population who lives under the exact conditions you just described. Then reconsider your claim that something that devastates that percentage of the population couldn't be considered a global pandemic. No, it may not be a threat to you or anyone you know directly, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have the potential to cause the population clock to start ticking down instead of up and bring a painful end to the lives of billions of people whose lives matter every bit as much as yours and just happen to live in the overpopulated, impoverished urban centers that provide a perfect breeding ground for the disease.

Calm Center of Tranquility said...

Hello, JMG. I hope we're not nitpicking the differences between apples and oranges here, because as I said, the statements currently being made in the press by some prominent people in the public health field are plenty of cause for alarm. That said... the fact of the doubling of cases going on currently is an effect of the situation in which ebola has arisen - it won't necessarily behave that way outside of that area. Public health has very effective ways to deal with ebola that only work well when it first appears in an area, not when it's widespread. They also only work in an area with the resources to implement them.

As to health care workers catching ebola, here's what Dr. Daniel Bausch, a doctor actually working in the epidemic, says about that: "The analogy I've been using, it's like saying, well, you've trained somebody to be a pilot. So there's the plane, go fly the plane, without thinking: What about mechanics? What about the other people who have to guide the plane down the runway? You don't have all the very important supporting personnel that you need for [Ebola], and so it's been a tragic situation." He goes on to explain how two doctors in a ward of 60 patients with no other support (nurses, sanitation workers) can find it almost impossible to implement the necessary precautions. You can read what he has to say here: He is not as worried as you are, or even as worried as I am, and he offers a very cogent explanation of what is going on with this epidemic.

The growth in cases right now isn't happening because it's really difficult to contain the disease - it's because the actions that needed to be taken to contain the disease where it's at were not taken. Whether it spreads in such a way outside West Africa will depend on how communities outside that area respond to it. So while your analogy of the dam breaking is correct, the dam is located in a relatively small geographical area where ebola is likely going to have to burn itself out in the local population with those exponential case numbers. What happens elsewhere is going to depend on whether those other places are able to learn from this and contain it immediately when it appears - or whether those concrete blocks grow wings. While the global community is not responding to ebola in West Africa with anything like the urgency they should be showing, that is a tragedy for West Africa. It becomes a tragedy for the rest of us if the massive case numbers there allow the virus to resort and become airborne, or if countries outside of the affected area respond with the same apathy to their own local situation as they've shown to West Africa.

I hope that makes better sense to you.

rabtter said...

"- Drones are not invincible, but if what you are saying is true then how come the various groups that are currently targeted by drones are not using those techniques to neutralize the threat?"

A couple of reasons I can't answer. I can't read their mind, I'm far from certain that drones have not been neutralized in this manner.

David said...


Your post this week reminds me of one of my favorite quotes....

“The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
Douglas Adams The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

I also want to say how much my wife and I appreciate your thinking and writing. It certainly has had an impact on how we navigate our way through life.

magicalthyme said...

Ben, Tranquility, I currently work in healthcare and am not so sanguine about the potential of an ebola pandemic reaching our shores.

Within days of Obama announcing commitment of nearly $1B in aid, he announced it is not nearly enough to contain it. And it will take weeks to get that up and running.

The "not contagious until symptomatic" is somewhat misleading. When the viral load is high enough, it's contagious. That happens on a continuum, not like an on/off switch. Somebody is not safe to touch one minute, and then after noticing they feel feverish, suddenly contagious. And for real world evidence, a co-worker proudly announced to me the other day that she thinks she's been coming to work with a fever for some days. (Well no wonder I've been tired and feeling like I was fighting an illness for some days. I have been.) Yes, people are that stupid and selfish. There are now 2 diplomats, one nurse and one doctor that have known they were ill and helped it spread before they died, violating quarantine and lying. What do you think will happen when people in the US panic? We really are not all that exceptional. We just happened to have been born into exceptional circumstances.

Virologists say it is highly unlikely it will mutate to become airborne because of the nature and extent of mutations that would be required. Currently it attacks the liver. However, the longer this epidemic rages, the more opportunities for such mutations.

I also am wondering now about the possiblity for it to acquire a new reservoir. For example, we now know, courtesy of the recent Canadian study, that pigs can co-exist peacefully with ebola zaire.


August Johnson said...

@JMG - I find the lack of attention to the Ebola problem very similar to the lack of attention to Population, Climate Change, Peak Oil, Financial Mess, etc . These all have rock-solid evidence of a major mess heading our way and we go completely out of our way to ignore them.

Joe Roberts said...

I wonder about the fate of the specific physical realms of the elite. I'm sure exclusive, well-manicured suburbs with mansions behind long, winding drives will find their own ignominious ends. But I also think of my beloved Manhattan (I've never lived there but do really adore it), with its $60 million penthouse apartments for the top 1% of the 1%. I suppose it will all be a wasteland within a century, right? Or underwater. I hate to think that could be true, even though I know in my heart it could be. Nowhere else in the U.S. have people embraced public transportation, walking, and certain features of conservation quite as they have in New York City. It's sad to think that urban habits of "living small" (even if it's by necessity) will be so poorly rewarded in the end.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

"Ebola case load doubling every twenty days": I am now thinking of the upcoming 2015/2016 northern-hemisphere winter as a season of what might be euphemistically called a discontinuity in the process of social development - at least in the poor countries, but perhaps in every country.

I'm feeling bad, still reeling from the February 1914 Durnovo Memorandum-to-Tsar as discussed on this blog by Karl. And yesterday was a day not only for digesting Pyotr Nikolayevich Durnovo but for pondering the breaking news on the Linux-and-other-Unix "shellshock" (Bourne-Again-Shell, or "bash shell") bug. My obsolete Debian Linux box I patched yesterday, a little crudely, after 14 minutes' Internet searching, and typing, and testing. Linux people elsewhere must be similarly edgy.

However, it is the twenty-day Ebola doubling that really hits home. By the start of the 2015/2016 northern winter, we will have gone through a further 20 doubling times. At this point, the present Ebola caseload would have under the doubling-time calculation have increased by a factor of just over one million, yielding a hypothetical caseload of over one billion.

Well before this, I submit, some structures of government, at least in the poor countries, but perhaps also in the richer countries, will be cracking.

And if partial mitigation measures extend the doubling time to, say, 50 days, or to 100 days, the situation is still unsustainable.

An unpleasant feature of exponential growth is that things look pretty normal until you are rather close to the decisive discontinuity. The proverbial microbes, doubling their population in the proverbial Petri dish every twenty minutes, feel happy enough at 10:40 a.m., when the Petri dish is only half full. "Plenty of room," their public-relations specialists write: "we have over all the history of this crisis expended only 50 percent of our resource."

Tom = Toomas Karmo

www dot metascientia dot com

Ursachi Alexandru said...


Capitalism and socialism are both responses to the conditions of an expanding, industrializing economy. It's about different ways of slicing pieces of an ever expanding pie. Therefore, neither of them can be an effective response to the prevailing condition of this century, which is that the pie will get smaller and smaller.


Once again, I salute the fact that you remind people here that the world isn't neatly divided into "good" and "evil". The Soviet Union was a colonial empire on a continental scale, and most of its "allies" here in Eastern Europe were kindly convinced to join the Red Side with the diplomatic argument of Soviet tanks.

thepublicpast said...

I will admit to grinning like a loon when the Rockefeller story broke. Somebody's got an intelligent PR manager. Frankly, I'm interested in this "Royal Highness" satire, though I'm having trouble finding it. Is it a book, or a film?


August Johnson said...

@JMG - I thought people here understood the exponential function! For example, with 100 cases doubling every 20 days, it only takes a year to approach 26,000,000!

Moshe Braner said...

Regarding Ebola, Mary Odum, who is a nurse familiar with the US sick care system, and also analyzes ecological systems in the style of her late father H.T. Odum, recently wrote an interesting article on the threat, mostly regarding how it would overwhelm the US system which has been trimmed in size for "efficiency". The title is "The 4 S's of Surge Capacity", it's on her blog "A prosperous way down" and also mirrored on

exiledbear said...

1ab, I think that sort of thing is endemic in the economic field. So much of modern economic theory makes so little sense when applied to the real world that it's not surprising that the Fed gets lost in its own jargon sometimes.

I have no problem with economics or economists - but I do think they desperately need to be attached to the Dept of Religious Studies and treated in the same way as any other religion.

Steve Morgan said...


Your post this week was impeccably timed. Just this morning (you may have seen it already) this piece was published by Michael Lewis at Bloomberg. It's worth quoting an extended section, if you'll allow:

"This study, which the Fed also intended to keep to itself, set out to understand why the Fed hadn't spotted the insane and destructive behavior inside the big banks, and stopped it before it got out of control. The "discussion draft" of the Fed's internal study, led by a Columbia Business School professor and former banker named David Beim, was sent to the Fed on Aug. 18, 2009.

It's an extraordinary document. There is not space here to do it justice, but the gist is this: The Fed failed to regulate the banks because it did not encourage its employees to ask questions, to speak their minds or to point out problems.

Just the opposite: The Fed encourages its employees to keep their heads down, to obey their managers and to appease the banks. That is, bank regulators failed to do their jobs properly not because they lacked the tools but because they were discouraged from using them.

The report quotes Fed employees saying things like, "until I know what my boss thinks I don't want to tell you," and "no one feels individually accountable for financial crisis mistakes because management is through consensus." Beim was himself surprised that what he thought was going to be an investigation of financial failure was actually a story of cultural failure. "

It reminded me a little of this story from last year's G8 meeting, where vacant storefronts were gussied up to make the area look less economically depressed for the global elite.


Also, a couple of weeks ago, I listened to an audio version of The Great Upheaval on a road trip. It was my first exposure to any slightly detailed discussion of the French Revolution, and it was really an eye-opener. A prosperous, relatively stable country was upended and riven with hunger, mass murder, revolution, and war in just a few years, and the fates of the elite were often quite gruesome.

When I hear from politicians and pundits these days about how well-off American people in poverty are ("they've got TVs, a car, and an x-box for the kids; how bad can it be?"), it sounds faintly like an echo of "let them eat cake."

Ben said...

JMG - Yes medical practicioners are getting infected with Ebola and, unfortunately, dying as a result. However, when foreign health care workers are treated in industrial countries' hospitals, they live, and no one else gets infecteted.
I am not yet convinced that Ebola is the next Black Death, but only time will tell.
Friendly bet, if more than 1 million people (= or - 10k) are killed by Ebola in the next 6 months, I'll buy you a nice bottle of bourbon. If not, you can send one of your books?

exiledbear said...

I'm just trying to figure out if that's the scale we're discussing the possibility of for right now, this autumn.

Well, that's the fun of living in this realm, you never quite know what's going to happen next.

I'm not going to tell you what's going to happen, because I don't know. I've concluded over the years, you can know tendencies about the future, but you absolutely can not know the future in its details.

I would say watch Russia closely. If they're able to sell significant quantities of oil or natgas in anything other than dollars even under military duress, "Katie, bar the door".

In general, if you want my personal opinion on what we're likely to see this century - take the economic gyrations of the '70s and expand them in both magnitude and time. Slow grinding disco for the next 100 years with expensive gas and an economy that's just barely ticking over.

Probably JMG disagrees with this, he'd probably say take the 30s and expand that in both magnitude and time. And for all I know he might be right. Maybe it'll be the lovechild of both eras. Disco alternating with food riots.

You never know what's going to happen next.

onething said...

I wonder if anyone is doing some real research on exactly how ebola spreads, or if they are, whether that will become publicly available anytime soon. This bodily fluids thing just won't wash. People live with the AIDS afflicted and those with hep C and hep B and rarely get infected, and when I say rarely, I might be referring to hep B, the easiest one of the three to catch. Certainly I have taken care of Hep C and AIDS patients with little fear, and minimal precautions. They do not even require a private room. It's best not to splash their blood in your eye, or stick yourself with a needle that has been inside of their body; otherwise you're pretty much in the clear.

Are the health care workers in Africa going out to bars at night and getting it there? Are they running out of PPE (personal protective equipment)even though we always see it in the pictures? How long can they keep that stuff on in the heat and humidity there? Why do they need that kind of PPE for "bodily fluids?" The stuff they are wearing - I've never seen that level in the hospital, even in negative pressure, rule-out TB rooms. And they're still getting it? Even if it were airborne, that seems strange. I'm guessing that stuff is NOT always worn. I'm suspecting it might be droplet, which is somewhat like airborne but much larger particles that go only short distances of a few feet and don't hang suspended very long.

Also, I'd like to see some research about how the public gets it. For example, when there is a victim, how many family members contract it and what did those family members do with the sick one? Breathe near their face? Clean their vomit? Just touch and hug them? Sleep nearby? How close nearby?
Why is no one writing about this?

exiledbear said...

Bear, exactly. And this is the type of person we have guiding the destiny of the world's largest empire today!

I'd say of the high school people who really should be at the helm at this point, we probably could use one of the people who was taking shop classes or maybe that kid who was always talking about how he wanted to go hunting out in the forest instead of sitting in school.

I dunno, even a jock would probably be a better choice than the smarmy guy who wanted that student president position so badly.

I dunno. What do you think?

Roger said...

Elites in different countries have different ways of assessing and processing up and comers.

There's nothing here like American Ivy League colleges. There are good Canadian schools but nobody will swoon at a degree from UBC, McMaster or Univ. of Toronto. For one thing the cost is about one tenth that of Harvard.

There are other roads. One, of course, is via family connections and inherited wealth. But there's also the choice of profession, industry, firm, all of which give varying degrees of access.

My own family origins were anything but elite but that was no barrier. I did well scholastically, participated in high school athletics, graduated from a good university. Everything about me was plain vanilla. Just what the Establishment wants.

After graduation I went to work at a large corporation. And that's where they get a good look at you. I had some of the requisite markers: mild mannered demeanor, calm under pressure, monk-like devotion to work (late nights, at your desk by 8 am on Saturdays), on-time delivery of assignments.

And I was rewarded. I was afforded expensive perqs, high level social contacts, I shook hands and chatted with movers and shakers. It was all fun and interesting.

And yet. It's the old saying: know thyself. Not only do others assess you. You have to assess yourself. Just as importantly, you have to assess the assessors. They never in a million years would think that the evaluation was a two way street. But it was.

Because there comes a point where you have to decide: do I go all in? There is a price to pay. Do I drink the bath-water?

I included myself out. Not by a thundering denunciation of capitalism or of the firm. It was a by a career choice that took me a little bit off the beaten path.

One colleague that I worked closely with told me over drinks that he thought I was crazy. My bosses were more restrained. We had a few conversations. They asked, why do I want this? I gave an explanation. They gave their approval. That was that. I was out.

The colleague that told me I was nuts inherited my old office and my old job. Years later he ended up in the c-suite of a very large firm. Could that have been me if I'd played my cards differently? I don't think so. Never mind that life is one astoundingly improbable event after another. I just can't see it.

Do I regret what I did? Nope. I've had a demanding, stimulating and lucrative career. No regrets.

Rita said...

It occurs to me that if Ebola (or anything like it) reached Mecca during pilgrimage season consequences could be horrendous. I would think that the only sensible thing the Saudis could do would be to lock down the entire city until they could be certain who was infected. Considering that pilgrims come from just about every nation in the world, the political ramifications would be very complex.

onething said...

"The CDC advises that when flight crew members encounter a passenger with symptoms that they suspect could be Ebola, such as fever and bleeding, that they keep the sick person away from other passengers. They've been instructed to wear disposable gloves and to provide the sickened person with a surgical mask to prevent fluids from spreading through talking, sneezing or coughing."

And there you have it. Droplet.

Still doesn't quite explain to me why the need for such extreme PPE and why that doesn't evens seem to always work, although it may be from failure to consistently use it.

John Michael Greer said...

DM, when you say "I told you so," expect to get a furious denunciation on specious grounds, and when you point out to the same person that the next bubble is a bubble, the response you'll get will infallibly be "But it's different this time."

Scotlyn, dodging the vulture-and-eagle thing is lagniappe!

Marcello, our major advantages are less crowding and better sanitation. That will probably keep Ebola from becoming a massive presence in the industrial world -- but that won't stop spot outbreaks and some serious epidemics in high-poverty areas, and you're right, of course, that pervasive distrust of the medical industry won't exactly help, either.

Jason, thanks for the anecdote! That's exactly what I was talking about -- the way that "meritocracy" quickly becomes a way for bland conformity and social skills to trump intelligence and talent.

Cherokee, load shedding is the shape of the future -- and not just in terms of electric power. As for terrorism, well, of course -- it's fairly rare for white, middle-aged, middle-class men to be beaten to death by their spouses, so they don't worry about that.

Center, no, it's simply more handwaving. Most of the population of the planet is living in the same conditions that are allowing Ebola to spread explosively through the West African population, and nobody in the industrial world is taking the situation seriously enough to invest the sums that would be necessary to limit the epidemic to West Africa. Once it spreads to East Africa and the trans-Sahara trade routes, Ebola is a global problem, because the sums that would be needed to control it at that point are probably beyond what the industrial nations can afford. Easy assurances of the kind you're offering are the main reason why the necessary actions aren't being taken -- just as easy assurances that it's different this time, we don't need to worry about peak oil, etc., etc. are the main reason we're in the broader predicament we're in. I'd encourage you to consider that, and take these threats seriously!

David, thank you! That's a great quote.

August, bingo. The blind, bland assurance that nothing bad can happen to us has become a massive pressure in the direction of disaster.

Joe, Manhattan will almost certainly be underwater in a century. I hope, though, that some of the lessons of urban living can be preserved in less vulnerable cities into the deindustrial future.


Ursachi, I really have no idea why so many people lose track of the fact that the opposite of one really bad system can be another really bad system.

Thepublicpast, it's a book, a novel by Thomas Mann. You'll probably have to find Royal Highness in the used book market; Mann was a Nobel prize winner in literature and a brilliant, sardonic writer, but he dropped off the American cultural radar screen about the same time as his good friend Hermann Hesse, and it's been decades since I've seen anybody mention any of his books.

Eric S. said...

"The '70s and expand them in both magnitude and time. Slow grinding disco for the next 100 years with expensive gas and an economy that's just barely ticking over."

I don't really expect anything that smooth or consistent, I'm picturing more a bunch of little crises building up until history views them as one big event: the recessions of 2007-2009, 2014-2016, 2019-2023, and so on all leading up to the Economic Reforms of 2025-2027, the Revolution of 2030, until something completely new and strange stands where our country and its economy once stood.

@JMG: Have you been following today’s breaking stock market news?

Moshe Braner said...

Joe Roberts said:
"Manhattan ... Nowhere else in the U.S. have people embraced public transportation, walking, and certain features of conservation quite as they have in New York City. It's sad to think that urban habits of "living small" (even if it's by necessity) will be so poorly rewarded in the end."

Ahem, the total impact of one's lifestyle is not limited to local transportation. Even if they only hop a jet a couple of times a year to cross the continent or an ocean, there goes the low-impact cred. But the bigger picture is: NYC mostly makes its living destroying the planet, via the financial system (or living on spill-off wealth from those who do).

Sometimes I think that anybody who has a high income is "guilty", no matter their lifestyle, since whatever one does with the money, even give it away, it's going to have an impact somewhere somehow. And by "high income" I mean something like the poverty line as defined in the USA. Does that mean we should give up, eat and drink and make merry as tomorrow we will hang off lampposts? No, since certain lifestyles do proclaim certain values and set examples. But Ghandi (who lived in voluntary poverty - or not) would say that that's not enough.

Moshe Braner said...

JMG: "our [USA] major advantages are less crowding and better sanitation"

We do have better, albeit slowly crumbling, water and sewage systems. But, perhaps because of that (and plenty of medical care capacity), we have a complacent population that assumes that there are no bio-hazards in a normal life. Go to a typical American restaurant and watch how many people wash their hands before handling their food. Almost none. Ask where you can wash your hands, and you'll be directed to the toilets, from where you cannot get back to your table without handling the least sanitary door handle in the whole establishment.

onething said...

This one is also good:

Woman saves three relatives from Ebola

Rita said...

One more reflection on disease, etc. If the history is preserved I think that one of the greatest war crimes of the 21st century will turn out to be the CIA fake vaccine operation to locate Osama bin Laden. Many in the 3rd world already distrusted Western medicine, yet the US aggravated the situation by using medical personnel as spies. There will never be a way to know how many people will remain unvaccinated or will refuse other aspects of public health because of this distrust. There will never be a way to know how many will die as a result. A sad chapter.

Varun Bhaskar said...


The Vedas keep pointing out that reality is an illusion, those that get caught up in it are the ones who suffer the most. The illusion of invincibility is probably the most dangerous since the gods love nothing better than kicking the feet of the arrogant out from under them. This is what we're left with for leadership.

One thing I do not think many of your readers understand is just how many chances Ebola has to mutate and spread. It isn't billions but hundreds of billions. It doesn't even have to go air-born to spread like wildfire, we could end up with an asymptomatic carrier like Typhoid Mary. Heck if this hits Libya, or even one of the many refugee camps in North Africa...yeah.

So, JMG, I remember you mentioned something about healing spells a few months back...maybe it is time to impart that knowledge?

Everyone else,

I am in Madison, WI. If anyone near here wants to get in touch and coordinate plans or trade skills, please contact me at vbhaskarsee at


Varun Bhaskar
View on the Ground

rabtter said...

Drone crash database, more than 400 have crashed since Sept 11, 2001.

How drones are controlled

A quote from the page -- "The loss of a link between the drone and the ground-control station is a prevalent cause of catastrophic failure. Most drones can operate autonomously for a large amount of time, but if contact is not recovered they will crash after spending their fuel."

Scotlyn said...

"Lagniappe" - very gratuitous! I had to look that up. There is, by-the-by, a Donegal tradition known as "luck's penny". When being paid in direct trade (usually, nowadays, this'd be when selling large second-hand items) it is considered unlucky to take the full amount agreed without giving some small sum of money back along with the item you are selling...


Now here is a general question re elitism, JMG... I can relate very much to your assertion that "egalitarian" groups often are even more elitist than other groups... and sense a sort of realism about the ubiquity of inequality. On the other hand, I've seen you make reference to the destructiveness of bullying cultures & other ways of enforcing hierarchies. Do you have a view on how this human tendency may be rendered less destructive? Especially to those at the "beak-end" of any given pecking order?

Lenn Sisson said...

It seems to me that these bubbles are coming with increasing frequency. No sooner are we out of the housing bubble than now we're in the fracking bubble, which hasn't even popped yet, while the rent bubble is apparently taking shape around it. All of it taken together threatens to bring down the whole US economy, and likely the world economy along with it. Am I wrong here?

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

Toomas - for a long time I've gotten funny looks from people when I describe long term population trends by comparison with jars full of yeast.

But I never thought to mention what their yeasty public-relations critters would say, I can't wait to try it.

I'm totally convinced they have their own version of PR flacks, they must have.

bear, just when I thought I was depressed enough about the collapse of civilization, I now find out it will be accompanied by 100 years of Saturday Night Fever.

NOOOOOooooo! Please, make it stop, I'll do anything...

(bargaining phase?)

Josh said...

I just got around to reading Krugman's original piece - wow. Wow is that bad. Astonishing.

A lot of his sentences don't even make sense. Like even the friggin' subtitle, "Could fighting global warming be cheap and free?" No, it cannot be cheap AND free. Pretty basic logic there - duh.

Another example: "To be fair, anti-growth environmentalism is a marginal position even on the left, but it’s widespread enough to call out nonetheless."

Marginal, and at the same time widespread. Hmm, OK...

And Krugman comes off as bizarrely anti-science (or, anti- "hard" scientists):

"And you sometimes see hard scientists making arguments along the same lines, largely (I think) because they don’t understand what economic growth means. They think of it as a crude, physical thing, a matter simply of producing more stuff, and don’t take into account the many choices — about what to consume, about which technologies to use — that go into producing a dollar’s worth of G.D.P."

Is it more likely that hard scientists don't understand economic growth, or that economists don't understand the laws of thermodynamics? C'mon, man!

Krugman continues his nonsensical slander of scientists:

"So here’s what you need to know: Climate despair is all wrong. The idea that economic growth and climate action are incompatible may sound hardheaded and realistic, but it’s actually a fuzzy-minded misconception."

So it sounds hard headed, but it's not, it's fuzzy-headed, based upon what evidence, data, arguments? Dude!?!

Seriously this is so bad. It's not even intellectually mediocre - it's intellectually shabby.

What - we're supposed to believe all these "hard" scientists are wrong just 'coz Pauly K. Mister Nobel Big Shot Fancy Pants sez so? Sheesh. Whatevs.

JMG, you totally called it. I give you mad, mad props. You said some elite tame intellectual would take a shot at a respectable peak oil analyst like Heinberg - and you totally friggin called it. Good one my man!

I think you're totally right that this could indicate that things around the status quo are getting tense.

So could we speculate that as BAU is getting less and less defensible all the time, and while the efforts to defend it get louder and are shouted from higher precipices in the establishment, they are counterintuitively also getting less coherent?

I've never really been a fan of Krugman, but that op-ed was seriously trash. Like dumb - real dumb.

rabtter said...

Droning on, the loss of contact is a frequent occurrence, and they're programmed to go back home when they go deaf. Stats are available for crashes but none publicly available for those that simply flew back home when contact was lost.

Consider the voltage produced by a simple friction electrostatic machine, also consider that Leyden jars dump their charge quick enough to do sub-microsecond flash photography. There's quite a few designs available for high gain, directional but simple wire antennas. Consider the peak power if you dump a couple dozen joules at 100kv in a microsecond. Of course I don't know with certainty that our drones are being annoyed with EMP or RF noise, but if I wanted to bother a drone that's how I would attempt it.

Ben said...

JMG, I already have the long descent, green wizardry, ecotechnic future and Star's Reach (which I'm reading now), so maybe a copy of Blood if the Earth or Twilight's Last Gleaming should be on the table? You name the bourbon if you win.

D.M. said...

Unless they want to get into it, I am planning on keeping my mouth shut and watch how they react when it does happen. It will be interesting to watch people go through the motions you have described in the many previous posts on the this blog.

Radu Visan said...

Alexandru, you beat me to it. I was going to say that calling the satellites of the USSR allies is a bit like accusing an extortion victim of funding organized crime. There is no choice involved and to suggest otherwise borders on offensive.

Anyway, communism would have probably failed regardless of the state of our energy pie because it bases itself on a lot of false assumptions about human nature. For example, it leaves no room for dissent and expects a large group of people to all make the exact same choice.

JMG, concerning Ebola, could the survivalist meme find a real world use here? Taking your loved ones, a carload of cans and isolating yourselves until the plague passes seems like a viable move.

The Bob Show said...

Just curious, JMG . . . I've been a long time follower, but just yesterday got around to making my first formal comment. It was not published. I wonder why, of course. Moderation is in force. Yet I see nothing particularly inflammatory in my attempted post. I'd email you if there were a link visible on this blogger comment page, but alas. Did you get a comment from a user with ID "The Bob Show" or what? If I need reform my posting ways, please let me know and I'll see what I can do. If I have a problem understanding what's wrong with my blogger commenting technique from an IT execution perspective, that I'll take care of as well. I love your blog. Please let me know if you're receiving this message without the bottle and what's up! Much gratitude, Bob.

Kutamun said...

Dmitri Orlov recently reposted a study by some blokes called Alvesson and Spicer outlining the dysfunctional dynamics of " modern "corporate organisations ....i think he titled his piece "Why are we so ....... stupid " is a fascinating expose of hominid herd behaviour ...
The study itself is entitled
"A stupidity based theory of organisations "
In my own orbit at present , this seems to be rife in local governments , which seem to attract some fairly inexperienced people as councillors who immediately fall under the direction of a CEO ...formerly known as "town clerk" .( generally an outsider belonging to a city based managerialist class, - used to be local business people / farmers .. The prevailing function of the entity seems to be to assess how much wealth there is in the community , and then raising the property rates to the highest level possible in order to undertake a variety of useless infrastructure projects which serve an underlying web of business interests which operates across the state , and permeates both state and local government . As some writers have pointed out , this helps to alleviate the lack of economic growth , and is a new dedevelopment in this country which is already generating considerable consternation and opposition from the populace . One lacklustre official even dared to suggest that it would be a good thing if we could induce a chinese property speculation boom into our municipality " as they might employ a local " !! ..

John Michael Greer said...

August, some people here understand the exponential function, but clearly, some don't. I'm going to get a free bottle of bourbon from one who doesn't.

Moshe, I take Mary Odum's comments very seriously -- a nurse who knows her way around ecology is qualified to make statements about Ebola, in my book. She doesn't dismiss the epidemic, of course.

Bear, I could definitely get behind that proposal.

Steve, excellent. No, I hadn't read the latest Michael Lewis piece, so thanks for the heads up. As for the French Revolution, that's a very useful thing to be reading about just now. I also recommend Alan Moorehead's solid history of the Russian revolution, if you happen to be able to find a copy.

Ben, you're on. Let's set a specific date -- how does April 1, 2015 work for you? -- and set 1 million as the firm number, so there's no question who wins the bet. I'd be happy to lose, and if the industrial nations shake off their complacency and tackle this thing the way it needs to be done, it could still be stopped -- but the window of time in which that can still happen is getting very narrow.

Bear, I'd be surprised if we got off as easily as the 1970s, but it's by no means certain that things are going to get as bad as they did in the 1930s. A lot depends on the relative stupidity of the decisions that are made in the next few months.

Onething, there are detailed studies of how Ebola spreads -- it's been a while, so I don't have references handy. Droplets of sputum are a problem. So is the fact that it's a hemorrhagic fever, and victims start leaking blood through their mucus membranes and skin; there's also vomiting and diarrhea to contend with. Someone with Ebola produces a lot more bodily fluids than the rest of us, basically, and if a drop of any of it comes into contact with any part of your body, you can catch the disease.

Bear, I'm starting to see the point of the ancient Greek habit of choosing people randomly to sit in the governing assembly.

Roger, fascinating. I'm sure a fair amount of that happens here as well.

Rita, yes, I've been thinking about that too.

Eric, yes, and it's interesting to watch. The next week or two may be decisive -- if the last three days of downward movement accelerate into a full-scale crash, the economic crisis could be on us almost immediately.

Moshe, granted, but the sanitation here is still enough better than Third World slums that I think it'll make a difference.

Rita, no argument there.

John Michael Greer said...

Varun, those aren't something you can learn on the fly; they require the same disciplined training, extended over years, as any other branch of the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will. If you don't have the background, antivirals, scrupulous sanitation, and as reclusive a lifestyle as you can manage are probably your best bets.

Scotlyn, there's no guaranteed solution to that very common human problem. On a political level, constitutional democracy is as close as we've got so far, so long as the people who have one invest the time and effort needed to maintain it -- which Americans, unfortunately, no longer seem willing to do.

Lenn, you're right that bubbles are coming faster all the time; since inflating a bubble is literally the only thing central banks know how to do in the face of the contraction of the fossil fuel economy, that's a given. Whether any one crash will bring down the global economy, or whether it'll be a death of a dozen cuts, is a good question to which the facts don't yet provide an answer.

Josh, thank you. Yes, I was impressed by how quickly that prediction of mine got fulfilled.

Ben, I don't have any spare copies left of Blood of the Earth, but I'll stash an author's copy of Twilight's Last Gleaming in case I lose, and ponder the available brands of good bourbon.

DM, probably a good idea.

Radu, good question. If you can be sure of your timing, it might work.

Bob, I didn't get anything from you yesterday -- must have been eaten by Blogger. Please try putting it through again!

John Michael Greer said...

Queeniemusic (offlist), Blogger doesn't include your email address or any way to contact you when you post an offlist question here. If you'd like to get me your email address by the same route, I'd be happy to respond.

Joseph (offlist), if that's your idea of truth, you'd have made a good staff writer for Pravda back in the day. Please take your apologetics for the 20th century's most murderous regime somewhere else.

Dwig said...

JMG and all,
"I don’t happen to know much about the changing patterns of leadership in baboon troops..."

Actually, baboon society is fairly complex and interesting, according to Shirley Strum, author of "Almost Human", where she writes of her studies of some troops in Kenya. Among the interesting things:
- There are two hierarchies, one of females and one of males; the female hierarchy is more stable, because females mostly spend their lives in one troop.
- Females can. to some extent, choose their "lovers", and may stay with one for some time.
- Young males typically move from their birth troop to another (and it takes a while to become accepted there, usually by being accepted by a female of the new troop).
- Among males, coalitions often form, which can lead to lower-ranked males able to "hold their own" against the dominant males (of course the dominant males can form coalitions too...).
Caveat: I read the book a few years back; this is from memory.

"I've suggested here more than once, though, that it's going to be crucially important to create a new framework for adult education that can survive the coming financial implosion of the academic industry -- and that's going to be the focus of a series of posts down the road a bit."
With all the howling mobs, warlords, lampposts groaning under the weight of elites, territorial battles, pandemics, desperate voelker wandering here and there, extreme weather events, etc., it's nice to know that there's something positive that's worth working toward beyond grim survival; I'm looking forward to the posts.

Candace said...

Regarding the Rockefeller chirity dropping fossil fuel stocks. My recollection of history is thet the reason Rockefeller got into charities is because of this event

It seems that if your reputation is bad enough you have to hire PR flacks to rehabilitate it.

As they say behind every great fortune is a great crime. In Rockefeller's case, several great crimes.

exiledbear said...

I'm starting to see the point of the ancient Greek habit of choosing people randomly to sit in the governing assembly.

Personally, I think for a sufficient sample size, it would be indistinguishable from what the general populace thinks. Or at least within the +/-3% error range. If democracy is supposed to be about perfect representation of the populace, you could do worse.

Whether that's good or bad, I'll leave to others to debate.

There's definitely a side of me loves the idea of equating governing with jury duty, something that's thrust upon you as a burden to bear, not something for smarmy class presidents to strive for.

In this era of near instant communication, you could replace congress with an infinite series of citizen groups drawn at random for each law that needs to be discussed debated and either passed or trashed.

I guess most people shudder at such statistical chaos, but I would be OK living with it. I'm all for bringing some chaos in, so that the chaos out doesn't build up.

Varun Bhaskar said...

Gallows humor...

KL Cooke said...


I have been closely following your blog and resultant commentary for a number of years (oh, for the good old days of ecosystems and compost).

You have generally posited a theory of the decline of industrial civilization as a downward stair-step progression over the course of centuries.

More recently, I seem to detect in your writings and responses an undercurrent suggesting imminent cataclysmic events, which, if not apocalyptic, certainly look to be more than an ongoing series of disruptions to daily life.

Perhaps this is my own morbid inference. Conversely, I wonder if your views are changing with regard to the pace and trajectory of collapse.

streamfortyseven said...

"Guinea is certainly not under control, but it's under more control than [Liberia and Sierra Leone]. So in Guinea, I think you could still have hope that you can recognize the transmission chain, and if you can feel like you have all the contacts, then contact tracing, if you have the personnel and capacity to trace them, it's still a viable response.
If you have a situation where there's thousands of cases of Ebola that represent thousands of different contacts that are spread over a whole country, and you've really lost sight now of what those transmission chains are, it really does no particular good now. If we know that I'm the only person in the room who has Ebola, and you're my only contact, that makes sense [to do contact tracing]. ... If we take a larger scale of this whole building, that there's 60 or 70 people that have a whole bunch of chains of transmission, then at a certain point we just have to say everyone in that building's at risk, right? And so we take a different approach."

I've got a friend who works for CDC in Atlanta who just went over to Guinea - Conakry - this last week. I've got the sick feeling he's just committed suicide by a slow and tortuous path; he's a survivor of tertian malaria, so he's been through the process before. Still, I don't bloody like it but he feels it's his duty.

The great majority of infected US medical personnel have been evacuated back to Emory Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, which is right across the railroad tracks from the Centers for Disease Control. I'd bet they're using the blood and bodily fluids of those recovered patients to develop a vaccine, and I'll bet it's an around the clock effort - the lights at CDC will be on all night every night - and once they get something, they're probably going to be making about 500 million doses for right here at home...

As for West Africa, my bet is the old-fashioned quarantine, with everything moving past the "dead line" getting shot and killed - Ebola virus does not live long in dead bodies. I don't see the kind of medical aid going in that will be needed to stop the epidemic in time. I'd imagine if the US doesn't implement a "dead line", some of those African countries surrounding those affected most certainly will. They're going to have to cut off air and seaborne traffic as well, and it's not going to be pleasant, but neither is the alternative.

das monde said...

JMG, check your work being brought up in this discussion.

Your described way of elites controlling the merits of promotion is very true, and it comes in various forms. Look, for example, at the social dynamics in the post-Soviet Eastern Europe. Pretty silently, anyone there had huge once-in-centuries opportunities orchestrated by economics professors in Chicago, Harvard. Either informed individually or by sheer luck of timely audacity, new business and political elites rose there soon and set fresh Randian standards even globally. The social pyramid is now well set by the financial food chain of 2008 - either you in the majority dependent on increasingly meager job opportunities or even disastrously fast credit, or you are a comfortable beneficiary of the credit, rent, equity payments. That is the predominant factor of your social welfare now - and both the old and new elites like it that way. The “winner takes all” dynamics of the internet business is another convenient venue for the same game.

I expect the elites will see a variety of fates under a societal collapse. Some of them will indeed find themselves fooled terribly, but some will see through the real issues sooner or later. For a perspective - not everyone who foresaw the 2008 financial crash were declaring that publicly. As described in Michael Lewis’ “The Big Short” and a few other books, some found it more rational to profit privately from an eminent financial crisis. So I can imagine some powerful dogs seeing but not bothering with mitigating a global disaster, rather looking forward for the long times where any capital is valuable and labor is dirt cheap. It is not even hard to contribute “usefully” to the deluding public stories of invulnerability, cyclical recovery, further progress, to play with perceptions of the public and fellow rich, customize preemptively some crises. The increasingly irrational events and public discourse make most sense from this perspective.

Doctor Westchester said...

In defense of Paul Krugman - Krugman has written several times on the effect that being on the cover of a national magazine of record has on the subsequent performance of CEO's and Fed chairman. On the occasion of his being on a 2009 Newsweek cover he wrote a blog post that ended:

"Presumably the same effect applies to, say, economists.

You have been warned."

In my opinion, this was quite an accurate prediction, as he would make sense sometimes before that happened.

JMG - If you see a gaggle of national magazine reporters and photographers coming up your front step; please, for the sake of your readers, run fast and hide.

On a separate note, I am comforted by the fact that your quince bush is growing slowly, as mine is also. Also got apples on both my trees this year too.

Unknown said...

If a major financial depression hits the global economy in the next few months, won't that make it more difficult for the developed countries to gather the resources needed to contain the ebola outbreak to West Africa? The worse the financial crisis, the larger the reduction to the response to the outbreak, the longer the outbreak will last and the further it will spread.

Cherokee Organics said...


I've always felt that the communal fear of terrorism is some sort of tacit acknowledgement of a colour revolution going on under our very noses. It surprises me that no one seems to consider this. It would certainly be a very cheap option for outside powers and let’s be honest about it, every society has its share of nutters. Thus the statistic provided in the previous comment.

The government here has extended itself some serious law ammunition very recently. I can't even begin to imagine what they fear, but this was passed last Thursday: Entire Australian web to be monitored and journalists and whistle-blowers to be jailed for 10 years for disclosing classified information.

What they contemplate, they imitate. Just sayin...



magicalthyme said...

Onething, the extreme PPEs probably work fine. The problem is that they aren't wearing them 24x7 and they are exposed to locals outside the Ebola ward. Brantly and Writehol, for example, are believed to have been exposed by a local healthcare worker helping them in the decontamination ward. The problem is that people can be contagious before they are aware they are sick -- the "not contagious until after symptoms appear" is misleading. It's a rule of thumb, not a hard fact. As I have written above, becoming contagious doesn't have an on/off switch; its on a continuum. And it depends in part on the underlying health of the exposed person. The healthcare workers are wreaking havoc with their systems; inside the PPEs the temp climbs to 115 degrees. They can only stay in them for 1 to 1.5 hours. It then takes them 2 hours of rest and fluid intake to rehydrate. Iow, as they wear themselves down physically, they become more susceptible to catching anything because they are less able to respond to exposure. So it's likely that lower levels of exposure to ebola are enough to enable infection. You aren't infected with anything until the pathogen enters a cell where it can reproduce. While it's initially circulating in your blood, your primary immune system (IgM) can still recognize and eliminate it. If your IgM is overwhelmed or misses even a single virion, allowing it to enter a cell where it can begin to reproduce, then you are infected. A single virion may reproduce millions of baby virions, which are wrapped in your own cell membranes when they leave the cell, hiding them in plain sight and freeing them to enter more cells to reproduce. In the case of Ebola, they primarily attack the liver which accounts for the specific symptoms.

On the state of health care in the US, we will not have W Africa's runaway situation across the US. However, I anticipate the potential for local outbreaks due to our crumbling healthcare system, along with pockets of crowding and poverty. For the last several years, we have been closing hospitals and downsizing staffs. This past Wednesday, I heard the following directly from the lab tech on duty at the hospital in question.

Monday night, post peak tourist season, pre-flu season, with nothing out of the ordinary, we ran out of ED beds in Maine. One of the biggest Maine hospitals not only had every ED bed filled, and every cot lined up in every hall (yes, we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed with beds set up in the hallways), there was a line of 27 people waiting to get into their ED. They called all over the state -- there was not a single ED bed available. They ended up having to ship ED patients to Boston just to find an ED bed.


latefall said...

@JMG, Bear, other

re random selections

Here in France there's Etienne Chouard who made some waves a while ago re the EU constitution. He argues for a sortition based system, and that rather convincingly I would say. Of course it won't bring back the fossil fuels from the atmosphere but something in that direction could be effective in protecting a meritocracy/aristocracy(in the making)/oligarchy(in the making)...
Most of the detailed discussion is available on the francophone planet only, but this is a good synthesis (I hope):

If you keep the gateways to power so wide that there's no backstabbing to get through, as well as no realistic return on investment for bribes - you have a shot at a significantly more honest and less detached representation. You'll have other deficiencies for sure - but there may be ways to address them that are less self defeating then what we're doing now.

Here you can have a look at another of the formalized gateways still in action:
"Once chosen, each debutante is required to pay at least $16,000." That makes oil & gas conventions look cheap.

If you wonder how the elites look once they loose their status have a look at: CILANE ("Commission d'information et de liaison des associations nobles d'Europe") has no "president" but rather a Coordinator elected for three years. (hehehe - lovely!)
There's some documentation of their meetings on the nets. Hardly worth the click.

One the adult education front:
I painted over the (not to my taste) graffiti so we can have a week of workshops at an old industrial building. I am a little jittery as it is the first "keynote lecture" I had since I jumped out of the ivory tower for reasons well stated above.

I find a good first small step to get your head around renewable energy and intermittency is to charge your mobile phone with PV. People in Africa do it. You can do it in the city as well. And it gives you a tiny bit of extra resilience (if it includes a radio receiver).

Scotlyn said...

According to this a bottle of Bourbon may be changing hands by late January... Tragically!

August Johnson said...

@JMG - For those who doubt your message about Ebola:

"More than 6,240 people in West Africa have been infected in the worst Ebola outbreak in history. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that, without drastic measures to halt the disease's spread, that number may rise to 20,000 infections by the beginning of November."


"This interactive data visualization shows the actual trends of total cumulative number of cases and its prediction for the next six weeks in the current Ebola virus disease outbreak, specifically considering Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, countries with widespread and intense transmission."

exiledbear said...

The petrodollar is on borrowed time. Question of when, not if. Russia is motivated to sell all of that in anything other than dollars at this point. You elites done goofed, as they would say on teh intarwebs.

In other news, I'm able to go 18 miles on a fairly loaded down bicycle before needing to tap the electric assist. Effective cruising range of 36 miles. If I can do it, you can too.

One point of warning about bicycles - they don't run on gas, but YOU run on water and gatorade/energy bars/energy gel, and that's the effective fuel tank and range limiter on a bicycle.

I've definitely caught the bicycle bug. I'm toying with the idea of going to bicycle mechanic school. I think no matter how bad things get bicycles will probably be with us for the rest of this century in one form or another.

Ed-M said...

Again, an excellent article, JMG. It certainly gave me an insight into how the elites operate. And it shows where each George W Bush and Barack Obama came from.

Now on a tangentially related note, I am presently having the dubious pleasure of reading Bart Ehrman's recent tome, Did Jesus Exist? Now Dr Ehrman is a noted professor of religion at the Univ of North Carolina, who is known for writing popular books on what he does best: tearing the Bible to shreds. Well in this tome he sets out to do something not in his forte: defending the historical existence of Jesus against various arguments that Jesus never existed. OMG! I have never read a more poorly written book by a scholar for a popular audience in my entire life. I'd hate for him to get into a debate with the independent mythicist scholar, Dr Richard Carrier, because he, Ehrman, would lose and lose badly.

Now, what does this say about our university faculty elites?

Renaissance Man said...

I don't think what you're describing is particularly ironic, I think it is universal and typical and inevitable and tragic, and given that, by many metrics, the U.S. economy has not yet recovered from the 2008 crisis, this next financial disruption will merely be another inevitable shock in the ongoing crumbling of the current economic system.
[SNIP - extremely long, rambling, disjointed piece that basically agrees with and reiterates everything you've written in the past 10+ years]
...massive replacement of an existing economic system which, as you pointed out, is the anacyclosis that has already almost torn the U.S. apart twice before, the Civil War being the replacement of an agrarian economy by a fossil-fuel economy and the New Deal being the replacement of the fossil-fuel economy by the consumer economy, with new elites replacing the old ones. Now, this time, there is neither the space to expand, nor the resources to maintain anything like the existing system, and the marginalized, once again, no longer have a sufficient stake in existing society to support its continued existence.
The difference is, that this time the society that emerges from the crisis will be materially poorer than the society that went into it, and no longer able to maintain the basic premise of continued material improvement that is at the heart of our civilization's mythos, which is, of course, exactly your theory of catabolic collapse and the end of this civilization, with the next few generations of elites being somewhat more brutal and less socially refined than the previous ones have pretended to be.

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

"...I'm a Burkean conservative..."
I was trying to parse the whole liberal/conservative dichotomy the other day, and this was the best I could do:
""But a funny thing happened. Haidt, now a visiting professor at New York University, emerged as a centrist who believes that “conservatives have a more accurate understanding of human nature than do liberals.”

In general, arguments between opposing worldviews have nothing to do with Socratic self-knowledge or even aporia, but instead focus on basically humiliating people and convincing others of the truth of "their side". Now, since I believe most conservatives are actually inconsistent liberals (and liberals are very hypocritical conservatives), and since "liberal" today means something very different than it used to (and since "conservative" tends to mean voting Republican and not conserving anything except the weak liberalism already mentioned), I try not to use these tags much except in my own research. However, it is interesting once in a while to stands things on their head and see what they look like, or alternately, to stand on my own head, and do the same. There is certainly a modern cognitive bias towards liberalism, but this only entails the higher intelligence of liberals if you assume that history is moving in the right direction, and that (further) it is moving in that right direction because of liberal policies and analysis (and not, for example, for a correlated cause or a cause not yet understood). If (for example) liberalism is symptomatic of the late stage decline of civilization (a theory propounded by Oswald Spengler in Der Untergang des Abendlandes), then it's a bit more complicated. Likewise, if history is moving in the wrong direction (what if the reactionaries are right, and neither progressives or conservatives give proper priority to the balance of future/past as against the "now"?). Also, if history has an implicitly sacred meaning (Rene Girard), then neither weak liberalism (conservativism) nor progressivism (robust liberalism) has the tools to analyze it in the first place. What about classical liberalism, favored by Robert Godwin at OneCosmos.blogspot? Well, in this case, I find it hard to distinguish a consistently rigorous classical liberal position from the truly "conservative" wing of that movement (Baron Ledhin, de Tocqueville, Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke). A lot to try to unravel...

Mark Rice said...


Oddly enough I have found an example to support this weeks this weeks thesis from Industry and it's "Captains".

Through no fault of my own, I found myself working for a large well know company with over an 80% "market segment" share making computer components for computer manufacturers. This company had it's customers and the "market segment" by the short and curlies.

The company got into this position by a huge accident of history along with some hard work and fairly good execution. At orientation I learned about the company's "excellent" corporate culture that was alleged to be the cause of the success. Then I experienced some of this "excellence".

First of all, there was way more talking than doing. I would go so far as to say there was 8 man hours of talking for every hour of engineering. Furthermore the HR department had succeeded in pitting employees against each other in a zero sum game. This is bad for cooperation and moral.

Then there was the "corporate communications" to the employees. I have never heard so much specious gobbledegook in my life. After earning announcements, the CEO would give the employees what I would call the Romper Room version of the earnings call. My thought at the time was "could a company be competitive with employees who could swallow this stuff?"

Then there came a time when a competitor was making a better product. The company maintained it's market segment share by threatening it's customers with higher prices if the purchased the competitor's product.

Eventually the company developed better products again, but these were based on a design from an outpost of corporate empire far from the Byzantine politics of the corporate centre.

Now the computer industry is gleefully finding a way to use parts from a different "market segment" that has room for real competition and therefore better products.

Taraxacum said...

Hi John! I commented a couple days ago
My comment did.'t go through, and I just assumed I didn't make it through moderation, which I'm OK with, but I saw blogger is eating comments, so I thought I'd try again. It's not my intention to overstep. Anyway, I saw you use the term 'existential threat' and was very interested to know how deliberate that choice of terminology was. I hadn't heard that term before ever until the last week or two. I first heard it used in reference to ISIS. All of a sudden news commentators all over NPR are strenuoisly denying that ISIS is an existential threat to the US. I sat up and took notice after the third or fourth time, and again when I heard it come from the mouth of a politician. After all, I hadn't heard anyone yet suggest that they were! It reminds me of the old adage: never believe anything until the government issues a denial. Anyway, it seems right in line with your thoughts on Krugman's diatribe.

Gloucon X said...

With regard to Peak Oil and fossil-fuel use, there doesn’t appear to be much difference between US elites and those of other industrial countries. For example, the four top Asian economies combined, now import twice as much of the world’s oil as does the US. I cannot find any country that has dramatically reduced its oil imports or energy use, nor can I find any that refuses to exploit its domestic fossil-fuel resources.

As the comments of our non-US posters have pointed out, primate behavior appears to be the basis of their elites too. So, what we have, is one big global poop-throwing contest, with the US merely having the biggest stack of poop to throw. If nature has determined we are ruled by the iron law of “survival of the poopiest”, then there doesn’t appear to be any point in singling out US elites. Maybe we should all just relax and enjoy the show...and be prepared to duck.

John Michael Greer said...

Kutamun, one classic source of stupidity is the attempt to impose an interpretive scheme on the world that has nothing to do with the actualities. Any scheme that includes the concept of economic growth these days is out of touch with what can actually happen, and therefore is a whopping source of stupidity. QED!

Dwig, oh, I know -- baboons are fascinating and very intelligent creatures; that's why I didn't speculate about their politics, which are probably more effective and certainly less hypocritical than ours. As for adult education and the preservation of knowledge for the future, yes, I'm looking forward to that discussion, too.

Candace, scores of great crimes. The US elite is as bloodstained as any.

Bear, "Greetings. You are hereby ordered to report for induction into the United States Senate." It has quite a pleasant ring to it!

Varun, just one of the services I offer.

KL, no, what I'm saying is what I've always been saying: a long ragged descent punctuated by disasters. It's just that there's a fairly high chance that some of those disasters may be arriving in the near future.

Das Monde, glad to see people picking up some of my ideas and using them! As for the fate of the elites, we'll be discussing that next week. The most important point is the continuity, or lack of same, in the structures of authority and wealth; the more of these stay in place, the more of the upper personnel stay in place, while the greater the discontinuity in structures, the greater the discontinuity in people. More on this soon!

Doctor W., duly noted. I don't anticipate ever having that experience, but if it happens, I'll duck out the back door and vanish into the woods.

Unknown, good. Yes, that would follow, wouldn't it?

Cherokee, you get tonight's gold star for speaking the unspeakable. I'm convinced that you're quite right, and the current panic about "terrorism" is a way for the governments of the US, Australia, et al. to get resources in place to try to head off a color revolution funded by, oh, I don't know, can anyone think of a couple of powerful nations with billions in otherwise useless dollars in their central banks, and no love for the US and its allies?

John Michael Greer said...

Latefall, tres amusante!

Scotlyn, yes, I saw that. Very grim.

August, my experience is that the only way to teach people how exponential functions work is to show them, over and over again. This epidemic is an unusually ghastly educational resource, granted.

Bear, excellent! If you've got a passion for a practical technology, and skills to match, that'll do you more good than all the gold (allegedly) in Fort Knox.

Ed-M, Ehrman's a very mixed bag; I find his books sometimes interesting, sometimes shallow. I haven't read that one, as from my perspective the mythicist-realist debate isn't of any particular interest.

Renaissance, nicely summarized. We'll get to the process of elite replacement next week.

Matthew, there's a reason I use the label "pseudoconservative" so often! I think you're missing the real nature of the pseudoconservative right, though. They're not merely "weak liberals," many of them are passionate true believers in an imaginary Utopia which they want to force down all our throats. Thus they're the exact equivalents of the Jacobins that Burke condemned, just with a different (though equally abstract and absolute) ideology.

Mark, that's a classic story.

Taraxacum, yes, your earlier post got eaten. The phrase "existential threat" is an old one, meaning simply "threat to the continued existence" of something; I've used it from time to time on this blog and elsewhere. I don't watch or read US media -- when I was in high school, I took classes in the Russian language, we used to read the occasional article from Pravda, and that cured me permanently of any taste for the kind of propagandistic balderdash that passes for news in the US these days -- so didn't know that the media here had just picked up that phrase as well.

Gloucon, I don't have any reason to believe that elites in the US are any worse than elites elsewhere, but then -- as I've pointed out a good many times -- I'm discussing the US primarily here, since I've never lived anywhere else and don't have enough background knowledge to be sure of making sense of anywhere else.

latheChuck said...

From the Boston Globe, Sept. 25, 2014.

Massachusetts consumers will pay significantly higher electric bills this winter as a persistent shortage of natural gas for generating plants drives power prices to record levels.

The cost for a typical household could top $150 a month, based on an announcement this week from one of the state’s two dominant utilities, National Grid. It said its rates will increase by a whopping 37 percent over last winter’s, solely because the cost of buying electricity from power plants has soared to the highest level in decades, according to a company spokesman.
........ end of excerpt....

One of the factors is gas pipeline capacity into New England, so let's not over-generalize this, but a 37% increase?! That could make solar panels a lot more attractive, as long as they're not being built with electricity 37% more expensive.

Tiago said...

Interestingly this is a perfect description of how academia works (and in the UK it is much worse that the US - the two systems that I know better): A set of very powerful professors surrounded by a cohort of yes-(wo)man that do the work.

There is also a process of choice (that is similar to the one documented here) of the next super-stars: a big part of it has to do with personal choices made by the current powers (though in a few cases you still see people rising by merit).

What makes this more insidious in academia is that it is the field that would need the most of creativity and independent thinking. The two things that are available in the least amounts.

It pays my bills, though...

Cherokee Organics said...


Many thanks! I also strongly suspect that it is an endless resource eater / sink for western governments too. There are so many better and more productive things that those resources could be put to.



wiseman said...

There won't be any Ebola epidemic where governments are still functioning.

Read about the 1994 Pneumonic Plague epidemic in Surat. It was contained quickly and quite effectively and here we are talking about an infection that is not even airborne.

I am betting that Ebola will keep ravaging the lawless parts of Africa, and may jump to parts of Middle East which are ravaged by war but it's unlikely that it will spread a lot outside of it.

You'd be surprised how effective governments are even in poor countries around the world when it comes to a real crisis.

Shane Wilson said...

An aside,
JMG, you MUST visit Kentucky and tour our distilleries! I live in the county where Woodford Reserve is distilled, and am less than 10 mi. from Wild Turkey. Four Roses is in neighboring Franklin Co. (both Wild Turkey & Four Roses source non-GMO corn, primarily for the Asian & European export market. My grandfather was the "government man" who held a variety of positions in the Dept. of Treasury/ATF--gauger, tax collector (both wholesale & distillery), and started at the distillery when they "brought liquor back" at the end of Prohibition. I saved his gauging book. At 100, his memory is fading fast--most of his stories have been silenced forever--he only remembers things to the early 30s now, but the stories he told about Bourbon and working in the distilleries! I did a search, and the only organic Bourbons are produced in Chicago & Michigan (!) (I sense a unfulfilled niche here!)

John Michael Greer said...

Lathechuck, thanks for this. I wonder where all that abundant natural gas from fracking has gone...

Tiago, I'm not surprised -- everything I've heard and seen about academia suggests that it's got a world-class case of baboon hierarchy, without even the entertainment value of canine-baring threat displays.

Cherokee, thus another reason for some unnamed foreign powers to put funds into that -- if they can get the US, Australian, etc. goverments to sink an ever larger fraction of their funds into preparing for a color revolution, think of the other things that won't get done!

Wiseman, it fascinates me that so many people are so busy whistling past the graveyard on this subject.

Shane, it is indeed an unfilled niche, and I'd be delighted to have the chance to drink local organic bourbon! If I ever get out to Kentucky -- not easy, since Amtrak doesn't provide much service to that part of the country -- I'd be delighted to tour breweries and sample the local product.

Cake the Small said...

HeyYa John Michael,

Did you see this news from the oil fields of Mexico and North Dakota, as told by an industry magazine? cheers -

PS. here's a link to the missing flare photo picture:

YJV said...

Regarding Ebola: you mentioned that once there were cases found on the other side of the Sahara, that would be an extreme case of concern.

Well, this might be far past anyway looking at it's inexorable march, but here it is:


Stephen said...

It amazes me how little attention Ebola seems to be getting, the number of people who understand the exponential function must be very low. Even though I visit allot of unconventional and doomy websites. The news gave the impression that it was a slow burning epidemic until a couple of weeks ago in a newspaper I saw a graph with an unmistakable exponential curve doubling every three weeks. It seems to be hard to get up to date figures but a few days ago it was 6000 cases and in August 10% of the cases where admitted to be Health car workers. A quick way to calculate exponentials is to remember that every 10 doubling multiplies by 1024 so 20 doublings multiplies by just over a million thats 400 days for over 6 billion cases if the trend holds but obliviously other factors come into play before then. As the aid workers in Africa get overwhelmed by the size of the epidemic the doubling time may shorten and the lethality rate rise. The new plan to send 300 soldiers only creates an extra 1700 beds which is hardly a dent when the case load is over 6,000 probably 12,000 by the time they get there. It has reached the point where a very extreme effort is required to contain it and even that window is uncertain and closing.

As this is the Blog where I learned the word egregore I wonder what your opinion is of Ebolachan?

Redneck Girl said...

OpenID exiledbear said...

The petrodollar is on borrowed time. Question of when, not if. Russia is motivated to sell all of that in anything other than dollars at this point. You elites done goofed, as they would say on teh intarwebs.

Which is why those 'Ruskies' (tic) wanted to claim so much of the arctic. (Just what the Arctic needed!)

With all the vitriol directed at Obama by his political opponents I can just hear his hawkish, anti-fan clubs rant about how he made such a lousy mistake by invoking sanctions against the Russians. I'm not a fan of the man myself but the political follies enacted by both sides aren't particular entertaining at this point, just sad.

I just heard on the radio where the Republicans are demanding a part in the military decisions being made in the air strikes against ISIS that Obama ordered. I get a picture of one drunk driving and another drunk leaning over the backseat demanding to take the wheel.

Only in America. Can 'We' secede soon? PLEASE?


exiledbear said...

the number of people who understand the exponential function must be very low.

Exponential functions are insidious in many ways. But the one that lulls most people into complacency is that they look linear to start with.

One of the things most science and engineering students are shown is the infinite series expansion for the exponential function, and then shown thereafter, how for small input values of X, it can be approximated as 1+X in behavior.

Many many achievements in the 20th c were built upon linearizing exponential functions. "Perturbation theory" they called it. In some sense, that's all they know how to do. Renormalization was an attempt to extend perturbation theory just a little bit further than it probably should. But if all you got is a hammer...

Right now, Ebola is in the linear phase. That won't last, if conditions continue. But it's why most people aren't freaking out about it, even if they should be.

And cynically, I suspect race has a lot to do with it too. In Murica at least, if it happens to a black man, a black man anywhere, it just doesn't exist. Well, unless the black man is fighting back anyway (*cough* Ferguson *cough*).

Even if politicians cared enough to try to do something, they are fundamentally reactive creatures, not proactive. Which means that by the time they react, the exponential function has gone non-linear, basically they can't really react until it's too late.

I'd invest in a good facemask breather and think about if I had to live sealed away in my house for 3 months straight. Otherwise, what else can you do?

Rashakor said...

A little OT for this week, but very much in line with some of the discussion in last week comments:

Would this be the backlash happening when the thaumaturgy of the elite fades?
Ironically, in this case, not following the instruction of the authority cause very much trouble. The colonial powers and then the puppets governments that followed lied for so long that the population tries to find solace in supertitions that only precipitates the Descent.
In away it feels so strange to witness these events as spectator... Until we become actors ourselves...

donalfagan said...

NEJM says Ebola is out of control, but notes that the primary reason for the spread, "is more likely to be a result of the combination of dysfunctional health systems, international indifference, high population mobility, local customs, densely populated capitals, and lack of trust in authorities after years of armed conflict. Perhaps most important, Ebola has reached the point where it could establish itself as an endemic infection because of a highly inadequate and late global response."

Avery said...

@Stephen, re: the Ebolachan "egregore":

I find it slightly creepy how people who should know better are going along with such things. What happens when there is a virus outbreak in the U.S., and one of the infected has is engrossed in such a macabre, death-loving culture? This may only be a distorted image of what is still to come, but in Mexico the cult of death is much closer to home.

A Jewish friend with more immediate knowledge of the situation has remarked to me that drug dealers seem to be resurrecting the pre-Catholic pagan tradition of blood sacrifice. Making the drug war a battle of the religion of death vs. the religion of life.

Roger Bigod said...

Some background on Ebola:

The wikipedia article.
There’s a lot of technical terminology, but a layman can skim through and get an idea of what’s known. The pictures are helpful. Note that the biology of the disease is that two cell types are mainly involved — a kind of white cell in the blood (monocytes) and the lining of blood vessels (endothelial cells). The organ affected include liver and kidney prominently, but not brain. There have been several outbreaks since 1975.

Wikipedia on viral hemorrhagic fevers:
Ebola is part of a large family of viruses. What they share is activation of the clotting mechanism with deposition of tiny blood clots in capillaries. This removes platelets and clotting proteins so that normal clotting is defective and little hemorrhages appear on the surface of the body. This article has a list of historical outbreaks.

The general process is disseminated intravascular coagulation (clotting).
There’s a long list of causes, especially if we include mild forms. Rare but informative is reaction to transfusion of incompatible blood, e.g. group A into a group O individual. The patient has potent antibodies to the transfused red cells and the antibody attaches to the cells, which are quickly removed. But the antigen-antibody complexes initiate an intense clotting reaction. Something like this may be happening in Ebola patients. A historical note is that plague bacteria provoke a similar reaction, with hemorrhages in the skin. When the blood breaks down, it darkens. Hence “Black Plague” or “Black Death”.

About the math of epidemics, try

AFAIK, it isn’t clear why Ebola has taken off exponentially. The history is that there have been several small epidemics. By definition, these were exponential early in the course but died out. The present outbreak my reflect a difference in the virus or simply the bad luck of its occurrence where people under poor conditions of sanitation move around a lot.

There’s another rule of thumb for exponential curves that’s used in connection with compound interest, called the “rule of 75”. If you want to know the time to doubling of money at an interest rate of n, calculate 75/n. Thus 5% gives a doubling time of 15 years. It doesn’t work for very large or small numbers, but for small integers, say 2-10, it allows a quick guess.

Candace said...

Sorry my post earlier did not convey might thoughts well. The notion I meant to present was my amusement at the excitement of progressive publications/groups have expressed over the actions of a charity that was founded in the tradition of "white washing" or "green washing" the crimes of the Rockefeleer dynasty. The charities founded to rehabilitate the image of an elite family had infact suceeded in doing so again, and none of the puplications touting the actions of the chairity divesting from fossil fuels seem to recognize that those actions are simply a continuation of the real purpose of the chairities, to clean up the image of the elite group members.

aglehmer said...


You make a compelling case that U.S. elites are doing a bang-up job of eventually ensuring their own demise. But it does seem that the federal leadership has at least some continuing awareness that our imperial status must be maintained to prevent popular revolt. From the U.S.-backed coups throughout the oil-producing world during the post-WWII period through today's oil wars led by Bush/Cheney (pronouncing the "American way of life non-negotiable") and Obama (now cozying up to the Saudi elites to bomb Syria and Iraq into submission), there is at least a persistent dedication to ensuring that the oil flows freely and on favorable terms to Western markets. Of course, these moves will only achieve short-term advantages at best, but the desperation with which any and all such actions are taken speaks to an underlying awareness that the "spice must flow," if you'll pardon my Dune reference.

Do you think this all represents an incidental alignment between the elites and popular U.S. interest in cheap energy reserves, or could it be that they're painfully aware of the potential for internal beheadings within their own ranks?

- Pacificus

Shane Wilson said...

The whole Ebola situation demonstrates what's wrong with American Christian charities like Samaritan's purse. Sending people to Africa only to come down with Ebola and be medivac'd back to the U.S. at great expense and no telling how much wasted resources, seems the epitome of cluelessness. It's not like the people in Africa get to be medivac'd back to top notch Western care for recovery. I really don't see the point. Regarding ppe, does anyone see the vast amount of waste such disposable items create? A great gift for the future would be a method to contain epidemics that doesn't create so much waste and waste so much energy.

JustARandomPanda said...


I read that Blogger sometimes seems to not submit comments to you. In the off-chance that perhaps you didn't receive my first submission I decided to try again.

I think you and others might find the following interesting. Particularly in light of this week's topic. It appears researchers are now confirming some of the things your latest series of posts have discussed.

The report Rodrick's comments are referencing can be found at

Renaissance Man said...

Thoughts about topics discussed in these comments:
1) News media. I trained as a journalist many, many moons ago, back when the papers were just starting to slide down into the muck. I worked long enough to understand that what is presented is either innocuous or the editor's version of what he (still mostly men) thinks the publisher wanted to have happened, which often bears little resemblance to what the reporter actually saw. Pravda indeed. Meanwhile the important stuff gets missed.
To coin a simile, they do not report on the important fact that the brake pads feel a bit off because they may be wearing down and therefore need replacing, they report on (and pundits speculate endlessly about) the crash that happened because the worn-out brake pads, which were not replaced, failed.

2) Colour revolutions. Unnamed foreign powers don't have to put any funds into a colour revolution to destroy the U.S.
13 years ago, a few Arab radicals with some $5 box cutters managed to pretty much wreck the U.S. economy, paralyze its legislature, and get the Land of Freedom and Opportunity for All(TM) to turn itself into a proto-police state complete with extra-judicial concentration camps and torture.
The unending 'war' against a nebulous, unidentifiable 'enemy' is, effectively, an ongoing colour revolution and frightened Western powers have been quite prepared to sink an ever larger fraction of resources into suppressing "terrorism".
Anyone interested in destabilizing the U.S. just needs to buy oil from ISIL -- and somebody is buying it from them.

3) Ebola outbreak got serious because, unlike all previous outbreaks, it hasn't burned itself out in the space of a few weeks and because, also unlike previous epidemics, the western doctors who went there to 'save' the local people are dying from the disease. Worse, they are bringing it home and governments are starting to panic, despite the high-profile cures. Maybe if we throw as much resources into fighting this concrete, identifiable, and truly frightening enemy, we might be more successful.
It also occurs to me that there are an awful lot of Science Fiction novels and future worlds that reference a global pandemic of some unnamed virus that wipes out a huge portion of the population, beyond Stephen King's "The Stand", viz., LeGuin's "The Lathe of Heaven", Heinlein's future world, Matheson's "I Am Legend", the Star Trek future world, and, of course, the whole plethora of zombie-apocalypse scenarios so popular these days. You were right, we are living in a science fiction novel!

Ahavah said...

JMG: Amtrack will get you to Cincinnati. When my DH and I travel to the DC area, we leave the car there and take the train. (Parking is free the whole time because the train arrives - both coming and going - after hours, lol.) From there we drive back to Central Ky. In between we go from Amtrack to the Metro and never use a car the whole time we are there most trips. I would love it if the train would go through central ky, but I am sure we would be happy to meet you in Cincy and bring you down if you ever want to come.

Nathan said...

JMG -- Here is a link to another example of the mainstream media attacking relatively obscure dissidents:

Zero hedge has no other mainstream media mentions except for this one from 3 days ago.

Ellen He said...

@JMG: Will rapid nonlinear climate change and resource depletion destroy the possibility of agriculture, forcing humans to become sea-gypsy huntergathering nomads as Dmitry Orlov expressed in this quote?
:"John Michael Greer has done a wonderfully thorough job of explaining the tendency to jump to extremes (endless progress or instant destruction) when facing the future, along with the true shape of things, which is that cultures and civilizations germinate, grow, ripen, mellow and rot according to a timeless pattern, and the fact that this particular global technological civilization is following the same script to perfection in spite of it being global and technological. He even trotted out well-forgotten intellectual mighties such as Oswald Spengler to show that there is a science behind his claims. As with all methods, this method has its limits, however: characterize the growth and decay of cultures all you like, but it all becomes moot if a large rock comes around and smashes your Petri dish. And there are two such rocks flying for it right now: one is rapid nonlinear climate change; the other is natural resource depletion."

John Michael Greer said...

Cake, Rigzone is worth watching, since it's read by professionals in the industry rather than the clueless masses. Thanks for these!

YJV, oops. If it's already in Sudan -- and I have a hard time imagining any reason the Sudanese government might order a media blackout on the subject, other than its presence there -- the likelihood that it can be stopped from spreading north to Egypt, east to the Gulf states, and southeast to East African nations closely integrated with south and east Asian nations, is uncomfortably small.

Keep an eye on this. If it shows up in any of those latter locations, we're probably facing a global pandemic.

Stephen, I hadn't heard of that. Ugh. Still, do you recall the Dance of Death in late medieval art, with skeletons capering around? This is the equivalent.

Bear, oh, granted. Americans in particular like to think of Africa as a place where horrible things are normal, as that feeds into the racial obsessions of our culture. But the linear phase is already over in Liberia -- the latest charts show a curve of the classic style.

Rashakor, exactly. That's a common way for societies to implode: when the internal proletariat no longer trusts the dominant elite, it doesn't matter what the dominant elite tries to do to stave off collapse; even if they've got the right idea, nobody follows their lead any more.

Donalfagan, well, we'll see.

Roger, thanks for the details. If I had to guess about the transition to exponential growth, it's simply our bad luck that this strain of the virus seems to have a mutation or two that increases its ease of transmission just that little bit too far.

Candace, thanks for the clarification.

Aglehmer, I'm sure they know that if the spice stops flowing, they're going to be replaced very promptly by the first demagogue able to figure out the not particularly difficult art of replacing a discredited elite. I think they know they're screwed, for what it's worth; it's just that, like the French aristocracy before the Revolution, things have gone so far that any attempt to change the trajectory of society will likely trigger the explosion they're trying to avoid.

John Michael Greer said...

Shane, got any suggestions for that last? It's not as though other things haven't been tried, you know.

Panda, thanks for resubmitting -- Blogger seems to have eaten your first try. This is useful stuff.

Renaissance, oh, granted -- but I'm sure it would make certain governments very, very happy to see the United States having to fight a domestic insurgency, with all the civil rights violations such a fight requires, and thus unable either to point accusing fingers at foreign powers or intervene overseas. As for a science fiction novel, actually, I suggested a bad fantasy novel, but I'll accept the correction.

Ahavah, thank you -- I'll keep that in mind. Do you know of any venues in Kentucky that would be interested in hosting me for a speaking gig, and could cover the costs?

Nathan, oh man. That's a classic. If I had any money in stocks -- any at all -- I'd have a sell order waiting on my broker's desk first thing tomorrow; if they're denouncing Zero Hedge on CNN, the crash is probably imminent.

Ellen, I'm familiar with Dmitry's claim. The pessimists all insist that the crises we face are greater than ever before; the optimists all insist that our capacity to meet the crises is greater than ever before. I think they're both right, and that their points cancel each other out -- not surprising, as the scale of the crises and the scale of our capacity to respond to them are both functions of the same thing, the physical and energetic scale of industrial civilization. Thus we face the same sort of thing as other civilizations in the past...just spread over more territory.

donalfagan said...

Laurie Garrett, author of a 1995 book, The Coming Plague, writes for Foreign Policy:

"Wake up, fools. What's going on in West Africa now isn't [Dan] Brown's silly Inferno scenario -- it's Steven Soderbergh's movie Contagion, though without a modicum of its high-tech capacity.
Last week, my brilliant Council on Foreign Relations colleague John Campbell, former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, warned that spread of the virus inside Lagos -- which has a population of 22 million -- would instantly transform this situation into a worldwide crisis, thanks to the chaos, size, density, and mobility of not only that city but dozens of others in the enormous, oil-rich nation. Add to the Nigerian scenario civil war, national elections, Boko Haram terrorists, and a countrywide doctors' strike -- all of which are real and current -- and you have a scenario so overwrought and frightening that I could not have concocted it even when I advised screenwriter Scott Burns on his Contagion script."

«Oldest ‹Older   1 – 200 of 251   Newer› Newest»