Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Dark Age America: The Collapse of Political Complexity

The senility that afflicts ruling elites in their last years, the theme of the previous post in this sequence, is far from the only factor leading the rich and influential members of a failing civilization to their eventual destiny as lamppost decorations or come close equivalent. Another factor, at least as important, is a lethal mismatch between the realities of power in an age of decline and the institutional frameworks inherited from a previous age of ascent.

That sounds very abstract, and appropriately so. Power in a mature civilization is very abstract, and the further you ascend the social ladder, the more abstract it becomes. Conspiracy theorists of a certain stripe have invested vast amounts of time and effort in quarrels over which specific group of people it is that runs everything in today’s America. All of it was wasted, because the nature of power in a mature civilization precludes the emergence of any one center of power that dominates all others.

Look at the world through the eyes of an elite class and it’s easy to see how this works. Members of an elite class compete against one another to increase their own wealth and influence, and form alliances to pool resources and counter the depredations of their rivals. The result, in every human society complex enough to have an elite class in the first place, is an elite composed of squabbling factions that jealously resist any attempt at further centralization of power. In times of crisis, that resistance can be overcome, but in less troubled times, any attempt by an individual or faction to seize control of the whole system faces the united opposition of the rest of the elite class.

One result of the constant defensive stance of elite factions against each other is that as a society matures, power tends to pass from individuals to institutions. Bureaucratic systems take over more and more of the management of political, economic, and cultural affairs, and the policies that guide the bureaucrats in their work slowly harden until they are no more subject to change than the law of gravity.  Among its other benefits to the existing order of society, this habit—we may as well call it policy mummification—limits the likelihood that an ambitious individual can parlay control over a single bureaucracy into a weapon against his rivals.

Our civilization is no exception to any of this.  In the modern industrial world, some bureaucracies are overtly part of the political sphere; others—we call them corporations—are supposedly apart from government, and still others like to call themselves “non-governmental organizations” as a form of protective camouflage. They are all part of the institutional structure of power, and thus function in practice as arms of government.  They have more in common than this; most of them have the same hierarchical structure and organizational culture; those that are large enough to matter have executives who went to the same schools, share the same values, and crave the same handouts from higher up the ladder. No matter how revolutionary their rhetoric, for that matter, upsetting the system that provides them with their status and its substantial benefits is the last thing any of them want to do.

All these arrangements make for a great deal of stability, which the elite classes of mature civilizations generally crave. The downside is that it’s not easy for a society that’s proceeded along this path to change its ways to respond to new circumstances. Getting an entrenched bureaucracy to set aside its mummified policies in the face of changing conditions is generally so difficult that it’s often easier to leave the old system in place while redirecting all its important functions to another, newly founded bureaucracy oriented toward the new policies. If conditions change again, the same procedure repeats, producing a layer cake of bureaucratic organizations that all supposedly exist to do the same thing.

Consider, as one example out of many, the shifting of responsibility for US foreign policy over the years. Officially, the State Department has charge of foreign affairs; in practice, its key responsibilities passed many decades ago to the staff of the National Security Council, and more recently have shifted again to coteries of advisers assigned to the Office of the President.  In each case, what drove the shift was the attachment of the older institution to a set of policies and procedures that stopped being relevant to the world of foreign policy—in the case of the State Department, the customary notions of old-fashioned diplomacy; in the case of the National Security Council, the bipolar power politics of the Cold War era—but could not be dislodged from the bureaucracy in question due to the immense inertia of policy mummification in institutional frameworks.

The layered systems that result are not without their practical advantages to the existing order. Many bureaucracies provide even more stability than a single bureaucracy, since it’s often necessary for the people who actually have day to day responsibility for this or that government function to get formal approval from the top officials of the agency or agencies that used to have that responsibility, Even when those officials no longer have any formal way to block a policy they don’t like, the personal and contextual nature of elite politics means that informal options usually exist. Furthermore, since the titular headship of some formerly important body such as the US State Department confers prestige but not power, it makes a good consolation prize to be handed out to also-rans in major political contests, a place to park well-connected incompetents, or what have you.

Those of my readers who recall the discussion of catabolic collapse three weeks ago will already have figured out one of the problems with the sort of system that results from the processes just sketched out:  the maintenance bill for so baroque a form of capital is not small. In a mature civilization, a large fraction of available resources and economic production end up being consumed by institutions that no longer have any real function beyond perpetuating their own existence and the salaries and prestige of their upper-level functionaries. It’s not unusual for the maintenance costs of unproductive capital of this kind to become so great a burden on society that the burden in itself forces a crisis—that was one of the major forces that brought the French Revolution, for instance. Still, I’d like to focus for a moment on a different issue, which is the effect that the institutionalization of power and the multiplication of bureaucracy has on the elites who allegedly run the system from which they so richly benefit.

France in the years leading up to the Revolution makes a superb example, one that John Kenneth Galbraith discussed with his trademark sardonic humor in his useful book The Culture of Contentment. The role of ruling elite in pre-1789 France was occupied by close equivalents of the people who fill that same position in America today: the “nobility of the sword,” the old feudal aristocracy, who had roughly the same role as the holders of inherited wealth in today’s America, and the “nobility of the robe,” who owed their position to education, political office, and a talent for social climbing, and thus had roughly the same role as successful Ivy League graduates do here and now. These two elite classes sparred constantly against each other, and just as constantly competed against their own peers for wealth, influence, and position.

One of the most notable features of both sides of the French elite in those days was just how little either group actually had to do with the day-to-day management of public affairs, or for that matter of their own considerable wealth. The great aristocratic estates of the time were bureaucratic societies in miniature, ruled by hierarchies of feudal servitors and middle-class managers, while the hot new financial innovation of the time, the stock market, allowed those who wanted their wealth in a less tradition-infested form to neglect every part of business ownership but the profits. Those members of the upper classes who held offices in government, the church, and the other venues of power presided decorously over institutions that were perfectly capable of functioning without them.

The elite classes of mature civilizations almost always seek to establish arrangements of this sort, and understandably so. It’s easy to recognize the attractiveness of a state of affairs in which the holders of wealth and influence get all the advantages of their positions and have to put up with as few as possible of the inconveniences thereof. That said, this attraction is also a death wish, because it rarely takes the people who actually do the work long to figure out that a ruling class in this situation has become entirely parasitic, and that society would continue to function perfectly well were something suitably terminal to happen to the titular holders of power.

This is why most of the revolutions in modern history have taken place in nations in which the ruling elite has followed its predilections and handed over all its duties to subordinates. In the case of the American revolution, the English nobility had been directly involved in colonial affairs in the first century or so after Jamestown. Once it left the colonists to manage their own affairs, the latter needed very little time to realize that the only thing they had to lose by seeking independence was the steady hemorrhage of wealth from the colonies to England. In the case of the French and Russian revolutions, much the same thing happened without the benefit of an ocean in the way: the middle classes who actually ran both societies recognized that the monarchy and aristocracy had become disposable, and promptly disposed of them once a crisis made it possible to do so.

The crisis just mentioned is a significant factor in the process. Under normal conditions, a society with a purely decorative ruling elite can keep on stumbling along indefinitely on sheer momentum. It usually takes a crisis—Britain’s military response to colonial protests in 1775, the effective bankruptcy of the French government in 1789, the total military failure of the Russian government in 1917, or what have you—to convince the people who actually handle the levers of power that their best interests no longer lie with their erstwhile masters. Once the crisis hits, the unraveling of the institutional structures of authority can happen with blinding speed, and the former ruling elite is rarely in a position to do anything about it. All they have ever had to do, and all they know how to do, is issue orders to deferential subordinates. When there are none of these latter to be found, or (as more often happens) when the people to whom the deferential subordinates are supposed to pass the orders are no longer interested in listening, the elite has no options left.

The key point to be grasped here is that power is always contextual. A powerful person is a person able to exert particular kinds of power, using particular means, on some particular group of other people, and someone thus can be immensely powerful in one setting and completely powerless in another. What renders the elite classes of a mature society vulnerable to a total collapse of power is that they almost always lose track of this unwelcome fact. Hereditary elites are particularly prone to fall into the trap of thinking of their position in society as an accurate measure of their own personal qualifications to rule, but it’s also quite common for those who are brought into the elite from the classes immediately below to think of their elevation as proof of their innate superiority. That kind of thinking is natural for elites, but once they embrace it, they’re doomed.

It’s dangerous enough for elites to lose track of the contextual and contingent nature of their power when the mechanisms through which power is enforced can be expected to remain in place—as it was in the American colonies in 1776, France in 1789, and Russia in 1917. It’s far more dangerous if the mechanisms of power themselves are in flux. That can happen for any number of reasons, but the one that’s of central importance to the theme of this series of posts is the catabolic collapse of a declining civilization, in which the existing mechanisms of power come apart because their maintenance costs can no longer be met.

That poses at least two challenges to the ruling elite, one obvious and the other less so. The obvious one is that any deterioration in the mechanisms of power limits the ability of the elite to keep the remaining mechanisms of power funded, since a great deal of power is always expended in paying the maintenance costs of power. Thus in the declining years of Rome, for example, the crucial problem the empire faced was precisely that the sprawling system of imperial political and military administration cost more than the imperial revenues could support, but the weakening of that system made it even harder to collect the revenues on which the rest of the system depended, and forced more of what money there was to go for crisis management. Year after year, as a result, roads, fortresses, and the rest of the infrastructure of Roman power sank under a burden of deferred maintenance and malign neglect, and the consequences of each collapse became more and more severe because there was less and less in the treasury to pay for rebuilding when the crisis was over.

That’s the obvious issue. More subtle is the change in the nature of power that accompanies the decay in the mechanisms by which it’s traditionally been used. Power in a mature civilization, as already noted, is very abstract, and the people who are responsible for administering it at the top of the social ladder rise to those positions precisely because of their ability to manage abstract power through the complex machinery that a mature civilization provides them. As the mechanisms collapse, though, power stops being abstract in a hurry, and the skills that allow the manipulation of abstract power have almost nothing in common with the skills that allow concrete power to be wielded.

Late imperial Rome, again, is a fine example. There, as in other mature civilizations, the ruling elite had a firm grip on the intricate mechanisms of social control at their uppermost and least tangible end. The inner circle of each imperial administration—which sometimes included the emperor himself, and sometimes treated him as a sock puppet—could rely on sprawling many-layered civil and military bureaucracies to put their orders into effect. They were by and large subtle, ruthless, well-educated men, schooled in the intricacies of imperial administration, oriented toward the big picture, and completely dependent on the obedience of their underlings and the survival of the Roman system itself.

The people who replaced them, once the empire actually fell, shared none of these characteristics except the ruthlessness. The barbarian warlords who carved up the corpse of Roman power had a completely different set of skills and characteristics: raw physical courage, a high degree of competence in the warrior’s trade, and the kind of charisma that attracts cooperation and obedience from those who have many other options. Their power was concrete, personal, and astonishingly independent of institutional forms. That’s why Odoacer, whose remarkable career was mentioned in an earlier post in this sequence, could turn up alone in a border province, patch together an army out of a random mix of barbarian warriors, and promptly lead them to the conquest of Italy.

There were a very few members of the late Roman elite who could exercise power in the same way as Odoacer and his equivalents, and they’re the exceptions that prove the rule. The greatest of them, Flavius Aetius, spent many years in youth as a hostage in the royal courts of the Visigoths and the Huns and got his practical education there, rather than in Roman schools. He was for all practical purposes a barbarian warlord who happened to be Roman by birth, and played the game as well as any of the other warlords of his age. His vulnerabilities were all on the Roman side of the frontier, where the institutions of Roman society still retained a fingernail grip on power, and so—having defeated the Visigoths, the Franks, the Burgundians, and the massed armies of Attila the Hun, all for the sake of Rome’s survival—he was assassinated by the emperor he served.

Fast forward close to two thousand years and it’s far from difficult to see how the same pattern of elite extinction through the collapse of political complexity will likely work out here in North America. The ruling elites of our society, like those of the late Roman Empire, are superbly skilled at manipulating and parasitizing a fantastically elaborate bureaucratic machine which includes governments, business firms, universities, and many other institutions among its components. That’s what they do, that’s what they know how to do, and that’s what all their training and experience has prepared them to do.  Thus their position is exactly equivalent to that of French aristocrats before 1789, but they’re facing the added difficulty that the vast mechanism on which their power depends has maintenance costs that their civilization can no longer meet. As the machine fails, so does their power.

Nor are they particularly well prepared to make the transition to a radically different way of exercising power. Imagine for a moment that one of the current US elite—an executive from a too-big-to-fail investment bank, a top bureaucrat from inside the DC beltway, a trust-fund multimillionaire with a pro forma job at the family corporation, or what have you—were to turn up in some chaotic failed state on the fringes of the industrial world, with no money, no resources, no help from abroad, and no ticket home. What’s the likelihood that, without anything other than whatever courage, charisma, and bare-knuckle fighting skills he might happen to have, some such person could equal Odoacer’s feat, win the loyalty and obedience of thousands of gang members and unemployed mercenaries, and lead them in a successful invasion of a neighboring country?

There are people in North America who could probably carry off a feat of that kind, but you won’t find them in the current ruling elite. That in itself defines part of the path to dark age America: the replacement of a ruling class that specializes in managing abstract power through institutions with a ruling class that specializes in expressing power up close and in person, using the business end of the nearest available weapon. The process by which the new elite emerges and elbows its predecessors out of the way, in turn, is among the most reliable dimensions of decline and fall; we’ll talk about it next week.


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James Barnes said...

"What’s the likelihood that, without anything other than whatever courage, charisma, and bare-knuckle fighting skills he might happen to have, some such person could equal Odoacer’s feat, win the loyalty and obedience of thousands of gang members and unemployed mercenaries, and lead them in a successful invasion of a neighboring country?"
Sounds a bit like Islamic State Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Kutamun said...

have always marvelled at the way fighting men are left to wither on the vine or even rot once a major conflict ends . Men who are brave under fire , tough and resourceful when placed in unexpected situations , willing to quickly cast off their previous assumptions and forge a new set , intuitive , not bound to reason or dogma , extremely adaptable . I suppose these qualities are relatively incompatible within a system that requires passive conformity and stultifying rigidity , the willingness to operate an existing system rather than create one .
Higher Commands in modern militaries are i suppose modelled along corporate lines , and the highest ranks may be noteworthy for their uncanny resemblance to the modern corporate CEO , difficult i guess, to say who was modelled on who .
During the breakdown of a vast Empire , i wonder if it would be someone from the lower echelons of military ( or gang ) command who finds themselves most suited to leadership in a fragmenting , dynamic situations. During WW2 , Generals such as Patton and Rommell became famous as dynamic commanders at Corps level , though both were considered too "unpredictable and highly strung" for higher echelon command . Perhaps it may be that some people from non military even civilian structures suddenly grow into themselves during such periods.
Though ex military may have some early running , as evidenced by Dmitri Orlovs observations in the failed Soviet Union , they are by no means the only candidates . I have a friend here in Oz from the northern territory who is a born leader ; tough fearless and resourceful . Around 40 now , he is still fit as a bull ; extremely familiar with the outback , excellent horseman , welder , eough mechanic ,helicopter pilot, good shot ; can butcher own meat . This bloke can throw a scrub bull and tie it up or discuss red wine or politics , though quite irrationally cierce when angered. Educated at good boarding school , intelligent , charismatic , never been anywhere near the military , of sober habits , excellent even temperament . Already a practicing dictator within his own vast outback fiefdom , seems to be able to relate to people of all walks of life .
Not unlike Kunstlers character in "world made by hand " . They exist , i have met them , no doubt they will emerge . This is the type of bloke that would only have entered the military when conscripted for war , and would have quickly found himself commanding a battallion.
In the ranks of pilots , i have noticed it is the Oedipal types who are often close to their mothers who seem to have the greatest penchant or driving need for heroism , and this can be explored through the history and writings of famous warriors such as Wing Commander Guy Gibson and Wing Commander Brian Kincome in his excellent philosophical tract "A willingness to die " . It seems an absent father helps ( either emotionally or physically).

Andy Brown said...

Fascinating and very convincing essay. What hits closer to home, and this may be true for many of your readers, is that we often view ourselves less as power-wielders than we do as power-resisters. Even the act of reading this blog is, for many of us, an act of resistance against the hegemony of our failing, but still potent society. How many of my lifetime's decisions have been driven by the desire to have more control over my life and shield myself from the meddling of others? So when you talk about how techniques of power become just so much obsolete baggage, I immediately wonder to myself how many of my current strategies of resistance are going to prove equally counter-productive and futile. And it is disconcertingly easy to conclude that much or all of it will be.

On the other hand, today for the first time I removed several score voracious grasshoppers from around my autumn garden, and we roasted them up and ate them. So there's that. I guess we keep adding skills to the repertoire in the hopes that they will be useful someday. Maybe even a source of resistance - if not power.

Michael Petro said...

Excellent, as always.

Thanks for keeping me looking at this from all angles.

The Faithful Student said...

The main difference with the classical situation is that until the "iron fist" of the police, various variations on "Ministry of the Interior" and the military starts to lose confidence in the existing order, any nascent revolutionaries will have a very hard time of it. Particularly since successful revolutions require either a total collapse of the international power structure or foreign support for the revolutionaries.

(The Russian exception was based on the fact it was essentially a religious crusade. The counter revolutionaries didn't have anything happening soft power wise to counter this advantage of the Reds.)

(Which isn't to say such couldn't happen in America. It all depends if there's enough fuel left in Christianity's feed stock for one more Great Awakening with just that particular tone and pitch to make revolution into a Crusade. Christian militant rhetoric is quite bellicose but if they _truly_ believed their own rhetoric, I don't understand why the Crusade hasn't started yet.)

The thing is technology and power intensive technologies make repression in advanced societies very efficient. And America's mythology plus its high level of wealth makes people very reluctant to try changing the established order. The American elites had an epic success convincing the people they are parasites upon that their victims' best interests are the same as those who feed on them. I understand that mass poverty can change this. But it seems we're still a ways off from a quick or extreme enough drop in material well being to set things off?

I'm not saying the situation can't change very quickly. But that there is a bit of a buffer the ancient cases had much less of.

Basically, tl;dr, the useless parasitic power holders are still safe as long as the average person fears they have more to lose than gain in a revolution, the physical well being of the masses continues to slide slowly, and the jackboots stay loyal. America has some atypical traits that will stretch these tolerances a bit, I think.

But the basic analysis is brilliant. Maybe pass it on to Nick Hanauer. It might raise the chance of an FDR II arising...

Travis Marshall said...

Quite possibly the only comforting thought moving further into decline is that those with very little right to their privilege will soon find themselves without. While it may be a bit petty to find this comforting somehow I do. It is I suppose a side effect of continually watching the smugness of elites who think they have it all figured out and deserve all the wealth at their disposal. I fear I may find myself longing for the return of the rule of smug morons as opposed to ruthless barbarians but for now I will enjoy the notion. Bureaucracy has never been as clear as it is now. My guess is a mixture of Gang leaders, Drug lords and high ranking military members will comprise many of our future "Deciders" As always I will stay tuned.

Ventriloquist said...

It appears that the elite do not recognise the call to arms/alarms:

"Ask not for whom the bell tolls,
it tolls for thee."

-- John Donne

What is it about the corruption of power that so easily corrupts? It is like a maggot, that sinks under the skin, only to later erupt as a fly, to lie eggs again?

It is fascinating that the elite are so adept at planting the seeds of their own destruction, yet not nearly adept enough at planning the harvest.

I'm planting several thousand garlic in a couple weeks time . . . several hardneck varieties have proven very reliable in the Northeastern winters for survivability. However, one must apply sufficient layers of mulch to keep the winter winds and snow from freezing them in the ground so they can sprout next spring.

Planting for raw weather hoping for harvest in the warmth takes a leap of faith. Lose that faith, and you lose your crop.

Robert Martini said...

In this series of post it is starting to become obvious how the pervasive blindness to whole systems and the institutional momentum of elite bureaucrats, leads to a massive vulnerability to asymmetric warfare. the lack of police departments ability to manage inner city gang and cartel connected groups, and the blundering of the military to fight Middle East insurgencies. It is not that they cant fight and kill them, it's that they can't fight them in a cost effective way. Is this asymmetrical response a natural emergent response to heavy handed symmetrical conflict? Like in the revolutionary warfare were guerrilla tactics were used? I wonder why asymmetric tactics weren't as heavily used in the civil war? Thought provoking post, well put!

"So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak."

6-30 Sun Tzu Art of War

Best Wishes,

Degringolade said...

I have a feeling that the people who will pick up the reins of power are now trained and will be receiving their reduction-in-force notifications from the Army and/or Marines in the none-too-distant future.

Lett these simmer for a couple of years in dead end jobs, working for the parasitic elites and you will have a fine meal, cooked to order.

Working at the VA as I do, I can happily report that they will probably be pretty good at their job when they pick it up.

John Michael Greer said...

James, exactly. We're seeing classic warband formation in an advanced stage in the Middle East already -- which does not bode well for the peace and security of Europe, by the way.

Kutamun, I've met some of them also. There are always such people; it just takes the decline and fall of a civilization to give them a place to work.

Andy, excellent! That gets you tonight's gold star with an honorary chef's hat. How did the grasshoppers taste?

Michael, thank you.

Student, there I think you're quite mistaken. The people at the top of the ladder of power aren't the ones who have direct access to the new technologies of power; those are being operated by thousands of ordinary working Joes and Janes, who have increasingly little to hope for from their alleged masters. The technology may be different but the human realities are the same, and the current elite is just as vulnerable as any other to that moment when they find out the hard way that the people who actually have control of the mechanisms of power are no longer listening to them.

Travis, as noted in a previous post, one of the reasons that barbarian warlords replace imperial bureaucrats with such ease is that barbarian warlords are on the scene, in touch with reality, and cost a lot less to maintain than the bureaucrats. Thus there are pragmatic reasons, not just petty ones, to applaud their appearance.

Ventriloquist, nicely put. I think it's the sense of entitlement -- the conviction, fostered by every detail of their experience, that they'll get the harvest no matter how clueless their decisions might be -- that sets up elites for their destiny hanging from lampposts.

Robert, exactly. A mature civilization has overwhelming military and police power, provided that the other side behaves according to expectation; the successful "other sides" thus quickly learn to behave otherwise.

Degringolade, some of them are no doubt in that category. Others are running drug gangs; others are doing something else again. Which ones end up on top for how long is very hard to predict in advance.

SDBoneyard said...

YES, another excellent post, Michael. Thank you.

And of course, the decadent last Tang, Song, Ming, and Ching emperors were vasty different from their blood-splattered successors ... whether the founding Mongols, Manchus or the current Red dynasty.

What is the story which Gibbon mentions of one of the last Western Roman emperors wiping his tears on learning the "Rome" which had been attacked was the city (distant from Milan) and not his favorite CHICKEN?

You can't make this stuff up, really.

Andy Brown said...

The grasshoppers - which we roasted with a dash of cajun seasoning - were actually palatable. Though I have to admit the flavor improved whenever I could forget that I was eating bugs and just pop them in my mouth as salted treats.

pyrrhus said...

Indeed, the Elites' (as represented by top bureaucrats) flailing response to the Ebola problem could well do serious damage to their credibility. More cases in the West popping up today, and tentative acknowledgment that the all-knowing rulers were wrong about little things like airborne transmission and persistence of Ebola outside the body. Next up, a review of the Quarantine non-policy, as the public slowly wakes from its slumbers...

Kaitain said...

Kutamun said: “Higher Commands in modern militaries are i suppose modelled along corporate lines , and the highest ranks may be noteworthy for their uncanny resemblance to the modern corporate CEO , difficult i guess, to say who was modelled on who.”

James Dunnigan, a well known military analyst and wargame designer, has pointed out that most military officers these days are really little more than bureaucrats in uniform. This is one reason why the Ulysses S Grant’s, George Patton’s and Erwin Rommel’s of the world have such a hard time in the peacetime military. The real warriors and war leaders tend to get pushed aside in favor of the bootlickers and paper pushers. But as Fleet Admiral Ernie King once famously put it "When they get in trouble, they send for the sons-of-bitches." Historically, many generals, admirals, colonels and warship captains have tended to be relieved of command in the early stages of a war when it becomes clear they can’t lead effectively in combat.

It has also been observed that one major reason why revolutionary armies like the PLA during the Chinese Civil War, the IDF in its heyday (1940’s to early 1970’s) and the Waffen SS often outdo their more conventional counterparts is because they haven’t been around long enough for bureaucratic encrustation to build up, they tend to focus on basics like combat training and leadership and in such armies, the officers are generally promoted based on how well they do as frontline leaders and this does wonders for morale since the soldiers know they are being led by men who have proven their courage, competence and leadership ability in the toughest crucible of all. I expect this will be one of the factors that drives the decline of conventional armies and the rise of warbands and insurgent armies like the ones we are seeing emerge in Mexico and the Middle East.

Yupped said...

From what I understand of history, your assessment rings true. But from my own personal life experience, at least up until a few years ago, the situation seemed more complicated. My perspective has changed more recently though.

Growing up in the UK in the 60s, 70s and 80s I lived through the final coming apart of the old class system, and its replacement by a more meritocratic system. Sure there were still plenty of entitled (figuratively and literally) members of the old guard running the big bureaucracies, but there was a distinct influx of members of the working and middle classes getting into real positions of economic, cultural and political power at that time. It seemed like the old guard was changing, or at least letting a wider cross-section of people into the tent. And then as I moved to the US in the early 90s this country seemed by comparison to be even more meritocratic and, at least back then, its reputation for upward mobility even had basis in fact. So for my first few decades my lived experience was of the ruling elite of these advanced societies becoming more inclusive. Or perhaps I was just believing the storyline (I'm a trusting sort of fellow).

Anyway, and the point of my comment, is that this seems to be changing substantially in recent years, as measured by concentrating wealth, reductions in social and economic mobility and the hollowing out of the middle class. I wonder if this in part because the old elite allowed a broader cross-section of meritocratic strivers into the wealth tent from the 80s on, and these same strivers are now striving to hang on to their share of the pie, now that the pie is shrinking? There would be a certain irony to that.

Mark Sebela said...

Very astute historical comparisons John, as per usual. They brought to mind the similarities of wasteful materialism shared by Rome and the U.S. The Romans exported their gold to China for silk and spice while Americans are exporting their dollars for smart phones and flat screens. I'm aware there is some difference between gold and fiat money, but I still think it rhymes.

Mark Sebela said...

If there ever is a 21st century American Odoacer, he need look no further than the prison industrial complex for his soldiers. Talk about a pre-made army. Brings to mind Spartacus and the slave revolt. There's that old republic again.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"Imagine for a moment that one of the current US elite—an executive from a too-big-to-fail investment bank, a top bureaucrat from inside the DC beltway, a trust-fund multimillionaire with a pro forma job at the family corporation, or what have you—were to turn up in some chaotic failed state on the fringes of the industrial world, with no money, no resources, no help from abroad, and no ticket home."

This is the basis for the taunt directed at Libertarians from what passes for the Left in the U.S. that if the Libertarians really want a minimal state paradise, they can always go to Somalia. Of course, the targets of the taunt won't ever take their critics up on it.

"There are people in North America who could probably carry off a feat of that kind, but you won’t find them in the current ruling elite."

In the now-cancelled post-apocalyptic show "Revolution," the first villain the viewers met was an militia commander played by Giancarlo Esposito. When asked what he was before the blackout that never ended, he replied "an insurance adjuster." He personifies the trope From Nobody to Nightmare. I expect a lot of the new ruling class would fit that theme as well.

@Andy Brown I've eaten grasshoppers before and found them delicious. I ate them in Oaxaca, Mexico, where they are a local delicacy, and did so in part because of the superstition that if one ate them, one would come back to Oaxaca. I hope I can do that before collapse gets too advanced and travel becomes too difficult. You and I might be part of a trend, as the U.N. says eating bugs is the future, at least if one wants to feed a billion more people, which seems to be baked in short of a fast collapse, and have them get protein.

Pongo said...

Since we're on the topic of warbands JMG, I remember that when you addressed this subject a few years back you told your readers in the vicinity of the US/Mexican border to be on the lookout for the first tentative incursions from the other side. Soon after I read that essay I did note something minor but which perhaps was a significant harbinger of things to come. Not a classical incursion in the way of the old barbarian raids onto Roman turf, but it was an article that appeared in the LA Times. It dealt with the city of Compton, which was traditionally a majority-black community, but which is now two thirds Hispanic, and not just because of the irresistible demographic pressure of immigration from Latin America. It seems that for several decades now Latino street gangs have been terrorizing the African American community in the city and surrounding area in what sounds very much like a low-intensity campaign of ethnic cleansing, with blacks subject to threats, intimidation and violent attacks. I dug up the article again:

ridgedruid said...

It will be interesting to see if the way institutions are handling Ebola in the US and Europe create the kind of "break" you are suggesting - between corporate health policy order-givers and the people actually providing health care. It is being reported that the Spanish nurse now hospitalized sought medical care 3 times, and after she tested positive, was left in a local ER for 8 hours before being transferred. A Dallas police officer who visited the victim's apartment in shirt sleeves before it had been cleaned has been hospitalized. No "moonsuits" in Dallas because those in charge say you can only catch it from someone with active symptoms.

If health and law enforcement workers start to feel they are being made expandable to maintain order and status quo, or that those who give the orders are clueless, it could get interesting very quickly. They are the ones with their lives on the line.

Repent said...

It is almost comical the situation we find ourselves in:

Keep up the good work !

Gwaiharad said...

I tend to agree with Faithful Student. A full-out uprising seems unlikely here in the US, unless conditions get a heck of a lot worse, in a relative hurry. Even then, it would probably come in the form of various states trying to secede, possibly leading to Civil War II, rather than guillotines and gibbets. Surveillance and enforcement might possibly be able to stop massive uprisings before they start, but the real damper is cultural (Democracy is good! Terrorists are bad! We deserve peace and prosperity! 'Murica!).
Admittedly, my perspective may be a bit biased by living in a former state of the Confederacy where the economy hasn't suffered quite so badly in recent years.

As for Christianity providing fuel for a crusade, this seems a bit unlikely. Christianity is, in general, allied with the elites; the Republican party in particular has done an outstanding job of tapping into that particular source of popular support. In addition, Jesus, who we might recall lived at the beginning of the Roman Empire's decline, actively dissuaded people from armed rebellion - a popular idea in his day - and told his followers to abide by the laws of the land. I guess a militant Christian uprising is technically a possibility - after all, the deeply counter-Biblical "Prosperity Gospel" has a pretty wide following - but realistically, I'd expect to see a few Branch-Davidian style incidents, and not much more.

However, I do predict that Christianity will still be around long after the United States are a thing of the past. It's shown itself to be resilient and adaptable over its 2000-year history, probably because it keys into some fairly universal quirks of human psychology (Feel inadequate? That's OK, Jesus loves you and died for your sins! Afraid of death? That's OK, you get an eternal afterlife in heaven! ...etc). In addition, there seems to be a phoenix-like pattern - whenever the church starts becoming fossilized and senile, sure enough, some kind of revival or Reformation ignites and sweeps across the cultural landscape, bringing new life in its wake.

(Amusing note, somewhat related to Christians and right-wingers: Per the New Testament, and especially obvious in the book of Acts... early Christians were literally communists. Ironic, huh?)

Bill Pulliam said...

Living here among the great unwashed (actually hyperhygenic) masses, neither among the halls of the "power brokers" nor among the grasshopper-munching wildmen of the outback...

I just don't get the sense that we are as close to the edge in this process as many seem to believe. The reason for that is simple: In spite of the anti-government, it's-all-falling-apart rhetoric from so many directions, I see the rank and file still 100% invested in the continuation of the system as it is. It may be handing they a raw deal, but they don't really seem to be hungry for something else. In fact, they are hungry for much more of the same, and they are paying no attention whatsoever to the power structures that stand on top of them. Sure there is a lot of talk, but it is for the most part just talk and everyone is quite content, or at least pacified, distracted, and sedated in Mall*Wart McNation.

Given that money has become even more of a fantasy and a fiction than it used to be, the ability of the "system" to sustain the appearance of itself out of nothing is at astronomical heights. And since we have managed to get just about everyone tied into the system one way or another, directly or indirectly, the health of the Stock Market is now seen as critical to the sustenance of everyone, by everyone. Hence bizarre measures, such as fabricating more imaginary money and pumping it into the market to hold up the imaginary value of nearly-imaginary securities, are done without even blinking an eye. Every time a crunch comes, and people say "here it is, it's all coming down," well, the magic wands are waived and the hologram of a functional economy is turned back on, as lifelike as ever, and everyone settles back down. Sure, there's eventually an end to it, but I have seen so many cycles of this play out in the last 5 decades that I'm not sure what it will take to actually cause the fundamental upheaval. I've seen the populace much more riled up than this, and faith in the central government far lower than it is today, and people even poorer and more destitute in the cities and backwoods, revolution was imminent... and then it all got subdued again.

Even now, if an energy/food/financial crash hits, people as a whole (in the nation I live in) are going to swarm TOWARDS the existing power structure to rescue them from it, not AWAY. The countryside is not going to fill up with neo-homesteaders and retro-barbarians looking to take care of themselves and sack Rome. It is going to empty out as people flee to the breadlines and [fill in name of current president here]-villes in the cities, where at least they might still get WiFi.

Alex C. said...

A very fine essay John, and as usual, a thought-provoking read.

I hate to be the guy who points out typos, but the first sentence of your first paragraph ends: "... lamppost decorations or come close equivalent." I think you meant "some" close equivalent.

Moving away from the small nitpick, and towards a question - I've noted through your series that you make use of a wide variety of historical analogies and comparisons for your topics, but the two examples that you seem fondest of returning to are those of the decline and fall of the western Roman Empire, and the onset of the French Revolution.

Do you have any particular reading recommendations for someone desirous of delving into those episodes of history? I am currently working my way towards the end of Edward Gibbon's work on the former subject, and while the experience would have been worth it for the literary richness alone, I'm looking around for some more recent works that would supplement the historical analysis.

My reading about the French Revolution to date has been more cursory - but I would be happy to hear of any titles you might recommend.


John Michael Greer said...

Boneyard, I forget who it was that said that the history of China consists of armored boots climbing up the stairs, followed by silk slippers going slowly back down them. True of most civilizations, for that matter.

Andy, get used to it. That may be an important source of protein -- for that matter, fried cajun grasshoppers may be the foundation of your next career!

Pyrrhus, and you're not the only person noticing that, either.

Kaitain, exactly.

Yupped, well, how high up the pyramid did you get? Successful elites normally make room for talented people in the middle to upper reaches of a bureaucratic state; it's when you head into the upper reaches that the limits start closing in.

Mark, it does indeed rhyme -- gold and fiat money are both arbitrary tokens of abstract wealth, after all. As for the prisons, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if a fair number of the warlords come out of there, too.

Pinku-sensei, of course not -- most of the "libertarians" I've met were even more attached to their government handouts than the rest of us.

Pongo, thanks for the heads up. Yes, that's an example -- and a harbinger.

Ridgedruid, that's a very plausible scenario.

Repent, yes, I chuckled over that one when it first came out, and again now. If this is the best that the secret masters of the universe can do, they're in deep trouble.

John Michael Greer said...

Gwaiharad, an all-out uprising isn't necessary. I'll discuss next week how these things usually play out. As for Christianity, it's certainly possible -- but I wonder how many believers in Zeus were convinced that their religion, which had weathered so many crises before, would keep going into the far future, too.

Bill, no argument there. The movement toward the cities is a standard part of the package, and has a lot to do with the general depopulation that sets in as a civilization goes down. Again, we'll talk about how the political endgame plays out next week.

Alex, for Rome, you want Michael Grant's excellent histories and Bryan Ward-Perkins' The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization. The French Revolution is more complex -- I've garnered what I know about it from dozens of sources over many years, and I don't know a good handful of solid histories to recommend. I'll see what I can find.

Indrajala said...

Curious how in some societies despite revolutions and civil wars, some elements of the old aristocracy remain in place, albeit purely decorative though by no means economically disadvantaged, such as the imperial family of Japan. In the Nara and early Heian periods the Japanese emperors and empresses actually had political power, but lost it to the warrior leaders later on. I imagine there is a parallel with the papacy in Europe, though that being said in N.America I can't think of any such institutions which could or would be preserved if and when the system collapses.

unirealist said...


"Citizens" by Simon Scharma is a superb study of the French Revolution.

Brian Kaller said...


In more and more areas of life, it seems -- especially in the USA, in the few decades since the Sixties counterculture – bureaucracies and limits play the villain. Television viewers are meant to cheer the cop who punches or shoots his way through suspects, and boo his superiors who want to arrest people “by the book.” Heroes and superheroes win their battles while running from corrupt police or a government conspiracy.

In real life, activists of the left and right alike want to strip down bureaucracy, candidates must claim to be outsiders ready to fight the government they’re joining, and business gurus host seminars on how to throw the rules out the window. In all areas of life, it seems, Americans want to abandon the organisations and traditions holding people back.

I don’t think they understand what they wish for. It is often bureaucracies that keep our laws even slightly just or our water even somewhat purified, and rules and boundaries that keep us alive. A world in which executives or police could even more readily throw the book out the window could be far more hellish than anything we are accustomed to.

Here’s a question: how likely do you think it is that barbarians could overthrow a civilisation and no one notices? The stereotypical Huns would seem pretty obvious, of course but it seems like the rags-to-riches myth could cover many sins, as violent up-and-comers could enter the halls of power as gangsters have in the past. New and brutal leaders might encounter less opposition if they were simply “elected” into old offices, and their new “police” could simply wear the old uniforms. What do you think?

Richard Larson said...

Here in the USA, the middleclass is losing its ability to pay the taxes. Methinks the elites are beginning to learn they will have to pay for the elaboration. Or maybe, they really aren't that smart at all....

k-dog said...

The key point to be grasped here is that power is always contextual. A powerful person is a person able to exert particular kinds of power, using particular means, on some particular group of other people, and someone thus can be immensely powerful in one setting and completely powerless in another.

You might prefer a historical example over fiction but this lesson was brought home to me decades ago when I read King Rat by James Clavell.

Originally a bureau was the cloth to cover a cipher table. Then the bureau became the table itself. Then a bureau was taken to mean the room the table was in. Finally we arrive at bureaucracy. Bureaucracy grows, but it grows beyond simply getting bigger. It becomes an end into itself and seeks to dominate and control wherever it can in an attempt to secure its own survival which becomes all important. As it grows in power and influence it also loses touch with whatever it was supposed to do in the first place. Misplace priorities make this inevitable. The schism becomes intolerable and the maintenance of bureaucracy oppressive. At some point the social relationship that sanctions bureaucracy breaks down.

You wrote a great read.

Marc L Bernstein said...

It doesn't sound like any sort of "new consciousness" is likely to play much of a role in human events of the near future, much to the chagrin of a whole collection of idealistic and hopeful people, some of which are among the most intelligent and well-intentioned of persons, such as Charles Eisenstein.

You probably know something about Eisenstein's work, and you might find it interesting and even uplifting. My objection to Eisenstein's lofty ideas from the start was based on that which is known about human psychology and sociology. Under stress due in part to overcrowding and privation (which appear to be quite relevant now and in the near future) or in a crisis, most people (there are heart-warming exceptions of course) don't suddenly begin to display higher ideals that they failed to manifest before. On the contrary, sectarian conflicts, racism, cruelty, ostracism, greed, cowardice, scapegoating, hoarding and other negative psycho-sociological phenomena tend to predominate.

I don't have historical or anthropological examples off the top of my head to refer to, but I bet that you already have them in mind!

Of course all of us who care about the future of humanity hope that a few unusual communities throughout the world (eco-villages, transition towns, etc.) will persist and will resist the general trend towards a collapse into tribalism, neo-feudalism, rule by warlords, etc.

As Noam Chomsky mentioned, indigenous people of the world are among the few that are actively opposing the ecological destruction that is occurring nearly everywhere that people live within industrial civilization. Let's hope that a few indigenous tribes manage to survive as well.

If humanity fails to form or sustain eco-villages (or something comparable) in substantial numbers, I fear that the future for the human species is altogether grim indeed.

What will happen to all of the accumulated scientific, cultural and artistic knowledge and accomplishments that educated persons cherish? Perhaps a few unusual members of the intellectual elite will take measures to store and protect as much of that knowledge as possible.

Perhaps something akin to a new monastic tradition will manage to survive somewhere, eking out a living and protecting manuscripts, books and perhaps even digital information.

We probably won't live to see it but our children and grandchildren might.

streamfortyseven said...

I'm not sure I buy the idea of "drug gangs" taking over after a collapse - they're too competitive between themselves, they're comparatively undisciplined (as compared to war vets), they have nothing in place to care for sick or wounded, they're a distinct minority of the population, and they're utterly and totally dependent on the presence of government.

That last part, "dependent on government", goes like this: their stock in trade, what they use to get cash, is trade in imported drugs for cash. As long as the cash flow exists, they're in business; when it stops, they're done for. The dependent populations to whom they sell their drugs won't have any money to buy the drugs with, they'll be concerned with buying - or finding - food. It's going to be interesting to see what happens to drug addicts when the supply gets cut off - I'd expect raids on hospital complexes in the inner cities, then doctors' offices and "urgent care" centers. After that, they're going to be out of luck - cold turkey time. Places of large concentrations of dependent drug addicts will not be fun places to be around. A lot of those people are going to wind up dead, one way or another. As a side note, I wouldn't bet on getting tea or coffee, both of which are imported, either.

The other way that drug gangs are dependent on police - or a totally disarmed population (Mexico has the toughest gun control in the world, with the predictable result that only cops and criminals can get guns) - is that a disarmed population or a population dependent on police make a pretty soft target. When the police go away (or turn into another feral gang as in New Orleans in Katrina), there will be no restraint stopping the population from administering rough justice to gangsters - and there are enough ex-military folk out there to constitute neighborhood patrols and suchlike. Gangsters and police also tend to favor automatic weapons, which waste ammo prodigiously without great result; civilians, if they're smart, will use scoped bolt-action rifles (with longer effective range) and not waste ammo - like those women Kurds in the YPG. Logistics will decide the outcome; with broken or non-existent supply chains, the gangs will soon be in a tough spot.

If I were going to write a novel of post-collapse America, the Mormon Church would play a big, big role, in fact I could see a Mormon theocracy running things - except in 300 years the First Presidency is likely to be a bit browner than today. Again, logistics will play a major role in this. Actually, a few of the novels have already been written - by writers such as Orson Scott Card and Dean Ing...

Bruno Bolzon said...

JMG, and Alex, I's also recommend Mike Duncan's excellent podcasts "History of Rome" and "Revolutions" (he is currently covering the French Revolution). They are free of charge.

Odin's Raven said...

Successful warlords find it useful to have the endorsement of a spiritual power to justify acceptance of their rule to rivals and populace. Pepin and Charlemagne for instance.

Les said...

Thanks for another riveting post.

For today’s topics, the poster child in (my) living memory would have to be Nicolae Ceaușescu, Romania’s one time dictator.
December 21st, 1989, he stages a mass rally to denounce a student protest:
It’s worth a view to see the consternation as he realises he’s lost control of the crowd.
Four days later, a show “trial” followed by execution (also filmed).
Maybe he didn’t wind up decorating one of your lampposts, but the results were otherwise not dissimilar.

WRT the “is the army run by bureaucrats?” theme, every military coup d’état I’ve noticed in the last however many years seems to have been run by the colonels. Something about those deferential subordinates?



Violet Cabra said...

The difference between Warlords and Elites in human ecology seems to me the difference between predators and parasites.

The trophic order of predators is pretty easy to understand: the big fish eats the little. The bigger the predator the higher it is on the food pyramid. With social predators such as lions, the biggest, strongest, shrewdest lion is most often the leader as well. Predators serve a useful and recognized ecological function they keep herbivores and other predators in check and prevent over population and die-off. In human ecologies one could say that they prevent abuses of a relatively minor sorts (thieves, individual murderers) from occurring between the "herbivores" ie peasants. Whish is to say, warlords provide basic governance

Elites on the other hand are more parasitic. Parasites are highly, highly specialized and limited animals - a tapeworm is pretty much nothing but a digestive system and reproductive system that can live in an animal's gut. There are parasites in everytype of animal but the most parasites are found in apex predators who "bio accumulate" them. It is interesting to note that the smaller a parasite the higher its metabolism. In human ecologies elites usually cluster around the warrior class, those who deal in raw violence. There are more and better funded bureaucracies of war than bureaucracies of agriculture, for instance. Also the higher up the ladder the elites are the more access to wealth and privilege they have, ie "higher metabolism".

Elites have an important ecological role to, like predators they generally help control population, especially the population of apex predators. Elites frequently, at least in their early days, temper the excesses of warlords.

It seems in human ecology however there comes to be more and more parasites which are highly specialized to feed on other parasites. The metabolic costs go through the hide, and eventually the host, exhausted form running around day and night devouring herbivores and mid level predators, dies exhausted from the demands of the myriad parasites. New predators quickly evolve to fill the niche, leaving the parasites to die with their host.

Alvin Leong said...

In post-imperial Tibet, the old government bureaucracy basically formed into a new feudal aristocracy.

Tibetan noble families usually trace their ancestry to some minister during the imperial era.

I imagine these ministers in the first place weren't all descendants of the nomadic warriors that first helped to unite the Tibetan empire either, many were likely people who were successful at education in cities.

Quite possibly a similar thing might happen in post-USA North America.

I recommend Chris Wickham's books on the post-imperial Roman period. He discusses in quite great detail the change from a civilian aristocracy connected to the functions of the Roman state to the mainly militarily-based aristocracies of the post-Roman polities.

It wasn't a complete displacement of the existing elite; some Roman nobles adopted Germanic names and a military lifestyle and Germanic warriors also married Roman aristocrats.

Andrew Vines said...

A quick thought on framing of the issues on the current global scale. Could it be that for all intents and purposes even the poorer members of western resource hungry nations are functionally elites and the true underclass are the billions of people in the developing world? In this case the immediate danger isnt through those with the mechanisms for violence at their immediate disposal failing to stick to the old script, but instead those who control the mechanisms for production (of industrial products as well as many base agricultural products). I suspect these masses may be the first to follow orders. The emerging economic strains in China may be a place to watch this possibility.

YJV said...

You mentioned a while ago that the ultimate survival of a government depends on the willingness of the end level dissipated power holders in carrying out orders.

The actions of the Soviet Tank commander ordered to advance on the Duma in 1991 come into mind. Or the mutiny of the Royal Indian Navy and RIAF in 1946, and near mutiny of the British Indian Army that finally convinced the Raj that they no longer had any hope of maintaining rule in the subcontinent.

In the end, the power of any state bureaucracy is only as much as the ability of it to get the lowest levels of it's administration to do it's bidding.

Such pivotal events seem to be more likely for the USA over the coming years, and probably for most of the remaining west in the slightly distant future.


redoak said...

@Bill That’s my sense here in the northeast woods. There will come a time when very sensible people will put a lot of pressure on each of us to head into the city where resources can be more easily distributed. I always say to those with ears to hear, “don’t get on that bus.” I’d rather eat grasshoppers and withered sedges!

Andrew said...

Wonderful as always. One point to add to the conversation. Its interesting to me how people during and after the decline and collapse, still act as if legitimate power has to come from the same old pre-collapse sources. After the fall of the western Roman Empire for example, various warlords, up to and including Charlemagne himself, still saw legitimacy in stealing the clothes of the Roman Empire, almost as if that was the true wellspring of power (which drove the Byzantines postal of course). There seems to be a difference between real power and its ceremonial, almost mythic self, which can endure when the people who last wielded that power for real are dust and/or heads on spears. We may well see barbarian warlords in the decades and centuries to come, proclaiming that they are President of the US, while a 'Byzantine' remnant fumes impotently - in Spanish.

Ice Torch said...

I couldn't work out which song title you were plagiarising this week, but Google shows me its "Dark Ages" by Yngwie Malmsteen. Soon people will think you wrote all his songs, you'll collect all his royalties, and poor Yngwie will die in penury. A most cunning ploy, Mr Greer - just beware the global backlash once you have been found out.

On a lighter note, but not a musical one, over at the "Surplus Energy Economics" blog:

Dr Tim Morgan is decrying what he sees as "the march of the corporate" in UK politics and a crisis of "systemic incompetence". He quite evidently understands the problem of depleting resources, but I think he would do well to read your post, for a clearer understanding of what is happening.

Here in Britain we currently have a coalition government - a rarity for us. Under our "first past the post" electoral system, usually it is possible for one of the two main parties to form a majority in the House of Commons, despite polling only around 35% or more of the votes. In recent years minority parties have had minor successes, and all eyes are now on UKIP, which is a highly eurosceptic (anti-EU) and highly anti-immigration party, but otherwise with Thatcherite policies. However, until our electoral system is reformed, there is limited room for these little parties, however strange, to rock the boat, so when change does come, it will most likely be huge, unexpected, and from outside the system.

Howard Skillington said...

Contemplating this week's report, I just realized that a particularly important part of our nation's crumbling infrastructure needs to be addressed immediately: the manufacture and installation of a great number of tall, sturdy lampposts.

MawKernewek said...

You can see in universities a microcosm of the process of layered bureaucracies successively developing.

This is most evident in one of the collegiate universities such as Cambridge and Oxford, where you have the medieval colleges, forming the first layer, some of which still have considerable land and riches. In the two cases I mention, they have some of the responsibility for teaching by arranging some of the small group tutorials.

In the second layer there are the 19th-20thC university academic departments, which now are the ones who actually do the lectures and practical classes and set exams, then more recently the expansion of the central administration of the university, with whole administrative departments that owe their allegiance to the centre. The Vice-Chancellor, is now more like a CEO, and paid accordingly and with an office and staff of their own.

I am not entirely sure why it is that many universities are nominally ruled by some form of university Council that are selected from academics, but in practice, the managerialist class remain in the ascendent.

By the way, I had the chance to eat king prawns a month or so ago, and I suppose the experience might not be that different from eating grasshoppers.

Kyoto Motors said...

A bit of a tangential comment, but I've been thinking about a "meme" out of the OWS movement: "One does not protect the Earth without abolishing capitalism"
I entered a debate about this arguing basically, "good luck with that"... On the one hand, small c capitalism is learned behavior that will probably stick with us so long as we have relatively complex economies. On the other hand, Capitalism is so very much woven into the power structures of our civilization, such as it is, that any legislative attempts to curtail it, let alone abolish it, face a daunting and challenging way forward to say the least. Here in Canada, we are unlikely to elect a party with any such intentions any time soon. I doubt any non-fringe party could or would dare make such a statement as part of their platform, given the extent to which corporations (and the trade unions that depend on them) are a part of the governance of national affairs...
I'm ready to admit that emotionally I see the appeal in the meme, since I can observe the very real strains on the biosphere caused by rampant and unbridled consumerism. I just don't see the abolition of capitalism as a practical goal for those of us who have environmental protection in mind.
So I guess I'd like to know what you think the future has in store for Capitalism. And by extension, whether the Long Descent you envision involves meaningful environmental measures?

Odin's Raven said...

Power, language, experience - all showing the same oscillation between concrete and abstract.

Referring back to your discussion of Barfield, here's an article about his book History in English Words

Yif said...

Alex, the excellent podcast from Mike Duncan, The History of Rome, is well worth listening to twice or more ;-)
And he is in the process of doing a French Revolution podcast.

Luckymortal said...

Bill Pulliam--Maybe how close we are depends on where we live. In the cities discontent is ripe. I get emails with new videos of police brutality every single day, each with 1,000+ comments saying "fire, imprison, hang every last cop." Folks in urban neighborhoods get very few cookies from the system.

But, like many things (such as population decline in Russia) this transition might be so gradual many fail to notice it. At least, that's my reading of what happened in Rome, or what's happeing in the former Soviet states... Putin might be reasonably at home as a beurocrat but his resume reads a bit closer to the "warlord" profile JMG detailed here. Certainly, there are folks in our ruling elite who even see Obama as a coup.

So maybe we won't get an abrupt meltdown into roaming warlords, but instead a transition period where individual institutions undergo successive stages where the capital of heierarchy gets converted to waste (such as is happening with police departments all over our country) and new, more personal power structures take their place (armed citizen groups.) I observe that this is currently happening, not just with the police, but with instituons of education, child-care, health care, infrastructure maintainance, food....

Ed-M said...

Hi, JMG!

I've only skimmed through your latest post, yet I already noticed the paragraph concerning corporations and non-government organizations being a part of the power structure, which I most certainly agree with!

With corporations, I tend to go one step further and call them state organs, because they file their charter with, and receive their articles of incorporation and license to operate from, the state in which they are incorporated and operate. The same could be said of NGOs. And they both influence government through campaign contributions and lobbying, similar to the influence the old Soviet industrial apparat had on the politics of the extinct USSR. So we really are more soviet-socialist then we'd like to imagine!

Eric S. said...

I’m currently reading a biography of Hypatia of Alexandria and seeing these essays in every page. It’s all there: the weird mix of old and new, the failure of mimesis, the frustration of academics hitting the limits of worn out methods, new religions, the collapse of old elites and institutions. It’s been giving me a much clearer picture of what the rhythm of life looks like just before and after the thread snaps. I can really see this week’s post in the conflict between Orestes and Cyril: one the perfect model of an Ivy League who knows how to win friends and influence people (Pagan, Christian, and Jew alike); the other a new type of leader, playing to the passions of the mob and dealing with opponents by assassinating or banishing them. Hypatia wound up murdered and Orestes wound up banished not because they didn’t know how the play the game of Classical politics, but because the game had changed, turning the secular government of Alexandria into an autocratic theocracy.

I’ve programmed all the fracking stocks into my computer and have been watching them plummet with a morbid fascination. This weekend when I went to mail my contract for After Oil someone gave me a flyer for a discussion group at a Quaker Meeting. I have fond memories of the Quakers who were my first spiritual community after finding Druidry and went. The hammer and sickle on their newsletter and some brief conversation revealed that they were a Marxist revolutionary group renting the building. I stayed and listened to outrage and frustration that could have come from anyone on the street wrapped unashamedly in symbolism and language that had lost the unifying stigma it had a decade ago. They were warm and friendly and we had some good conversation (though they thought I was agreeing with them when I wasn’t), but it was eye opening. As groups like that pick up speed and the economy continues to plummet (even after the Feds desperate tried to jerry rig it yesterday), it may be uncomfortably soon that history happens and everything changes.

das monde said...

Yes, power structures in mature civilizations become very abstract. On the other hand, a hierarchical social power structure is not necessarily an example of complexity - it frequently appears in nature, and is particularly typical for primate species. The complex bureaucracy is more a necessity for democracy, relatively egalitarian power structures than to hierarchal rule. A global decline will see definite revival of old-fashioned hierarchal glories, as you describe - indeed in more concrete, personal forms.

I would be more careful with the revolutionary examples of France, US, Russia, as they were not objectively forced by decline pressures (certainly not in terms of natural resources). Quite contrarily - new kind of resources were opening up, and the problem for respective royals was their obliviousness to the social-political progress. In contrast to France, the British or Dutch royals adjusted very well to the rise of burgeusie.

Even if many elites (especially new) will find themselves loosing badly in the civilization decline, their options are still more interesting than for the prolls. The ongoing economic austerity harakiris make sense if we see the governments working hard for the financial elites to make their billions tangibly significant. That is certainly useful for the anticipated decline. Also, cooperation is normally a monopoly of the elites (apart from a century of "Workers of the world, unite!"). Survivalists among the elites would have a cosmic potential to dominate the long decline course.

steve pearson said...

kutamun & kaitan, Just to chime in on the subject,I think it has always been a military truism that good combat leaders make terrible peace time ones & viceversa.Most coups are staged by younger captains - colonels, or even sergeants, the generals being part of the establishment by then.
I was in the US army shortly after the Korean war, and the good combat leaders had already been pushed aside by the boot lickers. When I was in Korea, our officers preferred to have equipment sitting with an out of order tag so it wouldn't be inspected than jury rig it so it would work, but not pass an inspection.

Shining Hector said...

Looking forward to the next post as well. I pretty much agree with Bill. I cheered the Bundy Ranch and Ferguson protests from afar, but I imagine if the authorities had instead announced that any protester who "failed to disperse" would have any SNAP and Social Security benefits cancelled rather than going straight for the assault rifles and teargas, things would have been over in an hour or two. Half of the populace already depends on government benefits, they're only going to bite the hand that feeds for minimal personal gain as long as the consequences are also minimal. Bread and circuses get a bad rap, but they seemed to serve their intended purpose adequately for several centuries. While the idea of a gang of disenfranchised veterans hauling a guillotine in a commandeered Humvee through the Hamptons while blasting Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down" makes for great schadenfreude, I'm not at all sure I'll see it my lifetime. In the end it will probably fall not to the NSA and Homeland Security to keep the vast majority of the populace nicely subdued and compliant like so many fear, it will be the USDA and Health and Human Services.

Derv said...


I was just discussing a related subject a bit with my wife, actually. We were talking about the activity of the police, who have increasingly begun to use "civil asset forfeiture" for their own benefit. It's a fancy euphemism for stealing from the plebs.

The police have been losing their legitimacy in the public eye for decades, which has accelerated with the kinds of situations we saw/see in Ferguson, and so on. They're slowly transitioning into just another gang, albeit one with state backing. I suspect one day we'll see the boys in blue as just another competing faction against other gangs, warlords and self-created defense groups.

In a number of places, where things have gotten bad enough (either in budget or loss of control), the police have simply stopped doing what they're supposed to do. They refuse to enter certain neighborhoods or pursue certain crimes at all. Their reputation for protecting their own also grows every day, regardless of the immorality of their actions.

This is not to say they've completely descended into another gang, or that there aren't great, honest police officers of course. But the trends are all there. In a few decades, instead of our Lord/Duke/Baron and his knights/castle, we may have our Captain/Sergeant and his officers/HQ. And the neighboring Lord will be some legitimized Blood or crime family head.

It's weird to think about.

Wander said...

Reading your posts has been an interesting experience for me because I come from a wealthy family and see things from a different side than many of your readers. I don't think I really saw how much of a parasite my extended family has been until.

We have always been proud of how much we have done. We built the local cathedral and schools. We funded many different charities.

I have been raised by a family who think that they are all doing good things with the wealth that has been handed them and I think they have done better than most would have but that does not stop them from living off the labor of many others.

The belief that hard work and planning brought us to our place of wealth and anyone could follow if they but tried is entrenched into most of them. It is a myth I now find to be false but if I do not constantly try to root it out of me it creeps back in.

The point I'm trying to make is that many, perhaps most, of those in power are trying to make the world a better place but the culture of those in power blinds them to reality.

Avery said...

@Marc: It doesn't sound like any sort of "new consciousness" is likely to play much of a role in human events of the near future, much to the chagrin of a whole collection of idealistic and hopeful people

Indeed, this is what Spengler has to say on the subject:

The great danger for the coming middle of our century lies in this, that we are prolonging the life of that which we could overthrow. It is a generation of semi-solutions and transitions. But as long as this is possible, the Revolution is not at an end. The Caesarism of the future will not persuade, it will conquer by force of arms. Only when all this has become self-evident - when we feel majorities to be a pretext, and despise them; when someone arises who is able to look down upon the mass, on party in every sense of the word, and on all programs and ideologies - only then will the Revolution have been overcome. (The Hour of Decision)

Mark Sebela said...

Yif, I was listening to Mike Duncan's French Revolution last night. He is doing a whole series on revolutions. Mike's a treasure.

Laylah said...

Shining Hector, I think you overestimate how much help those government benefits are providing. Social Security? People my age (35) and younger are pretty sure we'll never see a dime out of that. It's no secret that it's being spent far faster than it's collected. And when I lost my job and wasn't sure how I'd be able to keep feeding myself two years ago, the SNAP benefits I qualified for came to $16 per month -- which is standard for people who are poor enough to qualify but not at the absolute lowest tier. Somehow, I don't think a loss that size would have been much of a deterrent; certainly not more of one than immediate physical harm.

Rita said...

@ Pongo

Interesting transition for Compton. My mother lived there in the 40s. It was then all-white, actually a sundown town,i.e. Negros not allowed off the streetcar in the city limits after dark. When we lived in LA in 1960 the family of one of my grandmother's friends from back then was literally the last white household in their neighborhood. Their neighbors were mostly middle-class blacks, city workers, teachers and so forth. But the main streets showed all the signs of neighborhood decline--shops with metal grilles, groups of men just hanging out, etc. Of course part of the reason for the relatively quick changeover was deliberate block busting by real estate interests. One black family moves in and the real estate agent visits all the surrounding white families to urge them to sell before their homes lose value. Self fulfilling, of course, as each house put up of sale and purchased by a black family eager to move to a better area becomes evidence of decline. And, of course, every house sold is a commission in an agent's pocket.

Funny how many ethnic neighborhoods have actually had a great amount of shifting in ethnic makeup. San Francisco's Mission is usually regarded as a long time Latin neighborhood, but it was actually heavily Irish in the not too distant past. The common factor was that it was working class.

MawKernewek said...

@streamfortyseven: I would also say that drug gangs depend on government because without the fact of illegal drugs being illegal, their power base would go away.

Eric S. said...

Re: Pinku, Andy, and JMG on eating bugs:

When I started working through the Green Wizardry Handbook, I decided to take advantage of my invert zoo background and my past living in small apartments to try out insect eating and breeding. It's hard to get people to actually eat them, but people are always asking me how various types of insects have been traditionally prepared around the world. My hope is that the adventurous spirit and appetite for the creepy and crawly that fills the air this time of year might inspire some of my grove mates to take a leap and try out some mealworm and cricket cookies I'll be making for this year's Samhain potluck, maybe it enough people try and enjoy them it'll inspire a few more people build a future with edible cricket and/or mealworm farms in every home.

Also, Pinku-Sensei: If you ever make it to Washington, DC there's an Oaxacan restaurant called Oyamel that has Chapulin Tacos (grasshoppers) that you need to check out.

ganv said...

This a brilliant description of the very different kinds of skills needed to wield power in different civilizations. But I continue to contend that analogies with previous collapsing civilizations can often lead us astray. Groups that can maintain precision artillery or military aircraft will always have a dramatic advantage over their opponents. And there will be explosives and electronics for artillery and fuel for military aircraft long after there is far too little fuel to drive cars for personal transport. But those systems can't be managed with courage, charisma, and bare-knuckle fighting skills. You have to manage technical experts and maintain supply chains etc. JMG easily switches between talking about near future collapse of modern industrial civilization and far term collapse of its remains in a few centuries. But the near term part of any collapse (next century or two) is going to be dominated by people who can most effectively maintain the networks of experts and supply chains that allow 'modern' weapons to be maintained in the field. (Likely not the gee-whiz gadgets of the modern US military. Think of the artillery of World War I and aircraft of WWII, etc) I would argue that beyond a century or two, we have very little idea about whether there will be continued collapse toward a pre-industrial society or the emergence of a post-fossil fuel society that is fairly complex in the technology it uses for economic and military purposes.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@streamfortyseven--I agree that drug gangs are dependent on the government, but not in the ways that you say.

Governments provide two important services to drug gangs, price support and regulation of competition. Enforcement of laws against production, transport and possession causes prices of drugs to rise far above the cost of production. Laws are enforced selectively, against all legal suppliers and against criminals who aren't willing to pay off the police as much as their competitors do.

If drugs were legal, the gangs would have to make their profits from other traditional criminal activities: loan sharking, gambling, the sex trade, protection, fraud and theft.

Criminalization also drives up the price of drugs by making the less processed and concentrated forms uneconomic to sell. Where alcohol is prohibited and shipments are seized and destroyed, bootleggers are going to sell whiskey, not beer. Coca leaves are legal in Peru and everyone consumes them the way we consume coffee. They don't have a bigger cocaine addiction problem than we do. Most users of opiates would rather smoke or eat opium than shoot up heroin, if they could rely on a supply at a reasonable price.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Brian Keller--I agree with your observations about bureaucracies, and I think the scenario in your last paragraph is plausible.

Shane Wilson said...

@Bill & others,
my guess is that while waiting for collapse/revolution seems agonizingly long, once it gets underway, things will feel like they're spinning and moving too fast. Look @ our discussions of Europe pre and post 1914. Imagine what it must've been like to live in the Eastern Bloc & the Soviet Union in the 80s, compared w/the 90s. Remember, the elites put all their not inconsiderable energies into maintaining the status quo, and right now, they're throwing everything they have into it. My guess is that the death by 1000 cuts is happening now--Ebola, ISIS, rise of China/Russia and other BRIC powers. Predicting the straw that actually DOES break the camel's back can be impossible, though. Who thought that an assasination in Sarajevo would have brought the curtain down on imperial Europe in 1914?
Regarding mutiny, I've heard/read things about the rank and file in the military thinking some pretty mutinous thoughts, and not being exactly too confident in the chain of command. Same for the police as well--I don't think anyone is any too content in present day America--it just hasn't been tapped yet.

Marcello said...

"I wonder why asymmetric tactics weren't as heavily used in the civil war? Thought provoking post, well put!"

Robert,the issue was debated in the Confederacy but there were a number of pretty good reasons that militated against it. I suggest you look up Sherman's "Special Field Order No. 15" and you will start to see some of the most important problems that approach would have entailed.

"I just don't get the sense that we are as close to the edge in this process as many seem to believe"

It may depend upon location. Where I live the economy has been pretty much in a state of crisis since 2008, without even the pseudorecovery the US has enjoyed, and growth had been subpar even in the 90's and 2000's. The effects are now so blatant that people are wisising up on the fact that their children will have a worse time than themselves and the incoming round of recession may well shatter any pretense of being still 1st world. Maybe the barbarian warlords won't be the very next option on the menu, given my city got visits from both Attila and Odoacer I certainly hope so, but I am not getting the sense there are enough fumes left to keep something resembling BAU sputtering along for much longer.

Cherokee Organics said...


The Federal Government here is investigating (!?) the official jobs data produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics:

Treasurer eyes new fee to fix dodgy jobs data

Nuff said. hehe! They say the eyes are the window to a man’s soul.



There's a new blog entry up too: Now you see it, now you don't.

Hi Janet,

Check out the following link: HTML Link

The bit that should interest you is under: HTML Links - Syntax. It also has a working example.

Kaitain said...

@ Steve Pearson:

Reminds me of an old saying among soldiers and military historians: “No combat ready unit ever passed inspection and no inspection ready unit ever passed combat”.

Consider one of the historical examples I cited, the IDF. Back in the old days, Israeli combat units tended to have a rather ramshackle appearance, with lots of cast-off, jury-rigged and heavily modified equipment obtained second-hand from the US, France and Britain and soldiers with a distinctly casual attitude towards proper dress, not to mention inspections. But these guys could fight like few others and were led by officers who were rigorously selected for their leadership ability in battle. Most IDF colonels back then were in their early 30’s and the brigadier generals were usually men in their late 30’s. Moreover, the IDF had a policy of fast-tracking promising young officers and grooming them for early promotion. It wasn’t unusual in a reserve brigade for the colonel to be only 32 or 33 while having lieutenants and captains in their late 30’s or early 40’s who would never be promoted any further and were staying in just long enough to qualify for a modest pension. But starting in the 1970’s, the IDF came increasingly under the influence of the US military, and it shows. They started relying more on technology and firepower and less on innovative tactics and a mastery of the basics of warfare. The policy of promoting the best young officers quickly while not promoting officers who lacked potential for further development was scrapped in favor of a seniority based system, ostensibly in the name of equal opportunity.

Not surprisingly, the last war the IDF really won was in 1973, and it’s all been downhill since then. Consider the difference in performance between the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, where the IDF was caught completely by surprise by the Egyptians and Syrians, who also had a massive advantage in numbers and firepower, and the 2006 Lebanon War. In the 1973 War, the Israelis still managed to win an overwhelming victory on the battlefield after three weeks of high intensity combat and huge losses and in spite of being badly outnumbered. By contrast, look at the IDF’s shockingly poor performance against a much smaller Hezbollah force, even the Israelis had an overwhelming advantage in firepower, technology and numbers.

ed boyle said...

The Nomad generational archetype fits this new leader as in the film riddick.
after soviet breakdown lots of quick billions were made by poor young people.

Putin is a really dynamic guy who rose through quality and smarts, as is our flexibly ex stasi communist, now pro american german chancellor. Other people went down under stress of system breakdown. I wonder what sort of person will take charge in usa, a military type or a corrupt businessman or similar after breakdown.

John Michael Greer said...

Indrajala, oh, I expect to see a token Congress and Presidency in what's now the US for centuries to come, long after real power has passed elsewhere.

Unirealist, thank you - I'll check it out.

Brian, it's quite common for the barbarian warlords to take new titles from the system they replace -- that's how the Roman military ranks comes and dux became "count" and "duke." What people will notice is the collapse in living standards and sociopolitical complexity -- the shift in politics may not catch their attention, any more than it caught the attention of most people in post-Roman Europe.

Richard, it's not so much a matter of how smart they are as how insulated they are from realities outside their own circle.

K-dog, thank you!

Marc, "new consciousness" is merely the latest way of spelling "cargo cult." The notion that everyone will suddenly start acting the way a bunch of American liberals think they ought to act, merely because this will save the bacon of those same American liberals, may just win a prize for the silliest of all apocalyptic fantasies, ever.

Stream, we call them "drug gangs" because that's the most convenient funding source for them at the moment. I see them as incipient warbands. We'll talk more about that next week.

Bruno, thanks for the tip!

Raven, rising religious movements also find it advantageous to seek the protection of barbarian warlords, so it's not too hard for the two of them to find one another.

Les, yes, I was thinking of the role of colonels in coups d'etat as well. In the US, I'd expect one- or two-star generals to fill the same role.

Violet, good! A solid ecological metaphor.

Alvin, can you recommend a source on the transition from imperial to post-imperial Tibet? It might be interesting to integrate that into the data set.

William said...

This post fascinated me. I appreciate your frequent systems perspective. I could spend hours interpreting our current north american system in these terms. One peripheral curiosity arose as I read this. Do you understand why and what part of our government engaged in this recent Ukrainian adventure? The pseudo-public face was Victoria Nuland of the State Department, but it seems likely to me that the work on the ground was performed by other agencies. Do you think this was [just] cold war institutional inertia still seeking to damage Russia?

Ellen He said...

@JMG: This is off-topic, do you want to discuss Dematerialism with Tom Wayburn over email?
Also, there's such as thing as the pessimistic religion of progress. It differs from its optimistic counterparts by assuming:
1. The journey upwards will involve die-offs, wars etc.
2. Each change forward will generate new problems to replace the old

John Michael Greer said...

Andrew V., good. I'll be talking about the role of what Arnold Toynbee called the external proletariat in next week's post.

YJV, exactly. Stand by for mutiny.

Andrew, excellent! That was why, in my novel Star's Reach, the hereditary monarch of 25th-century Meriga (basically, the Midwest and as much of the west-of-the-Appalachians South as is still above water) is still called the Presden.

Ice Torch, actually, this whole series of posts is inspired by this piece -- as you probably guessed in the first place! As for the current UK political situation, a British friend of mine commented that the only way she was willing to tolerate a hung Parliament was if it was going to be a public hanging.

Howard, I think you'll find that there will be no shortage of volunteer help to get that particular bit of infrastructure in place.

MawKernewek, that's a great example.

Kyoto, socialist governments were just as bad at devastating the environment as capitalist ones, so I think the OWS people were a bit off base. As for the future of capitalism, that's a topic large enough for a couple of posts all by itself; fortunately we'll be getting to that, as the end of the current economic system is one of the things on the menu.

Raven, well, yes -- there's a single more or less coherent philosophy underlying all these blog posts, on both blogs.

Ed-M, no argument there. In either case, government and business are basically the same thing. It reminds me of the old Soviet era joke: "In capitalist countries, man oppresses man, but in communist countries, it's the other way around!"

Eric, excellent! Yes, it's the same story told in a slightly different language. As for the attempted jerry-rigging, things don't seem to be working too well today...

Das Monde, the revolutions I've cited are of course a different case, since -- as noted in the post -- the mechanisms of control remained in place, and so there wasn't anything like the same sort of transition of modes of power as we'll see. The point of including them was simply to show how power slips from the hands of ruling elites.

Hector, again, there doesn't need to be rebellion on the part of the internal proletariat -- though there can be. Stay tuned!

MawKernewek said...

Currently, there are a number of people who have done very well for themselves in the buy-to-let landlord business.

If we reach a stage in the future where having a piece of paper mentioning ownership is no longer something that actually makes a practical difference, I would expect these new elites to start to merge with the world of organised crime, as a more direct way of enforcing their property rights than police and courts of law, which are likely to no longer be effective instruments.

Ed-M said...

JMG, Good one! xD

Ed-M said...

Hi again, JMG:

After reading through the article and ruminating on it for a while, I began thinking: when, not if, the USA power structure radically simplifies, I wonder how small the successor states will be? Mind y'all, the current state and local governments are also up to their eyeballs in debt and so-called Legacy costs both present and future. I think the possibility that we may see county-states, municipality*-states and even neighborhood-states most certainly exists.

*city, town, village or borough


rapier said...

Even through the 1950's large swaths of the so called working class had a healthy disdain for the 'company man'. The man in the grey flannel suit who surrendered his individuality to the company, the institution, the party, in order to get ahead. This has been completely forgotten.

Going back a little further the average WWII GI had a deep and healthy disrespect for many in the layers of officers over them. Seeing far too many who got ahead by playing the game. The bureaucratic and institutional games.

Apropos of nothing perhaps but I suggest revisiting Catch 22 and read it as an indictment of bureaucracy run amok, if you hadn't before Then realize it was the Cathcart's, Korn's and Minderbinder's who lead America into it has become.

William Knight said...

I think ganv makes an important point:

"But the near term part of any collapse (next century or two) is going to be dominated by people who can most effectively maintain the networks of experts and supply chains that allow 'modern' weapons to be maintained in the field"

In the short term, while industry still produces computing and communications technology, fewer and fewer people will actually be needed to control the network infrastructures and computer operating systems that have infiltrated most areas of modern civilization.

That's why the transition of power from our current empire will be quite different from previous ones. It won't be a sudden and abrupt transition of power from extremely abstract levels to concrete ones. Automation now allows the elite to wield greater and more direct control over more tangible and concrete mechanisms of power like your mobile phone, personal data, applications software, operating systems, internet connections and access to online networks.

steve pearson said...

@steam47, Actually there was a very good, for its time , post apocalyptic Mormon book written by Orson Scott Card about 30 or 40 years ago. I believe the premise was nuclear, but the Mormon element was very interesting. Can't remember the name offhand.

Redneck Girl said...

streamfortyseven said...

As a side note, I wouldn't bet on getting tea or coffee, both of which are imported, either.

On the contrary, I see a lot of coffee bushes for sale through nurseries right about now and a green house or contriving a micro climate isn't hard to arrange. (Just a little thought and work.)

Also here in the future country of Cascadia tea bushes can be grown(especially along the coast) and are available. The reason both aren't cash crops now is because they are comparatively labor intensive and Amuricans don't like doing labor intensive work. Although that will change. I'll admit that they might be considered luxury goods in the future, at least for awhile. However they will be available.

In the southern part of Cascadia, at this time you can also grow olives and vineyards are as thick as ticks on a hound dog around here. JMG wasn't kidding about how weird things could get in Cascadia. There's several Buddhist Monasteries, a retreat at Mt. Shasta and a variety of Christian Monasteries. A yeasty area to write stories about I think! Maybe even a series of novels? GOD! That sounds like a lot of work! ;) Although the research could be fun!

Interesting times indeed and a rich area that many would like to conquer in the early years of our dark age. I DO like where I live!


steve pearson said...

@JMG,I'm not sure about brigadier & major generals leading coups in the US.Even to make full bird, you have to have drunk a lot of the koolaid; the more stars the more koolaid.Unless the coup was against a " left wing" government perceived as "anti military", I would almost expect the coup to come from Lt. Colonels & below.There could well be some special ops generals who are still pretty wild, but they sure start to cull from colonel up.
regards, steve

Angus Wallace said...

Hi JMG and others,

(off topic comment)

I've finally got around to creating some technical documentation about some of the systems I've established at my house. You and your readers might find them interesting and useful.

Rainwater modelling:

Solar PV and energy efficiency performance:

I hope you find this useful -- there are other things I want to write about, these will happen at some point.

Cheers, Angus

Michael McG said...

TY for the noggin nudging Michael.
A concern of late (last few years) is of my own confirmation bias, in reading such blogs as this am I:
1..self selecting content to confirm my beliefs?
2. Following some preprogrammed path for an outlier ?
It does not matter to me anymore because I'm starting to see the cookie of reality crumble quickly for hard core true believers in BAU (business as usual) to infinity and beyond.
Credibility is growing in non standard views which bodes well for longer term human species sustaining. I pray this monoculture will continue to break down and evolve. There is so much opportunity about, the challenge is to listen to those who are awakening to the problems and giving them a means to a Way. This is one step to engaging the futures barbarian hordes in something more than sword play but rather insight to new ways to leverage existing hierarchies and cludge together alternate control systems better suited to local energy conditions. Bureaucracy salvage? BAUU (businesses as un usual)
Sent from my iPhone

Shane Wilson said...

Those who believe that elites can maintain our current level of infrastructure underestimate the impact losing our empire will have on our ability to maintain our way of life and the infrastructure that makes it possible. Loss of empire means loss of the tribute economy and the preferential arrangements the U.S. now receives. How can the elites maintain their grip when those levers are gone?

mr_geronimo said...

About colonels: Hugo Chavez was a colonel, a warrior that was able to organize a coup and almost won in the battlefield in 1992... And he was able to survive and eventually became a Julius Ceasar with red stars. I fully expect more badass colonels trying, and sometimes succeeding, in taking over coutries in West's Gaul, Latin America. And someday they will take their armies north or across the Atlantic, to Europe.

The mexican druglords will be the first barbarians, the vandals and goths in N.America. Brazillians, Peruvians and Argentineans may be the franks and saxons.

steve pearson said...

@ Kaitain,Thanks for your detailed & fascinating critique of the IDF.
An interesting contrast to me was the US army in VN. There were some extremely competent & ruthless NCOs, whose main goal was to keep themselves & their men alive. The junior officers either figured this out & learned or had accidents. The higher officers tended to live in separate world of fanatical anti communism and techno patriotism. I don't think there has ever been a war which was so one sided in equipment & technology, and in which the under equipped side won. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
The Australian forces in VN were so much better trained & more competent, and committed fewer atrocities.There were some American marine & special forces units that were pretty good, but by & large OMG.
One interesting difference: the Americans had their tents in neat military rows. The Australians had theirs all higgeldy piggeldy so no one could run down the rows shooting or chucking grenades into the tents.
regards, Steve

jonathan said...

you have frequently criticized the notion that the united states is facing an imminent, sudden collapse. i understand your reasoning and i tend to agree. however, your examples of similar historical events, e.g. the french revolution, the decline and fall of imperial rome and the american revolution, include both long, sustained declines (rome) and sudden, violent events (french revolution). what factors, in your view, tend to favor one scenario over the other?

Merle Langlois said...

Violet Cabra your ecological metaphor using JMG's insights was brilliant.

JMG this week's post was dynamite. After the boring (for me) practical post on ebola (if I get it I'll either live or die) it's nice to get back to primate social dynamics (some of us love this stuff). The way you pull these examples from history to illuminate our present situation can fill in so many gaps that thinkers who just focus on the present and the imagined future would otherwise miss. Not to mention I'm getting a lot more interested in reading about history thanks to you. I've got Vico on deck next after I finish "Zen's Chinese Heritage."

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

My favorite from the papers this week: "Every day is a mess, but over the course of a year, Progress is made".

DeAnander said...

BTW, in my part of Salmon Nation (Central BC Coast) it's quite common to refer to prawns as "bugs".

And yet -- though I'll devour a plateful of fried prawns as fast as I can get my paws on them -- I'm still squeamish about terrestrial bugs. Food kapu is just so interesting. Maybe if I told myself firmly that the fried crickets were really shrimp?

Kutamun said...

Wow this comments section is throwing up some real gems ; thank you Violet for your amazing insight with the parasite/ predator meme ; thanks to the other dude who pointed out the Orc army currently moldering within the walls of U.S empire prisons . Steve Pearson thanks for sharing your insights of how a combat unit operates in practice ...
Lately my attention has been on Europe, seemingly edging closer to fragmentation and collapse , and i cant help wondering what the old monarchies swept away by the Oil Age have been up to in the way of preparing to fill the power vacuum .
I am sure they would see the last hundred years as a mere blip on the radar of their reign .. No doubt they have used the time wisely , to reacquire wealth , property and assets , finance , and also to give the poor old gene pool a bit of a shot in the arm ( pardon the pun) . I am referrring here to old Otto Hapsburg and his clan ; the Thurn Und Taxis crowd , de Vasconcelos of Portugal .Obviously they will have metamorphosized into another format , perhaps to rule from behind the scenes , via some new institution or mechanism . I wonder if they can get behind a mega corporation with a private security force to assume some roles of governance , a modern feudal house in drag ? With the Underworld Vampires lurking somewhere behind it . I am sure they will have done everything possible to undermine the EU , perhaps some of the unelected clowns that run it have been placed there? ( where possible ) .
So far they havent been kind enough to set up a website for a couch surfer like me to see what their plans are , so i have had to use intuition . Mostly the websites / blogs are there to mislead . I have noticed the Maersk shipping containers a lot in my travels the last few years , and i cant help but feel this mob have some role to play , with its seven pointed star emblem and links to "the order of the white elephant " ..
Perhaps the international globe trotting feudalists are already in position with constantly shifting virtual castles , private armies , perhaps the resurgence may involve admitting some new blood with some not so ancient royal lineage . Blackwater , anyone , Kolomovski of the Ukraine ? ..
As far as Australia goes , i think the Archdruid may be right in suggesting that we will soon be busy fending off the Chinese , but like most critters over here , we seem somewhat dumb and cute , but when annoyed , watch out , our insurgency ( fuelled by a deeply ingrained racism ) will make the Jihadis look like toy soldiers ! ...especially if they cut off the beer; Ned Kelly taught us everything we need to know .

Donald Hargraves said...

I wonder if anyone has noticed a new bumper sticker/flag on the back of certain cop cars and/or cars of those who have cops in their families. They're black flags with an almost-glowing blue stripe across the middle – my guess implying that it's their blue line that's keeping anarchy (the black field) from taking over.

I state this because, as the power of the cop declines (I heard people in Ferguson MO talking about taking the guns away from the cops) there seems to be a need to "rally the troops." I also wonder if this is the beginning of the now-blatant switch from "officer friendly" to occupying power?

Something I'm throwing out there, as I've seen this new symbol and it disturbs me a bit.

Bill Pulliam said...

Laylah -- younger people are benefiting enormously right now from Social Security (and Medicare) -- it is taking care of your parents and grandparents so you don't have to. In rural America, Social Security, Medicare, SSI Disability, and SNAP are the foundation of the local economy. I sometimes feel like I am the only one at the Mall*Wart who is not paying with one of those red-white-and-blue Government-issue EBT cards. Your benefit might not have been much, but it grows rapidly with lower incomes and larger packs of kids. And I think I am the only man in our holler who is not drawing a disability check.

John Michael Greer said...

Derv, it is indeed weird. I really wonder, though, how many police departments can establish a good enough rapport with their prospective peasants to keep the latter from quietly letting the warband in the next county when the guy who always gets drunk on watch will be guarding the door. Political power is a complicated thing, and pure brute force is rarely enough to make it stick.

Wander, thanks for your perspective! It doesn't surprise me to hear that members of the elite think of themselves in those terms -- but we know where the road paved with good intentions always leads.

Eric, I'll look it up the next time I have some free time in DC!

Ganv, I'll be dealing with that to some extent in next week's post, and then further in posts beyond that. The short form is that this is why warbands target the support systems of their technologically superior enemy -- as those systems fail, dependence on them becomes a disadvantage, not an advantage. Jihadis in Iraq and Afghanistan have already shown that they can use that tactic to bog down the US in an unwinnable situation; once it's on our own turf, and countersystem attacks don't simply interfere with US capacities to project power somewhere else, it becomes even more dangerous. More on this soon!

Cherokee, I'm impressed -- here the federal unemployment figures openly exclude anybody who no longer gets unemployment, whether or not they've got a job, and the government just nods and smiles and pretends that the number means something.

Ed, it's an interesting question. I'm not at all sure it'll be one person -- the US is perilously close to fragmenting as it is.

William, when it comes to the current maneuverings of the US and its enemies, all of us who are outside the loop are speculating. Still, I don't think it's too hard to figure out what's going on. US hostility to Russia is anything but a Cold War hangover; the Russo-Chinese alliance of convenience is the most significant threat to US global dominance in the short term, and keeping Russia on the defensive and forcing a wedge between Russia and the EU are important US goals just now. The US tried the same thing on China's border by sponsoring an attempted revolution in Myanmar a while back, as I'm sure you recall, and the recent business in Hong Kong is more of the same. How long it will take for payback time to come around is an interesting question just now.

Ellen, thanks, but I have enough trouble keeping up with my current correspondence and workload, and I'm not particularly interested in yet another version of utopian reformism. As for your pessimistic version of the religion of progress, that's not pessimism, it's just a little less giddy and gullible than the usual sort. How about a version where you know that sooner or later, progress will fail, but commit yourself to the fight to keep that failure from happening any sooner than it has to? Think of Norse religion -- the gods are going to die when Ragnarok comes, and it's your highest aspiration to go down fighting next to them -- and you've got the idea.

MawKernewek, and then about a week later they'll find out that the local organized crime boss owns their properties, and they don't any more. Do you recall the story about how Vortigern brought the Saxons to Britain? It's worth revisiting, and not just in this context.

Ed-M, thank you! As for microstates, one consequence of dark age conditions is that states as such cease to exist; what you've got instead is roughly defined territories that fluctuate dramatically from decade to decade and even year to year. It's only when that settles down to stable baronies and a hierarchy begins to take shape that states begin to reform, and even then it takes a good long time before people stop thinking of themselves as Baron Cuthbert's vassals and start thinking of themselves as English, or what have you.

Rapier, an excellent piece of advice!

John Michael Greer said...

William K., which is why hacking and countersystem strikes will play so important a part in the downfall of the current order. It's a bit difficult to govern by computer when all you get is the blue screen of death...

Steve, interesting. The only US general I've ever met in person was a good long way outside the box, but I grant that he may have been an exception to the rule.

Angus, thank you -- I hope you've also posted this over at the Green Wizards forum.

Michael, good. Those are certainly some of the things that need doing just now.

Shane, exactly.

Mr. G., I could definitely see colonels on your continent getting into the action. Such exposure as I have to the US military suggests that its sheer scale puts low-ranking generals in about the same role as colonels in a Latin American army. More broadly -- yes, and we'll be talking about that as this sequence of posts proceeds.

Jonathan, they aren't two different scenarios. The decline and fall of a civilization includes a lot of sudden violent events -- consider the fall of Rome to the Visigoths, for one. The Long Descent isn't a smooth curve, it's a fractal shape made up of many different collapses on many different scales of space, time, and intensity -- and some of those collapses will likely involve the production of a very large number of corpses in a very short time. Is that a little clearer?

Merle, thank you! Take your time with Vico; he writes in a style that went out of fashion a couple of centuries ago, and it takes getting used to.

Matthew, let me fix that: "Every day is progress, but at the end of a year, a real mess gets made." There, that's more like it! ;-)

DeAnander, if you get past that now, you'll have less trouble when your life's on the line.

Kutamun, well, we'll see. Don't assume that genocide is off the table in such a case; whoever conquers Australia might simply decide that lebensraum is more useful than the current population, and march the lot of you into camps in the gibber desert without benefit of water or food.

YJV said...

Somebody here mentioned prisons as being a source of future military leaders.

Well, according to the article below, this has already happened.

ed boyle said...

Hitler and Napoleon and Putin took over after crisis and brought order, all ex military types. In USA the largest military-security apparatus on earth combined with croesus type bankers blowing up system. New wars started weekly by idiot cvilians. So when Fed can't do anymore, congress is deadlocked with prez and banks go broke and only solution of govt. is to declare war to distract from incompetency then a coup will be more likely to save country and world from scheming Nulands, banksters, corrupt politicians.

This is normal in Pakistan,etc.

Lei said...

Just a few thoughts:

This all may be eventually invitable, at least in the USA (the situation still appears a bit different from the point of view of Central Europe); however, it strikes me as excentric and actually unresponsible reality that many readers seem to welcome the new power holders, or at least feel a kind of excitement. One can only say, care for what you wish. Because we are not talking only about new nobility, which is a bit too premature; in fact, we are talking about the disintegration of the basic institutions and the rule of law. And of course, law is naturally made by the elites, but, on the other hand, most of the old civilizations knew that bad law was still better than no law and that it is a basis of a stable and thriving society.

Also, one should take into consideration the fact that the dynamics of revolutions in growing economies, which are basically all modern revolutions, removing obstacles for a more effective way of source managment, is diametrally different from the processes in times of regression. I am sure the author is well aware of it, but it seems that these two things are too often mixed up here in comments. As a result, we can hardly use the historical revolutions as comparative or illustrative material.

And, although this may be different for the USA I am not especially familiar with, I doubt that the new elites are those gang leaders everyone mentions. It is not only that an average European does not have any experience with a drug or any other gang. It is rather the mental outfit of such people - they may be capable in some respects, but it is usually not accidental that they occupy a certain niche in the present society. Simply put, I don't think that the future nobility will recruit from criminals (and, please, don't start talking about early medieval nobility as of criminals, which they certainly were not, though they had much in common) - I think rather of the type of men close to the leaders of historical communist guerillas, e.g. the early Chinese communists, later dominated by Mao Zedong, but not exclusively. Those people are not only able in organization and power building, but are also the charismatic leaders, which are able to present an attractive vision and win the favour of common people. But such people usually do not engage in gang wars and, in general, tend to show an entirely physical outfit than maffianos.

I am a bit perplexed by time frames we are talking about, although I try to follow the discussion closely. One is never sure about whether this is projected to coming decades, or a century later, or even later. Yes, I know "Dark Ages" will come according to JMG in one to three centuries; but then, it is quite funny that the favorite sport in comments here is to look for and find everywhere the first signs of these developments. Which is, in fact, a bit annoying, as it has a flavour of chilliastic hallucinations - those initiated ones diclose the signs of the coming apocalypse - though those phenomena can be manifestations of quite different and unrelated social processes. Sorry, but it this is to happen in next three centuries, I don't think we can identify now the shape of it and its sprouts.

What is more: maybe it is because of the unclarity in time frames, but is really strange to advocate relearning of basic democracy and interest in politics (which is laudable), and, on the other hand, speak about the rule of gangs, in fact - either we have brutal "new elites", and then we have no politics at all, let alone legality and due suits, or we have a political system of modern making, and than we cannot have "new elites".

And the last thing: there was a nice debate about fascism here. And warnings against it. It is then a bit disturbing to see the readers of this blog to admire precisely those attributes in men that are absolutely characteristic for fascist Duci and Führer, and Putinove - that of the hypermasculine macho, who cares nothing about "decadent" mechanisms of a complex society.

Lei said...

Sorry: psychical outfit - not physical.

Cherokee Organics said...


Yes, well things could be worse, I guess. It is hard to watch while public institutions - which the public pay for - get gutted. Oh well.

Interestingly too, I noted that the Ebola patient in the US died. I would have thought that the system - after the initial botch up - would have chucked everything they had at that guy.

The fatal outcome could not have been a worse outcome if they'd tried, because, the fatality disproves any assurances of safety to the contrary. It is not a good look.

I wonder whether the blame game has started yet? I can hear them now in my imagination: "It's not our fault... blah, blah, blah... Too far gone… Nothing we could do…"

Such a public failure is somehow not very reassuring at the same time.



Cherokee Organics said...


It surprises me immensely that not one single commenter seems to be aware that external countries could potentially crash the US economy within a few days - or even less - should they choose to do so.

Most comments seem to be fixated on this internal group or that internal group, but oh boy, imagine for a moment what might happen should China or Japan either individually - or acting in concert (willingly or unwillingly) - decide to just start selling their huge US dollar reserves on the open market. Ouch, that would hurt.

In doing so, they'd both gain access to energy reserves which they can't currently access.

With the US (and us here too, we're in it up to our eyeballs) again heading into another quagmire in the Middle East, would the US take overt military action over purely economic matters? How would they fuel that military action? Would the domestic US population be prepared to sacrifice its energy and stuff benefits or would it play a blame game with the government for the incredible mismanagement of the situation? Very unpleasant circumstances in going out on such a ledge.

PS: It can hardly be coincidence, but I overheard another elderly lady in the bank the other day arguing with the teller about various transactions on her statement and various overdrawn fees etc... It was very uncomfortable for all of the people in the bank. She appeared to be quite agitated.

PPS: In a complete score today, I picked up a second hand hardback edition book by John Kenneth Galbraith called the Age of Uncertainty. A quick flick through unveiled an entertaining history of economics.



Les said...

JMG, re: colonels, one-star generals and the like.
I’m guessing your views on starred generals vs colonels must come from the phenomenon of replacing bureaucracies you mentioned. If you don’t like that three-star general, give some more loyal minion four stars. Then five stars and so on.
The coup finally happens when the one and two-star guys find their pay has been reduced to allow the funding of wider doors and hallways, so the thirty-seven-star and above generals no longer have to risk damaging their epaulets while walking between offices…

EBrown said...

Two things -

1. You are tuned into language and in this essay you used a common phrase I've long wondered about. I'll quote your whole sentence,

"There were a very few members of the late Roman elite who could exercise power in the same way as Odoacer and his equivalents, and they’re the exceptions that prove the rule."

Prove has multiple meanings. Most people use that phrase the way you just did. But I wonder if originally it was used in a context where 'prove' would mean 'test', rather than 'demonstrate'.

2. You might enjoy this guy's blog. He's an intelligent and IMHO well informed englishman. His recent post touches on some of the same points you made here.


Tony f. whelKs said...

Re: military coups and 'veteran' coups: sometimes it's the generals or colonels, but more often than might be expected it's the lower officer ranks. Captains seem to do well in African miltary takeovers, for instance, and the classical cases of veteran tyrants are the two grand corporals of Europe - Bonaparte and Hitler. Power is indeed contextual, and in times of crisis command of a company may offer more actual power than (notional) command of a battalion, in that the other ranks may be willing to accept orders from a closer superior than a more distant one. When the complexity of a military hierarchy becomes unsustainable, command of a single garrison can hold together when an army group falls apart, with an impotent and isolated general in headquarters being unable to sway anyone but his AdC. In such a situation, the power is clearly in the hands of the officer 'on the ground'.

We should also bear in mind the personal adherence some commanders evince in their troops. Here the classic example comes from the Iberian theatre during the Punic Wars, where both the Barca family and the Scipii attracted the support of Iberian tribes on a personal basis. The tribes fought for the generals involved, not for Rome or Carthage, and their allegiance could be swayed by fluctations in perceived power. This also underlines the internal competition within elites, although Rome, being in the ascendant, seems to have had more success in maintaining cohesion to the central myth of the Republic than the senescent Carthaginian polity could achieve. The internal conflict in the Roman elites did break out under the late Empire, though.

Incidentally, whoever thinks drug gangs and veterans are necessarily distinct should look into the history of the Zetas ;-)

In other news, the more astute (or local) readers may have noticed that UKIP has just won its first seat at Westminster. It raises lots of interesting questions and observations, one of which is the way the BBC news went on and on about how UKIP were now a signmificant force and how it all presages Big Things, yet there was hardly an eyelid lifted for the first Green MP.

Still, I think the 'Why?' of the UKIP success is the more interesting thing. Let's be clear, I do not like UKIP, so perhaps I'm biased, but considering they don't have a coherent policy, I find it surprising how much support they are garnering. They seem to have two strategies: one is the 'cold pricklies' of a decidedly Daily Mail strain, and the other is their insistence on being 'political outsiders'. They have managed to tap a strain of discontent, and whilst it's clear what they're against, no-one seems to know what they are for, including themselves. A few years ago they were banging the Libertarian drum, but seemed to have turned against that a bit (I personally think that Libertarianism is merely deferential apologetics for billionaires, a political Stockholm syndrome). UKIP don't seem to have any economic policy, their environmental policy is climate change denial, they do not have any grasp of any of the topics discussed here, in short they seem just as blind as the establishment they pretend not to be part of. They provide a platform for the kind of xenophobe who can't admit to racism, and it's interesting to see the BNP is collapsing now, but all the talk is of UKIP poaching from Conservative and Labour support. I guess really it is to be expected in times of decline, after all - part scapegoating, part entitlement tantrum as the privileges of industrial society fade away. Anyway, it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds, what with a general election next year.

thecrowandsheep said...

"Don't assume that genocide is off the table in such a case; whoever conquers Australia might simply decide that lebensraum is more useful than the current population, and march the lot of you into camps in the gibber desert without benefit of water or food."

Wasn't that already done the first time? I see you gone and learnt from history again there Greer.

Violet Cabra said...

Re eating grasshoppers:

When I've eaten grasshoppers I've been struck by how delicious they taste! They turn red and expand with frying, looking like mini lobsters and having much the same flavor.

About a year ago I caught a few handfuls of them to feed to my ex-partner who usually had an insatiable appetite. They sated her fast, maybe 10 she was full and wasn't hungry for awhile.

In any warm season starvation situation grasshoppers would be very important food option. I think in Mollison's tome Permaculture a Designers Manual he notes that they are attracted to the color light green (it is in his section about attracting bugs to chickens). I've noticed them congreating around green tarps.

It is important to cook them at a high heat because they often contain a parasite, tapeworm I think, which is killed at high temperature.

If I had children I'd get them eating insects NOW. In the rocky future we have ahead they represent a vital protein source. To quote Grapes of Wrath "doesn't take a kid long to starve. Two, three days." to quote some forgotten survival handbook "people don't die from lack of food, they die from lack of luxuries."

Few foods that grow without tending have anything like the nutritive power of insects, while requiring as little preparation You could find them easy enough at the Obamaville and set the kids to catching them so they don't make a nuisance of themselves...

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Yes, Brian Keller has it right: the collapse of a bureaucracy, however parasitic, brings with it the collapse of law, thereby adding a new level of woe.

Already the law we have makes things hard on dissidents and whistleblowers (as readers of this blog might divine from my adventures with a pro-asphalt Richmond Hill politician: interested readers, should any exist, could Google on "Cilevitz versus Karmo, David Dunlap Observatory conservation").

But with the parasitic bureaucracy ripped up, our woes (as Brian Keller rightly stresses) increase. We see this now from a society that collapsed early so as to avoid the rush, Russia.

I gather from what I think is/are correctly informed source(s) that in Moscow, if hypothetical Anastasia has a fender-bender with hypothetical Boris, and the cops come, the proceedings turn into a straightforward auction: Anastasia flashes her funds, and Boris flashes his, and constables basically say, or signal, "Citizens, your bids, please."

I additionally gather that acquittal rates in Moscow courts are dramatically low - i.e., that court statistics from Moscow do not at all resemble the corresponding statistics from jurisdictions that sill try to be law-governed, as here in Canada, or again as in Brian Keller's Ireland. The suggestion I have received, so to speak from the far side of the Narva River separating Estonia from Russia, is "Something like 98 percent [or was it 97 percent?] of tried Moscow cases result in a conviction."

PS: Mr Putin is himself an example of a warlord, having risen from modest ranks. If I am correctly briefed by source(s), he was not a Polkovnik, or colonel, when doing his 1980s KGB work in Germany when the 1917 Lenin-putsch regime was still intact, but instead was something called a POD-Polkovnik - this being in some sense a step down from colonel.

Can someone confirm the rank?

The low rank is perhaps consistent with Mr Putin's academic record, where his grades are said to have been on the American scale Ds, rather than Bs or Cs. Again, can someone confirm?

Hastily, grimly,
thinking that Russia has seen VERY
little law since 1917,
and hoping that at some stage somebody
knowledgeable of Muskovy
can supply us students of Putin
with what lawyers are pleased to call
"further and better particulars",

Toomas (Tom) Karmo
(of exile-Estonian roots, with
some incidental family history
east of Narva River;
typing this stuff
approx 20-25 km north of our local
mecca for legal scholarship,
the Osgoode Hall law library)

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Marc L Berstein wrote the following:

What will happen to all of the accumulated scientific, cultural and artistic knowledge and accomplishments that educated persons cherish? Perhaps a few unusual members of the intellectual elite will take measures to store and protect as much of that knowledge as possible.

Perhaps something akin to a new monastic tradition will manage to survive somewhere, eking out a living and protecting manuscripts, books and perhaps even digital information.

Yes, yes, yes. Maybe JMG's green-wizards initiative can help pull some of this monastic striving together. One shudders to think of calculus being handed down in second-rate books, with Michael Spivak forgotten, or of electromagnetic theory being handed down from second-rate books, with Edward Purcell forgotten. Eventually, if our (already-beginning?) scientific decay goes deep enough, our descendants will not even be able to design good radio equipment, being reduced to a tinkering unguided by div-grad-curl formalisms.

PS: Thanks, August Johnson, for keeping up My own tiny contribution here is a collection of radio books, some from even the 1920s, comprising a couple of metres of shelving in my small private library, and mentioned in my will-or-codicil as the subject of possible eventual transfer to Estonia. Also, I do keep up with Morse code (MFJ-418 trainer, W1AW 40-metre broadcasts, etc)! You may for your part be able to do more.


Toomas (Tom) Karmo

Catholic quaasi-hermit, near Toronto

www dot metascientia dot com
Toomas dot Karmo at gmail dot com

(trying today to get clearer on
Green-Stokes-Gauss theorems,
in part because of their relevance
to radio theory - but
in large part also because maths possesses an intrinsic goodness which transcends engineering applications)

Bill Pulliam said...

The exception proving the rule: I may be incorrect here, but this is my understanding...

I thought the phrase derived from English Common Law, which was not actually written down. If someone felt the need to post or point out an exception, that proved the existence of a common-law rule to which the exception needed to be made. For example, if you feel you must post a "no swimming" sign on your pond, that proves the existence of a common-law rule that swimming is generally legal, EXCEPT where posted.

This is not the sense in which the phrase is commonly used in American English today, and thus my understanding may be wrong or archaic.

John Michael Greer said...

Donald, I haven't seen that. I'll keep an eye out for it.

YJV, I'd be interested to see if the same point appears in a less obviously polemic source.

Ed, and that's certainly one of the ways that things could go, at least in the short term.

Lei, well put. Still, it's worth remembering that one of the reasons that fascist parties as well as less ideologically motivated despots rise to power is precisely because the existing order becomes intolerable -- and in the US, that point is rapidly being reached.

Cherokee, I also note that the nurse in Madrid is in critical condition and may not make it. I hope this encourages more people to take the risk of a pandemic seriously. As for the treasury bills in various central banks, though, I suspect the Fed would just conjure up the money to buy them up, by way of a dozen or so off-book subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands or what have you. My guess, rather, is that the Chinese et al. are quietly cashing in their dollar reserves and using them to snap up resources all over the planet.

Les, pretty much.

EBrown, you're quite correct. The exception tests the rule by asking "Okay, what about this case?" That's actually what I had in mind in that paragraph: Romans like Aetius test the rule, and show that it applies even to them. Thanks for the link -- I'll check it out as time permits.

Tony, my take on UKIP -- and of course it's from the perspective of a not very well informed Yank -- is that the rise of the BNP was a sign that many people in Britain are so desperate for a change in certain policies -- especially those involving immigration -- that they were willing to support a fascist party if that's the only party that supports that change. Now that they've got another alternative, they're taking it.

Sheep, exactly.

Violet, it occurs to me that in America these days, a career as an insect chef might just be a ticket to fame and fortune!

Toomas, Putin is definitely a warlord type, complete with the charisma, the machismo, and the considerable combat skills. To my mind, that's why he's doing so well in the current environment.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Oh heavens, I'm sorry: Brian Kaller is the name. In my carelessness, I typed "Keller".

Toomas (Tom) Karmo

Bill Pulliam said...

From wikipedia:

""The exception [that] proves the rule" means that the presence of an exception applying to a specific case establishes ("proves") that a general rule exists. For example, a sign that says "parking prohibited on Sundays" (the exception) "proves" that parking is allowed on the other six days of the week (the rule). A more explicit phrasing might be "The exception that proves the existence of the rule."

This is not the sense in which it was used by JMG or by most American English speakers. The original sense dates to Roman law. The contemporary American sense is actually rather different in that it means "the exceptions demonstrate the limits of the rule" or even "the existence of an exception does not invalidate the rule." It originally meant "the need to specify an exception proves the existence of the general (unwritten, unstated common-law, implicitly understood) rule." Many would consider the modern usage incorrect, though it is in wide usage and has never quite made sense to me -- it sounds like you are actually making excuses for why your rule does not apply in a particular case, and not really "proving" anything in either sense of the verb "prove."

And now I will go prove that I am not a robot.

exiledbear said...

Not exactly on-topic, but you do have an interest in the fracking bubble.

It may have already popped. That's the thing about markets you never really do know until months after the fact.

I'd say if the subsequent rally can't go to new highs after this downleg finishes (and it will), then the fracking bubble is over.

re: Elites

Did any of you see that document on Medium that Obama wrote to the Millenials ( I think they are beginning to perceive the disconnect they have, but they are so out of touch, I can't tell whether it's funny or tragic.

If your own official presidential website is so irrelevant that you believe you have to use someone else's to try to reach people, I could be wrong, but I don't think that the Millenials are going to take you much more seriously. I don't think they're that dumb.

Like I said before, there are too many entrenched interests that are clinging to the past with all their might, and that which clings to the past, will disappear into the past. If you're young, if you have little to lose - just leave the U.S. and start your life somewhere else.

Leave and don't look back.

Robert Mathiesen said...

@ Tony f. whelKs:

As an outsider, I wonder whether part of the attraction UKIP might have for voters is precisely the absence of any clear and stable policy whatever?

Here in the US that sort of a party would definitely attract a huge number of voters. There seems to be a spreading distrust in some circles of such things as planning, rationality, argumentation, science, and even moderation and self-restraint. (And I have seen this among well-educated students at my Ivy-League university as well as in the wider world.)

All these things are seen as tools by which the powerful hold their power, either by overawing the ignorant or by confusing the educated. In these circles, there are only two ways of getting something done effectively: if it's alive, kill it; if it's not alive, hit it harder and harder until it does what you want or disintegrates.

Brian Bundy said...

JMG, Again, this was excellent. I wonder if you can comment: where are these warlords now and how can I identify one and start to butter 'em up in advance? Joking aside, do these personalities tend to emerge from the existing military structure, or are they middle-managers at Walmart with larger ambitions?

Roger said...

The question I've been asking lately, especially about our federal government on this side on the border, is whether they're doing more harm than good. Bureaucratic encrustations may be tolerable if the means to support them exist and if they sometimes do something useful.

But, from our federal bureaucracy, truly astounding incompetence is the order of the day. Especially from the folks in charge of military procurement and from those entrusted with safety of food and drugs. Both regularly serve up howlers and horrors respectively.

I could give you a list that goes to the moon and back.

Now, you might think that local government governs best. I used to subscribe to that notion. No more. Our provincial governments (analogous to US states) are not much better. La Belle Province entertains with one spectacular corruption case after another. It must draw admiring looks even from Italy where they buy and sell politicians like cattle.

But crookedness has no linguistic boundary. No, you see, not long ago the Ontario Premier (like a state governor) cancelled contracts to build electrical generating stations. So what you say? I'll tell you, the cancellation cost one billion dollars. One billion piddled away with nothing to show for it.

Just to give context, with a Canuck buck you can buy in Canada roughly 80% of what a US buck will buy in the US. And this place has about one tenth the population of the US. Americanize that number and you're talking roughly EIGHT billion buckaroos in a U.S. context. Impressive, no?

Now, you say there may be good reasons for the cancellation. HAH! The Premier and his boys tried to get those plants built in the face of vociferous nimby opposition. It would cost them a few precious seats in the provincial legislature. With the plants partially complete, they pulled the plug.

Was there outrage? You bet. Were there consequences? Don't make me laugh. The party in charge of this debacle just won re-election. You see, the alternatives were seen as worse. Now that's saying something.

Sigh. I hear stories about packs of snarling attack-dog prosecutors in the U.S. Are they true? Could you send some up here? Please? If a state governor threw away eight billion for crass political purposes would the law-men come running? I have visions of subpoenas by the truckload, indictments by the bushel, of perp walks, of hard-faced, hard-knuckled US marshalls. I guess I've been watching too many bad action movies.

Rebecca Brown said...

I have seen power that's been shifted from the nominal titular holder to another person. At the last place I worked, the Executive Director was the nominal leader, but the real power rested in the hands of one of the Assistant Directors. She ran the entire organization with an iron fist and literally held court for several hours a day in her office. Anyone who offended her in any way would find themselves out of a job. People in other departments and command chains who forgot to bring her a birthday gift (or got one she didn't consider suitable) would be mysteriously let go a few days later. The ED was utterly powerless to stop her.

The latter is off-topic, but I'd like to get opinions on the following states, all of which are potential destinations for us: Ohio, Minnesota, Maine, and Washington State. I'm partial to Ohio myself (we'd be either near Columbus or Toledo) and I'm not fond at all of Washington state. Thanks!

Marinhomelander said...

Just got an illustrated color catalog of some of the people you mention in the abstract. It’s a parade of the uber wealthy of San Francisco and their various wanna –bes as well as potential servants plus a few members of the State and National Ruling Classes.

The Nob Hill Gazette was dumped, unwanted, on our driveway at 3 in the morning by a guy in a van playing Mariachi music. (They can charge more for advertising since it has a high income zip code “circulation” you see).

Perfect teeth, Jewelry, expensive clothes, outlandish real estate for sale—notice a few “price reduced” tags on the four million dollar “homes”. Is the end near for this bubble?

Interesting demographics. The ex Speaker of the House, ex Secretary of State and mayor and certain family members of the MIC appear at the Opera opening in their decca thousand dollar gowns and silk tuxedos. However, the usual family names of vast private wealth are ever more scarce on these oft read pages, even though their numbers and wealth have definitely increased.

Maybe they sense it’s not in their interest to be highlighted and their pictures posted?

jonathan said...

that's clear enough. even so, any specific date chosen for the fall of the roman empire is largely a question of personal preference. the french revolution started on july 14, 1789. even given that there were many events leading up to that date, july 14 still represents an unequivocal tipping point-- the end of l'ancien regime. it seems to me that there is a qualitative difference between social orders declining fitfully over decades or centuries and those that collapse in a sudden frenzy.

DeAnander said...

"the readers of this blog to admire precisely those attributes in men that are absolutely characteristic for fascist Duci"

not all of us :-)

I deeply fear those attributes and the men who exercise them. the charismatic warlord and his gang of loyal henchmen are not my first choice for local government (cf the excellent Sayles flick, "Men With Guns"). we may *have* to pass through that historical era again, but I sincerely hope it's after I'm dead of natural causes.

Andy Brown said...

Thanks for the grasshopper cuisine encouragement. Our culture is pretty much an outlier in not making use of insects as a food source. Grasshoppers – being pretty tasty – are a good place to push on that food taboo. Next challenge will be to try out some of those grubs that pop up when I turn the garden soil. Maybe I’ll save that for the spring.

In any case, there’s a little more about the grasshopper experiment on my blog for any that are interested. Please feel free to leave any good recipes as a comment!

Raymond Duckling said...

Another example of emerging new elites:

@Bryan Bundy.
I am quoting from memory from Dmitry Orlov, but I think he mentioned that there's a difference between the mere thugs and the hardened roughneck types that know how to make things happen in an uncertain environment (which includes - but is not limited to - redirect the raw violence of the thugs towards strategic goals, or otherwise deal with such thugs that prove themselves too chaotic to manage).

Where do they come from. Some from law enforcement or the military. Others are part of the criminal underworld. Yet others are regular joes doing 3D jobs (as in dirty, dangerous & demeaning). All of these have in common that you must pay attention, abide to a bunch of unwritten rules, think fast and not hesitate to act if you are to stay for the long run.

Add a pinch of charisma, some raw wits and a bit of luck, bake at slow fire in a disfunctional work environment, and you will have an incipient war lord in no time.

Cherokee Organics said...


Yes, I’d heard about the nurse too, but was unaware how it turned out.

I suspect that it is happening too (US currency reserves held by foreign powers). Have you noticed that the price of iron ore and coal - which are obviously linked - have dropped in recent months. They're now scoring more resources for less and shrinking our excessively resource export dependent economy.

Incidentally, they are also buying up property in the big end of town here and the government is complicit in such matters as I've read that the Foreign Investment Review Board is neglecting to investigate such matters.

Interestingly too, those foreign purchases are primarily within inner urban areas. The Depression era showed that people mostly migrated into the cities during times of serious economic crisis and hardship and it is surprising that the Chinese foreign purchasers have little interest in rural areas.

That is part of the motivation to try something different here – both unexpected and unnoticed!

Well, 90% of the Southern and Eastern Aboriginals died as a direct result of diseases introduced by the Europeans. Many of the remainder were badly treated by the missionaries and settlers after that. Not good. The golden rule of do unto others comes to mind.

Perhaps I should commence learning Mandarin? The entire community here is addicted to that slow drip feed of wealth. I’ve always thought that the easy path is actually the hard path dressed up in drag and set to give you a king hit when you’re at your weakest. Someone quote Mike Tyson a few weeks back – which was awesome – “Everyone has a plan until you get a punch in the face”.



Moshe Braner said...

Re: "the current maneuverings of the US and its enemies", a couple of points:

(1) The recent efforts to attack ISIS show an asymmetry even greater than that in Vietnam. A bunch of fancy aircraft fly all night, burning huge amounts of fuel, re-fueling in mid-air from tankers who burn even more fuel. At the destination they fire high-tech precision bombs that cost millions each. Result? In the morning we're told that "coalition strikes have successfully destroyed an armed pickup truck and a checkpost".

(2) A recent writeup by Michael Klare (mirrored on looks at the wielding of the "oil weapon". Back in the 70's it was the dirty immoral weapon of the ey-rehbs. Now it's the tool of choice of the empire that imagines it to be the new Saudi America. Sanctions on oil exporters, financial shenanigans to deny investments to select countries, bombing of oil refineries in Syria... The blowback when the fracking bubble pops is likely to be far more than purely economical.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kyoto Motors said...

I agree. The Soviet track record on the environment was my first response. I think of socialism as a reaction to , and function of, capitalism, which is the product of fossil fuels. Historically, it remains to be seen if humans can organize themselves around fossil fuels without capitalism playing a dominant role...
I look forward to the future posts you allude to.
And thanks, as always, for the excellent weekly post. Is it just me, or is the amount and quality of the discussion here just out of control!? Keep it up everybody!

Avery said...


Today I picked up the book "Citizens" recommended here, and I don't think you can say that the French Revolution happened on one specific day in 1789. Much of the "sudden frenzy" on July 14 was pure theater -- a mob stormed the Bastille and freed all seven of its prisoners, and in the weeks afterwards a significant portion of the old aristocracy was given jobs in a new "citizen" government. Lafayette, himself a marquis, gave speeches about how everything was different now, then returned to his manor to gamble with aristocratic friends. It was only the continuation of a paradigm already articulated by Rousseau and Voltaire, and the beginning of real violence was some years off. None of the Europeans (like Wordsworth) who delighted in the bloodless transfer of power in 1789-90 foresaw what would begin in 1792, or indeed the strange twists and turns of the decades afterwards. If you look at the Russian Revolution you will see a similar phenomenon -- it was not about a single day or even a year, because it took decades to transition the nation from a corrupt monarchy into an efficient prison state.

streamfortyseven said...

Roger said, in reference to Canada: "Now, you might think that local government governs best. I used to subscribe to that notion." but citing evidence that that didn't apply...

It's true here, too, on both state and municipal levels. Kansas, where I live, has a state government totally subservient to the will of the oil and gas industry, the larger factory farm operators, and the Koch Brothers, who live in Wichita, when they're not hanging out in NYC or someplace else. One of our US Senators, Pat Roberts, is a resident of the State of Virginia; he rents an apartment used largely as a mail drop at campaign time. The state government may undergo some changes this election cycle, though, people are getting a bit tired of the imposture and rampant corruption.

Municipal governments are no better, police only offer protection to the more wealthy parts of town, infrastructure is similarly maintained - or neglected, and local government funnels money to a few families by increasing taxpayer indebtedness and awarding tax "holidays" to the favored. In some places, over 90% of the registered voters do not participate in elections ... it's the old saying, "it doesn't matter who votes, it matters who counts the votes."

As a result there are two "rules of law", one for those who own the government, one for everybody else - which means, effectively, that there is no rule of law.

Random Man said...

I have just gone through orientation for a new job in a very large, bureaucratic organization. I'm in Texas but the organization is national.

I can safely report to everybody here that the managerial class I have interacted with, mostly in their 40s-60s, is utterly clueless. Not bad and incompetent, mind you. I would say they are hard-working and well-meaning. They are just sort of well, deer in headlights. They have no idea.

To give you a concrete example. We spent hours discussing the various ways to contribute to retirement, benefits, performance incentives, etc.

Do these people not realize that all of this is going to be defunct in a few years? That you are going to feel lucky if you still have a bank account, shelter, and food in your belly? But they still act as if "contribute 5% of your salary and put it in a retirement fund and you will have a million dollars in 30 years!"

It makes me nervous, because as somebody who is aware of collapse, I have to keep quiet, keep my cards close. They are going to be wondering how I knew and looking to cast blame.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Rebecca,

I used to work for a very wealthy and well connected gentleman who told me on several occasions that he always slept better knowing that I was looking out for his interests. He actually was a very pleasant - but exceptionally demanding - person to work for.

As to Washington State, well, I have little real world experience, but the people I have spoken to from there sound very nice.

Reliable rainfall and pleasant climate on the west coast is probably not a bad idea. It will all come down to rainfall in the end you know.



John Michael Greer said...

Bill, fascinating. That derivation wasn't something I'd heard before, but it makes sense.

Bear, the fracking bubble's always on topic, and the way it's deflating on schedule is fascinating to watch. Now we get to see just how dependent the US economy was on sales of overinflated shale leases, etc.

Brian, I'll be talking about that next week. Stay tuned!

Roger, sounds like the way things work on this side of the border. Maybe there should be an annual contest for Most Dysfunctional Local Government in North America -- I bet the competition would be fierce!

Rebecca, in your place I'd stay well away from the coasts. Either Ohio or Minnesota might well be workable, though.

Marin, are you old enough to remember when local newspapers had "society pages," which chronicled the doings of the local elite? Interesting that that's beginning to come back.

Jonathan, no, the French Revolution didn't start on one particular day, any more than the fall of Rome did -- it was a complex process extended over many years, and the fall of the Bastille was more or less equivalent to the fall of Rome to Alaric in 410, one striking event in the midst of many others.

Andy, you're welcome. I certainly plan on trying those grasshopper tacos one of these days.

Cherokee, a little Mandarin wouldn't hurt, and if you can grow some of the more popular vegetables used in Chinese cuisine, it'll be easier to make friends with your new neighbors, too.

Moshe, precisely. The airstrikes on IS are to my mind an admission of defeat disguised as a temper tantrum.

Kyoto, it's not just you. I'm delighted by the quality of the discussion here.

Stream, sounds like business as usual in a failing democracy.

Random, one of the reasons that I spend so much time talking about collapse here is that I can get away with it -- I don't have to worry about the opinions of the clueless. It's a rare privilege, and I figure it's good to use it to give the meme as broad a circulation as possible.

Alexander Hahl said...

I think the reason that the lower classes in America love their guns and the upper classes view them with affected distaste has everything to do with power.

If you have access to the financial and political system, use of violence is a liability to all that you already have. If you're poor and disenfranchised, it is basically the only form of power you can exercise.

Scotlyn said...

@Violet Cabra... Your image of predator v parasite styles of power-wielding is now permanently embedded in my brain. Very "sticky." It is already filtering the news I read in interesting ways...

Moshe Braner said...

Regarding the use of "technology" (computer networking) to maintain the current order - or not: While I was engaged today in the decidedly low-tech chore of cleaning the wood stove for the upcoming heating season, I had the radio on. The show was "TED Radio Hour", and the topic was "the future". In between the starry-eyed predictions of "a DNA sequencer in your iPhone" and "driver-less cars this decade", there was a token negative report, and of the past and not just the future:

A decade ago, in the terrorist attack on Mumbai, the perps in the field had a support team back in Pakistan, compiling real-time info from the internet and broadcast media, and relaying key data points back to the gunmen. That, the TED talk said, was the first time this "innovation" was used in terrorism. But probably not the last.

Moshe Braner said...

Fracking-bubble chart of the week - hat tip to Ron Patterson:
- frackers report 33 billion barrels proven reserves to SEC, vs. 163 billion barrels "resource potential" to investors.

Originally from

Meanwhile in the business news: "Reliance seeks sale of Eagle Ford stake for up to $4.5 billion". They're a bit late in trying to "flip" their "stake" there, which they bought for $1.5B some years back.

Roger said...

JMG I realize that yours is a US website and I wouldn't prattle on about stuff on this side of the border except for a few important issues: this place has what people need to survive, wide open spaces, fertile land, oodles of fresh water, timber, mineral and energy resources. Our mutual fate, south and north of the current dividing line, is intertwined.

The way I see it, as borders are re-drawn, which side of a border you end up on may determine whether you get the cosmic thumbs up or thumbs down. Will you be able to migrate, re-settle and make a living relatively un-impeded? Or will you be barred by war bands asserting new boundaries?

In any case, you said "It’s dangerous enough for elites to lose track of the contextual and contingent nature of their power ...". And that's the thing, the elites up here have no apparent idea of the fragility of their position.

The way things are currently structured is that an elite from the Great Lakes Basin contends for power with one far to the west. Left vs Right ideology is mostly a matter of posturing. The basis for power here is regional and economic in nature, both elites governing pretty much alike, both having an eye to the bottom lines of their masters.

Both elites are consumed with this national rivalry. Consequently, both are utterly blind to the fact of living defenceless on a treasure chest of natural resources. They think we have no enemies. Or that THEY have no enemies. Or that, push comes to shove, the 82nd Airborne will come to the rescue.

These guys are all inside the box thinkers. Not in a million years would they think outside that box. Not even with recent history as their guide. New political movements burble up regularly in this country, the latest in the 1980s, a version of which is currently in office in Ottawa.

Nope, to the elites, Great Lakes or Western, they are unassailable, they are as permanent as the pyramids, the prevailing order will endure and you couldn't convince them otherwise.

I look at the national Liberal Party leader: photogenic, charming, vacant. And who has a fighting chance of becoming Prime Minister. A local Romulus Augustulus?

Moshe Braner said...

Regarding warbands harvesting money from whatever is available, how about this: al Shabaab has raised hundreds of millions of dollars by selling, of all things, charcoal. To the oil-rich Gulf states. (I shudder to think about what this means to the remaining trees in Somalia.)

Another surprising thing I've recently heard about the Somali economy is that they export a huge number of camels, to Saudi Arabia where they are eaten.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Roger--I think the 82nd Airborne will come to Canada's defense as long as it is able, but the price will be a gradual extinction of what's left of Canada's autonomy.

Just an opinion for which I can't cite data, but I don't think either our ruling class or most ordinary Americans take Canada very seriously as a foreign country. Outright annexation as we attempted in the nineteenth century isn't so likely now, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot more consultation.

Ed-M said...


On your remark concerning the national leader of Canada's Liberal party and your question of him being your Romulus Augustulus, the answer is a qualified yes: if the next POTUS is crazy enough to invade Canada and pull it off. Which will put your elites in the crazy position of hoping for the 82d Airborne coming in to save their bacon from none other than the 82d Airborne!

Ellen He said...

I forgot to add the 3rd and most important tenet of quasi-pessimistic progress:
3. Progress ain't inevitable, but there's a point above which progress becomes irreversible but "we" must fight all "our" hardest to pass said point .

This basically explains why progress-ists like David Brin fight so hard for their cause.

Also, a question. In regions with populations small & densely concentrated that manage to escape the warlords, could Aristotelian democracy become an option ?

DeAnander said...

"from a corrupt monarchy into an efficient prison state..."

now that's what I call Progress ;-)

KL Cooke said...

"...remember when local newspapers had "society pages," which chronicled the doings of the local elite?"

When I was in college back in the 60s I had a job at a small town newspaper that ran a society page. The society editor, a nice gal, was always in a dispute with the advertising department over their penchant for putting ads for things like Preparation H under the write up of the Ladies Club luncheon.

Nastarana said...

Mr. Geer,

I am glad you are now getting down to cases, as it were in these fascinating essays. The elites may be incompetent, as you say, but their middle managers are no less so and they are at hand, while the elites are distant. Insolent govt. clerks, rapacious cops, duplicitous businessmen, and the invincible ignorance and arrogance of social workers is what we are dealing with daily. Cops might be feared in inner city neighborhoods, but I can tell you, having lived in some, that social workers are literally hated. Spank your kid because he or she got caught stealing, next thing you know someone has called CPS, and you are in for a nightmare of indefinite duration.

Rebecca Brown, you might consider where I live in central New York. Real estate is some of the cheapest in the USA; there is a flourishing local food scene and even cultural scene. Both are far more impressive than I ever saw in rural CA. Crime is relatively low--most people do not lock their cars, unheard of in CA--because there are more private and public resources to help desparate people than I ever saw in five decades living on the West Coast, and, anyone with some kind of income can afford rent somewhere. I think I am about as far from the Atlantic Coast as is the Archdruid in Maryland.

About recommending yourself to warbands and their leaders, you might want to make yourself useful. Become the go to person in your area for some necessary skill, small engine repair, auto repair, electronics, and so on. The leader has to keep his guys fed, clothed, and equipment in working order. Even Genghiz Khan was known for sparing the lives of artisans while making pyramids out of the heads of their social superiors.

Shane Wilson said...

@ Bill,
I'm not so sure that Social Security and Medicare benefit younger generations. Your assumption seems to be that any other option would continue the same level of benefit that elders currently receive. Millennials and Gen X'ers whose meager paychecks are being garnished to pay for Social Security and Medicare may have other ideas. A return to pre-Social Security eldercare, whereby elders are at the mercy of their children, would benefit younger generations by giving them the power and control of eldercare instead of their parents and grandparents. Those under 40-50, or especially 30, can't understand why they have to pay into a system they won't benefit from so that their parents and grandparents can live lifestyles they'll never enjoy, living to ages they'll never reach. It goes back to the theme of these posts: the elite and the abstract power they wield in our current system. The silents and the boomers are the elites wielding abstract power via AARP, stocks and other wealth, and political power. Younger generations are the ones wielding concrete power. It amazes me how the viagra and cialis generations fail to see the privilege they wield and just how much they're trying their hardest to be the epitome of evil to future generations. I assume on some subconscious level they're aware, which is why they've raised their children to be dependent on them. As a thought experiment, I'd like to go back to JMG's ecofascist scenario. Imagine that the ecofascist dictator of the future demonizes boomers and what silents may be left as the ones responsible for our situation, the ones who neglected taking steps to solve the problem while there was still time. He or she would find a ready audience among younger generations as they look around at 60-80 something overgrown teenagers with their cialis and viagra. It's also not to hard to see them looking the other way and not asking too many questions as elders start disappearing and an "eldercaust" gets underway. It's an interesting thought experiment. You can never underestimate what's simmering under the surface of younger generations. Now, it goes without saying that an "eldercaust" would be a tragedy and do nothing to change the predicament we're in, but older generations seem to be doing everything in their power to be the epitome of evil to younger generations.
Regarding Canada,
I'm bullish on Canada. In fact, I can easily see Canada and the Canadian government outliving the U.S., as long as they keep their wide open immigration policy, providing lebensraum for the elites of the BRICS, and continuing to cozy up to the up and coming BRIC powers diplomatically. Thankfully, Canada has a weaker, more flexible national identity than the U.S., and virtually no civil religion around it founding, which makes it that much more adaptable. What I DO see being troublesome for Canada is an immigration/volkerwanderung problem once the U.S. finally collapses. The borders will move north, and Canada will be in the same position the U.S. is in now from an uncontrolled influx. For example, I'm acutely aware that I'm only 6 hrs from the Detroit/Windsor crossing and 9 hrs from Toronto, and already, to my eyes, life in Southern Ontario seems a lot better than in the states. I'd imagine if things continue the way they are, that will increase. ..

Keith said...

Hello Cherokee Organics

The Age of Uncertainty is a fun book. Galbraith is informative and wickedly witty.

If you can find it, the book was the companion to a TV series in 1977, produced by the BBC and CBC. Galbraith narrated and it is worth watching.



Ed-M said...


Concerning your remark that before the micro-states are formed, there will be warlord dominated areas with extremely poorly defined borders. Sounds like The Five Stages of Collapse to me, and an altogether too rapid a collapse to the point of almost being an Apocalypse. I'm thinking the micro-states (and mini-states) would be formed by the process of devolution: as an upper level of government power dissolves, its powers are devolved to the next level down. The warlords come later -- in Western Rome, they showed up about 150 to 175 years after the economic collapse of the early 4th Century CE.

Bill Pulliam said...

Shane -- you are presuming an emotional disconnect between the generations, which has not been the norm even in America for most of history. The disdain that the baby boomers felt for their parents was an aberration, and it is not shared by the generations that have followed them. Nor is it stopping middle-aged boomers now from personally bankrupting themselves to care for their elderly parents, if needed. Younger people today tend to be quite close emotionally to their parents and grandparents and might not be so inclined to throw them under the economic bus as you suppose.

As for your conspiracy theories about parents deliberately making their children financially dependent on them, oh please. Yeah, right, it's a plot by the boomers to insure their old age security. It's got nothing to to with the general ongoing economic collapse and the demise of the American middle class. Sure thing. It is also a return to the patterns of earlier generations, where children lived with their parents until they married, and even after wards if they did not yet have the means to start their own household. Again, it's a weird aberration of this particular generation of Americans to think that the multi-generational household is per se a bad thing.

ridgedruid said...

Orlov just put up a blog on Ebola.
Ebola and the Five Stages of Collapse.

Some interesting stuff there.

Heian said...

Regarding the fracking bubble.

After the Ukraine cluster¤#¤%! i started to check out or Russia today as i was getting to tired of the blatant lies and bad articles that i was getting feed by mainstream media here in Norway.
So one day i had the livestream running in the background and there was a intervju with a author of a book on fracking. It was not Richard Heineberg, but someone else i cant remember the name of right now.

But i was quite suprised because they vent through all the same things that people from Post Carbon institute, The Automatic Earth and JMG has been saying for a long time. Thats its an investment bubble, its not going to last, the production potential is overhyped and so on.
And thankfully they had not brought in someone from the other side to keep it "balanced" and "fair" or get a debate going

So i was quite suprised to see this coming from a big news network that recives its funding from the russian goverment and is quite mainstream.

And to the question about how aware young people are about these issues i want to share some stuff ive seen here in Norway.
Im 26 years old and most of my friends seems heavily invested in BAU, but keep in mind that this is Norway, and right now everything is looking very rosy here, so its probably harder to talk about peak oil and get people to care.

I think Nicole Foss experienced the same thing in Canada, people did not care much about these issues since times are (was) still quite good over there after what ive heard.

But heres another thing that might give some hope.
Im a big fan of the american punkrock band Rise Against, they are very politcal in their songwriting, and sometimes you wonder if they have been reading the archdruid report when listening to the song lyrics.

So in 2012 they where having a concert in Oslo and i went there.
And the place was packed with people, ive never seen that place as packed before or after. Trying to move around was almost hopeless.
The crowd was also very young, i feelt like i was one of the older people there.

Heres the lyrics from one the songs that sort of fits the theme of this weeks post to give you an eksample off the things they sing about.


In a world of uncertainty
The night sky told us all to be patient
But when the ground started shaking
I wondered for how long

There’s a place that I’d rather be
There’s a voice deep inside of me
Saying the progress we are making
Is not progress at all

Into a world of promises, whoa
Is where we let ourselves been led

We built the bridges
We now sleep under
We frame the door ways
We may not pass through

The very same roads
That we now wander
Who once you pass us by on
We paved with our bare hands
Paved with our bare hands

A black cloud hovers over me
Without all this guilt I feel naked
Something about the way it
Wraps its arms around
White snow covers everything
An angel watches over me
Praying, she asks me for a favor
Catch me if I fall

A rush of blood straight to the head, whoa
I wonder what this could have been

We built the bridges
We now sleep under
We frame the door ways
We may not pass through

The very same roads
That we now wander
Who once you pass us by on
We paved with our bare hands
Paved with our bare hands

No I never meant to hurt you
No I never meant to do you wrong
I stood waiting while the man said move along

We lay the tracks down
But now they rotted
Like a runaway train
We brace for the crash

We were in love once
Have you forgotten?
Like a runaway train
Bearing down upon a gap

We built the bridges (brace for the crash)
(Built from their hypocrisy)
We built the bridges (brace for the crash)
(and now we brace for the crash)
We built the bridges (brace for the crash)
(Built from their hypocrisy)
We built the bridges (brace for the crash)
And underneath the shadows we now love

Dennis D said...

A question and thought experiment, regarding the results of a significant drop in population. I live in the Canadian prairies, and see a number of what looked to be once nice houses abandoned as rural populations have declined and farms have grown in size. If Ebola or other cause drops the population in half in less than a generation, what is going to to happen to the resultant settlement patterns? I think that well maintained property in desirable locations will hold it's value (relatively) but slum landlords will be hard pressed to maintain extracting rents if a significant portion does not go back into upkeep, as the renter will be free to go and squat in other vacant properties around them at a lower net cost. I also see that many of the subdivisions made up of housing unsuited to be lived in without a lot of fossil fuel energy devolving to nomadic grazing, because what else would they be good for? I ask as formulating strategies for abandoned houses in the area will have consequences down the line. Here I am thinking burn them, so they are only a hazard as a hole in the ground, vs save for salvage and having them put to undesirable purposes. What did the better parts of Detroit do, as in better living for the current residents?

Steve W. said...

Hi, Rebecca!

I live in Toledo, Ohio. We're a typical rust-belt city -- much of our heavy industry has disappeared or left the country. Our population has declined from 383,000 in 1970 to 287,000 today. Vacant buildings all over the inner city. We got hit really hard in the recession, but things aren't *quite* as bad as they were a few years ago, though the short-lived water ban due to the algae in Lake Erie made a lot of us realize that our infrastructure isn't in terribly great shape -- but I'm not sure that's unique -- a lot of the issues that we are dealing with here may soon be faced by other cities as well.

The one thing Toledo has going for it is its geography. We have extensive waterways (the Maumee River is supposedly the largest east of the Mississippi). We have railroads (at one point we were 5th largest in the nation). We're only 50 miles from the Canadian border.

The heavy industry of the inner city is slowly being replaced with small-scale agriculture. We have community gardens and "hoop houses" and chicken coops going up in the older neighborhoods. It's kinds of amusing to see sweet corn growing where factories used to be!

Crow Hill said...

To Shane Wilson.

Many older people are ready to die but when they go through a health crisis which could be fatal they are instead placed in intensive care by the younger generations rather than being allowed a dignified death.

Steve Morgan said...

"There are people in North America who could probably carry off a feat of that kind, but you won’t find them in the current ruling elite. That in itself defines part of the path to dark age America: the replacement of a ruling class that specializes in managing abstract power through institutions with a ruling class that specializes in expressing power up close and in person, using the business end of the nearest available weapon. The process by which the new elite emerges and elbows its predecessors out of the way, in turn, is among the most reliable dimensions of decline and fall; we’ll talk about it next week."

In catching up on the recommended reading from this blog, I just encountered this gem in E. C. Pielou's After the Ice Age.

"Cores from a lake in southwestern Nova Scotia show that every time one species of tree replaced another as the dominant species in the surrounding forest, there had been a fire (as shown by charcoal fragments) at the time of the changeover. The "new" species was probably present in the neighborhood in small numbers long before the changeover; environmental conditions may even have come to favor it more than the established species. But it could not become dominant until fire destroyed the existing forest and made space for it."

There is much fodder for reflection in the parallels between ecological succession and societal change, as of course there must be. Thanks for the engaging weekly posts, JMG!

Christophe said...

The Onion has once again shown that parody has the ability to reveal deeper truths than all the serious news sources locked into their vested interests. In an article titled What You Need To Know About Ebola, The Onion poses the question, "How do you contract Ebola?" And answers it, "Ebola is contracted through contact with a health care system that vastly overestimates its preparedness for a global pandemic." It would be funnier if it weren't so likely to be our epitaph.

Mark Rice said...

For Toomas K:
May I recomend the book Div Grad Curl and all That by Schey.

Shane Wilson said...

there might be a disconnect between thoughts or feelings for one's own kin, vs thoughts and feelings for a generational cohort as a whole. Similar to the thought in the recent past that most people loved their Congressman/Senator but hated the institution. Regardless of feelings, there's a deadly mismatch between Silents and Boomers demands for BAU regarding Medicare & Social Security, and younger generations ability to pay. Something's got to give somewhere. One aberration of the recent past that needs to give are ideas of what's "old" and "young", considering that life expectancy is going down. We need to get back to thinking of anything over 60, or especially, 70, as old and on borrowed time. Somethings got to give somewhere. I could think of any number of policy changes a hard pressed government could make to balance out the mismatch of clout and wealth--anyone over a certain age is legally regarded as a dependent of their family or a ward of the state, much the same way all people under a certain age (18) are regarded, complete with a transfer of their property as well. Mandatory retirement. I just don't think that the demands that BAU regarding our elder policies is sustainable or will end well.
Regarding youth dependence, it's not so much living arrangements as an ability to think and do for oneself. In the years since my 100 year old grandfather was a child, there's been a progressive lack of emphasis on resilience and the ability to think, do, and care for oneself and one's family. On so many young people coming of age today, there's this vacant look on their face that is frightening--the deer in the headlights look, and their inability and helplessness is equally frightening. It's a failure of parenting that these kids are growing up so helpless and unable, and it will be dangerous to them, too, in the near future, regardless of whether they live with family or not.

Shane Wilson said...

In a nutshell, what I'm saying is that there's a disconnect between intergenerational power dynamics and personal relations between members of different generations in a family, as well as a disconnect between care of elders and the relative clout they wield in a society. You could presumably still care for elders while stripping them of the oversized clout/wealth they wield in our society, when push comes to shove (as it will).

DeAnander said...

"But it could not become dominant until fire destroyed the existing forest and made space for it."

Umm, isn't that part of our human story as well? The Toba Bottleneck and our emergence into a world temporarily short on competitors?

magicalthyme said...

Well two strikes against the CDC's assurances that we're prepared for Ebola. Not only did we lose Duncan, a Dallas ICU nurse has contracted Ebola. The CDC is finally admitting that maybe our hospitals aren't prepared after all, given budget cutbacks of recent years. I have never swallowed the standard assurance that PPEs will be sufficient for US healthcare workers, given that in Africa they wear biohazard suits, dress with spotters watching and decontaminate after with bleach sprayed on. And that our 4 BSL-4 hospitals with special isolation units do much the same. Not to mention how we failed to contain MRSA and C-diff.

The Spanish nurse has improved somewhat over the weekend and I read an unconfirmed report from the government media that she was given Zmapp supplied by Belgium. Don't know if they had saved a dose or where it came from. But her viral load is decreasing and she is occasionally able to speak.

On to a happier topic, but still very much in the practical mode, my Purple Peruvian potato harvest is superior to last years, with significantly larger and scab-free taters. The power of compost! And the carrots and beets are splendid, thanks to compost and double-digging. I have one small patch of potatoes left to harvest, and then it will be sorrel and only sorrel to the bitter end.


steve pearson said...

@Kutamun, Apropos a Chinese takeover, with a bit(quite a bit) more military expenditure & a great deal of sangefroid, the SE core could be defended.I realize it would be politically impossible to openly mention the possibility of abandoning WA, NT &, perhaps FNQ, but that would provide a far more defensible area. China will also be operating in an energy constrained future & the desert will provide as good a barrier as the sea.I believe there was a line drawn at Rockhampton as a fall back during WWII.
I would love to know if the general staff discusses this behind closed doors.I met a major in the Australian army in 2005 or 6( I can't remember his name) who was touring & lecturing about peak oil with the army's knowledge & tacit approval. The army must, at some level, take energy decline into account.
By the way, are you in northern rivers or SEQ? I spent several years in a community near Maleny.
Regards, Steve

Gloucon X said...

Shane Wilson said...
You could presumably still care for elders while stripping them of the oversized clout/wealth they wield in our society, when push comes to shove (as it will).

As people age they generally tend accumulate wealth. If you look at the list of billionaires, probably 90% are over 50. So simply increasing taxes on the wealthy would be the best way to capture the wealth that has accumulated to the older generations. That money could then be used to fund services to the younger generations, including making sure they have some kind of retirement.

But since we are posting to a website that predicts that society will soon cease to exist, and 90% of its population will be dead, is there any point to this discussion?

Lei said...

I think we have very little historical parellels to asses the possibilities of the future developments in terms of states, collective identities etc. This is because there were not that many really big civilizations of our kind that dilapidated due to energy constraints. I doubt the notoriously quoted examples (Maya, Easter Islands, or Rome) can be generalized; some shapes and curves may be similar, but the overall context is to my knowledge is quite different. This is even truer of the Dark Ages - the only Dark Ages actually documented at least to that extent that we have a clue what happened are several centuries after the decline of Rome in Western Europe. We know practically nothing about what happened in Greece between Crete and early classical era, and there were no real Dark Ages in China nor in India. In addition, the processes in Europe during fater the fall of Rome were shaped by many factors that are not present now, and the societies in Europe both in the Roman provinces and, especially, behind the limes, lived in very different conditions from both us and medieval feudal societies.

Yesterday, I took again a trip to a lovely place, where the oldest standing church in Bohemia from around 900 CE is found on a grassy and bushy hill, protected by steep valleys of two creeks; the place was fortified at least 12 centuries ago. At that time, the Czech state was being formed, after the Czechs came into our land in around 530's, replacing very probably peacefully the rests of the Germans, who had replaces the Celts in around 200 CE. So I don't know, but it seems to me that our people and state survived so many crises and periods of relative unprosperity that it has some chance to live through coming centuries as well.

Moreover, and importantly, although the times before the formation of the state (though we know it was perceived as the territory of the Czech tribe and defended as such) were far from idylic, in a sense it was freer than later Middle Ages: no, there were no vassals of such and such; before the feudal state, there was typically were tribes here, gentes, lead by duces gentis, on whom the elite was centered, but for all we know, these archaic late Indo-European social structures were relatively egalitarian, "democratically" managed, and the people, the farmers, were basically free men. Collectively, the people felt as a tribe, which is governed by very different rules than that of a feudal state. As far as I know, there were hardly times in Europe when people felt primarily as "vassals of XY" without acknowledging the identity of a tribe or of an early medieval state, or, a bit later, late Medieval nation. Thus, historically, we know little about stateless, tribeless times of small armed groups.

Kylie said...

Shane, please don't write off us young'uns. There are quite a few of us getting into DIY, sustainable living and voluntary simplicity. One of the more interesting variants is the historical re-enactment crowd, which boasts a wide range of brewers, smiths, textile workers, fletchers and other craftspeople working to a very high degree of skill and creativity. Also, those of us just out of school are quite good at living on little and sharing living space with others. We're quite resourceful, some of us, and we've been told since we were young that there would be no pension for us, so the myth of Progress has a slightly looser hold.

Karuna said...

I've been avidly following this incredibly thoughtful blog for a couple months now. This is my first post. Congratulations JMG, on both your beautifully literate posts and for the civil intelligent responses they've elicited. There is nothing like it anywhere else on the internet.
@ Shane
"On so many young people coming of age today, there's this vacant look on their face that is frightening--the deer in the headlights look, and their inability and helplessness is equally frightening."

While I agree with you in general, I want to let you and other readers know about a remarkable set of mostly 20-30 somethings who are forming a network of green wizards in my town in upstate NY. We now have about 10 full-time mostly millennial members (I am the only full-time boomer) and 20-30 folks of all ages who regularly join in work parties, potlucks, etc. Not a commune, we are helping each other to build tiny off-grid, off the radar houses on sites within biking distances. Most of the materials we use have come from the waste stream. We all catch rainwater, compost our waste, and cook on rocket stoves, cob ovens or solar cookers. We planted and are harvesting a 2 acre garden that has made us closer to food self-sufficiency (still working on the coffee), all without fossil fuel. We are educating ourselves towards collectively raising larger animals (some sites already have chickens, rabbits and/or bees).

My larger more typical house and permaculture grounds have become the food storage hub, with a root cellar and cold room full of fermented and canned vegetables, acorn flour, corn for popping and grinding, vast numbers of squash, potatoes, garlic etc. With the help of the younger folks, my engineer husband is building a solar greenhouse complete with rocket stove - he already timber framed a workshop.

Few of these young people have much building or gardening experience. They have learned through mentoring and doing. They TOTALLY understand peak oil, climate chaos, and the Long Descent (our collective favorite peak oil book) and are getting ready, committed to educating others. Although this might sound hopelessly idealistic, we want to develop a localized moneyless infrastructure to replace the increasingly exploitative globalized one. For most of us, our commitment to this rather uncomfortable work springs from a deep spiritual understanding of interconnection and a desire to heal or at least stop harming the earth.

The recent ebola posts have made me realize our collective needs to seriously prepare for medical disasters, as well as physical ones. Thanks for the research some of you did! Just got one of the Buhner book-on today's list is harvesting artemisia and barberry!

cincgreen said...

Archdruid, this is entirely off-topic (and therefore, feel free to delete this post) but I did think you'd want to see this speculative future post that comes straight out of the "religion of progress" narrative.

Whatever's "next", I don't think it's going to be this rosy picture.

Bill Pulliam said...

Shane -- first a point of fact. Life expectancy in the U.S. is not yet declining. The most recent data show it has continued to increase for the U.S. population as a whole. I do believe it has stalled or slipped for some demographic sectors, but of course those are the sectors with no political power.

As for the other things you describe, they are functions of the increasing affluence of the 20th century and the beginnings of a reversal of this trend we have seen so far in the 21st century. Intergenerational tensions about money are a symptom, not a cause. We have the same disconnect about maintenance of infrastructure, public education, and every singe other aspect of public finance and public service. We can't pay for *any* of the 20th Century institutions anymore, that serve people of any generation.

Same for dependency. Everyone is a hopeless dependent now, from the newborns to the centenarians. Again this is a function of the affluence that that grew during the previous century and peaked just as the current century was dawning. If your entire society is based on have it now, get it easy, care not for the world, then you will wind up a dependent boob regardless of your parents intentions. Even Amish kids have "smart phones" now.

Bill Pulliam said...

About Ebola --

There will be a massive epidemic this winter that will kill 10,000-20,000 people in the U.S. Influenza. It happens every year. That's far more every year than the number of deaths that Ebola has caused so far in the entire world, in recorded history.

As far as a risk to the "developed" world, Ebola is a media sideshow. It's a distraction from real issues, a way to keep people glued to commercial 24-hour TV news, fodder for a million conspiracy theories and racist demagoguery, yet another way to not pay attention to the real issues in the U.S. What it is not, is a major threat to the U.S. population or public health system.

40,000 Americans die every year in highway crashes. Yet no one seems to be afraid to get behind the wheels of their cars and hit the road.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Thanks, Mark (Mark Rice). Yes, Schey, whom you recommend as a maths author, is among the authorities I am using at the moment. Schey is wonderful for explaining the underlying motivation of seemingly arcane definitions - for instance, for explaining curl in terms that are not parochial to any one particular coordinate system. (Each projection of curl, Schey says, is a limit of the ratio of vector-field circulation to area-enclosed-by-boundary. His explanation works just as well for cylindrical and spherical coordinates as for rectangular coordinates.)

Many thanks also to ridgedruid, for his pointer to Mr Orlov's 2014-10-10 analysis of Ebola, at

Toomas (Tom) Karmo

Toomas dot Karmo at gmail dot com
www dot metascientia dot com

Nastarana said...

A few observations:

For what it might be worth, I think the Ebola epidemic will be contained, with difficulty, in Europe and North America, if only because the MOTUs realize that they are going down themselves if it is not. Can't buy up all that lovely abandoned real estate if you yourself are also dead.

Containing ebola would likely involve a total commitment of all available health care resources. There are plenty of other nasty microbes out there which can kill us. Gardeners might be wise to place their orders now, or arrange for cuttings and seeds, as the case might be, for elderberry, aronia and other healing plants.

Roger and Heian, et al, You guys are breaking my heart. From the midst of the American cultural wilderness, I had cherished an illusion that in well governed places like Norway and Canada, civilized life still abided.

Shane Wilson, I don't know what boomers you know, but where I am, in the lower middle/formerly working class, grandparents are desperatly trying to keep our progeny afloat and well amid an increasingly hostile world. As for the younger generation taking control of assets, I already spent those putting one child through college and getting another child and grands started in life. Repairs on the car so the child can get to work, buy the kid's snow suits so they don't freeze to death waiting for the school bus etc. etc. Most folks of my generation whom I know have maybe enough to "see them to the grave" and that's about it.

onething said...

The case of the Spanish nurse and probably the Dallas ICU nurse leads to at least one simple idea no one seems to have mentioned, and that is to double glove. That does not mean someone couldn't take off their PPE in the wrong order and touch their face, but it would be a lot safer to have an inner layer that is removed last. The Liberian student nurse who pulled her family through wore 4 gloves. Also, they don't ever seem to answer the questions that I have, such as, exactly what PPE were they using? What kind of mask?


What is double digging?


I find your efforts at simplistic scapegoating of the older generation a bit absurd. Older people may vote more, but that comes with maturity and no one is stopping the younger ones from voting. SOME older people have financial security, but that, too, is a natural consequence of being around for a while. It is perfectly normal for young people to struggle financially as they are starting out in their independent lives and producing children. Financial stability is something that takes years to achieve, independent of the question as to what sort of economics are going on. If I think of the (few) people of boomer age I know who have a bit socked away, all were quite poor as young parents. They saved hard and they saved for years, and none could begin till their kids were more or less grown. Also, it irritates me for you to speak as though the social security check were some kind of conscious group conspiracy against the young. These people had their paychecks garnished for fifty years before collecting, and during those fifty years they were likewise supporting their own parents and grandparents. That our population demographic has changed is a problem, but not a reason to sow hatred. Anyway, there are far, far more old people who just squeak by.

I do agree, however, that we have gone too far in preserving the lives of people who are in very poor health, whose bodies are ready to die, and who quite often have brought early disease upon themselves and are more or less impervious to serious personal change, effort, or discipline to improve their own health. But people should not be cut off at some arbitrary age based upon the bad habits of the above mentioned type.

I can't help but think, though, as our nation becomes overwhelmed with certain difficulties such as possibly ebola, that we could lighten the load enormously by just letting people who are ready to die to naturally go. But I worry that the pendulum might swing too far, as people are like that once they get a new notion in their heads.

Nastarana said...

Shane Wilson, why would Canada need to preserve its wide open immigration policy? We tried that here in the USA, remember, and it is not working out so well for us.

Mr Wilson, if I were prone to conspiracy theorizing, I might think that your remarks about the boomer generation reveal the outlines of some half hidden plot by some unidentified "them" to deprive the upcoming generations, our grand and greatgrand children, of such skills and resources as we can still bequeath them. I might think that "they" understand perfectly well that support and nurtering of grandparents is among the last bastions of stability for (formerly) working class youngsters, and I might suppose that "they" find such support, such as it is, inconvenient for their plans. I might recall that our carefully assembled libraries give a picture of what life can be like in a civilized society, governed by laws, not whims of the high and mighty, and I might wonder if perhaps "they" don't care to have such records read or even remembered.

jean-vivien said...

Even Reuters is feeling the wisps of the Buffalo Wind :

Best of luck

onething said...


I'd like your thoughts on why ebola won't be a major threat. The raw numbers on flu deaths are misleading. I don't know if I have ever in my life heard of anyone who has died of the flu - oh, wait, I knew two people who did. They both lived in the nursing home where I worked and were about 90.

I'm becoming interested in finding the difference between people who live and who die of ebola. How long is the course of the ones who recover? Do their symptoms generally not get so bad? How much of a difference does supportive care make? So far, it looks like about 10%, but perhaps that could be improved, esp with holistic medicine.

Duncan was apparently given both dialysis and intubation! That means his kidneys had shut down and there are several layers of respiratory support that one would try before intubation. Treatment of ebola will be a learning process, but I suspect that if someone requires extreme respiratory support, they are probably a goner. Unless ebola cases remain few and far between, there are going to be some choices to be made, re waste of resources.

Myriad said...

@BIll Pulliam,

When you have a growing problem, it's not the size of the problem, nor even how fast it's (currently) growing, that's important. It's what's going to make it stop growing, and how. If the best answer you can find is "nothing" (or "they'll think of something"), that's valid cause for concern. More likely the answers you find will be less certain one way or the other ("they'll probably try X, Y, and Z, which may or may not work"), but that's still valid cause for, at least, planning for mitigation.

It's the same thought process I had to go through regarding collapse in general. I've noticed for decades that some things about present-day life have been getting worse. It's only when I started skeptically asking, "what's going to make them stop getting worse?" that their significance became apparent.

Yes, there are diseases and hazards closer to home that most of us have a much higher chance of dying from, right now. (Similarly, many if not most of us probably have issues in our own lives more immediate, more pressing, more likely to ruin us if neglected, than the ongoing early stages of collapse are.) But, what is going to stop ebola from outpacing them over time, and what will that cost?

(I'm reminded of railroad disaster scenario. Imagine a 100 car freight train going a mere 20 miles an hour, beginning a long downgrade. Nothing seems wrong, and yet the train is already out of control and doomed, even though no one knows it yet. A combination of under-estimated weight and broken equipment on board means that the train doesn't have enough braking power to hold its speed, let alone slow down, on the downgrade. This really happened, in San Bernadino in 1989, and the train was going 110 mph around a 35 mph curve when it finally left the rails.)

MawKernewek said...

One example of those who wish to save the idea of progress, by more progress not less is the Evolution 2045 party who advocate a neo-humanity in cyborg and ultimatelly wholly electronic form.

It is interesting how the founder is Russian, why is it that a society that has endured a partial collapse a couple of decades ago still has these people with very big ideas. See also the Plekhanovs who are aiming to build a Tesla Tower.

jean-vivien said...

this is making the headlines on Reuters right now...

Shane Wilson said...

@ Bill & Kylie
The younger generations I'm speaking of are the ones that are close to their parents, following in their footsteps, which I see as having no future. The ones I know that I have hope in are the ones I've met like karuna has described, but in pursuing that path are talking a 180 from what is expected by society and their parents footsteps, as, say hedge fund managers or corporate lawyers. Most of the boomers and silents I deal with on a daily basis are pseudoconservative tea party supporters, and most of the people I work with know that they'll never see that kind of wealth. No one has really seemed to address my concern regarding the (deadly) mismatch of clout, wealth, and benefits between generations, and what that means as things start to unravel, and the danger maintaining BAU could cause. If you don't think it's a problem or will be a problem, there's not much I could say to convince you otherwise. Many posters seem to indicate that they y think the current system isn't coming undone--not much I can say to that. It's also odd that people would respond to my thought experiments with personal animus, as if I could or would implement those solutions. I hardly have the clout or means.
Canada has a pretty open immigration policy regarding skilled workers, which makes them open to the elite (professionals) of the BRICS countries. Considering that they are the up and coming powers, being open to their elite, while increasing diplomatic ties, is a good way to transition away from the American system to its replacement(s).

Cherokee Organics said...


You'll be happy to note that I already do grow them! It is nice being in a micro-climate where there is only a small chance of frost. Weird plants can grow here, whereas only a kilometre or so away, they don't stand a chance.

Mind you, ending up here was pure blind chance.

PS: There is a new blog entry up where I found some rusty chunks of history, talk about bushfire sprinklers (with a quick video) and the Echium plant: Fernglade Farm

PPS: People sort of forget that there can be all sorts of takeovers that don't involve the pointy end of a gun. Creating addicts (or the technical term is a strawberry) is one such method of gaining control. Yes, I think that it is an appropriate descriptive in the context of our society when discussing the relationship of people to their stuff and where that stuff comes from.

Hi Keith,

Thanks mate! I'll check it out. Many thanks, there was reference to it on the cover of the book.

Hi Kylie,

Yeah, with the way that they keep lifting the retirement age here, you certainly get the impression that pensions are not for the likes of you and I!

I still reckon that sooner or later the $2tn held by super funds will be accessed by individuals to clear personal debt. I'm only guessing, but it is the last big biscuit (cookie) jar left. Interesting times.

The no dole for 6 months for people under 30 suggestion is outrageous. Why wouldn't someone under 30 have just as many responsibilities as any 40 or 50 year old?



Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Karuna--Thank you for posting. What you described sounds like a wonderfully practical and good subcultural community. If I lived anywhere near you, I'd participate. If I were in my twenties or early thirties, I'd be all in. I hope the example gets passed around in that age cohort and propagates more cooperative groups of this kind.

I have two pieces of advice. The first is economic. Money is useful as a medium of exchange. Rather than trying to create a moneyless economy right now, I recommend that your group look into local currencies and either begin a project to create one that is based in the nearest market town, or if there is already a localized currency functioning somewhere nearby, adopt it.

Localized paper currencies are entirely legal in the United States and there is at least one in use fairly near you in part of a New England state; I saw coverage of it on a green economy TV news magazine. This particular currency was pegged to the dollar at a discount. One [local unit of currency] costs 95 cents US but is worth $1 US when purchasing goods from local merchants and producers who choose to participate. The point of doing this is that it provides an incentive to buy local and keeps money circulating in the community longer.

My other advice is about managing growth of your community. This comment is already pretty long so I'll post it separately.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Karuna--As a young adult, I participated in a couple of organizations that were fewer than ten years old when I joined and whose founding members were still leading them. The organizations were located within and expressions of two different subcultures. They started as tiny groups operating under the radar.

The original members had strong esprit de corps from having been friends before forming the organizations, from being committed participants in those subcultures, and from spending a lot of time working together on activities that outsiders didn't understand or appreciate.

Previous to my joining, both organizations undertook successful outreach projects that attracted new members such as myself. It wasn't possible to fully socialize the newcomers into the outlook of the old members, because the newcomers saw themselves joining established successful organizations, not struggling startups, and because they didn't have previous social ties with the founders.

Both organizations had growth crises when they reached about one hundred active members. One organization decentralized its governing structure, lost some momentum, but carried on for another thirty plus years. The other suffered a schism with bad feelings and AFAIK none of its offshoots survived.

I'm telling you this because your community is probably facing one of two futures. Perhaps it won't attract many new people, and will fade away as participants die, lose interest, or move out of the area. Perhaps it will attract new people at a faster clip than the group is now prepared to accommodate, and you will have to figure out how to assimilate newcomers without turning away valuable prospective participants or setting up a destructive power struggle between the old guard and the newcomers. The least likely possibility is steady state, where you attract new members at or barely above replacement levels.

Some sociological research indicates that the natural social unit for human beings is about one hundred people. That is the upper limit for the number of people an average person can know by name and interact with enough to keep up with what's going on in each other's lives.

I advise your community to plan ahead for growth by setting things up so that daughter groups will split off from the mother group well before the hundred mark is reached. The daughter groups will be expected to be in a cooperative relationship with the mother group but will be completely autonomous, i. e., they will have access to all the resources they need to sink or swim on their own.

The opportunity to start an autonomous group on the same model reduces political strife because up and coming leaders don't have to compete for authority within the group they joined. If they have differing ideas on what to do next, or just a differing style of interaction, rather than overcoming opposition they can gather like minded people and start a new group that runs to their liking.

To some degree, this advice applies to larger and smaller organizations as well.

Tracy Glomski said...

Bill Pulliam wrote: "There will be a massive epidemic this winter that will kill 10,000-20,000 people in the U.S. Influenza. It happens every year. That's far more every year than the number of deaths that Ebola has caused so far in the entire world, in recorded history."

I'm not sure I find that reassuring, though, for the following reason.

Humans are end hosts for ebola virus. If I correctly understand the situation, based on what I've read over the past week as a layperson, the virus has so far been better adapted to populations of intermediary hosts, like fruit bats. But it sounds like the current outbreak would be sizable enough to provide an opportunity for the virus to figure out how to reproduce more successfully from human to human. Am I mistaken? I'd be glad to be wrong about this.

Meanwhile, the basic reproduction number, R-nought, is currently not far off the various values that have been estimated for influenza. Ebola virus = 1.6–2.0; 1918 pandemic strain of influenza = 1.4–2.8; 2009 swine flu (H1N1) = 1.4–1.6; seasonal strains of influenza in general = 0.9–2.1.

I guess we'll see what happens. I'm concerned enough that I actually have been working my way through the PDF guide that Deborah Bender mentioned last week. My previous readings on the topic of cognitive errors have convinced me that a mental rehearsal of what to do in an emergency situation (going over the safety cards on the plane, looking at the fire escape routes mapped on the back of the hotel door, etc.) does in fact increase the statistical odds of survival. Just sayin'. I'm not particularly cavalier about driving, either.

You're right, though, that the media coverage is distracting…

William Lucas said...

@Shane, Bill and others

As always, a great post, and with a valuable discussion to boot. I always try to read both, but it's always 50/50 whether I get to the end by the next installment.

I did sense one or two individuals getting their 'knickers in a twist' in the replies meted out to Shane Wilson this week, however. IMO, theiy were a little heavy-handed. I feel that the point which Shane raised was worth airing. And he did stress that it was a thought experiment, after all.

I feel that it is important to consider all sorts of ways that the cookie might crumble in the future, and I had not personally considered Shane's particular angle. Therefore, I welcomed it.

I'm not say that I like it, or that I go along with it, but I do appreciate that he brought it to my attention.

If the rebuttals become too robust, I reckon that it may well inhibit people like me (with a marshmallow interior) from commenting as much as we otherwise might.

Ah, but maybe I've lived in Japan for too long, and I've forgotten the cut and thrust of lively and open debate ;-) And if that is the case, 'have at it!'


Bill Pulliam said...

Hey, folks, worry about Ebola all you want if you like. These things are emotional, not rational, so you can't talk people out of them.

Still, when I hear the Ebola panic in the media, mostly I hear biophobia, xenophobia, and racism. You can always tell that xenophobia and racism are the driving issues when politicos start talking about The Southern Border. Just a few weeks ago, it was ISIS planning to storm across The Southern Border. Now it's Ebola being smuggled in across The Southern Border to punish sweet innocent White Americans for slavery (I kid you not, high profile pundits have said these things). And Obama is secretly aiding and abetting this scheme. Again, not making that up, it's being said on the national airwaves.

Indeed the fact that there is no Ebola vaccine is almost surely because of the socioeconomics of the people who have been most affected by the disease. Now that it might affect some rich white people too, suddenly the need for a vaccine is urgent, and one will probably be developed post-haste if it really begins spreading among people who can afford to pay enough for the shot. It's not like this is a new disease suddenly coming out of the blue. It's been known for decades. But somehow vaccine development just wasn't that big of a funding priority... until now.

Shane W. - we have addressed your issues. The fact that you don't agree with our responses does not mean that they were not offered.

Shane Wilson said...

@ karuna, Kylie
Interesting that a lot of promising things young people are doing are finding creative ways to opt out of the current system. That's an effective way not to play the game, an an indication that you don't think the "system" is working for you. By not officially "working" and making over the table cash income, you're not paying into Social Security, Medicare, or other government programs. You're creating a powerful alternative, and one that's very appealing, I might add. Opting out is cool.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

The local currency I mentioned in a previous post is called Berkshares; it circulates in the Berkshires region of Massachusetts. The currency was established in 2006 and can be exchanged for dollars in four local banks.

Googling the name brings up a wiki and a website. The TV show which mentioned Berkshares is called Ten Things You Don't Know About Money. It aired recently on the History Channel.

Gloucon X said...

JMG said...Conspiracy theorists of a certain stripe have invested vast amounts of time and effort in quarrels over which specific group of people it is that runs everything in today’s America. All of it was wasted, because the nature of power in a mature civilization precludes the emergence of any one center of power that dominates all others.

While that it true, we certainly do see that enormous power is wielded by certain sectors. The obvious ones being the military/national security sector, and the corporate industrial and financial sectors. They both seem to work quite well together and we know that their leaders all come from the same Ivy dominated incubation centers. I’m hard pressed to come up with any other power centers that come close to the dominance of those two, but, maybe someone could point to something I’ve missed.

cheesemoose said...

What interests me is that the idea that we're now on the verge of collapse has become the conventional wisdom.

This is a strange turn of events for a people living at an unprecedented level of comfort and technical sophistication. As I type these words, sitting in my underwear with a mug of coffee and a couple of slices of pound cake by my side, they are being transmitted via electrons to a nervous system that can be accessed by anyone, anywhere around the globe.

I have a thermostat that keeps my home at 68 degrees. Through double-paned windows, designed to maximize heat retention, I see the leaves of trees, changing color with the season. I am far from being a rich man, yet I live a life of comfort and ease. Yet I somehow find it necessary to tell myself that this civilized world is on the verge of disappearing.

This is all a masochistic fantasy, the psychic equivalent of a john seeking out a dominatrix to spank him. Maybe it's because we just engaged in an unjust multi-trillion dollar war, or maybe it's still some lingering unease from having committed genocide against the native people of the North American continent - but this society suffers from a guilty conscience.

Maybe we are all like that useless, parasitical aristocracy in pre-revolutionary France, bringing about our own decline throughout the immeasurable power of negative thinking.

dltrammel said...

To add a bit of data to your concern that major US oil companies might go bankrupt as the fraking bubble pops, seems the major main stream producers like the Saudis are getting into the game to slap the upstart American frakkers.

"Bad News For US Drillers"

Its looking like, "We can lose money easier than you can and still survive" time.

The other articles links at the bottom are also interesting.

jean-vivien said...

Another worrying headline from Reuters :

I cannot blame them for not taking the leap to the fact that a raging pandemic and an increasing homelessness would set the stage for a shift towards a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Not living there, I have no idea how bad the numbers of homeless people actually are.

I however wonder, is there a formal equivalent to Green Wizardry core (akin to your Master Conserver handouts) for nomadic or at least non-sedentary skillsets ?

redoak said...

Interesting development on the fracking front. Apparently OPEC is allowing the demand destruction price slide in oil futures. I wonder if they are stress testing American shale production? If they pop that bubble they will surely make up the lost revenue. But who knows how big the bubble is!

Bill Pulliam said...

As to the tone of responses to Shane W., let me quote from his original post to which we were responding:

"It amazes me how the viagra and cialis generations fail to see the privilege they wield and just how much they're trying their hardest to be the epitome of evil to future generations. I assume on some subconscious level they're aware, which is why they've raised their children to be dependent on them."

"He or she would find a ready audience among younger generations as they look around at 60-80 something overgrown teenagers with their cialis and viagra."

The tone of slinging of direct insults and accusations at entire classes of people was set by Shane, not by we who responded to him. And I personbally was not addressing his odd little "thought experiment," but his underlying misperception (as I see it ) of the nature of intergenerational dynamics and the source of these conflicts.

If you are going to call people overgrown limp-noodled epitomizers of evil, you gotta expect some pushback and be willing to take it without whining.

MindfulEcologist said...

Great discussion, as always. Thanks to all who are contributing.

I for one am really looking forward to the next post where our host shares some of his thoughts about how he sees the political endgame playing out. Nothing helps me separate the movie version of collapse from the real world version more than this blog. It is appreciated.

Cheesemoose - I too have wondered about the role of collective guilt in our modern societies. My conclusions differ a bit from yours in that the evidence for an ecological crises is persuasive for me. If interested take a look at
Secular Guilt.

Random Man said...

It's a question of decline, not one of comfort. One can be quite comfortable and decline. Just visit a nursing home to see this in action.

If you once defeated major industrial powers and now can't defeat some goat herders in the desert, if you once had a gold backed reserve currency and now have a fiat currency being printed to oblivion, if you once went the moon and now can barely put a man in space, if you once built out an industrial infrastructure and now are designing images on computer software, if once your oil was cheap and plentiful and now it's expensive and hard to get, if your political system was once the best in the world and is now a dysfunctional mess, if you were once confident and expansive and now fearful and unable to even control your own border, if you once integrated people into a common system and are now bitterly divided by race and class, and if you are being outcompeted by 3 billion hungry Chinese, Indians, and Latin Americans who want to live like you, you are in decline.

Shane Wilson said...

@ onething,
As JMG has mentioned, 40-50 yrs ago, a single working class income provided enough income for the average family to have a home, clothe and feed their children, and go on an occasional vacation, therefore, taxes for Social Security and Medicare represented a much smaller percentage of a workers paycheck. To today's millennials working at poverty wages, that represents a much bigger cut, money they need more than wealthy retirees (Social Security and Medicare are not means tested benefits)
@ Nastarana
JMG has discussed charity on here before. As best I can remember, he said that it's about the giver feeling good and patting themselves on the back, and rarely, if ever, changes the situation of the receiver, nor the power dynamic between the giver and receiver. I'd go so far to say the same is true when giver and receiver are related, if not more so.
I'd have to disagree about immigration. In my mind, immigration brings resourceful, resilient, people who make do with much less resources than natives, yet maintain strong community and family ties. In my opinion, they're well suited and adapted to the future we're facing.

Shane Wilson said...

The story I will tell is one of a Great and Glorious generation who suffered through great privation and saved the world from fascism, only to have the evil generations that came after squander their inheritance and condemn their children, grandchildren, and descendants to privation. It's the story I'm going to tell, and the one I hope to continue telling after the last person who could rebut it is dead and gone.

jean-vivien said...

@cheesemoose :
what you are describing here is cultural decline, an aspect of decline that is hard to rationalize. JMG has covered Spengler, Toynbeee... all of whom have tried to formulate it into their framework.
People will adhere to a collective narrative because they are humans, and therefore follow group dynamics which include sharing a common narrative.
A culture can develop a pretty strong mastery of the material world, and a high level of abstract analysis... and yet progressively lose its ability to find shared meanings and values and act upon it. Which can spawn the negative thinking circle you describe.
If I understand correctly, the broader project of this blog is to empower people not just with practical skills but also with more polished tools to find meaning and values, and act upon it from motivation. Because in the future those tools will be equally important as the practical survival tools.
We live in a culture that constantly entertains us with a lot of narrative media... but does not foster taking innovative action upon a constructive narrative.
The upside of facing crises closer to us (bubble bursting, pandemic raging...) is that it pushes us towards more taking action.

Ellen He said...

Here's a post on sci-fi by Brin.

fattigmann said...

The fault in this otherwise-excellent essay is the optimistic undercurrent that the elites will one day "get theirs," hanging from light poles. This is not going to happen. Yes, it may happen in a few well-publicized cases but we all know that by and large the vultures will fly once the carcass is picked clean, the giant octopus squid will loose its grip, the parasites abandon the host. As Peter Shaffer wrote in his play Equus, "Life is only comprehensible through a thousand local gods." I have long since ceased worshipping distant mammon and personally render unto Caesar until such time as a new Caeser commeth. My gods are local, witnessed to the people I encounter every day. Fascinating essay, thank you JMG Kyle E. Wisconsin USA

Mark Rice said...

This is in regard to the Plekhanovs who are aiming to build a Tesla Tower.

I can not figure out if they are well meaning fools or grifters with a scheme to get donations from fools. I read their text on their H bridge circuit. It sounded like techno-bable. But this may have just been do to a very bad translation.

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