Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Dark Age America: The End of the Market Economy

One of the factors that makes it difficult to think through the economic consequences of the end of the industrial age is that we’ve all grown up in a world where every form of economic activity has been channeled through certain familiar forms for so long that very few people remember that things could be any other way. Another of the factors that make the same effort of thinking difficult is that the conventional economic thought of our time has invested immense effort and oceans of verbiage into obscuring the fact that things could be any other way.

Those are formidable obstacles. We’re going to have to confront them, though, because one of the core features of the decline and fall of civilizations is that most of the habits of everyday life that are standard practice when civilizations are at zenith get chucked promptly into the recycle bin as decline picks up speed. That’s true across the whole spectrum of cultural phenomena, and it’s especially true of economics, for a reason discussed in last week’s post: the economic institutions and habits of a civilization in full flower are too complex for the same civilization to support once it’s gone to seed.

The institutions and habits that contemporary industrial civilization uses to structure its economic life comprise that tangled realm of supposedly voluntary exchanges we call “the market.” Back when the United States was still contending with the Soviet Union for global hegemony, that almost always got rephrased as “the free market;” the adjective still gets some use among ideologues, but by and large it’s dropped out of use elsewhere. This is a good thing, at least from the perspective of honest speaking, because the “free” market is of course nothing of the kind. It’s unfree in at least two crucial senses: first, in that it’s compulsory; second, in that it’s expensive.

“The law in its majestic equality,” Anatole France once noted drolly, “forbids rich and poor alike to urinate in public, sleep under bridges, or beg for bread.” In much the same sense, no one is actually forced to participate in the market economy in the modern industrial world. Those who want to abstain are perfectly free to go looking for some other way to keep themselves fed, clothed, housed, and supplied with the other necessities of life, and the fact that every option outside of the market has been hedged around with impenetrable legal prohibitions if it hasn’t simply been annihilated by legal fiat or brute force is just one of those minor details that make life so interesting.

Historically speaking, there are a vast number of ways to handle exchanges of goods and services between people. In modern industrial societies, on the other hand, outside of the occasional vestige of an older tradition here and there, there’s only one. Exchanging some form of labor for money, on whatever terms an employer chooses to offer, and then exchanging money for goods and services, on whatever terms the seller chooses to offer, is the only game in town. There’s nothing free about either exchange, other than the aforesaid freedom to starve in the gutter. The further up you go in the social hierarchy, to be sure, the less burdensome the conditions on the exchanges generally turn out to be—here as elsewhere, privilege has its advantages—but unless you happen to have inherited wealth or can find some other way to parasitize the market economy without having to sell your own labor, you’re going to participate if you like to eat.

Your participation in the market, furthermore, doesn’t come cheap. Every exchange you make, whether it’s selling your labor or buying goods and services with the proceeds, takes place within a system that has been subjected to the process of intermediation discussed in last week’s post. Thus, in most cases, you can’t simply sell your labor directly to individuals who want to buy it or its products; instead, you are expected to sell your labor to an employer, who then sells it or its product to others, gives you part of the proceeds, and pockets the rest. Plenty of other people are lined up for their share of the value of your labor: bankers, landlords, government officials, and the list goes on. When you go to exchange money for goods and services, the same principle applies; how much of the value of your labor you get to keep for your own purposes varies from case to case, but it’s always less than the whole sum, and sometimes a great deal less.

Karl Marx performed a valuable service to political economy by pointing out these facts and giving them the stress they deserve, in the teeth of savage opposition from the cheerleaders of the status quo who, then as now, dominated economic thought. His proposed solution to the pervasive problems of the (un)free market was another matter.  Like most of his generation of European intellectuals, Marx was dazzled by the swamp-gas luminescence of Hegelian philosophy, and followed Hegel’s verbose and vaporous trail into a morass of circular reasoning and false prophecy from which few of his remaining followers have yet managed to extract themselves.

It’s from Hegel that Marx got the enticing but mistaken notion that history consists of a sequence of stages that move in a predetermined direction toward some as-perfect-as-possible state: the same idea, please note, that Francis Fukuyama used to justify his risible vision of the first Bush administration as the glorious fulfillment of human history. (To borrow a bit of old-fashioned European political jargon, there are right-Hegelians and left-Hegelians; Fukuyama was an example of the former, Marx of the latter.) I’ll leave such claims and the theories founded on them to the true believers, alongside such equally plausible claims as the Singularity, the Rapture, and the lemonade oceans of Charles Fourier; what history itself shows is something rather different.

What history shows, as already noted, is that the complex systems that emerge during the heyday of a civilization are inevitably scrapped on the way back down. Market economies are among those complex systems. Not all civilizations have market economies—some develop other ways to handle the complicated process of allocating goods and services in a society with many different social classes and occupational specialties—but those that do set up market economies inevitably load them with as many intermediaries as the overall complexity of their economies can support.

It’s when decline sets in and maintaining the existing level of complexity becomes a problem that the trouble begins. Under some conditions, intermediation can benefit the productive economy, but in a complex economy, more and more of the intermediation over time amounts to finding ways to game the system, profiting off economic activity without actually providing any benefit to anyone else.  A complex society at or after its zenith thus typically ends up with a huge burden of unproductive economic activity supported by an increasingly fragile foundation of productive activity.

All the intermediaries, the parasitic as well as the productive, expect to be maintained in the style to which they’re accustomed, and since they typically have more wealth and influence than the producers and consumers who support them, they can usually stop moves to block their access to the feed trough. Economic contraction, however, makes it hard to support business as usual on the shrinking supply of real wealth. The intermediaries thus end up competing with the actual producers and consumers of goods and services, and since the intermediaries typically have the support of governments and institutional forms, more often than not it’s the intermediaries who win that competition.

It’s not at all hard to see that process at work; all it takes is a stroll down the main street of the old red brick mill town where I live, or any of thousands of other towns and cities in today’s America. Here in Cumberland, there are empty storefronts all through downtown, and empty buildings well suited to any other kind of economic activity you care to name there and elsewhere in town. There are plenty of people who want to work, wage and benefit expectations are modest, and there are plenty of goods and services that people would buy if they had the chance. Yet the storefronts stay empty, the workers stay unemployed, the goods and services remain unavailable. Why?

The reason is intermediation. Start a business in this town, or anywhere else in America, and the intermediaries all come running to line up in front of you with their hands out. Local, state, and federal bureaucrats all want their cut; so do the bankers, the landlords, the construction firms, and so on down the long list of businesses that feed on other businesses, and can’t be dispensed with because this or that law or regulation requires them to be paid their share. The resulting burden is far too large for most businesses to meet. Thus businesses don’t get started, and those that do start up generally go under in short order. It’s the same problem faced by every parasite that becomes too successful: it kills the host on which its own survival depends.

That’s the usual outcome when a heavily intermediated market economy slams face first into the hard realities of decline. Theoretically, it would be possible to respond to the resulting crisis by forcing  disintermediation, and thus salvaging the market economy. Practically, that’s usually not an option, because the disintermediation requires dragging a great many influential economic and political sectors away from their accustomed feeding trough. Far more often than not, declining societies with heavily intermediated market economies respond to the crisis just described by trying to force the buyers and sellers of goods and services to participate in the market even at the cost of their own economic survival, so that some semblance of business as usual can proceed.

That’s why the late Roman Empire, for example, passed laws requiring that each male Roman citizen take up the same profession as his father, whether he could survive that way or not.  That’s also why, as noted last week, so many American jurisdictions are cracking down on people who try to buy and sell food, medical care, and the like outside the corporate economy. In the Roman case, the attempt to keep the market economy fully intermediated ended up killing the market economy altogether, and in most of the post-Roman world—interestingly, this was as true across much of the Byzantine empire as it was in the barbarian west—the complex money-mediated market economy of the old Roman world went away, and centuries passed before anything of the kind reappeared.

What replaced it is what always replaces the complex economic systems of fallen civilizations: a system that systematically chucks the intermediaries out of economic activity and replaces them with personal commitments set up to block any attempt to game the system: that is to say, feudalism.

There’s enough confusion around that last word these days that a concrete example is probably needed here. I’ll borrow a minor character from a favorite book of my childhood, therefore, and introduce you to Higg son of Snell. His name could just as well be Michio, Chung-Wan, Devadatta, Hafiz, Diocles, Bel-Nasir-Apal, or Mentu-hetep, because the feudalisms that evolve in the wake of societal collapse are remarkably similar around the world and throughout time, but we’ll stick with Higg for now. On the off chance that the name hasn’t clued you in, Higg is a peasant—a free peasant, he’ll tell you with some pride, and not a mere serf; his father died a little while back of what people call “elf-stroke” in his time and we’ve shortened to “stroke” in ours, and he’s come in the best of his two woolen tunics to the court of the local baron to take part in the ceremony at the heart of the feudal system.

It’s a verbal contract performed in the presence of witnesses: in this case, the baron, the village priest, a couple of elderly knights who serve the baron as advisers, and a gaggle of village elders who remember every detail of the local customary law with the verbal exactness common to learned people among the illiterate. Higg places his hands between the baron’s and repeats the traditional pledge of loyalty, coached as needed by the priest; the baron replies in equally formal words, and the two of them are bound for life in the relationship of liegeman to liege lord.

What this means in practice is anything but vague.  As the baron’s man, Higg has the lifelong right to dwell in his father’s house and make use of the garden and pigpen; to farm a certain specified portion of the village farmland; to pasture one milch cow and its calf, one ox, and twelve sheep on the village commons; to gather, on fourteen specified saint’s days, as much wood as he can carry on his back in a single trip from the forest north of the village, but only limbwood and fallen wood; to catch two dozen adult rabbits from the warren on the near side of the stream, being strictly forbidden to catch any from the warren on the far side of the millpond; and, as a reward for a service his great-grandfather once performed for the baron’s great-grandfather during a boar hunt, to take anything that washes up on the weir across the stream between the first  sound of the matin bell and the last of the vespers bell on the day of St. Ethelfrith each year.

In exchange for these benefits, Higg is bound to an equally specific set of duties. He will labor in the baron’s fields, as well as his own and his neighbors, at seedtime and harvest; his son will help tend the baron’s cattle and sheep along with the rest of the village herd; he will give a tenth of his crop at harvest each year for the support of the village church; he will provide the baron with unpaid labor in the fields or on the great stone keep rising next to the old manorial hall for three weeks each year; if the baron goes to war, whether he’s staging a raid on the next barony over or answering the summons of that half-mythical being, the king, in the distant town of London, Higg will put on a leather jerkin and an old iron helmet, take a stout knife and the billhook he normally uses to harvest wood on those fourteen saint’s days, and follow the baron in the field for up to forty days. None of these benefits and duties are negotiable; all Higg’s paternal ancestors have held their land on these terms since time out of mind; each of his neighbors holds some equivalent set of feudal rights from the baron for some similar set of duties.

Higg has heard of markets. One is held annually every St. Audrey’s day at the king’s town of Norbury, twenty-seven miles away, but he’s never been there and may well never travel that far from home in his life. He also knows about money, and has even seen a silver penny once, but he will live out his entire life without ever buying or selling something for money, or engaging in any economic transaction governed by the law of supply and demand. Not until centuries later, when the feudal economy begins to break down and intermediaries once again begin to insert themselves between producer and consumer, will that change—and that’s precisely the point, because feudal economics is what emerges in a society that has learned about the dangers of intermediation the hard way and sets out to build an economy where that doesn’t happen.

There are good reasons, in other words, why medieval European economic theory focused on the concept of the just price, which is not set by supply and demand, and why medieval European economic practice included a galaxy of carefully designed measures meant to prevent supply and demand from influencing prices, wages, or anything else. There are equally good reasons why lending money at interest was considered a sufficiently heinous sin in the Middle Ages that Dante, in The Inferno, put lenders at the bottom of the seventh circle of hell, below mass murderers, heretics, and fallen angels. The only sinners who go further down than lenders were the practitioners of fraud, in the eighth circle, and traitors, in the ninth: here again, this was a straightforward literary reflection of everyday reality in a society that depended on the sanctity of verbal contracts and the mutual personal obligations that structure feudal relationships.

(It’s probably necessary at this point to note that yes, I’m quite aware that European feudalism had its downsides—that it was rigidly caste-bound, brutally violent, and generally unjust. So is the system under which you live, dear reader, and it’s worth noting that the average medieval peasant worked fewer hours and had more days off than you do. Medieval societies also valued stability or, as today’s economists like to call it, stagnation, rather than economic growth and technological progress; whether that’s a good thing or not probably ought to be left to be decided in the far future, when the long-term consequences of our system can be judged against the long-term consequences of Higg’s.)

A fully developed feudal system takes several centuries to emerge. The first stirrings of one, however, begin to take shape as soon as people in a declining civilization start to realize that the economic system under which they live is stacked against them, and benefits, at their expense, whatever class of parasitic intermediaries their society happens to have spawned. That’s when people begin looking for ways to meet their own economic needs outside the existing system, and certain things reliably follow. The replacement of temporary economic transactions with enduring personal relationships is one of these; so is the primacy of farmland and other productive property to the economic system—this is why land and the like are still referred to legally as “real property,” as though all other forms of property are somehow unreal; in a feudal economy, that’s more or less the case.

A third consequence of the shift of economic activity away from the institutions and forms of a failing civilization has already been mentioned: the abandonment of money as an abstract intermediary in economic activity. That’s a crucial element of the process, and it has even more crucial implications, but those are sweeping enough that the end of money will require a post of its own. We’ll discuss that next week.

Finally, here's a note from the volunteer moderator of the Facebook page for my latest book, Twilight's Last Gleaming. By all means check it out.

"The Facebook Page for Twilight’'s Last Gleaming can be found at  You are not required to have a Facebook account if you simply want to view the Page.  To promote the book, the plan is for the Page to run a series of posts which will briefly describe interesting events in American history.  Three posts (A.K.A. Status Updates) have already added, two on the Civil War and its aftermath and one about our earliest involvement with Russian Communists.  The readership of this blog is invited to submit entries for these Status Updates.  The entries should be less than 500 words, describe a specific event in American history that should have some relevance to the book, however tenuous, and end with a variant of the following tag line “And to find out what happened XXX years later read Twilight’s Last Gleaming.”  The events described should hopefully crisscross all over the political and social spectrum and be written in a way that engages the reader.

"To submit an entry via Facebook, please use the Message button at the lower right of the Cover Photo on the Facebook Page.  You can also add a photograph or picture file that has a horizontal orientation to the message. That will be become the new Cover Photo while your post is new.  Please only send pictures or photos are not covered via copyright and can be considered in the public domain.  If you want to submit an entry but do not have a Facebook Account, then send it as a comment to this blog with the header “Twilight’s Last Gleaming Post”.  We look forward to seeing your entries!

"The Facebook Page also accepts Posts To Page, which should deal with any other thoughts or issues relating to Twilight’s Last Gleaming.  Posts To Page entries will be moderated with guidelines similar to what JMG uses for comments to this blog.

"We would be delighted if Facebook users Liked the Page so they can get the Status Update posts.  If you  read one that you like, please Share it with your Facebook Friends, or even your non-Facebook friends.  Enjoy the book!"


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Tom Bannister said...

Ohhh yes!!! I love this topic! How our political, legal and economic institutions are a reflection of a particular set of affairs, in a particular state of a given society.

Just wondering if you've read 'the value of nothing' by Raj Patel? Granted most of what he covers has been covered in your blog. still though, he goes into real detail about the reforming of a market society to more simple economic arragements- whilst still preserving democracy. The example he uses is a really quite successful sounding experiment in democracy and simpler economic arrangements in the South of Mexico (I forget the province). Anyway, hopefully some societies around the world will manage the transition rather than reverting to plain feudalism.

You might be aware (or at least if you're in a British common law jurisdiction like New Zealand this is the case) that a small vestige of the feudal landholding system still lives on today. IN New Zealand and in other former British colonies all title to land is derived from the crown (in America is it just 'the people of the union or something?) an old feudal legacy of all title to land being granted by the king to the landlords and so on. Nowadays as a reflection of shifting social/economic circumstances property law reflects the desire to have land available to economic development. Here in New Zealand anyway, registration of title is everything, even in the case of fraud in a previous transfer of the land. Land law is entirely about abstract rights and security of title for economic development. you might as well think land were mere abstractions on a piece of paper, there for people to use with no reference to land being anything other than a plaything of humans.

Just a final thought, I wonder how much the advancement of the rights of indigenous persons will have on being able to break down the current economic and legal structures? again here in New Zealand (I think in Canada as well and in some other former British colonies) the common law doctrine of aboriginal title or customary law creates and instrument for indigenous persons to create and preserve community/ tribal based economic and legal relations, and at least up to a point, allows them to get round the intermediates. IN countries where indigenous populations are already setting up such simpler economic and legal arrangements i wonder if there might be some benefit to the non indigenous population? If they can in some way latch on to these indigenous community arrangements they might not have to completely start from scratch as the long descent gets underway. Anyway, just some of my musings.


MindfulEcologist said...

I cannot help but wonder how our culture of road rage, school shootings and non-stop media celebrations of interpersonal nastiness is going to change when the screws really start getting tightened. This is how our sense of privilege has us acting in our time of exuberant plenty. The cultural milieu of the Great Depression era was not quite as barbaric, as I understand it. Against the hard edge of every person for themselves, devil takes the hind quarter norms of today I think the birth of the ‘free peasant’ is going to be nasty indeed.

Or am I exaggerating the meanness of our day, lacking a proper appreciation of the general tenor of societies throughout history?

I wrote about the End of Homo Colossus this week as limits to growth bites. In your understanding do you see these sociological changes as also responding to limits? Unfairness pushed beyond what can be endured by a cohesive society?

Andy Brown said...

Thanks for another useful post. I especially appreciate your mention of how intermediaries are going to resist disintermediation - even at the cost of destroying the generative foundations that they depend upon. In theory, we could successfully extricate ourselves from any number of the cul de sacs we've forged into. But there's little evidence - current or historical - that we'll do so voluntarily - at least collectively.

Greg Belvedere said...

Great post as always. I'm curious if you have read David Graeber's book on debt, Debt: The First 5000 Years. He argues that the concept of credit comes first, then money, then barter before the cycle starts over. It is worth checking out of the library.

At the risk of crossing too far into the territory of your other blog, this post has me thinking about how much the different ages (unicorn, phoenix, dragon) correspond with different economic/political systems. I see a strong connection between the late middle ages/early renaissance market economy and the phoenix age. In the same way that the phoenix age produced a balance between science and magic, it seems to have a market economy that is not excessively intermediated. Doug Rushkoff idealizes this period in his book Life Inc. as a time in between the tyranny of feudal and corporate power.

Our current dragon age system relies on abstract wealth as much as our worldview relies on abstract scientific thought. The direct connection of unicorn time seems to jive well with feudalism. Though I'm sure there are exceptions etc.

DeAnander said...

Thanks for the Grand Unified Intermediation Theory JMG -- it nicely covers many apparently disconnected ills of modern life, from the craze for credentialism (denounced by Illich decades ago, now there was a farsighted social critic) to the persecution of farmers and farmers markets, to the attempts to restrict and regulate herbal remedies, the crackdown on BnB's (led of course by the hotel industry) in BC... and the list goes on. We are approaching a point at which local livelihood becomes illegal.

I am wondering whether you'd consider the high Mandarin era in China a classic example of Peak Intermediation in a slightly overripe empire? micromanagement, OTT regulation, obsessive credentialism were all present.

One thing I confidently expect to see is a growing "gray market" economy. As the rules and regs get more restrictive *and* more loony, people tend more and more to deal face2face with trusted community members under the radar, in cash, and just ignore the micromanagers. I'm thinking of the massive disconnect in the final years of the USSR between the notional official economy and the real, street economy; similar trends seem to be underway in N America now. I will name no names, but I know where I can buy some mutton :-)

David said...


Another thought-provoking post. The take-away that comes to me from my first read is that in this process of disintermediation (how I love that word!), one's focus should not only be on investments in primary goods (equipment, facilities for providing one's needs) or in primary skills (the abilities such as baking, weaving, etc for providing those needs), but also in *relationships*, which serve as the bedrock of the communities you describe this week...not only in the liegeman/liegelord axis, but also in the peasant village community (commoner) axis. This ideal we have inherited from the Enlightenment of the sovereign individual (and deified by such philosopher-writers as Ayn Rand) is not going to manage very well in a post-market future.

Tony said...

I'm left a little bit confused here. You mention occupation-locking decrees in the late Roman empire as an attempt at maintaining intermediation, and then state that feudal interactions are structured to avoid the effects of supply and demand. But aren't occupation-locking decrees also an interruption of supply and demand, by not allowing people to shift occupations as demand shifts (or costs due to intermediation rise)?

-Tony B

zach bender said...


i have spent about forty of my sixty-odd years working as an intermediary, writing words to create legal effects. a sort of dark magic, if you will. my only other formal education is in deconstructing narrative fiction.

i have often reflected out loud that the work i do produces nothing. until about twelve years ago i was living on borrowed money i could never realistically expect to repay, trying to maintain a suburban middle class lifestyle to which i did not subscribe. difficult to explain without going into extraneous detail.

i still so something resembling legal work for money, but on a much smaller scale. a largely voluntary simplifying that began not all that voluntarily.

i have learned to grow at least some of my own food, and i have learned to restore and repair bicycles. apart from walking, the bicycle has been my sole transportation for several years. maybe once or twice a year i will rent a car or even take a plane. unfortunately i do not at present live near an Amtrak rail line.

but i am several shifts away from being able to sustain myself without access to what is left of the market. if the crash comes sooner than later i will not be entirely ready, in terms of having the garden up and running within a community of like-minded people.

patriciaormsby said...

JMG, I'd heard that the "real" in real estate was derived from the Spanish "real," i.e., "king." That was from people noting you have to keep paying taxes on it or lose it. Regardless, anyone considering collapse comes to the same conclusion (except for a few prospective seafarers), that land, and specifically arable land, is the only commodity with any real value.

Thank you for the observations from Dante! I read a translation in high school, but was so put off with the cruelty of that age that I missed the finer points (I had a stuffy English teacher, who missed them herself). The Tokugawa government that ruled Japan from the 1600s to about 1865, as you know also, was explicit about preventing money from conferring political power, which would suggest that this had been a problem during the preceding warring period, but may be more rooted in Buddhism which the Tokugawas espoused. I have also come to see Buddhism, like other "missionary religions" that see this world as hopelessly corrupt, as a reaction to the excesses of early civilizations, with their accumulation of wealth and ultimately corruption, slavery and gross injustices.

Vladimir Putin appears to have taken a small but welcome step toward feudalism, too, according the same rights of political participation to small businesses as to large (I've forgotten where I read that, maybe Dmitry Orlov's blog). As someone who saw Russia during the Yeltsin years, and how the people suffered, and watched their lives improve when Putin came to power, I can understand his overwhelming popularity in that country.

Marinhomelander said...

Cutting out the middlemen and saving lots of money is part of disintermediation which can be practiced today.

As part of our daily and cheerful subversion of the system, my friends and I rarely buy new clothing, we go to thrift stores and get high quality items for about ten percent of what they cost new-if you could even still find them.

We also do not buy new building material, we go to a local salvage yard behind the lumberyard-hardware store in Fairfax, (California) that accepts donations of used material; everything from sinks, to bulk nails, doors, pipes, tools etc. Those that donate such things obtain storage space. Also they get a tax receipt for their donations, which equals money.

The donors preserve tremendous amounts of embodied energy which are contained in, for example, in an old American made cast iron enameled sink.

You can buy a new one of far lesser quality for 10 to 20 times as much at Home Depot, probably Chinese made junk, which sends the money out of town to Georgia. The Away Station at the lumberyard however keeps the money in the local economy where it circulates and re-circulates through the multiplier effect. If they don’t have it used, the hardware store right there, which is employee owned, also facilitates keeping money local.

Thus the debt-servicing mass retailer like Home Despot doesn’t get their cut. Nor does Wall Street, nor does the shopping center owner and the leasing agent, or the truckers, shipping companies, the debris box hustlers, nor the Peoples Liberation Army owned sweatshops in China where the new items would be made.

Buying used and going out of your way to donate unwanted things with value to those that resell them or give them away is a great way that people can participate today in what you are discussing to the betterment of society.

Of course eventually there will be no more used stuff, but that is far in the future.

p.s. It's tough to figure out who and what you are replying to. What I found works well is to copy the name you are replying to and pasting it into the Find box, then search "back" for it, which scrolls up to that which you are responding to, read their comment and then scroll "forward" down to return to your reply which contains their name.

Paul K. said...

Reminds me of the book "Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal" by small farmer Joel Salatin. He gives blow by blow accounts of his attempts to process and sell food he's raised directly to his customers.

It's eye opening, hearing stories of bureaucrats insist on (and fail to deliver) public safety. When really the end game, as this blog entry points out, is a turf war by the current system. Shed a tear for the bureaucrats.

barath said...

This might be obvious, but I've found that the easiest way to kick start that economic disintermediation is by giving things to others -- friends, neighbors, etc. My focus has been on giving plants and fruit trees (and sometimes fruit itself in order to get people excited about growing their own), because it improves the resilience of our community if more people are growing food and aren't relying on the grocery store. I'm not a very outgoing person, but I've found as a side effect I've gotten to know a lot of people in the community and established bonds that way.

Kylie said...

In my experience with barter, my trade partners have all been concerned with being 'fair' and 'enough' to me, rather than maximising their own return. 'Are you sure you've got enough seedlings for that jar of jam? Here, have some more.' I don't know whether deliberately stepping outside the monetary economy results in shrugging off the market values attached to cash, or some other sort of symbolism is going on, but it's quite pleasing. I have been trading home-grown eggs for raw milk with a friend - I rely on her word as to the cleanness of her supplier. Since she feeds the same stuff to her kids, I think I'm okay.

My other experience outside money was with a LETS system - a community-issued currency. It was pretty good as far as it went, but suffered heavily from a shortage of marketable goods and mostly became a way to exchange services and second-hand objects. My theory was that our little economy lacked manufacturing and primary production sectors. Trying to sell hand-made goods for LETS was hard because the inputs themselves had to be purchased in cash. Bootstrapping an alternative economy is complicated!

latheChuck said...

I'm eager to hear about where the skilled craftsman, who may not have sufficient land for agricultural surplus, fits into this scheme. There must be weavers, blacksmiths, printers, surveyors of land, etc. with substantial "capital" investment in their workshops passed down from master to apprentice.

And what happens when people reproduce beyond the carrying capacity of the land?

Janet D said...

Great post. Feudalism is rather depressing to contemplate, yet I don't know that it's any more depressing than contemplating the future of this society if it continues on ad infinitum (not that that is possible), but some days it sure seems that the endless environmental disregard and destruction will continue without end, until we are all living on a desolate, lifeless (other than us) rock surrounded by huge piles of cr*p.

@Mindful should add to your list "endlessly dark, twisted, and depraved electronic entertainment".

We don't have cable in our house - haven't had for almost 10 years, and we only watch documentaries and cooking shows when the telly is on. Hubby & I were at a hotel last weekend (sans kids), and so we channel surfed for a couple hours. It was one of the most depressing things I think I've ever done. The vast majority of shows that we flicked through were: exceedingly dark, gratuitously violent, centered around demons, monsters, vampires, violent and hateful relationships (the human ones), and yet the characters were largely wholly uninteresting. Having grown up on The Waltons, Happy Days, Little House on the Prarie, and the Cosby Show I have to say that the change was more than a little shocking, and very telling.

EntropicDoom said...

The change to a non-market dominated economy will also be reflected in the changes to language,
The successor to the market economy will emphasize the language of the victor, but evolution will change it from what is spoken today. FIRST will be a stratification of language into dialects for each social class. The rich will affect a high status accent and add words that display their birthright and their education. SECOND will be the different accents for different parts of the country, amplified into regional dialects and perhaps into separate languages such as Spanglish in the Southwest. Farming areas that now have many Spanish speakers may find they have an influence on future regional linguistic differences. THIRD would be the influence of home grown accents as a marker for a withdrawal from the culture at large. Would cults and conservative Christian groups try to bring back the language of the King James Bible to denote their reverence? Think of the Amish in the East holding on to a form of old German. FOURTH is the gradual evolution of language that eliminates complexity and simplifies endings, word agreements and pronunciations. Common spelling would be dropped in favor of local spelling that follows local pronunciations. Writing would no longer be taken for granted as most people would be illiterate. This may not take centuries to happen. Language commonality and easy communication across vast distances may cease.

Growing up, a boy might get a tutor if their parents are rich enough. Limited home schooling will become the norm for all classes depending on the family's wealth. Poor children would be expected to work all the time and not be interested in bookwork. The separation of education into boys learning and girls learning will be influence language evolution. Higher class boys will be trained to lead and manage estates. They will be trained in fighting with the restricted martial weapons and in the way of the sword as noblemen. We will see the establishment of a proto-samurai class. The girls will be only partially educated and married off to cement the relationships between the landed families. They might be trained to run a household, but never to run an estate. The differences between raising boys and girls will be stark and will follow forgotten traditions. Equal rights will be a distant memory along with a common education. Childhood will not exist.

A tiny middle class of craftsmen and knowledge workers will be sustained by apprentice systems that will develop isolated local terms. The use of unique words will be secreted and hidden from outsiders. Breaking into the guilds will be very difficult for the lower class, even if very talented. The knowledge workers of future popular entertainment, who are writing the current verse and song, will first attempt to satisfy their patrons and then perhaps chronicle the plight of the common folk singing out in the fields. The poor dirt slaves will be the bulk of society, living well beneath the salt. They will evolve their own dialects and language to reflect their dismal lives. They will be the untrained soldiers who fight for their landed masters and who die under the sword of the warrior class that supports the tyranny of the landholders. The warriors will cement the classes in place. They will understand different dialects and what the slobs at the bottom are saying. They will be the enforcers drawn from all walks of life and relying on their physical prowess to retain their positions. They will have their own language like the police of today. A mix of crude language, first used by the early emergence of the war bands will add to the warrior's tongue. The lower classes and the warriors will communicate in taboo swear words that lend power to their crude pronouncements. Lastly the clerics of the future will be whatever the coming religious wars boil it down to. Be it a devolved version of Christian or Muslim or secular. Whatever survives will determine how people are allowed to talk to their All Mighty.

Ventriloquist said...

Inherited mistakes.
Huge debts
yield regrets
An horrific future quakes

-- David

pyrrhus said...

Excellent post! In the terminology of Nassim Taleb, feudalism is anti-fragile. But once lending at interest, debt, and the use of land as collateral become widespread, fragility sets in rapidly....and agrarian society will soon be no more.

eskewis said...

Where to start? I live in Grays Harbor County. It is the second poorest county in Washington state. my husband and I came here to live on a piece of land and become as self sufficient a possible . This area was once a booming timber metropolis. No more. What I see here is a whole lot of meanness. I work in the ER of the local hospital. We see tons of drug addiction, lots of preventable illnesses like bladder infections and tooth infections. Poverty makes people mean. the loss of civility I witness daily is breathtaking. I feel like I have front row seats to the real effects of economic decline. If the world really goes this way in the next 20 or 30 years, I don't want to be around for it. And neither do any of you.

karendetroit said...

Perhaps the menfolk are amenable to reverting to feudalism...

Personally, I'd prefer take a chance on Women's Country, for myself and my daughters. Given the likelihood that the men will all be off killing each other, the society outlined by Sheri S, Tepper is not only better for the entirety of humanity and the ecosystem, it is sustainable. Some such social organization is the only thing that will keep us from the ensuing Dark Ages as the known world collapses about itself.

hapibeli said...

Love it all! Reuse, recycle, grow your own, build community, fix your own, barter, trade, keep it as local as you can!

Kylie said...

Some shreds of older customs remain. One year, my grandparents' mango trees fruited very well with enough fruit for them to go around the neighbourhood giving out bags of mangoes. Each bag would probably have been worth around $30. The neighbours didn't quite understand what was going on, and a few asked if they were selling door-to-door. My granddad explained to me that in the small rural town where they'd previously lived, they would have been expected to share, and would have been regarded as stingy if they hadn't.

The tax man has also tried to get his fingers in the alternative currency pot. Someone running a business in LETS or other alternative payment is required by the Australian Tax Office to estimate the cash value of their services provided, then pay tax on it as taxable income.

Pinku-Sensei said...

Your contrast of the market economy with the economy of barter and mutual obligation in feudalism reminds me of your taxonomy of the primary economy of production and extraction, the secondary economy of manufacturing, and the tertiary economy of finance. I now realize that it's not just finance, but all forms of intermediation that compose the tertiary economy.

Also, your account of how the current economy is doomed to fall with the civilization that it is part of and how a new, more sustainable economic system will rise in its place fits with one of the key characteristics of ecological economists I pass along to my students: The current economic system is unreformable in order to make it more sustainable. It will have to be completely replaced, either by building a parallel system, which Joel Salatin advocates and government blocks, much to his frustration, hence his complaint that 'everything he wants to do is illegal,' or by waiting for the current system to collapse and having a new system grow organically. That contrasts with the ecological economists, who think reforming the system is worth doing. These are the same "bright green" people that you wish to make a bargain with. Got any takers on that?

Speaking of collapse and decline, last week was a bad one for the supporters of private spaceflight. First, an Antares supply rocket exploded during launch, then SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test. Fortunately, a Russian cargo ship arrived and the ISS is supplied through the end of the year. As for Justin Bieber's quarter-million dollar thrill ride to the edge of space, that will have to wait.

As for reform and protest against the current system, today was the Million Mask Mark to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day. I'm sure that resulted in some fireworks, pun intended.

YJV said...

This is a fantastic article and gives conciseness to most of my thoughts on the modern market economy. I hope you don't feel offended at my saying that as an unconventional conservative leftist (I've yet to meet another, I heard Gandhi was one) this article is the first proper critique of the market economy I've read. Arguably part of what brought the USSR down was also intermediation, in this case a completely in the form of a suffocating government bureaucracy.

What I'm interested in hearing is: what are the alternatives to feudalism in a collapsed society? Feudalism is still a system propped up by stark violence. I'm sure some collapsed societies have stumbled across some aspects of a better system.

@Tom: The last few NZ governments have succeeded in turning iwi into massive corporations, entangled in the intermediation rife-system as all other enterprises. I don't even know if there's any original indigenous tribes operating in non-market exchange left.

Mister Roboto said...

I have to admit, after witnessing the travesty that was last night's election, I can't help but salivate over the idea of a society that doesn't really need money. Money has probably done more than anything else to make constitutional representative government in this country a joke.

EnonZ said...

Shortly after reading this post I was serendipitously streamed a wonderfully made 30 second advertising spot which I then found on YouTube. A spot made for and by a UK jobs website.

This is an intense level of intermediation, visually told. A world of technicians, grips and designers. Entirely man-made, dependent on intense flows of high quality energy, and central to the functioning of advertising supported networks.

I was going write that these intermediaries couldn't be parasitic as they were making something real, but then I caught myself.

Yupped said...

Intermediation is everywhere: it's hard to find a place in the money economy where it isn't the norm. Farmer's Markets, perhaps - but you still need to pay various insurances, state and local taxes and other overheads to participate even in those settings. I once knew a wealthy investor type, who told me that really successful investors don't look to invest in new schemes or innovations - they mostly find places where money is already flowing and figure out some way to dip into that flow. So much easier than creating something new, I suppose.

Unfortunately, it does rather look like the grown-ups are going to do everything possible to keep all this so-called money flowing through the system, long after the quaint old notions of supply and demand have ceased to operate. So we're going to be living in a zombie money economy for a while, it seems. Fortunately we have Japan - which seems to be set up for the role of canary-in-the-market-economy - to provide a leading indicator of the economic madness to come.

I have about 20 years of productive activity left in me, plus maybe another 10 years after that. About the best I can do I think is to continue to produce as much of my own food and fuel as I can, reduce my need for money as much as possible, and try not to worry too much about those later years until I'm in them. I worry for my kids though. So if some 21st century equivalent of a feudal lord comes around to make me a deal, I might be sorely tempted.

And just to provide some optimistic relief, here's an encouraging link:

Jeannette Sage said...

This post really speaks to me, as my husband and I have just decided to stop our plans for a small business somewhere in a remote area of Canada. We have been working on it for more than two years now, and in those years, we have been sucked by the local government, the building inspectors, the bank, unreliable contractors and greedy assessors, waiting for the renovation to be complete so they can come in to appraise it much higher, which will render even more tax money. The building is beautiful, the location and the business plan are great, the enthusiasm of the locals heartfelt, but the funds have dried up and the ideals too. Social capitalism under these conditions is not possible.

EnergyLens said...

I live in Eastern Europe. Just yesterday a neighbor was telling me of an alternative medicine practitioner who doesn’t charge anything, but will accept whatever someone believes is fair, whether that turns out to be money or honey. He was also relating how strange it is to locals that the number of homeless is growing, when they never had homeless before the "transition". He said the people are very compassionate but that the government is not.

Great thumbnail sketch of Marx! Last week’s post reminded me of the “Elimination” phase of capitalism referred to in David Blacker’s Falling Rate of Learning and how he derived his riff on education from Marx’s Falling Rate of Profit. I think this week's outlines what happens when the eliminated can no longer be ignored because the system of rents and derivatives breaks down.


My copy of "Twilight's Last Gleaming" arrived in our little corner of Eastern Europe this week and is certainly cutting into my "productivity". About my only problem with you is that you produce too much high-quality content. But I suppose the number of chuckles I enjoy whilst reading more than compensates me!

In the name of saving time and reducing time spent in front of an LCD I invested in hacking together an Archdruid "News" Recipe for the wonderful Calibre e-book platform. Readers who wish to enjoy their weekly ADR and monthly WoG on an eReader (in the garden? in full sunlight!) will probably also be delighted to see that your Responses to Comments are automagically inserted below each Comment you Responded to, and that this works across multiple pages of comments.

Yes, there is a way benefit even if you don't have an eReader.

Anyone interested can download the 'Recipe' here:
Please direct any questions you may have to me on the the mobileread site, or email my gmail account: EnergyLens at

John Michael Greer said...

Tom, no, I haven't read Patel's book yet -- will add it to the list.

Ecologist, no, I don't think you're exaggerating. Ours is a violent and profoundly troubled society, and that's unlikely to work out well as things get tighter.

Andy, certainly our institutional structures and systems will resist disintermediation to the last gasp. Individuals, families, and communities can make their own arrangements, though.

Greg, exactly. One of the things I've had to wrestle with in the process of writing my blog posts is that all of them unfold from a single structure of thought, but that structure isn't something that can be set out briefly -- it contradicts too many of the basic assumptions of our time, and so the explanation has to go a bit at a time.

DeAnander, every civilization in its latest and most complex phases goes in for as much intermediation as it can -- yes, late imperial China was a fine example. Gray markets are another universal in such times, and they become the only economy there is as things wind down.

David, good. Rand's "sovereign individual" has another and a more accurate name, which is "parasite" -- anyone who actually produces goods and services knows how much their work depends on everyone else.

Tony, it's absolutely standard in heavily intermediated societies for the people on the bottom of the pyramid to be forbidden to respond to supply and demand, so that they can't evade the demands of the intermediaries. What the medieval laws did was to block supply and demand straight up to the top of the social ladder.

Zach, don't worry about when the crash will come. It's already here. This is what collapse looks like in the real world -- not a sudden splat, but the ragged disintegration of business as usual, day by day, as the world changes into something else.

Patricia, nah, that's a common misconception. "Real" comes from Latin res, "thing."

Marin, I do that all the time! As for following the conversation, the best trick that's been mentioned to me consists of opening two browser windows for this comments page, using one to follow the commenters and the other to follow my responses. It seems to work.

Paul, yes, Salatin's talking about exactly the same thing I am. It's pervasive these days.

Barath, that's the gift economy in miniature -- a valid and very effective economic system, especially in small communities. I'll talk a little about that next week.

John Michael Greer said...

Kylie, I've noticed that as well -- it happens once interpersonal relationships become more significant than mere market exchanges. A good thing? You bet.

LatheChuck, the development of skilled trades is one of the ways in which feudal economics break down and are replaced by the cash economy. As for what happens when people overshoot their carrying capacity, why, they die, of course. What did you think would happen to them?

Janet, every form of human politics and economics, to me, are depressing to contemplate, because human beings are, well, human beings, and can be counted on to exploit other human beings in the usual ways. I don't see feudalism as being noticeably worse than the alternatives.

Doom, now apply the same sort of analysis, with the same negative bias, to the evolution of language in industrial society. You'll find that you can portray things just as grimly there, too.

Ventriloquist, I see our bardic circle is warming up... ;-)

Pyrrhus, of course. Did you think that any human system of political economy would remain stable forever?

Eskewis, my paternal family's from Grays Harbor -- my great-great-grandfather homesteaded near Elma, and my father went to Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen -- so I know the area tolerably well. There are old and deep-rooted reasons why things have gotten as nasty there as they have, and that's not necessarily shared with the rest of the country or the world. The town in which I live today is just as poor, and a great deal more civil. Which is to say, don't assume the worst everywhere just because that's what you're seeing where you are.

Karen, I enjoy Tepper's fiction, even though she does seem to be convinced that Y chromosomes are the root of all evil. Still, I'd encourage you to remember that fiction is, after all, fiction, and attempts to impose utopian fiction on the real world tend to have predictably ghastly consequences.

Hapibeli, that would make a good chant!

Kylie, that's why I don't tend to recommend alternative currencies. If any of those ever get big enough to matter, they'll either be squashed by the legal system or coopted.

Pinku-sensei, exactly. It's all very well to talk about reforming the system, but that would require the people who profit from the system as it is, and generally have a lot of control over it, to relinquish their profits and hand over control to the reformers. Will that happen? Not in a month of Sundays.

YJV, every political system is propped up by stark violence. Feudalism doesn't disguise its violence, is all.

John Michael Greer said...

Mister R., no argument there. I sometimes think we'd get a fairer system if we went the dark ages route and had contenders for office fight to the death with swords or something.

EnonZ, a fine example of the species!

Yupped, exactly. As the decline proceeds, new possibilities will open up, and it's those who are attentive and unhindered by too much ideology who will be best prepared to make use of them.

Jeannette, I'm sorry to hear that, but it's a common story these days. As far as the intermediaries are concerned, your dreams are simply raw material to be strip-mined. Disintermediation is tough, but it can be done as long as you don't do the standard, expected, ordinary thing.

EnergyLens, the alternative medicine practitioner has caught the wave of the future. He knows that he'll always be able to count on help, because he's always been willing to help. Glad you enjoyed the novel!

Kutamun said...

I live in a small , elevated high rainfall rural area with relatively poor soil , still on the scale of things , being a couple of hours from major city but near a train line , it is becoming fairly sought after by locals and those escaping from the city seeking a new life for themselves . The " old locals ", after getting rid of all the indigenous tribes have been ensconced for 6 or 7 generations , and still have a strong presence , despite the ravages of the heavily intermediated market system that they all enthusiastically support , and the exodus of many of the young .

Despite this , self sufficiency and the push to local food markets is growing steadily , spearheaded by many of the escaping urban green elite . Amidst a steadily deteriorating economy and climate , the local heavily corporatised shire council is attempting to extract as much wealth from the community as it can possibly can , by consistently revaluing property prices Northwards , openly attempting to precipitate a chinese speculative real estate "boom" . Let by its self proclaimed "CEO" , who seems to be representative of a fairly extensive underlying state wide business network of "service providers" , It does all this under under the aegis of "building infrastructure to accomodate inevitable growth " .

From building halls , sealing a vast network of back roads , undertaking extensive road side clearing and "management programs " ( chemical spraying) , it is effectively our first local feudal lord , increasing its effective land taxes by around 7 % each year with its drive by valuations . This against the backdrop of a geographically large but low income and elderly Shire ( as we quaintly call them here ) , high proportion of fixed incomes , being heavily eroded by rising energy and food prices , land taxes . The local liege lord whose fiefdom this has become uses a variety of local media and other thaumaturgic texhniques to cleverly the populace between new arrivals and the somewhat downtrodden and institutionalised " those who have always been here " ..

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out in terms of people either uniting to overthrow the ubiquitous cruel CEO Vortigern or wether his wielding of binary primate turf and territory wars will continue to keep any detractors who may presume to inculcate the growth of organic local community , household economy and self governance which would undoubtedly throw up its own power structures and hierarchy of leaders or Leader . Could take several decades to play out , or could happen quite quickly depending what transpires with the crumbling empire and it s seemingly distant half mythical king "Gubbermint "

I grew up in one of these one horse towns , and left ASAP to take advantage of some inherent brains and drive to get aboard the Gigantic Fossil Fuel One Off Social Mobility Train , which has served to increase my opportunities and expand my consciousness to the point where i can see all this stuff . When it ends , it will be like that dancing game where everyone takes a seat where they are at the time . What will this bring ? Will the local incumbents enforce their incumbency , will they be usurped by the cleverer of the Green Elite Saxons ?? , or some other group; whichever way it goes is sure to surprise us all .

Raymond Duckling said...

Thanks again for your insights, JMG.

This week at my hometown, Guadalajara, we are experiencing a clash between two different factions of intermediaries. On the one hand we have the established brick and mortar merchants - who pay taxes and invest heavily in conforming to the various codes and official rules - and on the other we have the street peddlers - who offer the same wares, but cheaper, out of improvised tarps on either the street or the walkside. The bounty seems to be the huge opportunity for profit on the Christmas season.

This peddlers are not small fry. They are highly organized, and there was a riot this weekend, full with a convenience store ransacked and burned police cars. The major has claimed success since "all protocols were followed to the letter" and declared that "law is un-enforzable since the area is over-commercialized" (don't worry, it makes as little sense in Spanish as it does in English).

Now, the merchant association is suing the city hall so that a federal judge forces it to actually do their jobs.

What this makes me think is that there is no absolute division between the market model and the feudal model. While I cannot know for sure, I assume individual peddlers are bind by informal word agreements to their leaders, who work to secure cooperation or at least tolerance from authorities. They still work in the market economy, which they treat as some sort of "commons" whose access to they control in a feudal way.

Spanish fly said...

I have received "Twilights last gleaming" a few days ago, and I'm enjoying the last times of American Empire from my european balcony.
However, what I see? Alba Aurea, the spanish guerrilla...
Holy crap, I will be in my fifties by 2025, a bit old to fight.

unirealist said...

Feudalism involves the adoption of customs and rituals that preclude,as you point out, the process of differentiation or intermediation that is natural behavior for a system.

I was trying to make a similar point last week when I wrote about how customs and rituals (such as usufruct and obligatory gifting and potlatch) were adopted in primitive societies. That is, feudal society resists what you call intermediation by the same means as tribal society does.
Growth, which sadly includes the parasitic behavior of "feeding at the trough" can be resisted that way, but we should recognize that seeking to capture available energies (profit, in economic terms)is not a bad thing per se.

It can't be. Our universe is a complex of systems (and is a system in itself), and that dynamic which sometimes manifests in ugly ways is what makes it possible for systems to survive and multiply.

Which is to say, I suppose, that greed and parasitism happen when healthy systemic functioning is not held in check by intellectual rigor or spiritual inclinations.

Perhaps the greatest challenge that we as a species face is to find a path between stagnation and runaway differentiation and intermediation. I don't know if such a path even exists, but I know that I don't want to live in a stultifying feudal world, yet I cringe at what we have now.

By the way, your analyses of historical change are so precise and exquisitely stated that they astonish me, and I feel safe in stating that we are all grateful for the effort you devote to these marvellous weekly essays.

KL Cooke said...


Come up with some characters and a quest plot and you've got a pretty good novel here.

Somewhatstunned said...

Re: the etymology of "Real" in "real property"

Not so sure it is a "common misconception"

Real=royal appeared in legal textbooks I studied many years ago, and I note that Chambers dictionary says "real (obs) royal ..Realty (obs) royalty ... OFr from Latin regalis"

You could be right of course, and of course you *ought* to be right ... on the other hand you once did repeat that canard about vomitoria :)

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

@JanetD: I have no TV either, and don't use my computer to access it. When I house-sit occasionally for a friend, I'll sometimes try the experiment of surfing through the multiple channels available there. About ninety-something percent is such toxic cretinry that I switch through it really quickly. But even just spending a little time with the remnant - odd bits of fairly decent BBC stuff for example - leaves me feeling, after just an hour or so, as if I've had a bad dose of psycho-spiritual soul pollution. Just something about subjecting yourself to TV, isn't it?

These days, it's not something that I bother with at all.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

(Part 1) Here, where I live on my boat, I and the other boat-people do a good deal of below-the-radar gift-economy, plus barter, plus tatting reuseable stuff/materials, to be stashed on our moorings, until someone wants some board material, or structural timber, or a piece of steel plate or strip, or what have you, when they ask around, and someone's usually got something stashed.

Payment doesn't come up, though for larger items such as a woodstove or a bike it might be offered sometimes; even so, seldom accepted; it's all in the pure gift category, not even barter needed.

The bonds of communal, mutual solidarity are strongly fortified by these habits, quite automatically. No intermediators, especially of the distant anonymous kind. And no hint of market economy.

We also grow increasing amounts of our own food, in guerrilla gardens on neglected pocket-handkerchiefs of land ('owned' by whom? probably the cement company, theoretically) on a haphazard but effective basis, and all surpluses are, without any apparent consideration, simply put straight into the gift category. No cash, or even barter, involved.

Also, several of us now heat and cook entirely, or nearly so in Winter, with sustainably-gathered wood or - for my J-tube rocket stove - sticks, from the local woodlands. My neighbour on the next mooring was remarking only yesterday that - as long as it's just a few of us in this slightly-outcast-from-orthodox-society boat-hamlet - he can't keep up with the amount of dead wood that comes available each year. And, these woodlands all theoretically 'belong' to a conglomerate corporation based in Mexico (we're in Britain), as part of it's cover-screen around 'its' clay quarry operation here, planted just to appease the local people.

So, naturally, since they don't actually contribute anything to the corporation's balance sheet, they are subjected to benign neglect, and thus regenerate themselves naturally, with masses of volunteer seedling trees jostling every year in any space that's opened in the canopy by previous deaths.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

(Part 2) All of this is quite fragile, legally, and could be swept away quickly at the hands of distant unknown intermediating parasites, without consulting any of us, since we're in no position to put any serious arm on them. But at least this is all truly excellent practical practice at, and personal acclimatisation to, the oncoming post-industrial ways or life. Incidentally, we are all free-and-clear freehold owners of our boats. No debt, no mortages. Dodged the intermediating parasites that way too, and very adequately homed.

BTW, I too have masses more free time than the house-dwelling orthodox-livers hereabouts. And this would still be true even if I were working to get cash income, such little as I might need in this frugal, ultra-inexpensive, yet wholly satisfying and sufficient way of life.

But since I'm a retired elder living on a small, but for me entirely adequate state pension, as part of the post-WW2 very mild socialism that was created here, and still persists in remnants, until its inveterate enemies can complete their wrecking and privatisation programmes - well, you can imagine the low time pressure which I enjoy.

Still pretty physically fit too, what with the all the activity, and with having only a stable of bikes - one orthodox off-roader with heavy-duty home-made freight-carrier, plus various exotic home-builts - as my transportation. These are so convenient, once you're adequately pumped, that I don't even bother with elec-assist. Though, if I make it to next Summer, I shall hit seventy-five, so, you know, eventually, maybe, who knows...

(I even have, somewhere back down my priority-queue, a design for an all-weather ultra-lighweight velo like young Harald Winkler's marvellous home-built (search on YT); but who knows if I'll ever get that far down the queue?)

JM, can I make another plea for you to have a look at US physicist and mathematician Tom Campbell's Big TOE. (google My Big TOE). I know when I mentioned it before that you said you had scant faith in big theories of everything, of any kind (excepting Toynbee's though, I see :-). But Tom's is an exception, in my estimate. Such penetrating and original thinkers as you and he, who are temperamentally able to bridge the gap between the scientific and the spiritual-mystical, as you both do, need to know about each others insightful work...

Hwyl fawr i bawb! Rh

William Lucas said...

A word that I once (incorrectly it seems)committed to memory as the longest word in the English language, antidisestablishmentarianism, has been replaced in my mind with the much more interesting terms disintermediation, disintermediationarianism,and,unfortunately, antidisintermediationarianists. All thanks to this series of posts.


Bike Trog said...

I've spent some time being unable to avoid television, such as in waiting rooms where the Propaganda News and ads for brain cleaner make the waiting seem longer than it would with silence.

Sleisz Ádám said...

Thanks for this essay!

The importance of personal commitments is something I find very intriguing in the decline process. Most of us can easily forget our dependence on whole complex systems but personal relationships set the crucial connections front and center.

The example I have in mind is justice. We fear the power of an individual judge - like the king or the landlord - because we feel the risk of abuse. Almost everything can depend on that one person, high level of trust is essential. On the other hand, if all aspects of legal process is buried into gigabytes of law and regulation systems, then we feel safer because the act of abuse is out of our radar range. Nevertheless, hijacked justice systems can be as inhumane and horrifying as one person probably never can...

Odin's Raven said...

Coincidentally your town of Norbury has the same name as the place where I live! (There's also several others which may fit your story better.)This one did not have a medieval market, but is only a couple of miles from Croydon, whose market still survives.
Croydon market

thecrowandsheep said...

"...the swamp-gas luminescence of Hegelian philosophy...Hegel’s verbose and vaporous trail into a morass of circular reasoning and false prophecy from which few of his remaining followers have yet managed to extract themselves."

What?!? How DARE you? I am disappointed in you JMG. Don't ya know that:

"Hegel, installed from above, by the powers that be, as the certified Great Philosopher,..." -- Arthur Schopenhauer

Wait! There's more:

"...was a flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan, who reached the pinnacle of audacity in scribbling together and dishing up the craziest mystifying nonsense. This nonsense has been noisily proclaimed as immortal wisdom by mercenary followers and readily accepted as such by all fools, who thus joined into as perfect a chorus of admiration as had ever been heard before. The extensive field of spiritual influence with which Hegel was furnished by those in power has enabled him to achieve the intellectual corruption of a whole generation." -- AS

Oh. Sorry. I spoke too soon. Carry on.

Could one call Hegelian philosophy, "philosophical intermediation"?

Ok, one more:

“...the height of audacity in serving up pure nonsense, in stringing together senseless and extravagant mazes of words, such as had previously been known only in madhouses, was finally reached in Hegel, and became the instrument of the most barefaced general mystification that has ever taken place, with a result which will appear fabulous to posterity, and will remain as a monument to German stupidity.” -- AS

Marc L Bernstein said...

For those of us who have children or who know and work with children, an issue that will recur is one of determining the time and method by which those children are to be educated about simpler times, agrarian societies, feudal relationships, useful crafts, etc.

As you said in an old post, "collapse now and beat the rush".

Perhaps ecovillages and transition towns can be of assistance in this matter.

An old friend of mine wrote the following book on ecovillages after traveling to around 12 representative ones from around the world -

M said...

"Here in Cumberland, there are empty storefronts all through downtown, and empty buildings well suited to any other kind of economic activity you care to name there and elsewhere in town."

I too live in a small old mill town. Mine is located on the Hudson River a little over an hour upriver from New York City. Our once boarded storefronts have seen an influx of activity, and rents are getting silly. But most of the businesses are restaurants, galleries, and knick-knack shops--(and of course, real estate offices.) Very few of the new businesses are involved in actually produces or even sells what might be called necessaries. Also, a decent number of developers have descended and at least 800 new "units" are planned around town.

The City is planning to hire an "economic consultant" (hello intermediary) to help further development.

I believe this to be a slightly different manifestation of what you are talking about, mostly found within the orbit of a center of finance and capital such as NYC. But to me, it's all just a temporary illusion, and in fact may be delaying real change.

Phil Harris said...

And then we discovered the Higgs boson, otherwise known as 'the god particle': smile


Kyoto Motors said...

I'll admit to not having finished the read yet, but I thought I'd share this link:
Richard Heinberg is addressing the issue of perpetual progress here, and has outlined a plan... I can't disagree with him ideologically, but it just sounds like a more elaborate (thoughtful) version of "first we'll get rid of capitalism, then we can solve global warming"...As in, not going to happen!
Anyway, I don't think it's just a coincidence that his article is relevant to the current discussion, and it's still worth reading what he has to say.

Cherokee Organics said...


Another benefit of direct relationships and obligations is that the powers that be are also directly answerable to the population for their stuff ups too!

Like keeping a knife constantly sharp, so too would it keep their leadership skills sharp too.

Galbraith was less than complimentary of the military leadership, political and aristocracy at the time of World War 1. Incidentally, he also cites that time as the first great crisis of the industrial era.

I had a really good point to discuss and it has completely slipped my mind now. I'll re-read tomorrow and it will surely pop back into my head. Dunno.

Meanwhile the state to the north of me and the one to the west of me have both just recorded the hottest October on record.

South Australia record breaking October

New South Wales record breaking October

I'd genuinely like to say that I'm making this stuff up because no one seems to be at all concerned...



PS: There's a new blog post showing some cool photos of - well no rocks this week - but some stairs and part of the new shed under construction. The whole thing is made from recycled and/or downgrade materials using mostly hand or small power tools.

Plus just to get you readers from the Northern hemisphere really jealous, there's some photos of the ripening fruit: Access all areas

irishwildeye said...

JMG wrote
"it was rigidly caste-bound, brutally violent, and generally unjust. So is the system under which you live, dear reader, and it’s worth noting that the average medieval peasant worked fewer hours and had more days off than you do."

Thank You JMG for this. That is a killer argument to deploy against advocates of the cult of progress. I intend to research this subject further and use it as a kind of rhetorical sucker punch, when the need arises. Many people I meet are still putting up a brave face but underneath their doubts are growing. This line of reasoning is perfectly pitched to feed those doubts.

On a change of subject the Irish people are at long last showing some signs of getting angry. You may remember about four years ago we were the victim of perhaps histories greatest financial swindle. We were made to carry half the cost of keeping the European zombie banks alive. Yet we the people did not borrow one single cent of that money. It was imposed upon us by people who spent 30 years claiming to be our friends, and who still demand that we pay back every cent.

The MSM are (as usual) missing the real point about the current Irish water protest. The anger about the great financial swindle has finally found a simple issue to focus on. It's hard to create good slogans about Credit Default Swaps, but "Our Water, Our Land, Our Forests" is rhetorical gold.

It appeals at so many levels to the Irish mind, it evokes 800 years of resistance against you know who, the 19th century struggle for the land, and ancient Celtic folk tales. Last Saturday 150,000 people protested in the rain (biggest demo in the history of the state) not to demand that someone else do something, but to state their intention to do something, by resisting.

We maybe about to find out if modern Irish people are still made of the same stuff as our ancestors. Ireland is a very small, intimate and civil society, the anger is now palpable but we are a conservative people, we produced Edmund Burke after all. Expect a major shakeup in the political landscape rather than sustained Greek style riots.

Interesting times all of a sudden in Ireland.

Karim said...

Greetings all!

Is it unreasonable to think that the end of the market economy also means the end of elected democracy?

If that is so, does it necessarily mean that we ought to expect a return to dictatorial forms of government with scant regard if any to due process in law and citizens' rights?

Odin's Raven said...

Here's a claim that productive people are already serfs supporting the state and its freeloaders.

Phil Harris said...

@Tom Bannister
Is this correct abot Raj Patel's book? Quote from a review by John Gray in the Guardian:
"Patel fails to confront the most fundamental contemporary fact, which is that the majority of people in every country clearly want a type of economy – the sort that rich countries have enjoyed in the recent past – that the planet cannot sustain. A passionate activist, he believes problems of resource scarcity are man-made and can always be solved by fairer distribution. However, the growth-oriented lifestyle of rich countries is not unsustainable because it is unjust; it is unsustainable because the Earth's resources are unalterably finite."

Phil H

jonathan said...

buying things from resale stores is one good way to avoid submitting to the heavily intermediated economy. another is giving stuff away. i suggest taking a look at; it is a totally free membership group active all over the world, where members can give away items that might otherwise end up in landfills.

William Knight said...

JMG: In your reply to Eskewis about Grays Harbor you said: "There are old and deep-rooted reasons why things have gotten as nasty there as they have, and that's not necessarily shared with the rest of the country or the world."

Could you possibly elaborate and generalize? I think this kind of information about one's local community would be *very* good to know when times get tough.

exiledbear said...

Like you said, more than one way of doing it.

The feudal system isn't the only one out there. Communes come to mind, like The Farm in TN, for instance.

The Amish also come to mind. I bet most of them will keep truckin' no matter what happens in the outside world.

Looking at Russia, they're still using money, although I'm pretty sure that most of them avoid it whenever possible.

I do think that the future will involve the use of much less money overall, but I'm not certain that people will organize under a feudal system again.

In any case, if all you know how to do is play office politics and schmooze in a big city, you are in deep trouble. And there are a lot of people in deep trouble, as I see it.

Ben said...

I read this book a little while ago. A lot of legal obstacles have been put in the way of the basic task of feeding people in a way that doesn't involve big agribusiness. I'm sure this is all info you know about, but some other readers here might find the anecdotes instructive/amusing.

Rita Narayanan said...

Amazing turn of in India a number of educated Dalits (the fourth caste) feel that cities & capitalism/America can provide salvation. Infact, it is an international North-South thing where the industrial city saves the disempowered from the rural agrarian shackles.

Agrarian or even simple tribal ground is driven by *ethos* whether you have a caste system or not.....the funny thing is that it is educated/activist crowd that keeps selling some romantic/egalitarian world.

I have always found the old elite in India with all its flaws better than the elite now driven by corporate culture/political corruption and showbiz

onething said...

JMG, I find today's post particularly witty. I enjoyed for its humor this:

"...because the “free” market is of course nothing of the kind. It’s unfree in at least two crucial senses: first, in that it’s compulsory; second, in that it’s expensive."

and this sentence, for its nice, old-fashioned complexity:

"Like most of his generation of European intellectuals, Marx was dazzled by the swamp-gas luminescence of Hegelian philosophy, and followed Hegel’s verbose and vaporous trail into a morass of circular reasoning and false prophecy from which few of his remaining followers have yet managed to extract themselves."

My ears also perked up at the mention of the just price, rather than supply and demand. I'm not familiar with the concept, but this is something I have vaguely thought of, such as when you hear that quarantined Liberians are having a difficult time getting food, and that the available food is going up in price. The implications of that are quite morally repugnant.

Shane Wilson said...

Wow, this post gives me added motivation to pursue disintermediation and provides added resolve to commit to working outside the system, and to provide and maintain alternative arrangements for providing goods and services, if not for our sake, then for the future and our descendants sake. Sometimes, it seems like it's just keeping a few steps ahead of what's coming. Provides added motivation to take steps NOW.
Seems like there was discussion of law on last week's post, and while our Byzantine legal system will definitely be thrown out, I can definitely see a need to preserve the basics of the English common law system for future generations. Concepts such such as" stare decisis" (legal precedence of court decisions) and case law, whereby court cases carry the weight of law, and a jury of your peers to judge, should be preserved through the dark ages for the future, especially when you compare common law systems with their civil law alternatives (here I'm showing my English speaking biases :)

Bill Pulliam said...

The feudalism you describe is a fairly advanced stage of it, similar to what existed in Britain in Norman times. There were 600 years between the end of Rome and the arrival of William, and my understanding had been that the imported Norman feudalism was more elaborately structured than the anglo-saxon feudalism it subsumed. I know Norman-style feudalism does not spring whole cloth from the earth when the market economy goes *poof*, and I'd be curious what the early stages look like. There's a lot of space between the warbands and the Plantagenets. I doubt that the grandchildren of anyone alive in the U.S. today will see full-blown feudal systems, but may live in the beginning stages of their evolution.

You also didn't mention what I had always thought were two of the major benefits provided to the peasants by the lords, and among the main reasons the peasants happily accept the arrangement: military protection and law enforcement.

Finally, I'd think that this will be a very spotty development, and will arise first in more agriculturally productive and heavily populated areas. Won't there always be hinterlands populated by individual homesteads and lone-wolf resource extractors, where geography, climate, or pedology aren't conducive to more complex economies?

Funny how "economics," which etymologically means "the management of the house," has become almost synonymous with "money."

Bill Pulliam said...

Paul K. -- it's only illegal if The Law finds out you are doing it, and cares to take an interest. There is a big difference between "illegal" and "can't be done."

Kylie -- that is why I prefer gift over barter. You have a surplus, you give it to those who can use it, with no concern about receiving anything in return. Just like the mangos. Your neighbors do likewise. There's no accounting beyond your own reputation as a generous or stingy person.

Eskewis -- drug addiction and poor health are universal symptoms of poverty and despair, but that does not make people "mean." Anger and bitterness make people "mean." I live in an area that has always been poor. To quote a line from an Alabama song: "Somebody told us Wall Street fell, but we were so poor that we couldn't tell." Poor people here are generous and kind, and they have even come a long way in overcoming the xenophobia that is pretty universal in cultures that have experienced a lot of isolation.

Rotten teeth may be a universal among the poor, but meanness is not.

Shining Hector said...

It's funny, my initial reaction to the idea of a return to feudalism was disgust, then I realized your peasant still probably got a fairer shake from his betters than many of his modern-day equivalents. Plus it's an altogether better attempt at managing the commons than what we've got today, even if all the participants don't exactly understand what's going on. Guess that was the point.

It's always a struggle to get away from the either-or binaries. I know that's not what you really intended, but it's the first thing that I thought. It's not that hard to imagine the farmer owning his land and being a voluntary member of an organized militia for mutual self-defense. The local lord still enforces the commons and leads the militia, it's just more a milder first among equals thing than him having absolute ownership of everything. Why can't we just skip all that feudal nonsense and get straight to that?

Kyoto Motors said...

Money, as the promise to do work, is closely related to energy, or the ability to do work. So it's not just a coincidence that finance has gone the way it has at the present peak (plateau) of fossil fuel bonanza. However, we are learning the hard way that money doesn't simply replace energy - a common misconception

Kendo Von Beerdrinker said...

JMG – I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now (I really found I missed it during the time period when you took a break!) but this is my first time posting/commenting. I’m wondering what you think about the following….

In the US, I can more easily imagine a shift away from our current heavily intermediated “free” market-based economy to some type of feudal-type economy in rural or exurban areas; perhaps in some of the more sparsely-populated suburban areas with access to natural resources (mainly water and farmable land) as well. I see a modest shift in attitude in my suburban small-town in upstate NY, where more and more people frequent farmers’ markets for food and craft items, buy (relatively) local craft beers and ciders, get milk deliveries from a local farmer and have some interest in growing their own food. I could see those changed attitudes and behaviors laying the foundation for a future feudal-type, more locally-based, economy. But what about urban areas?

At first, some may point to the “sharing economy” – as evidenced by AirBnB, Uber, Zip Cars and Citi Bikes in NYC – as evidence that urbanites can also move away from our current economic system to something less traditional. But aren’t those examples of businesses (or in the case of Citi Bikes, government programs) that are all heavily intermediated as well? I suspect that large urban economies can sustain themselves to some degree for a while as hubs of trade and commerce (and thus finance) while the more rural areas become less and less intermediated and more and more feudal. But at some point in decline (perhaps relatively quickly), I expect the urban areas will not be able to sustain large-scale populations – i.e., they won’t generate enough economic activity to sufficiently feed, clothe and shelter millions of people (with all the high-rise residential buildings, shelter may not be the problem, though in the Northeast, warm shelter during winter months may be a different story. You can’t just light a fire in the vacant apartment on the 24th floor of the high-rise in which you’ve been squatting). A heavy concentration of population, coupled with an absence of arable land, makes traditional feudal arrangements seem impossible in urban areas. I see a few things that could spring up, but none of them seem to be good options - e.g., disease might eradicate a large portion of the population; warlord/gang-type violence could do the same thing; some form of urban sweatshop-type industrial near-slavery could evolve, with workers giving up any semblance of autonomy just to survive; charismatic leaders could recruit urban populations as warriors/raiders of other areas; or, simply, widespread flight from cities to rural areas where a feudal system has already taken root (which could then overwhelm the relatively fragile economies in those areas).


Casey '14

Claudia Oney said...

There is no reason women cannot enjoy an education if men have the leisure to enjoy this benefit. Or manage an estate. Or engage in a variety of crafts. The violence against women practiced in emerging Europe is not 'baked in' to every cake. An extreme minority of men now believe our future will women as meaningful participants in leadership. And a teeny bit of push back sets them off. Whew.

During the wonderful turmoil of the sixties and seventies male/female and diversity issues jumped out and prevented some of the progress we were hoping for back then. Sophisticated and intelligent men stuck, just stuck. I am a volunteer firefighter here in my small town and accepted and respected by my fellow firefighters. I cannot pick up some things a twenty year old male can but neither can a 70-year old volunteer (he was a member of the team that sent the first humans to the moon). We do other things and those skills are acknowledged.
These changes in attitudes may easily survive into our dark future. I believe they will and that women won't be kicked to the curb just because money becomes superfluous and the market dies.

Shane Wilson said...

Et tu, Brute? sigh, I'm disappointed you're promoting social media, JMG. Please tell me you're not on Facebook yourself... Sigh...

Gunnar Rundgren said...

I share the view that the market economy is one of the things that will go (have to go) in the event of a descent or collapse. Would be nice if we can develop other ways of relating to each other, and distribute wealth and burden than through feudalism though. While I share your view about the perils of intermediation, I believe there are a number of other conditions which will break the market economy. I believe the endless competition which modern transportation and ICT has enabled, makes it very difficult to get any profit out of many parts of the economy. And when growth ends, the in-built favor of those already rich is getting less and less acceptable.

daelach said...

@ karendetroit:

Women's Country will never be - for a couple of reasons:

1) A man's social status is the dominant attractivity factor for women, that's true even today. In such rough times, high status men will not be the nice and peaceful ones.

2) Women have equal rights today, but rights are only worth something insofar as they can be enforced. So who enforces them today? The whole intermediary system that is going to be swept away!

3) Even if we assume a Women's Country: what inevitably will happen with this country is that women will find other things more important than to have children. That means also fewer sons to defend the country, which would make this country a welcome prey for others whose women don't oppose to producing sons that can be spent in war.

4) Women could not defend this country simply because they have much less physical power for carrying weapons and gear over distance, not to mention the actual fighting.

5) Even if they tried and succeeded, they would suffer losses. The other side also, of course, but while Women's Country would loose women, the other side would just loose men. Since women and not men are the bottleneck in producing offspring, the other side could put up as many attacking men in the next generation while Women's Country would not have compensated the loss of the generation before.

4) and 5) are the reasons why war has always the domain of men. Men are expendable, women are too precious to sacrifice them in war - they have to be protected so that they can bear children which are the future of the population in question.

Furthermore, 4) and 5) are the reason why a society can allow men fighting for power (and suffering losses), eventually leading to warlords, but not women. The result, of course, will be that the winners of those fights will be men.

Now don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that it OUGHT to be that way in a moral sense. I'm just saying that it WILL be that way, no matter whether I like it or not.

The world will be a men's world, but that doesn't imply that it will be nice to be a man in that world - because while it will be mostly men who will rule, it will also be mostly men who will die in fighting over that rule, and last but not least will die to protect their women. Any society that wouldn't do so would be swept away by others who would.

Bob Patterson said...

I keep remembering the 1950's - when the constraints were few, the banks and businss heavily regulated and there was a feeling of possibility. Of course it was quite illusionary. The US had all the advanced mfg., strong currency and stranglehold on the rest of the world. JEANETTE SAGE - if you want to live an "outlaw" life. go to the fringes of order and civilization. Cities can be so attractive and convienient, but force a certain way of living, under a given power structure. Wm. Gibson got it right.

daelach said...

@ JMG:

"As for what happens when people overshoot their carrying capacity, why, they die, of course. What did you think would happen to them?"

That's not correct. They can also leave the country and go elsewhere. Historic example: Norway in the viking era. The laws were that the farm would go only to the eldest son in order to prevent the farms from fracturing until they would not have been able feed their owners. The excess sons had to go, so they boarded some dragon boats and tried their luck elsewhere, like in Lindisfarne or the Normandy. Of course, that wasn't exactly comfortable to the inhabitants of these places.

"I sometimes think we'd get a fairer system if we went the dark ages route and had contenders for office fight to the death with swords or something."

In the age of the British Empire, the young aristocrats had to go to war as officers. Clueless aristocrats isolated from reality either learnt quickly or were likely to be dead officers in short time, and not always killed by the weapons of the other side. Effectively, the result was some purging of the elite.

willow said...

The other day my husband brought me an empty five gallon bucket from the garbage at the ski and tackle shop just up the street. The inside of the bucket was coated with an indelible yellowish-orange green iridescence. The bucket was labelled "Worm-Glow"; according to the bucket label, characteristics of worm glow include: turning worms an indelible yellowish-orange green that was supposedly very attractive to fish; make worms more active! make worms stronger and healthier! and also it is environmentally friendly.

anyway, I decided then and there that if you can sell people a five gallon bucket of worm-glo, you can sell people anything. . . ..

Why aren't Americans voting? Why are they passive when polls show they believe the system is rigged for the rich, and that the future for their children will be worse than the present?

We are addicted to the need to buy, and have things no one could say they possibly need or even want. How do you turn an addict? Pretty hard when the drug is all they know. . . . .

Eric S. said...

I’m still having a hard time grasping the transition process from the complex market economies of today to the feudal economies of tomorrow. It’s easy to picture the bustling markets of Ancient Rome, or the command economy of Ancient Egypt, and it’s easy to picture the mature feudal economies of medieval Europe or Japan. But when looking at a civilization in the process of decline, even in the few texts that focus on everyday life in crises of decline rather than on the warbands and invasions (such as Rutilius Namatianus’ “Voyage Home to Gaul), the focus is on what has been lost. On senate halls being overrun by wilderness, on roads that are impassable due to an infrastructure that can “no longer control forest with homestead or river with bridge” or on the Egyptian grains and Greek wines that no longer make their way to markets. You don’t see much about what people are doing when the markets and roadways no longer function but nothing has yet replaced them. What systems of exchange will emerge between the market economies of today and the feudal economies of tomorrow? I know that the shadows of those are already beginning to emerge on the fringes of society, but what does the transition look like for a typical modern American who can’t think of the future as anything but a more gadget-ridden version of the present rarely cooks a meal from scratch much less grows food, works at Walmart for 15000 a year plus food stamps or as a data entry clerk for 30000 a year minus student loans when the bottom falls out? Do they all just die? That seems too simplistic and well… apocalyptic. But at the same time, they’ve been thrust into a new world they don’t know how to navigate, so what’s next for them? My mental image is of the first seeds of feudalism being planted in shanty towns made up of the downwardly mobile and newly homeless being granted food and protection from police and raiders by street gangs in exchange for a tribute of able-bodied children and teens to carry guns. That still feels like too clean of a transition though.

Rita said...

I am repeatedly struck by the way in which some of your reader's contemplation of the future immediately takes them to the "we won't educate women any more, homosexual rights will disappear, etc." position. These things are possible, but not inevitable, IMO. What do you think, or will the role of the sexes and minorities come up in a later post. Can be patient, will be patient, if that is the case.

aglehmer said...

Happy to report on one example of intentional disintermediation: last night, the Oakland City Council unanimously approved some zoning code updates that eliminated the $2,800+ conditional use permit fees that had been required for decades to start community gardens on vacant lots. This is a significant victory for dozens of community groups around town who've been eyeing open, blighted parcels for years, but didn't have a few grand to shell out to the local Planning Department. Of course, urban farms often help to appreciate local property values, and thus, may end up generating more tax dollars for the city than will be lost from foregone fees. But it's still gratifying to see broad-based community support -- and official government backing -- to a much-needed code update that will encourage folks to reconnect with their food, get their hands dirty, and maybe even strengthen neighborhood bonds.

- Aaron Lehmer-Chang, Oakland

beneaththesurface said...

An example of cutting out the middlemen and disintermediation in which I participate in: I'm a member of an underground food co-op in my city neighborhood; 95% of food I buy is bought there. It's all-volunteer, only 100 members, operating in the basement of a row house with no sign outside to indicate a business is there. Members pay wholesale price for the food, plus a small mark-up to cover other coop costs, but we don't have to pay for anyone's salaries or lots of other costs that official businesses would have. It has existed for over 40 years, and even though we are violating various business laws, we've never been shut down. We try to keep a low profile. The business association in our neighborhood knows about us, but so far has never spent the effort in getting us shut down.

There are many aspects of our co-op that are probably illegal, but they are the very features I love about it:

--We have an arrangement with a more established food co-op in the area to get all their good cheese that is past the sell-by date. They can't legally sell it, so they give it to us, and we sell it for less than 10% the original cost. I regularly buy blocks of cheese for only .15, that otherwise would have landed in the dumpster.

--Any produce that is starting to go bad we sell at reduced cost. This reduces food waste, and we can get some pretty good deals for produce that is mostly good.

--Food that has started to grow moldy we put out for free. Those of us who don't mind cutting off the mold get free food, plus reduce food waste.

--Sometimes individuals bake items to sell at the coop, like bread or granola bars. Since we're outside the radar of business inspections, even though the baked goods are made in unlicensed kitchens, we get away with it.

While they're laws that forbid these kind of business practices, if one is careful enough to keep a low profile, sometimes one can get away with it. I have no qualms with participating in illegal activity like this that I know is harmless and a saner choice.

Bill Pulliam said...

exiledbear -- The Farm (15 miles down the road from me) has not been a commune for 30 years; that phase only lasted for their initial dozen years or so. They remain an intentional community, with collective ownership *of the land,* but people own their own houses and other personal property, pay dues, etc. They very much function in a cash economy now, internally and externally. Economically they are now essentially just a gated community with their own private school and a lot of commons. A few counties away, Short Mountain Sanctuary still functions mostly as a commune, but they do not attempt to be internally self-sustaining and have a mission that is more spiritual/social/cultural.

As for the Amish, around here there "Old Order" is a dying breed. Most use power tools, gasoline and diesel powered farm equipment, and are increasingly tied into and dependent on the outside market economy. As I say about one Amish friend of mine, he has a newer car, a better camera, a more expensive cell phone, and a shorter beard than I do...

The Old Ways mostly survive in books and among re-enactors. It will remain to be seen if these seeds are adequate.

Marc -- you mentioned "transition towns." I live in one of those, and there is next to nothing going on. They embraced some weird oxymoronic thing called "financial permaculture," slapped the word "green business" on everything, and then when the financial collapse came they seem to have sputtered away. It seems to now be reduced to quasi-survivalist "preppers." Not sure, but I think it may have been that old universal buggaboo of clashing personalities. I was never involved with them myself.

Laylah said...

@daelach your entire post to @karendetroit is a perfect example of what makes Women's Country so appealing to people without Y chromosomes -- after enough repetitions of the idea that a woman's only or greatest value is as a broodmare, that she is too weak ever to defend herself or assert her own rights, and that those ideas are "natural" and impossible to avoid rather than a product of the speaker's beliefs, the idea of walking away from the whole gender-relations mess starts to sound really tempting.

@willow that's exactly WHY people aren't voting -- if the system is rigged in favor of the corporations, what does it matter which puppet they're currently buying off? To get engaged in voting, activism, or some other kind of movement for change, you have to believe that it's *possible* to change things for the better. That belief is at a serious ebb these days.

Jon from Virginia said...

There is a great book, "The Other Path" by Hernando de Soto about the "informal" economy in Peru. I read the stories in it as "capitalism triumphs over the lead weight of bureaucracy", but your last posts have changed my mind. Now the same stories read as "limiting disintermediation by small scale corruption". They're still great stories, though. Read the bus factory story!

Ed-M said...


Another fine article! I especially like your take-down of the so-called 'free market'. It really is unfree, in every sense of the word. One really must prostitute oneself in order to become some corporation's slave.

Re your reply to Ecologist: yes, I expect things to get even uglier and people even nastier as the market economy and market society continue to collapse, too.

Now on the elections front: yes, people did vote for the GOP, almost across the board, because of his failed presidency and Congress' inability to work together, plus Obamacare! But I really don't expect any change except what the GOPsters have been "threatening", ie, they'll try to push through draconian pieces of legislation that Obama will veto, they'll even gut Obamacare (the individual mandate they will leave in place, and give it some TEETH), but they won't get rid of it. And yes, they'll try to impeach the President as well. On that last bit, maybe they should ask Gingrich, Livingston and Hastert how well the previous attempt went over for them and their GOP majority house.

Mettrodome said...

Part of what makes for a feudal system such a scary idea is the lack of any balance or influence on the system if you're not the one in charge. In your example, if the Baron decided that Higg must take on more responsibilities for less reward, what is to prevent this? The church was an outside force that could mediate fairly, but over time they proved to be corruptable and their influence has since dimminished both politically and culturally. I know of no other force ready to take on that role in our society. I understand that you are bringing up this idea as something that is likely to happen, not that you approve of it, but just my two cents on why there may be some fear at the prospect. The only solace is that even a terrible lord would still have more sould than the best of corporations.

exiledbear said...

I can't help but salivate over the idea of a society that doesn't really need money

Well, whether you want it or not, more money is what they're about to give you. Japan has gone full retard with monetization, they are funding all their deficit spending with money printing now.

This will eventually infect all the other paper systems out there, since they're all interlinked with each other.

It's just a question of when at this point.

Not to say that afterwards, when people stop taking their salary or showing up to their job seriously, then the use of money will probably fade away.

daelach said...

@ Willow: voters are passive because there is nothing to vote for or against. They can vote faces, but not politics.

The political right to vote can't be separated from the economic question who can afford the agitation, just as the political right of press liberty can't be separated from the economic question who owns the press.

Besides, no matter for whom they vote and what he/she promised to do afterwards, the voters will be cheated anyway. Every little shop is liable that the products sold actually meet the promises of the ads, but politicians have made the laws so that this principle doesn't apply to them.

So if it doesn't matter who wins the elections because it will roughly be the same afterwards anyway, there is no point in voting.

Except of course some protest voting, which is basically how a fascist movement gets going. Because the so-called democratic parties have long since abandoned the voters and democracy alltogether.

Vicky K said...

JMG, without sounding too pissy, I do want to counter your opinion that female led or fully egalitarian cultures are fantasy or utopian.

The book Sex at Dawn makes a good case for a biological tendency for humans to be matrilineal rather than patriarchal. This is not a mirror image of patriarchy.

Bonobo's and humans are the only great ape with occult ovulation. That is, sexual activity is unlinked to only times of fertility. Females are more or less sexually available regardless of fertility status. In great contrast to the other apes which have clear signals for availability. Maybe as little as a couple weeks every few years. Plus some male sexual characteristics [gonad and penile size relative to body size] that put us squarely in the matrilinial camp versus the chimp or gorilla modes of mating and social organization. This is not trivial variation.

Obviously we have the capacity to be patriarchal as that is the norm for several thousand years. It seems to be tied to civilization itself. And may have to do with the institutionalized violence towards members of the group rather than the violence directed outward towards competing groups. In simpler societies there is solidarity within the group and the other groups are demonized. In a civilized society the hierarchical stratification allows for much more institutionalized in-group violence.

I am not arguing that simpler cultures are not violent. It does seem that egalitarian cultures are found in hunter gatherer cultures almost exclusively. In herding cultures it appears that whichever sex owns the animals is the dominant sex. The concept of property has arisen.

There are lingering cultures of more egalitarian and or matrilineal bent even now. Which certainly indicates that whatever human nature is, it isn't exclusively patriarchal by inclination. The biggest indicator to me that patriarchy as a social option is a kind of forced condition is the amount of policing and social conditioning it takes to keep it going. Reproductive rights of women are still being wrangled over in our congress. Jeez

It is funny to me that one of the reasons men think patriarchy is so swell is, like rock stars, it is about access to sex. At least for the alpha's and beta's. In matriarchy's it is far more common for there to be sex for everyone ad lib. I am not painting a sexual paradise, but something a lot closer to it than what we have now.

Isn't it telling that when the civilized conquer the tribal or H/G cultures they always say how lazy and overly sexual they are, justifying their taking of the land and destroying the culture?

roland said...

totally off topic:
just finished star's reach.
what a great read.
the elwusses surely cracked me up.
that is once i got the joke.
Would it be too much to hope for another novel that explores the history of this fascinating world?

you are not talking about the clarence shire by any chance? if so we should get together for a beer some time.

Johnny said...


This is my first time posting but I've read many of your books and regularly read this site. This is fairly off topic, but this link really made me think of you and didn't know how else to send it to you:

YJV said...

@Cherokee: that's interesting, because here in Canberra October's been quite cold, it even dropped below freezing several nights, with wild temperature variations. I haven't lived here long enough to know if that's funny stuff.

@JMG: an update on the article I posted earlier, a 'less polemic source' indeed, in fact a central mouthpiece of American imperialism:

Also, as far as hare-brained ideas go this is the worst I've seen in a long while. Even advocates of progress are turned off:

Robert Mathiesen said...

You make it all sound so simple, daelach, in your reply about Women's Country. It's not, really. The "Men's Country" that your argument foretells is a fragile one, with many weaknesses.

But first of all, societies are not sentient organisms in and of themselves. The sort of logic you outline, though easy enough for most individual people to carry out, is beyond the capacity of people in the mass, or of any society. (That's the howling big error in popular sociobiology.)

But there's more to consider, and it is -- or it should be -- well worth highlighting here ...

Most men have hardly any idea of the things women talk about when there are no men around, or the determination with which certain kinds of information are kept from most men by most women -- and especially how much a few women, even in our days, know about certain things that men hardly ever pay much attention to. For the women, this is an effective means means of gaining and keeping power subtly when the other side (= men) has the preponderance of physical strength.

In the world that's coming, child mortality will be very much higher, and adult mortality significantly higher, than at present. Individual deaths will be much less likely to be investigated, for deaths will be mere everyday happenings, arousing less suspicion than they do now.

Remember that many subtle means of dealing death lie firmly in the hands of those who cook, and brew, and preserve food, and gather food in the wild.

When oppression becomes too great, oppressors often tend to die off in larger numbers than formerly ... That tendency can show up, for instance, in a greater number of male babies who do not survive the early weeks of their life, or a greater number of warriors who do not respond well to treatment of wounds that would not have killed their great-grandfathers if treated in ways that seem the same to an outsider.

The subtle ways to deal with any imbalance or any oppression too great to bear, are endless.

Cake the Small said...

6 Nov 2014 Sydney Morning Herald article about the end times of Japan's market economy:

Chris G said...

JMG - really excellent essays here. I think for a lot of people, this area and the last, regarding intermediation, and its Dis-, are where they first begin to see that things are really seriously amiss in our cultural narrative that lulls people into the meaningless consumerism and occupations and droll temporary pleasures of a civilization that's really already dead, just kinda stumbling around hoping to find someone living with a brain to eat...

Anyway, here's an example of developing totally harmless black markets that the useless class wants to crush: it's a food market, that is technically not permitted, thus illegal, that spontaneously puts on a show of being a picnic whenever some bureaucrat arrives ...

Captcha 1314

John Michael Greer said...

Kutamun, I didn't know that Australia also had one horse towns -- I thought they were purely an American phenomenon! The phenomenon of local governments busily whoring themselves and their localities to the nearest source of money, alas, is far from unusual.

Raymond, actually, "the law is unenforceable because the area is overcommercialized" makes perfect sense in English, so long as you remember that "overcommercialized" means "good at bribing the police"... ;-)

Spanish Fly, well, it's a work of fiction, after all! The idea is that the Greek Golden Dawn party becomes a template for anti-EU agitation throughout southern Europe, and that sparks insurgencies in several places; still, that's only one of many things that could happen.

Unirealist, thank you. I don't offer feudalism as a utopia; it's simply what tends to emerge once a civilization finishes crashing, because it has a very high degree of resilience, which more complex social forms generally lack.

Stunned, hmm! Interesting. I could be wrong, of course.

Rhisiart, that's the sort of community around the edges of the existing order that, under the right circumstances, becomes the seed from which a new and less complex order can sprout. Of course it can be crushed as well if the circumstances are wrong, but that's the risk you run.

Hadashi, funny!

Trog, I've had similar experiences, and they reinforce my enthusiasm for a TV-free life.

Sleisz Ádám, I think it depends on what you're used to. In much of the rural US, people are much happier having decisions made locally, even if they're made by corrupt local politicians, than they would be having decisions made by faceless bureaucrats a thousand miles away.

Raven, fascinating. I borrowed the name from Tolkien, actually.

Crowandsheep, interestingly enough, I'm rereading The World as Will and Representation right now. Yes, Schopenhauer used to insist that Hegel was a deliberate fraud, who set out to make himself look like a deep philosopher by deliberately stringing together incomprehensible statements so that everybody would think he was too profound for them to understand. All things considered, I think the old grouch of Frankfurt was probably right.

John Michael Greer said...

Marc, my experiences so far with Transition Towns and ecovillage projects doesn't give me much encouragement, but your mileage may vary, of course.

M, your town is close enough to a big city to whore itself out to the machine. Mine is a good hour's drive from the nearest point where that's taking effect, thus the difference.

Phil, I tried to come up with some way to work in a boson joke with Higg son of Snell, but couldn't think of one!

Kyoto, Richard Heinberg's on the respectable end of the peak oil scene, and he and Post Carbon Institute need to be able to point to a coherent plan for getting through the approaching mess when people in power demand one -- even though I think they're aware that such a plan will never be adopted. One of the reasons I value my position on the lunatic fringe is that I don't have to divert energy into such exercises. (Besides, if I need to point to a plan, I can simply point to Richard's -- it's a good one.)

Cherokee, exactly. Local rule always involves some element of local responsibility, if only the fear that one of the locals will put an arrow or a bullet in your back the next time you go hunting.

Irishwildeye, I'm glad to hear it. The Irish people got screwed by that "bailout" scam -- if Ireland had gone ahead and done what Iceland did, you'd be out of recession by now, and I think a lot of people know it. As for the difference in working hours from the Middle Ages to now, I wonder if you could document how many hours a day, how many days a year peasants worked in Ireland under British rule, and compare it to current conditions -- that might be interesting to contemplate.

Karim, elected democracy and civil rights are not necessarily related to one another; in fact, elected democracies have routinely been guilty of extreme violations of human rights, just as nonelected governments have quite often granted extensive civil rights to their citizens. How leaders are chosen and what standards of conduct they obey are not necessarily related to one another!

Raven, thanks for the link.

Jonathan, yes, and that's also a good approach. The gift economy is a classic way of arranging the distribution of goods and services, after all.

William, that's a long and tangled tale. Talk to the local oldtimers sometime about how things unfolded as the lumber mills and fisheries shut down.

Bear, feudal systems pop up pretty consistently in the wake of a fallen civilization, so I suspect some variant of one is in our future, too.

Ben, thanks for the recommendation!

John Michael Greer said...

Rita, the Dalits are feeling the same draw that brought millions of people out of Europe's poorest nations into the US in the 19th and 20th centuries. It'll be interesting to see whether that draw survives the transformation of the US into a has-been power.

Onething, thank you. I don't know how easy it is these days to find details about the medieval economic theory of the just price -- modern economists have gone out of their way to snub it, of course -- but it might be worth looking into.

Shane, preserving the common law tradition strikes me as a very good thing, too. Any thoughts about how to do it?

Bill, good -- yes, the sort of mature feudalism I outlined comes after some centuries of less organized and more haphazard arrangements, and I'll make time to talk about those as we proceed.

Hector, the impromptu local militia of peasants headed by a local landowner on a horse is what eventually turns into feudalism, rather than the other way around -- so you're onto something. More on this as we proceed.

Kyoto, exactly.

Kendo, the large cities that are on the coasts are going to be underwater in the next couple of centuries. Those further inland will either be abandoned or, like Rome in the post-Roman dark ages, will be inhabited by a tiny fraction of their pre-decline population. A large city can only sustain itself if it can bring in very large amounts of resources from outside, and that capacity goes away in a dark age; there are also public health issues, which I'll be getting to as we proceed. Remember that the population at the bottom of the curve will be much smaller than it is now, and a disproportionate fraction of the dieoff will happen among the urban population. More on this later.

Claudia, I'm minded to agree. It's hard to say for sure, but my take is that something fundamental has shifted in gender relationships in North America, at least, and societies here in the future will not conform to the sort of stereotypes you get from the right these days. For that matter, the women of dark age Europe were not exactly a bunch of fainting wallflowers -- historical records and literature alike are full of women who were enthusiastic participants in the savagery of the time.

Shane, a lot of my readers use social media, a friend volunteered to set up a Facebook page for my novel, and since book sales put food on my table, it seemed reasonable to post a discussion of that here. Do I use social media? Bright gods, no -- I'd sooner dine daily on live tarantulas. Still, I'm not in the business of telling other people what to do.

Gunnar, no question, the market economy has no shortage of fatal flaws when confronted with the limits to growth -- I simply focused on one of them. The two you've named are also in there, of course.

Bob, exactly. It's easy to feel optimistic about the future if every other industrial nation on the planet has been bombed halfway back to the dark ages.

Daelach, of course you're right that some can try to migrate. Under most circumstances, the death toll for would-be migrants under those conditions is extremely high, but it's an option.

Bill Pulliam said...

Just thinking about land ownership... and the difference between you "owing" your land versus the lord "owning" the land and granting you the right to live on and work it. Well, in our current system, what does "owning" the land really mean? It means that society, in the form of the government, agrees that you can live on the land, profit from it, and do whatever things with it that the law allows. And if you fail to follow these rules, you will be fined. And every year you must pay your taxes. If you fail to pay your taxes, or fail to pay your fines, your land is taken away from you and "sold" to someone else.

So I'm failing to see a huge difference here...

Kyoto Motors said...

As an aside, I've heard that deep fried tarantulas are a popular delicacy in Cambodia. I saw it on a documentary on ... TV! I can't begin to imagine what they would taste like. Personally I'd sooner try roasted ants (again) or maybe grasshoppers.
As for Facebook, well, I was a little stunned, but as a (disciplined) user myself I will defend the practice simply by saying it is slightly uselful tool in some regards, and (given the discipline/ disinterest)a minor waste of time at worst...
What's more, one could possibly describe this comments forum as a type of social media, proving that the technology/medium is not inherently a bad thing...

John Michael Greer said...

Willow, Americans aren't voting because they don't actually have a choice between options that matter. In 2008 they voted for a man who promised "hope" and "change," and then gave them six more years of the same policies they'd just gotten from George W. Bush. If the Democrats want to claim to be an alternative to the GOP, it would help if they acted like one...

Eric, you're missing the crucial point, which is that the bottom doesn't drop out; it just keeps leaking, and individuals fall out of it -- losing their jobs, their homes, etc. That's what makes the transition as gradual as it is; at any given point, there are some people who have already collapsed and are finding their feet in the new Third World economy of deindustrializing America, some who have just fallen and may or may not survive, and some who are insisting at the top of their lungs that it can't happen to them -- until it does.

Rita, for what it's worth, I don't think it's inevitable, either. The whiny tone I hear so often from men who insist that it is inevitable is one of the things that makes me think that.

Aglehmer, excellent -- that's really good news. I hope that sort of thinking catches on more broadly.

Beneath, that's also very good to hear. That sort of underground economic arrangement is probably the wave of the future, at least in large parts of the US.

Jon, thanks for the recommendation! I'll put it on the to-read list.

Ed-M, I don't expect any significant change until the wheels fall off the political system, however that happens. We may have two parties but we have only one set of policies, and they don't work. Gah.

Mettrodome, well, how much power do you have to influence the behavior of a bureaucrat or local politician who decides to put some additional financial burden on you? There really isn't that much difference.

Vicky, I didn't say that. I said that drawing your model for a gynocentric culture out of a science fiction novel probably wasn't a good idea. Of course there are variations in how egalitarian or hierarchically stratified human societies can be, and a galaxy of variables determines how that works out. Mind you, I'm far from certain that a matriarchal society would be by definition any less oppressive than a patriarchal one, but that's another matter.

Charles Blair said...

Hello. I'm not sure my question belongs precisely here, but since this is part of a much longer train of thought, it is probably not inappropriate to put it here. Also, let me apologize in advance if you've already answered it; if so I'll read the relevant response.

My question is whether anything argues against our society's (whether American, Chinese, Indian, or whichever is in a position to do it) reaching "escape velocity", by which I mean developing a source of energy that is not fossil-based. One hears of such things periodically in the science press.

I can think of several arguments against this. For example, the fossil-based energy it will take to perfect those technologies is more than is available, or society as we know it will collapse before we can do it. But is there any way we can demonstrate that it can't happen, other than that it didn't happen in the past?

Stoics, among others, had a cyclical view of history. Yours is an empirical point of view. Empirically, then, can we guarantee that this vision will come to pass in some way, shape, manner or form, or is it possible that our society (again, thinking of "our" very broadly) will achieve "escape velocity", i.e., escape from past patterns?

xde345 said...

JMG, given the popular saying about those who forget their history being prone to repeat it, it would be interesting to compile a list of relevant "lessons" that history has actually taught us. The list would include lessons about speculative bubbles, utopian societies, and collapsing civilizations, among others. I'm sure you can see how such a list would be useful to future generations as well.

Violet Cabra said...

There is a detail from your essay that I didn't quite understand - with out a 'market' how does Higg son of Snell have a billhook made, presumably, by the local smithy?

Let's say that Higg broke his billhook. Would he arrange to get a new one by trading a sow with the smithy, promise a concrete fraction of his years crop or some other arrangement entirely?

Even a feudal system, as stripped of social complexity and efficiency as it is needs skilled laborers to function. Blacksmiths and thatchers come immediately to mind. I imagine that artisans are caste-bound to their profession, but am not sure. Could Higg become a smithy if he studied on his off days and weekends, or is the feudal system arranged to prevent most all social mobility?

patriciaormsby said...

Being in Japan, I don't have much American history at my fingertips. But I saw the update on Archanglesk. I wonder if a paragraph or two on Commodore Perry's black ship expedition to open up Japan--the sudden shift from feudalism to modern industrial capitalism--would be of interest.

i see you are very busy (=popular, you deserve it), so if I don't have a specific question, I may urge you not to respond if I'm just giving information of general interest. I note lots of people take time to read through the comments here. You moderate them well.

One thing that is different about the current collapse "this time" is its universality. I admit that is a trifling point, if the average person in the past couldn't just pick up and move to a better location. OTOH, my great grandparents left Germany when they saw where it was headed, and there are lots of ex-pats sitting around in various countries making bets on how our respective domiciles are going to fare.

Japan is heading toward the drain, and will soon start circling it. With a food self-sufficiency ratio of 39%, which will be less when fossil fuel inputs decline, things are not going to be pretty here. Intermediation has advanced in Japan possibly even more than in America, because the people are very patient and conservative, and they go along with it.

Thirteen years ago, my husband and I moved to a deeply rural part of Japan and began organic gardening. In order to buy farmland in Japan, one has to have farmer qualifications, which can be either inherited or obtained by renting a specified land area and cultivating it for three years, documenting this effort.
(It was a laudable attempt to keep farmland from falling to rampant speculation during the bubble years. Of course, there were loopholes, and a lot of farmland got lost to development anyway.)

My husband managed to obtain these qualifications this year, and started looking for suitable farmland. Six months later, the only land we've been shown was places we could have bought without the qualifications: highly taxed residential land and waste land with no farming potential. We received no written documentation of our qualification, just oral assurance. We are told we would not be eligible for subsidies anyway, without which it would be economically impossible to farm full time. The agricultural association refuses to tell us about land coming up for sale. We've learned that the mostly elderly farmers who receive subsidies have to toe the line with the ag association, or they lose their subsidy. That means they must buy all their seed, chemicals and equipment at exorbitant prices from thea ag association. This has bankrupted many of them, and they keep taking out loans through the ag association to keep going. Many are so deeply in debt that they have disowned their children to prevent them from having to inherit the debt. So after they die, the ag association takes over the farm. We see lots and lots of fallow land reverting to forest, from which it is very hard to recover. If there is an individual or corporate owner, they cannot let it go fallow, or severe taxation is applied retroactively. I suspect the ag association expects to sell these lands when it can be done profitably to non-farming interests.

Meanwhile, the ag association invests its wealth in semi-legal or sometimes illegal ventures that are profitable--much like the mafia.

I won't go on, but the government is simply riddled with such examples. My husband is totally against going outside the system to get by. He'll be furious if I defy him and buy marginal waste land, but it would be better than having nothing at all.

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

At least when things go bad under feudalism, you know who to blame: the local lord in the castle, all the way up to the king, if need be. A lot to be said for such a state of affairs, and it tends to "keep things real": maybe not better, but at least not a gigantic web of lies and villainy with a spider you can't see at the center. As Chesterton said, "there as more courage to the square mile in the Middle Ages" than there is now. I've been thinking about feudalism: some to work, some to fight, some to pray. Those that may do best are those who do all three, along with activities derivative therefrom, such as scholarly study, magic, skilled arts and trades, etc, which build on the topsoil. If a transition society could encourage all three, or develop a minority that was adept in all three, they might stand some chance of extracting derivative institutions like local democracy, cosmopolitan diversity in larger areas, technology, etc., all the "stuff" people like about the modern age. But I don't think that will be possible as long as modern people keep imagining that "those brutes back then" were inhuman freaks who lacked a shred of resemblance to the current species of homo sapiens. Did someone on this link note the recent study that showed that the average Victorian middle-upper class person had a higher IQ than their contemporaries? Dark Age peasants managed to learn and write and read Latin, salvage libraries, create hospitals and infirmaries, and basically re-create a collapsed world in appalling conditions. Surely intellect has some share in this, and not just the heart?

wiseman said...

Amazing turn of in India a number of educated Dalits (the fourth caste) feel that cities & capitalism/America can provide salvation. Infact, it is an international North-South thing where the industrial city saves the disempowered from the rural agrarian shackles.

Umm, it's not just a feeling, it's real. It feels good when someone doesn't want to take a bath after shaking hands with you or doesn't care if they you are sharing a meal with them.

LewisLucanBooks said...

I've often thought I live in a kind of feudal situation. I'm pretty old and retired, but managed to rent a place from an old friend. So, he's friend / neighbor / landlord. The Lord of the Manor.

I pay very little rent, but there are some (very informal) obligations. And benefits. I have to keep the place up. if the roof blows off, he'll replace it. If the hot water heater blows out, it's my responsibility. I can grow and forage quit a bit of my own food. I always make sure to gift some of it to my landlord. I use the main floor of the house, but the basement and second floor are reserved for his storage. I'd like to put in a wood stove, but he judges the chimney to be to "iffy", even with a new liner. Last week I took him to run errands in town (his vehicle, his gas) and today, a doctor trip the long distance up to our state Capitol.

The Lord of the Manor isn't in good physical shape, but, has promised to write into his will that I can stay here as long as I want. There is a Lady of the Manor (who I keep on the right side of), an evil step-son lurking about the place and two daughters who live at quit a distance. Things could get interesting when the Lord, passes.

My 11 hens are now laying about 5 dozen eggs a week. I gift most of them. Some to my landlord, some to two friends who have skills I don't. The Postal lady gets an occasional dozen. Anything left over goes to the ladies at the library. I like giving stuff away. I'm looking forward to producing more fruits and veg to gift. When I bother to think about the gifting, if I want to be calculating about it, I just think of it as "social currency."

Dandy said...

JMG, I hope your post next week (or the week after) will delve into the details of a non monetary economy. I understand the basic structure of bartering, have even done it, but don't quite see how to fill a grocery list that way. Not to mention the fact that it's sometimes tricky, but at least straight forward to set prices on one's labor/goods in dollars but trying to convert that to pounds of apples, smoked ham, or home repairs is utterly mystifying. Otherwise, I'm sure whatever you write will be as wonderful to read as it is every week!

John Michael Greer said...

Roland, thank you! I don't have any plans at the moment for a sequel to Star's Reach, but I haven't ruled it out, either. In the meantime, may I encourage you to try my earlier SF novel The Fires of Shalsha?

Johnny, the native Hawai'ians know what they're talking about, as usual. It's the haoles that are clueless about Pele, again as usual.

YJV, thanks for the links -- and yes, that last is way up there on the idiocy scale.

Cake, we do seem to be moving into the endgame, don't we? It promises to be entertaining, in a Grand Guignol sort of way, from here on in.

Chris, thank you -- and the picnic disguise is great! Many thanks for the link.

Bill, there's basically no difference. Why do you think the term is still "landlord"?

Kyoto, that's why I specified live tarantulas -- I'm fond of eating arthropods generally, with crab and lobster near the top of the list, so would be willing to try a well-cooked tarantula.

Charles, okay, let's start with the basics. Just coming up with a non-fossil energy source won't cut it; we'd need an energy source that was at least as abundant and concentrated as fossil fuels, and preferably much more so, which could be used without wrecking the biosphere. We'd also need replacements for all the other nonrenewable resources we're drawing down so rapidly, and these replacements would also have to have no negative impacts on the biosphere. Finally, we'd need some economically viable way to make all our pollutants permanently harmless. Lacking any one of those steps, all you've got is a brief delay in our civilization's face-first collision with the limits to growth.

Now, do we have any reason to think that any of these things can be supplied? No, we don't. More than a century of increasingly frantic research into alternative energy sources has failed to turn up anything that can substitute for fossil fuels on an economically viable basis, and the other two issues aren't looking very good either. Nor do we have any reason to think that such a thing as "escape velocity" in the sense in which you're using the term exists at all. I would describe it as a faith-based claim, more like the reasoning behind the cargo cults than anything else. While one can't prove its impossibility, proving a negative is notoriously hard -- I also can't prove that there isn't a teapot of solid gold in orbit around Pluto, but that doesn't mean that belief in such a teapot is justified.

XDE, that's an interesting project! I wonder if the funding could be gotten to carve those lessons on a stone monolith somewhere.

Violet, Higg and the blacksmith would barter for the billhook, of course. Two suckling pigs and a barrel of ale later, Higg is the owner of a nice new billhook, which will still be in use in his grandson's time.

Patricia, none of this surprises me. That's one of the reasons that seaborne refugees from Japan have featured in several of my stories about the deindustrial future.

Matthew, of course intellect had a very large share in it. C.S. Lewis comments in The Discarded Image that medieval Europe was a profoundly bookish society, with deep respect for the written knowledge that had survived from the classical past, and from the days of the early monastery schools onward, logic was a fundamental part of every literate person's education. I'll be talking about this in much more detail in the upcoming series of posts about education.

John Michael Greer said...

Dandy, remember that in the kind of economy we're talking about, you're not going to a store to buy food. You're growing nearly all of what you eat, and your household also supplies most of your other needs, too, so that only rarely do you need to get something you or your family members don't make. If you're having a hard time imagining this, get a good book on the way people lived in colonial America, especially away from the cities -- it's pretty much the same sort of thing.

patriciaormsby said...

@Laylah In places with harsher climates and less competition from would-be conquerors, a more cooperative society can evolve. In areas with constant rivalry, women's rights get kicked to the basement. Still, China, which I find extremely misogynistic, managed to have female rulers, one of whom remarked that it just was not a job for women. She found she needed to employ brutality, for which she is still notorious.
Japan, by contrast, was protected by treacherous seas, making the defense of its coast a simple deal until modern times. They had elements of a matriarchy as recently as a thousand years ago (and actually, they still do, if you look hard enough). One of those was the high priesthood at the highest shrine in the land, Ise, passing from mother to daughter. During the medieval warring period, however, women's position really declined (and Buddhism also brought in misogynistic baggage it had acquired on the continent), and women's priesthood was abolished about 400 years ago. Women's rights in Japan have taken a big step forward in the modern time of peace, but I'm still typically paid half what a man would be.

Here, let me get out my crystal ball (Sears & Roebuck)...I see a time when women will really suffer because they cannot or will not be allowed to fight like men, and be called inferior again, as violent males vie for whatever resources still exist anywhere on planet Earth. That will eventually pass, though, and if you can get yourself and your daughters established on an island in the meantime, there may be brighter days. Wherever you happen to be, though, a determined woman has always been able to do what she wants to do--or else die trying, which is the fate of men, when you come to think of it.

On gay rights, outside of the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic dominated regions, the outlook is much brighter. In fact, in Medieval Japan, homosexual love was considered superior to heterosexual, largely because they had come to despise women so much as "impure."

KL Cooke said...

William Lucas

As I understood it,antidisestablishmentarianism was the second longest non-thechnical word in English. The longest until now was floccinaucinihilipilification. However, with your coinage of antidisintermediationarianists we have a new champ. Congratulations.

Raymond Duckling said...


Without doubt knowing how to grease the wheels of law has something to do with what's going on over here... but there's a novel aspect to this scenario. Either the bane or the fulfillment of modern democracy: the smart phone.

If you have a vassal, and the vassal has a smartphone, on election day he and his adult relatives can produce hard evidence of having voted for whatever candidate you told them. And if you have a couple hundreds of such vassals, it gives you chips to deal in the corridors of power that no mere bribes can buy.

KL Cooke said...

"For those of us who have children or who know and work with children, an issue that will recur is one of determining the time and method by which those children are to be educated about simpler times, agrarian societies, feudal relationships, useful crafts, etc."

I'm dealing with that issue now. I have twin granddaughters, age 9. I have been attempting to introduce them to the concepts associated with the decline of industrial civilization. Their mother, my daughter, ever an optimist, has chided me for this, on the grounds that it scares them.

Certainly I have no wish to scare them. On the other had I feel I would be remiss in permitting them to believe in a future similar to what they know now.

Donald Hargraves said...

Two points.

First: for those thinking about the elections, here's some figures from the "great state" of Illinois, one that had recently gone from a Democratic Governor to a Republican Governor:

(info from Wikipedia, so treat with however much salt you feel you need)
Gubernatorial Election 2006: 3,487,989
Presidential Election 2008: 5,528,499
Gubernatorial Election 2010: 3,729,989
Presidential Election 2012: 5,242,014
Gubernatorial Election 2014: 3,508,302

Also, while the Rauner got 7/8ths of the votes that Romney got two years ago, Quinn only got slightly more than 1/2 of the votes that Obama got.

The implications are obvious: The leftists love talking about "popular vote," but they seem hell-bent on finding Magical Men (or Women, in the case of Ms. Clinton) to fight their battles, whereas the Conservatives, Tea Partiers and Religionists are willing to fight every day (and every election). Further, it shouldn't surprise when "leftist presidents" keep tacking to the right – they're the ones in the agora day-by-day. FDR himself pointed to that point when he told a bunch of people wanting the progressive programs of the 1930s: "Good ideas – now go out and make me do them."

Second: There are legal documents from pre-Norman England in which woman are referred to as "he." This is because, in the post-Roman collapse, the idea of using gender for pronouns got thrown by the wayside in the attempt to create a language the various Germanic peoples could communicate with. Along with this, of course, women came close to actual equality – without having to hide behind stealth activities, as some of our distaff commenters have fantasized about. The necessities of Feudal society (cooperation and all that) are enough to destroy all but the barest shadows of Patriarchal (i.e. Male rule to the oppression of the female) society, and the English language of 1000 both echoed and enforced that equality.

Rita Narayanan said...

@wiseman said *Umm, it's not just a feeling, it's real. It feels good when someone doesn't want to take a bath after shaking hands with you or doesn't care if they you are sharing a meal with them.*

note to JMG and @wiseman with due respect I live in India and it is much better to make a point rather than act as if someone is a fool or an inhuman dud.

many of the points raised about the future by futurists would also be *not accepted* by modernity.It is also easy to live in 24 hrs hot water, electricity and A class public toilet world and think one would act as Jesus did.:) Thanks!

averagejoe said...

An excellent article as usual JMG. There was a perfect example of excessive intermediation (or excessive complexity as I like to call it) recently, when a 90 year old man in Texas along with 2 church ministers was arrested for feeding homeless people on the street. The local mayor criticised him for not leaving it to the local authority to deal with, no doubt because of the excessive regulations and procedures that must be followed by the local authority were not being met. Or perhaps the authorities think that he is hindering the real solution, i.e. people starving the death? There is another example of this in my home country, Scotland. A man has spent years in jail having been arrested for walking, naked. He is known as the ‘naked rambler’. An ex-military man, and no doubt psychologically damaged, who refuses to conform to society’s normal rules. The best solution would be if people and the authorities ignored him, but the law says otherwise.

Having read your articles for many years, I continue to ponder how the collapsing industrial empire will affect my, rather small country, compared to the US. I can see how such a large country as the US, can only continue to function in its current state thanks to oil. Virtually all food has to be transported over vast distances by truck to the customers. In the absence of oil, it will be impossible to maintain control as today. Adapting to a new normal is likely to be extremely disruptive and chaotic. But in a small country with a long history of civilisation such as mine, I can’t help but think it will be slightly different. Even Scotland’s ‘large’ capital city Edinburgh, is tiny compared to cities in the US. It existed without oil very successfully. I doubt the rural areas will become bandit lands like large parts of the US could. Old approaches to problems could well be re-invented. Local production of flour and paper, via watermills for example. Use of the existing canals for transporting goods, drawn by horse. New employment would be created as the farms surrounding the small towns and cities, de-mechanised and sought labour to replace machines. In essence a rural repopulation, counteracting the trend over the last 100 years of rural depopulation. I suspect political power will be devolved as well, mostly likely reluctantly. The recent failed attempt to get independence, was simply because the vote was too soon. As the economy continues to deteriorate, and crisis becomes the norm, rule by Edinburgh rather than distant London, will become an inevitable step. Power may well end up devolved more to local councils as well. Will this be sufficient to prevent the situation transforming (declining?) into some sort of neo-feudalism or even a new dark age? I’m not sure. It depends to how well society can adapt to its new circumstances. Some societies may cope better than others, depending on the types of values they have and there level of adaptability. Perhaps modern day Cuba a good proxy as to how a simplified Scotland could work, in terms of coping without technology and oil. What do you think?

Cherokee Organics said...


Many thanks! A handshake and a promise doesn't sound like much, but it is enough for me. Yes, and I would hold them to it too, in the most honest and brutal way that I could.

The thought popped back into my head this morning! I'd only just finished the chapter written by Galbraith in his book "The Age of Uncertainty" on "The rise and fall of money" and I admit that he spelled out the system and its history in such unambiguous terms that I freely admit that previous concerns about currency have now evaporated completely. Both you and he are correct, they will think of something is actually an adequate response to my former fears of a currency collapse in or a sell off of the US dollar.

Truly, I had little idea about the mechanisms of the money system before reading that, but oh boy is that one scary bit of text. The mechanism's are now all too clear to me...

Anyway, moving on. I'm first and foremost a pragmatic sort of a guy and I started thinking about a meme surrounding the economy that has seriously annoyed me of recent months. The answer finally bubbled to the surface this afternoon.

Historically, printing money has always led to inflation. It is hard to get around, but that is what generally happens. Few can dispute this too as it is grounded in history. A simple rule is involved: The greater the supply of money, the less stuff that money will be able to purchase.

Yet, time and time again I keep reading comments here saying, such and such reckons that we're all headed for a deflationary period. Whoopee for us!

Such claims have always annoyed me as they seem quite unusual an unexpected compared to historical events.

Yet, those same commenters can point to official inflation figures saying that inflation is low and all is good with the world of economics.

I always knew something was a bit off about those comments but never really had enough of a chance to think the subject through completely.

There are plenty of sharper tools in the toolbox than I, but I'm not heavily invested in the status quo so I have a bit of freedom that most don't enjoy.

Housing has always troubled me. It is my opinion that the hyper inflation that would usually rear its ugly head during an expansionary and prolonged period in the money supply (i.e. rolling the printing presses) is being expressed here in the housing market. I can't speak for other countries, but I've go a good feel for here.

People point to official inflation figures and cry, "but inflation is low". It is my gut feel that housing costs increases are often offset by reductions in the costs of many goods which are now manufactured offshore in really low cost environments or are just of a much lower quality than previous times. Both situations reduce costs for goods and thus the official inflation rate.

How else do you explain house prices for a two bedroom house in the inner north of Melbourne for well over AU$900,000. How else do you explain an increase of 15% for two years in a row in the housing market whilst inflation remains low?

Honestly, the thing that annoys me the most about the situation is that people that are in the housing market and looking for a quick buck, can be guaranteed to predict a deflationary outcome and cheer on the market, because it suits their worldview.

Older people that have enjoyed the benefits of that increase in their asset base due to rising house costs are just hoping for a deflationary event so that they can comfortably cruise through retirement.

But if you're locked out of the housing market and wondering how you are ever going to buy in at those prices, mate you'd be angry. And I mean really angry.

Now, I will say from memory, the house price bubble kicked off in earnest here at about the same time that our major trading partner - Japan - started quantitative easing way back in 2001. Coincidence? Hardly.

We've been had. It is that simple.


From Mr very unhappy - Chris

Cherokee Organics said...


Yeah, it has been warmer and drier here this year too, but not quite record breaking either.

Quite cold is a relative concept! If you moved from Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth or Darwin, it is no wonder you'd think that Canberra is cold. Elevated and well inland the summer days can be scorching hot and spent cooling off in the pool, whilst at night you may have to run the fire to keep warm. That's my memories of Canberra. I really enjoyed the botanical garden there, but I'm a self confessed plant and soil geek.

Mind you, Canberra is also officially in the ACT and not NSW to which the article referred to. I've actually been to quite a few of the towns mentioned in the article and they're hot and dry places.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Kutamun,

The extensive road side clearing and "management programs " ( chemical spraying) which you discuss has another name: kindling. Honestly, I've never seen so much dry fine material left in one spot for some moron to stumble onto. Such programs will come back to legally bite them in time. It hasn't worked out so well for the electricity distributors (or their customers) since the class action regarding Black Saturday. Plus it's not as if the chemicals don't leach into the soil and from there into the nearest waterway..... Nature always has the last laugh though, because the blackberries simply regrow from the damaged root systems. It is not as if they haven't evolved to survive the occasional drought which is what the councils are currently in the process of selecting for.

Just dumb.



Sleisz Ádám said...

You are probably right about regional differences, JMG. I respect the strong local community traditions of America as well as those of other countries. I sense that we would need more of this kind where I live.

A remark about the discussion on gender issues (though it may be interesting anyway): I think that the description of feudalism as a masculine world is not necessarily right. I agree that feudal politics is dominated by raw violence which is generally more fitting for males. Politics, on the other hand, plays a substantially smaller role in feudal life than we are used to. Most of the people is really only interested in the well-being of themselves, their family and local community regardless of the quarrels and wars of the lords or the "half-mythical" king. Such a life is mainly about adaptation to the environment and politics is mainly a part of that environment.

I think that true feminine nature can find fulfillment in those circumstances more easily than in our world of greed and pioneering. Of course, this is only advantageous for women with dominant feminine nature but perhaps it is still more common than the same quality in men.

thecrowandsheep said...

"I tried to come up with some way to work in a boson joke with Higg son of Snell, but couldn't think of one!"

How about: 'Upon the death of his father, Higg had to follow Snell's law, which in contrast to more bosontine systems, meant merely pledging loyalty to the local baryon.'


Er, back to Schopenhauer...if anyone is interested, I can recommend Rüdiger Safranski's excellent "Schopenhauer and the Wild Years of Philosophy" for, among many other things, a description of the exuberant climate around Hegel in Berlin in AS's younger days, from which he (that is AS) was rather alienated.

Most fascinating is the relationship between Goethe and a young Schopenhauer (Goethe and AS's mother were friends). From memory, I think Goethe said something like this of AS: 'With others I converse, with him I philosophize.'

Greg Belvedere said...

@Bike Trog

It also drives me crazy when I'm in a public place with a TV. I'm very conscious of my media intake and I feel like someone is trying to force-feed me the mental equivalent of the worst processed food. There is a small device you can put on your key chain called TV B Gone that will turn off any TV. I'm too frugal to buy one myself, but it is an option I consider whenever I'm in that situation.

Jon from Virginia said...

It occurred to me, after recommending "The Other Path", that others might find it dry, not a hoot as I do. Worse, the best parts of the bus factory story are from a remembered interview, not the book. So we begin in Peru in the early 70s, where 12 person buses and smaller mostly escaped official attention, so busy routes were swarmed with them. The transport union and MORAVECO, a national company, went together to build a regular bus and attempted to buy the necessary people and permits. Failing at that, they bought the Transport Ministers personal secretary and built the buses without permits. The Transport Minister, who was also a General in the Junta, cut the Ribbon for the first buses to come off the line, the newspapers put the picture on the front page, and "...the long list of businesses that feed on other businesses, and can’t be dispensed with because this or that law or regulation requires them to be paid their share." and their Ministry kin, were neatly cut out.

Kyoto Motors said...

As for browsing these comments, I was happy to discover the "collapse comments" feature which is only available at the top of the page:
Just thought I'd mention what I overlooked for son time...

MawKernewek said...

Of course Australia had one-horse towns, it was miners, many from Cornwall, who were the first free European settlers in any large numbers from the 1850s.

Therefore various settlements got set up that made no sense other than for the fact of a load of gold or copper etc. underneath the ground.

Bill Pulliam said...

I think this is a good time to repost the link to something I wrote 3 years ago about another Tennessean who is a radical revolutionary in his views on agriculture and economy, Jeff Poppin a.k.a. the Barefoot Farmer:

I've posted this here before several times, but the audience keeps changing. Jeff is adamantly opposed to the market economy in agriculture, thinks the commoditization of farming is one of the worst things humans have ever done. And, he actually walks his talk to the extent the law allows.

After having been negative on some of my Tennessee neighbors as to whether they were examples of real alternatives, I thought I should point out a counterexample.

And, the nickname I came up with for his theories and his practice is "happy hippie feudalism." Feudalism alive and well in the 21st Century in Tennessee, full of guitar strumming, good food, and happy scruffy people of all ages and genders. His 300 acre farm is not a commune, he owns everything, and he decides everything. And everyone else on the farm is perfectly fine with this arrangement. Of course it's not really feudal, since there are no sworn allegiances an the "serfs" can come and go as they please. But in a tighter economic situation, I expect that many would be perfectly willing to swear such an oath to Jeff in a heartbeat in exchange for protection, support, and stability. In spite of his firm rule, he is much beloved and respected.

rsuusa said...

Great post, as usual. I’ve spend decades looking for a non-market alternative.

While was in college I discovered that I could survive by hunting small game and foraging for wild foods with a lot less effort than was going to be required to finish college and grad school and get anything like a real job. I started hiking every weekend, and over holidays, and then combining holidays with weekends to create large blocks of time to experiment with living off the land. My experiment didn’t keep me much above subsistence and I also raided the occasional dumpster, thumbed a lot rides to get between public lands, and slept hidden on the flat roofs of strip malls when in towns. Your mention of the “…legal prohibitions…legal fiat or brute force” that keep people from finding other ways of meeting their needs reminds me of this experiment. During my experiment a series of hostile run-ins with police, sheriff’s deputies, rangers, and odd ball land owners, usually ranchers illegally on public lands, made it clear to me that the life of a modern hunter and gatherer was not going to be legal, safe, or easy. The areas where law enforcement, criminals, and angry agriculturalists were less of a problem were invariably remote, nearly inaccessible, picked over and polluted by a previous rounds of development, or left only pristine because the land was unsuitable for development and generally inhospitable to would be foragers and layabouts as well.

Decades later I find myself trying a more moderate approach, keeping my day job and living as simply as possible but, alas, this has also proven to be difficult. The intermediation that you discuss is very real; land use regulations, ostensibly environmental in nature, require me to overbuild and then limit how I can use the land to essentially commercial farming or development as a single family living area. Either way lots of unnecessary and environmentally damaging overbuilding are required by the codes. The state and municipal codes clearly get more restrictive over time such that right next door to my modest spread, of new growth woods and wet meadow, are hundreds of non-conforming uses. The list of things I cannot do on my own land, or for the most part on anyone else’s land, is too extensive to mention and I won’t even start to address the ridiculous the insurances that you are supposed to have but not quite legally required to have for all housing, roadways, and agricultural land uses.

On a positive note, I will put in a plug for Maine’s laws on liability for uninvited use of land. Basically, unless you intentionally or recklessly create a danger you don’t have any liability which means I don’t have to chase people off my property and, indeed, odd types come and go all the time. May they pass in peace.

anioush said...

Hello JMG, does your book have anything to do with this movie?

Eric S. said...

“It keeps leaking, individuals fall out of it losing jobs, homes, etc.”

And then at some point those individuals begin to puddle and condense into communities that interact, conflict, and mingle with older street communities in their own unique ways. And that sets the backdrop for the landscape of the future. And a history of late Rome won’t show that process because the people still writing at the time have yet to fall through the cracks. What will that look like for us though? Perhaps a good book on daily life in the shanty towns of the great depression, and a good study of life among the homeless and jobless in East Harlem might be a good starting point… But also, since the process is going on now, it’s not something that can be picked up in a book. I think instead of the aquarium my volunteer hours may be better spent a little closer to the real world where I can see this unfolding.

Another thought: I’m beginning to notice the conversation about gender roles in feudal systems. It reminds me a bit of the conversations in your “steampunk future” essays when people assumed that the return of the steam engine would lead to Victorian social hierarchies. There are plenty of examples of civilizations that have collapsed into a feudal economy or something resembling one without gender oppression being a part of the process. The one that floats to the top of my mind right now is the Massachusets culture that rose out of the collapse of the Hopewell civilization and ascribed most of their spiritual and political power to women (much to the frustration of the English), the Vikings had female warriors (and balanced a feudal economy with a democratic government), and the Welsh were matrilineal. The most dangerous thing about the myth of progress is the sense of complacency that comes with the belief that goals are achieved with the mere passage of time. The equal rights we’ve gained can be salvaged if we work for it like science or democracy or anything else worth keeping, but it may be an uphill battle much of the way.

Kyoto Motors said...

As for bike share programs in urban centers, we're talking about a highly complex internet dependent systems where the law of diminishing returns has ensured that the actual bikes are cumbersome and over-designed... The real low tech alternative is bike ownership: a relatively uncomplicated proposition. Of course bike ridership is dependent upon good roads and general safety, as well as its own share of industrial input...

escapefromwisconsin said...

Too bad Scotland finally abolished feudalism in 2004. they may need to reverse that lol:

onething said...

"daelach your entire post to @karendetroit is a perfect example of what makes Women's Country so appealing to people without Y chromosomes -- after enough repetitions of the idea that a woman's only or greatest value is as a broodmare, that she is too weak ever to defend herself or assert her own rights, and that those ideas are "natural" and impossible to avoid rather than a product of the speaker's beliefs, the"

The above type of commentary is why I have rejected that which passes for feminism for most of my lifetime. Somehow it got veered into a kind of desperate and angry denial of gender differences, in such a way as to reinforce (in my mind) the very thing which motivates feminism in the first place - the feeling that women are fundamentally inferior and less than men. If men go to war, we will join the army also. If women are prized for being the life link of the race, we will denigrate our own most holy function and say we are not brood mares, that sort of thing. If Daelech points out certain physical realities we will call it a belief system.

There is a better way, and I am intrigued by the poster who says matrilineal societies are in our nature. I suspect she is right and indeed the entire world seems to have become more male dominated a few thousand years back. What little I know of those ancient societies tells me that the reason women were held in esteem was that the people had certain understandings of women's value and it was not about being just as strong as men which they aren't, or not needing men which is balderdash. What we have lost is the proper reverence for women AS women.

Is it really to be entertained that Nature/God produced two genders as a waste of time?

Ah, I think I'll do a part two.

Ed-M said...


Yes, exactly. The only differences between the two are in the sideshow "social issues." And even then they don't deliver unless they are pushed, and their actions don't cost them political capital with the real rulers -- those that brung 'em.

Re: your reply to Willow (Americans don't have a choice between the two): 100% correct. Worse, we aren't even *allowed* a choice other than D's and R's due to the high hurdles presented to any would-be third, fourth and fifth parties not only by State election legal requirements, but also the /de facto/ requirements presented by the media: I'm talking about the high cost of running for public office and the manner the media handicap candidates when they, the media, state the candidates who don't raise immense amounts of money aren't "serious." See, it's a closed loop.

Which is why the only reason I vote these days is because of the ballot questions.

onething said...

The genders, part two.

The first thing that is needed is to stop reacting to Genesis, which was an obvious attempt to reverse the reality which human beings had lived with time out of mind. Nonetheless, the Genesis story contained covert hints - such as Adam saying he would call the woman Eve (life) because she would be the mother of the living. Genesis attempts to make Life secondary, a servant to the actual servant. Genesis has the creation of woman a kind of afterthought. But here's how I see things:

In the beginning, before manifestation, and eternally at the root (innermost dimension) of reality is unity, The One, the Buddhistic Void of pure potential, out of which all things arise. The first distortion of one is two. (The Tao gives birth to One, the One becomes Two..) Upon this two the machine of the universe runs. It generates the energy, it causes your heart to beat, it is everywhere, the genders are just one of its many manifestations.

In the beginning was one, and it was a bacterium, and it reproduced by dividing its genome into two, and those are called mother and daughter cells. Why mother and daughter? Because reproducing is the function, the primary function, of the female, and it is Life itself. It is the primal function of all existence. To deny that one's reproductive ability is one's highest function is like denying that the thing you most need to do right now is take another breath.

In order to better serve life a second gender was created, a holder of DNA and the reason for the existence of this second gender was just that - to help life by creating reserves and diversity and more change and development. The reason the male gender exists is *because* of the female. The reason the male gender exists is contingent upon the prior existence of the female. Therefore the fundamental existential drive and desire and need of the male is toward the female. We can talk about testosterone and all that, but testosterone is just a mechanism.

Everyone serves life because life is the fundamental attribute. The female serves life directly and the male serves life indirectly. The female exists in her own right because she is Life itself. God ought therefore to be represented as a Mother and not a Father because that would be more accurate if God is the source of existence.
Everywhere we see the glorified male. The larger and more powerful male, with his glorious mane, his elaborate antlers, huge tusks, leading the pride or the herd, often keeping a harem. Surely the male birds, though, have taken male beauty to its highest development. We have a pair of Chinese red-golden pheasants. Try googling that one. She's really a pretty little thing, but compared to her husband she might as well be a sparrow. And what does he do all day but court her? Constantly watch her? Parade up and down, flicking his cape at her? Who is it that does not need to elaborate herself beyond her basic nature which is female and who is it that gets to enjoy male beauty?
In the social mammals,(lions, elephants) who is the family ? The family is the females, and their daughters and granddaughters, and it is to this family that males want desperately to be admitted, risk and waste themselves to be admitted. Yes, they throw their weight around and have their rewards, but it's all about the females who are IT.

Let's do a part three.

onething said...

The genders, part three

So-yes the stallion enjoys his harem, but it is because he is utterly driven not to be a failure as a being, the purpose of which is to function as a male, without the harem which he leads and serves. If the male, who has a brief contribution in time reproductively, wants to hang around, he must make himself useful. He does this in various ways in various species by serving the community, the basis of which is female. The female holds the life card, always.

It is all of a piece, this reality. The universe uses patterns over and over, like fractals.
As I see it, women have been bewitched by the reactionary but very clever ploy of the males these past millenia, thus the human world is out of balance psychologically. No wonder women have an anger - because in our deepest being we know things are askew, that our worth is denigrated, surely not least in our culture by a 3-personed God of whom all three are male! But I see modern feminist ideas fighting the problem while remaining bewitched. The wound is deep and no one is happy when women lose their natural power, one of which is to reign in the males. I hold women accountable for letting them run amok.

What women need to understand is that men really have no choice. We are the purpose of their existence, they are hardwired to serve us and even keep us happy. You can see these things if you look a little deeper into circumstances that may seem otherwise on the surface. To be sure, a boy will insult another one for things like lack of courage by calling him a girl. But it is not because a girl is a bad thing to be - indeed girls are often oblivious to the existence of boys while boys are never really so oblivious because the first order of business for the male is "Where is the female"? The reason for the insult is that the purpose of the existence of a boy is to perform, to DO as a male. To fail at that makes him seem more like a female because she is the default gender. The male gender might be described as "he who is not female." The difference is subtle, but profound, rippling down through deep time and the dimensions. This is why I say the wound is deep. Women's power is in the realm of the psyche, which again might seem "less" to one bewitched, but Kastrup in his book does a good job of showing that the fundament of reality is probably consciousness and not matter, which means that women's power is *stronger*, the strongest, not the weaker. Why did the laws change, and relations between the genders change and women gain the rights of adult humans? Because they complained!

Wolfgang Brinck said...

re Heinberg and his ten step program, it sounds pretty much like a job creation scheme for politicians and bureaucrats, i.e. and intermediation maintenance program to save the middle. The question is, who would pay for it? He offers up population reduction. Is he thinking we can continue to do what we do at a smaller scale. JMG, I think you hit it on the head when you said that being on the respectable side of the doomer sphere, he needs to offer up programs that would sound like a reasonable alternative to what we have now, even if they have no chance of being adopted or of succeeding if they were adopted.

Ray Wharton said...

I recently started a farming apprenticeship at this regions oldest CSA. Apprenticeship is in many ways more similar to the feudal system than it is to the market. The deal was sealed over the building and inoculation of a biodynamic compost pile. The Farmer gets my labor on certain days plus whatever else is required to fulfill certain tasks I may be assigned, its not nearly as specific and stable as Higg's gig but we have to maintain more flexibility, times being as they are. I think the Farmer and I would both like to have a more stable and explicit system, but tending the trust and such needed to have stock in such things is a process not an event.

Also, in the last week I have been digging into Spengler in earnest. Been browsing Decline on and off for about a year now, but last week his style started to click deep down, now I can't get enough of it! I can see how deeply personal the work is for him, a sustained meditation on his own Faustian soul, which in turn has helped me reconnect with certain aspects of that geriatric soul as it lives on in me.

Feudalism replacing a sophisticated economy (a former teacher of my described sophisticated as meaning 'screwed up by a sophistry') is also a process not an event. The sophisticated economy has to wither away, which is a drawn out process. I figure that since there is such a diversity of kinds of parasite that as their “environment” breaks down the will face an intense game of Darwinian musical chairs. This is a bitter pill in practice, because entire geneses of parasite will go extinct with each phase of decline, and become part of the moving masses faced with an intensely personal journey of finding another niche or dying in short order. These displaced parasite refugees will suffer deeply and even those who are part of the host will find themselves stressed by these displaced people. The real kick is that the parasite burden on the host will stay intense after each displacement, the surviving kinds of parasites expanding after each crisis trying to find any sustenance they can to persist. Putting that more explicitly, I expect some economic activities to be freed from intermediation at each stage of decline, leading to other areas facing a fearsome intensification leading to the next stage of decline.

Meanwhile the long slow process of developing trust and eventually traditions strong enough to maintain a semblance of order proceeds along thriving in vacuums left by the market economy's retreat. I wonder about the many marriages (maybe literal) between war bands and agriculture, lots of horror show stuff, but also some sporadically sound and humane arrangements for seasoning. That's the tricky thing about talking of feudalism. It isn't good or bad inherently, feudal arrangements have surely covered some very good arrangements, some horrific tragedies, and a healthy share of the middle ground, kind of like many other ways of arranging society. The character of the people involved in that kind of society, or any kind of society, goes a long way to determining the character of the society itself.

James Mishler said...

Just to share what I find are some good books on how it disintermediation went down during and after the fall of Rome:

As mentioned by JMG: Michael Grant, The Fall of the Roman Empire.

Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks; a bit later in the era, but gives a good idea of the struggles and relations between different surviving power groups.

Ferdinand Lot, The End of the Ancient World and the Beginnings of the Middle Ages; a meatier version of Grant's work.

Patrick Geary, Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World; this one picks up where Grant left off and gives an excellent overview of how warlord bands evolve into the feudal society.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Several months ago there was an article about a small town in Illinois that set up a seed bank to support community garden. The USDA found out about it and promptly shut it down because the seeds weren't going through proper testing. Now keep in mind that all the seeds were from local farms and gardens.

Here in Madison we've had a constant assault on our localization efforts. Our last big composting area just shut down, and I hear there are new ordinances planned to "organize" the community gardens. Some of us are starting to do things more covertly. No digital trails, no written records, no discussion with outsiders.

Personally, I look forward to the death of intermediation.

In other news View on the Ground is now mobile. So anyone can access it on whatever doodad or geegaw they find most convenient.


Ah, now your comment about farmers always being on the bottom of the social ladder in India makes sense. It was certainly true for low-cast communities but not so for high-cast.


Varun Bhaskar

Ares Olympus said...

The future of modern debt is the biggest mystery to me, but its also what convinces me that the end-game is closer. Peak oil may or may not happen as advocates predict, but in the last decade only clear advice I could find to face peak oil, or the end of cheap energy, is to eliminate debt sooner than later.

The most interesting slow disaster right now isn't climate change but "Labor force participation rate", now apparently back down to 1978 levels, but its the men that have continually fallen, from 86% in the 1950's to under 70% now, while women peaked in 2000 and down to 53%. All Men Women

It takes more work to tease out the baby boomers bump, but they're actually holding onto their jobs tighter than in the past, so things are actually worse than they look, IF maximum employment is the goal.

Myself, I'm open to the perspective that two-income families was regressive, and if people can learn how to live on a single income, or a single fulltime job, that enables more options for community-building, and learning the art of "Home Economics" as Wendell Berry suggests that create strong households that don't need to pay for everything they need.

And I think if I was a 20-something, I'd gladly accept a parental home, and stay even into marriage, if there was space available, and I'd find a sensible bride who wasn't so high on herself that she'd choose lifelong debt for a fading American dream.

In reality I won't have kids, but I do own a 3-bedroom house, sharing now only with my girlfriend, so a spare bedroom (or 2) on the cheap, at least the incremental utilities on a debt free house are low.

So I can picture a world of lower income, and lower affluence, but I can't picture what the job market might be and when. I work 6 miles from where I was born, but engineers here are from around the world, and that reminds me of one of the ways the modern world controls us - most professionals must leave family and friends to find their dream job.

I can see money allows every place to be interchangable, while a future of less wealth, there's more to be gained in staying closer to home, and finding work that's needed as the art of life. And back to the labor force participation rate, for those who want to see what work is needed, being "happily unemployed" if someone else in your household can earn the majority of the money, there's a good chance for discovery.

Maybe feudalism is our future, and maybe some will be better than others, because a few people in each community made different decisions on what to do with their spare time.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

On the English noun front:

Is there a difference in meaning between antidisintermediationarians and antidisintermediationarianists? If not, the "ist" is redundant.

A smithy is a building where the smith works.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Regarding women as warriors, women dressed as men and passed as ordinary soldiers in the American Revolutionary and Civil wars and in the Napoleonic wars. Some were discovered after they died in battle or were severely wounded and got medical treatment. Some were not discovered and wrote memoirs. Some put in for pensions. They seem to have been as successful in the army as their male counterparts.

It seems to me that there are two kinds of fighters, ones who rely mainly on brute force and ones who rely on skill. Women are as inherently capable of acquiring fighting skills as men, if given the opportunity. Marching in ranks and firing muskets and rifles in good order on command are skills that can be taught en masse through drilling, which is probably why women did well in eighteenth and nineteenth century armies.

Swordmanship and fighting from horseback require long practice under the guidance of a teacher. (Archery requires both practice and upper body strength.) Most women have not been spared from childrearing and productive activities long enough to acquire highly skilled martial arts. I think the demand for women as child bearers has more to do with their exclusion from fighting than their lesser upper body strength.

Patricia Mathews said...

The AD said "For that matter, the women of dark age Europe were not exactly a bunch of fainting wallflowers -- historical records and literature alike are full of women who were enthusiastic participants in the savagery of the time. "

Yes. Sources: The Sagas of the Icelanders (history), The VOlsungasaga (13th C fiction), Hild (contemporary, fictionalized bio of a real and formidable Abbess), etc ...

I never realized when I first signed up for Medieval History 201 and parlayed it into a Minor, with an emphasis on Anglo-Saxon studies, how valuable it would be!

OK - more - the Old English rewrite (by Aelfric the Grammarian) of the Bible story of Judith. Acclaimed as a heroine and held up as an example and role model to Englishwomen of his day.

Oh, yes, indeed! It's only when civilization set in that the "delicate fair ladies" were not supposed to do such things. (Contrast the Nibelungenlied with the Volsungasaga. Gaaah.)

As for whether they did or not, check out Christine de Pisan's CITY OF LADIES, all 3 volumes. I was once tempted to rewrite one of them for modern times and issue it as "BOSS LADY: A medieval success manual for the female executive." Which the average great lady actually was!

(Giggle, giggle ... one of the Captchas was 'fwords.'

Random Man said...

Let me briefly opine that money problems are almost always (we are talking 95-99%) of the time inherently inflationary.

A rising cost structure forces upon people the very disintermediation that is mentioned here, and that process fuels further inflation as the powers that be create money to keep the structures going.

Deflation is a myth. Always has been, always will be. Human organization is inherently inflationary, it's inbuilt in our genes and our relation to monetary exchange. We always demand more, and for currency prices on assets to go up, never down. Now it is global.

A "deflation" is simply the natural process that occurs during the collapse phase, and it is always fought with monetary inflation.

Costs will never, ever go down independently of collapse. I cannot stress this enough!

team10tim said...

Hey hey Patricia Ormsby,

You might be interested in this:

Villages in Japan that are being abandoned because there are no young people to live in them. The one in the article sold itself to a landfill.


bicosse said...

Onething, to find out more about the just price and other aspects of medieval and early modern economic thought you could try R H Tawney's 'Religion and the Rise of Capitalism', published in the 1920s but still very readable and informative. He's particularly good on usury, which to the medieval mind meant not just lending at interest but all forms of economic 'sharp practice', including some considered acceptable today, such as buying cheap and selling dear - there was a 'just mark-up', too, thought it wasn't called that.

bicosse said...

K L Cooke,

I suggest that you persist in talking to your grandchildren about the decline of industrial society (though try not to alienate their mother in the process). They are likely to be aware of it at some level, and far from finding discussion depressing may welcome talking to an adult who actually acknowledges our predicament. I remember as a child in the 70s shocking my mother by drawing a picture of a mushroom cloud, and also discussing nuclear war with my older brother, who was rarely a source of accurate information... I clearly remember the news of the oil crisis in '73 (I was eight at the time), though I didn't really understand what it was about, except that people were blaming Arab sheikhs for the price of petrol...

The children's literature and TV I grew up with in 70s Britain made me well aware of overpopulation, resource depletion and pollution. Much of what young people in the western world are growing up with now seems pretty bleak, too - think of the Hunger Games.

daelach said...

@ Laylah: The question isn't what would make "Women's Country" attractive to women, but whether it could prevail without being supported by today's intermediary system. History suggests that it couldn't - warlord societies don't care about human rights, and therefore not about feminism, either.

@ Robert Mathiesen: Of course women can have influence, e.g. from the position beside the throne. It isn't uncommon that there's a powerful woman behind a powerful man. But that power is quite conditional.

The whole point is that men and women have different duties in a warlord society. Women are being protected and cared not because they are women (no cherry-picking here), but because they are the bottleneck to births. Especially with the much higher children and adult mortality which will need to be made up for.

In a society much more down to the roots, biological matters will be more important. That's not a matter of preferences, but of facts. Societies whose values are more compatible with the facts will fare better than others. That will also mean that for such a society, a woman who isn't primarily into having children will generally be a waste of scarce resources, and wasting scarce resources will not be a recipe for success. Especially not when competing with other societies, which is the basic reason why late civilisations are being swept away by warlords in the first place.

Life will be harder for men and women alike, but in different ways. I'd like to point one more time to my remark that I'm not talking about what I personally like or not, but what I see as realistic or not.

So you may well uphold the values of a late civilisations (in this case: ours), but that won't change history. Quite the other way round, that will just push history forward, exactly as with other late civilisations who did the same. It isn't different this time.

However, by the time things get that far, feminism and stuff will have been forgotten anyway because there will be much more urgent things. I doubt that today's people used to women's equal rights will live to see those times.

whomever said...

Random might want to read up on the economics of the late 19th century (often called "The Great Deflation"). Remember what Williams Jennings Bryan was asking for in his "cross of gold" speech was deliberate inflation. I don't think you'd describe that as a collapsing period.

The gold standard during the Great Depression or the modern southern European effects of the Euro (especially Greece), or Japan for the last 20 years are also interesting to look at and look a lot like deflation, though those do look a lot more like collapse.

Monetary policy has a long history of ups and downs, not just ups. Bear in mind that deflation helps people with assets, hence it's often subtly popular with the rich. No argument that desperate societies often switch over to inflation though.

YJV said...

Hi Cherokee,
Definitely! I'm an Aucklander so Octobers for me are just a slightly warmer continuation of dampness and rain back home. The temperatures this October in Canberra had a far wider range than usual though - and as you said, the ACT is not part of NSW. I'm wondering how the climate is going to change, especially in the altitude regions such as where you and I live. Auckland is already getting drier every summer.

Thomas Daulton said...

Hey JMG, here's another off-topic link that relates to something you've discussed in the past... your doubts about the validity of certain astronomical origin theories.

Time May Be Disappearing From Our Universe

Apparently some physicists have proposed a model of redshift based on the concept that time itself is gradually winding down and becoming slower, rather than taking it as a given that the universe is expanding and accelerating.

Rita Narayanan said...

The Gift of the Market Economy

coming from a *not first world* nation I want to make a few points to give people perspective when they write about egalitarian ideas.

Capitalism (as also the pillages of colonialism) has made it possible for national leaders to provide people in small towns and villages the luxury of public libraries and other public services that only the very rich ever had. So personal development where ones intellect and other faculties can engage with ideas, culture and other factors is available to a significant portion of the populace.

It was easier for me to be romantic about the idea of India in the libraries & museums of the West than live amidst the reality...and that is not just material growth but social sensibility. Thanks for the lovely essay.

Iuval Clejan said...

I like feudalism with it's simpler arrangements except for one thing. Sometimes the landlord is unfair and does not provide much in return. He may only be getting goods and services because he owns land, not because he works. Revolutions have been fought for this! Can we not learn how to share land more equitably? Otherwise much energy that is currently wasted on intermediates and marketing will be wasted on parasitism by landlords.

Elinor Ostrom has figured out some general principles for sharing commons such as land, by studying groups that are successful and avoid the tragedy of the commons. Do you think this is worth trying? Along with such things as democracy?

JML said...

I'm happy to see someone point out the fact that Marx's analysis of political economy was excellent, but his proposed solutions were awful to say the least.

Merle Langlois said...

Onething, I have to give an amen to your gender theory. It's sound spiritually and practically. There are so many angry Internet Feminists (who generally let their boyfriends walk all over them in real life) and very few women who see gender as you do. It would be nice if more women could see the upside of being female and have some self-respect, and assert themselves rightly.

Hmmf, usually when people parade their pet theories on here I get a bit uncomfortable, but not all pet theories are embarrassingly bad I suppose.

Doctor Westchester said...

In honor of the winners of recent elections in the US, I think I'll just say a word about the scam of deregulation. When politicians talk about doing deregulation it certainly sounds they talking about disintermediation. In practice what happens of course is usually a loss of rights - the right to not have your water contaminated, the right not to have the value of your real property destroyed, the right not to unknowingly eat toxic food and the like. What almost never happens is any true disintermediation. This is especially true for any who, as JMG pointed out, might try to start any kind of business. The promised benefits of deregulation just never seem to appear.

Brad K. said...

I think Patricia and Somewhatstunned think as I do -- that real property relates to the King's land, at least for the terminology. Which makes sense of the division between real property that can be occupied but not moved, and personal property that can be moved if one vacates the property.

I wonder -- do you foresee organized crime figures ascending to warlord/overlord status, or civil figures taking on overlord roles, or a combination? You alluded to feudalism as an economic model. But would feudalism arise if armed conflict were not a driving political motivator? I had understood feudalism to be a political system set up primarily to sustain a capacity for military defense and exploitation.

John Michael Greer said...

Raymond, true enough. Since I don't have or use a smartphone, or any kind of cell phone for that matter, that slipped past me.

Donald, the American left talks about the popular vote purely because it learned its political jargon from Europe. On this continent, the left is serenely detached from the people for whom it claims to speak, and heaven help the member of the working classes who tries to get a word in edgewise!

Rita, it didn't seem to me that Wiseman was doing anything of the kind -- simply pointing out that the Dalits do have actual reasons to want to leave India. The same was true of a great many people who fled Europe a century or more ago to come here: they were as much fleeing maltreatment at home as they were seeking a better life here in the US.

Averagejoe, how does the current population of Scotland compare to the number of people who could be supported sustainably on its farmland? Britain as a whole is hopelessly overcrowded, almost as bad as Japan, but I don't happen to know how that breaks out regionally.

Cherokee, of course we've been had. Still, I expect something a little different from either inflation or deflation. Do you remember the stagflation of the 1970s, when the economy contracted but prices rose and rose? That's my model for the near future, but more so: hyperstagflation. More on this in a future post.

Sleisz Ádám, I'm not at all sure there's any such thing as "true feminine nature," or for that matter the masculine equivalent; different cultures assign such radically different roles and qualities to the very general framework given us by biology. That said, you're right that a lot of people tend to be happier when they're less pestered by politics.

Crowandsheep, thanks for the reference -- I haven't read Safranski, and obviously have to. As for the joke, yes, that'll do!

Jon, thanks for the summary! I may hunt up the book anyway.

MawKernewek, I simply didn't know the same phrase had caught on on both sides of the Pacific.

Bill, my guess is that Poppin's beloved and respected because of his firm rule, not in spite of it. For all our habitual protestations, we're social primates who respond promptly and enthusiastically to a well-defined hierarchy that gets the job done. It's only because the current hierarchy is as inept as it is that so many people are upset at it.

Rsuusa, the amount of effort that goes into shutting off alternatives to wage labor and participation in the money economy is impressive, no question. It's a good measure of just how badly people want out of it...

Anioush, nope. It's an obvious title, thus several books and movies have used it.

onething said...

Doctor Westchester,

That is a very good point and I'd say it's because it's the same class behind both. Those who push for deregulation are the owners of industries who want to pollute. They're not talking about all the rules and certificates I need to sell cookies at my farmer's market in the absolute middle of Nowhere, with 6 vendors and 30 customers all day.


I agree with much of what you say but I think you are assuming that our future will be a simple time- flowing-backwards retreat into the past. It is not a given that a simple and poor society must oppress its women. Also, I find it odd the way people suddenly think that every single female will need to reproduce with all her might. Actually, nonreproducing adults add greatly to a family or society. They are so important among wolves that they keep non mating aunts and uncles around. Even though life may be tougher and death rates higher, people in general have had more trouble with excess population than an insufficient one. The raising of children is intensely draining of resources, and the grandparents can barely hold their own contribution-wise. It is the young and middle aged adults who are able to produce more than they consume. Having a single aunt or uncle around would be a great boon.

Furthermore, if we are going to hold on to anything, I think basic sanitation and knowledge of women's fertile cycle can go a long way toward reducing mortality and general misery. We don't really have to go back to the 17th century.

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, exactly. A great deal depends on whether people are willing to put in the effort needed to preserve the gains of the last three centuries or so. That's not something I can predict -- though it's something I can work for, and try to motivate others to work for.

Kyoto, it'll be interesting to see whether handbuilt offroad bikes can compete with horses and shoe leather in the deindustrial future. I'm not betting either way.

Escape, no doubt!

Onething, and that's also one way to think about it.

Ed-M, some local elections can be important, or at least entertaining. Of course I have the advantage of living in a purple town -- red or blue, that is, depending on circumstances -- and so the rascals do get thrown out tolerably often.

Wolfgang, well, yes. I'm glad I'm not in a position where I have to come up with schemes of that sort; I don't think I'd be able to stomach it.

Ray, exactly! You get tonight's gold star for paying close attention to history, not to mention for catching Spengler's point.

James, thanks for the references!

Varun, if you want to keep it covert, keep it off the internet and off social media. It amazes me how many people think that anything is private once it's online.

Ares, good. Very good. Those are points I've been trying to make here for years.

Unknown Deborah, I'd suggest "antidisintermediationarianism" as a non-redundant label for the ideology of antidisintermediationarians. I think that still takes the cake.

As for war and women, that's one of the things the introduction of firearm technology has changed dramatically. Upper body strength isn't anything like as important for most soldiers in a firearm-based army as it was when swords, spears, and bows were the killing instruments du jour. Raw endurance is far more important, and that's something at which many women excel. This is one of the reasons why I think patterns of gender relationship have changed decisively in recent centuries and will not be changing back.

wiseman said...

No disrespect was intended, however living in India I was surprised to see that statement come from you. I guess this is the right time to quote Ambedkar.

“The love of the intellectual Indian for the village community is of course infinite, if not pathetic….What is a village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow mindedness and communalism?”

And you can't seriously be comparing running hot water with what happens to the untouchables in villages. One can live without hot water, but can't without basic human dignity. Caste exists in all societies in one form or the other but what happens in India is one of the most vile and disgusting representations of it.

That's why a lower cast man would give an arm and a leg to send his kids to the city, being a janitor in McDonalds is much more respectable than cleaning toilets for the upper caste village head.

John Michael Greer said...

Patricia, curiously enough, I was just rereading the Magnusson-Morris translation of the Volsunga saga a few days ago, thus my comment about the shortage of fainting wallflowers in the dark ages. I'd add to your list the chronicles of the Merovingian and Frankish kingdoms -- I don't happen to remember if any of the queens and great ladies mentioned there copied Gudrun's trick and fed an abusive husband his own children for dinner, but I wouldn't have put it past any of them.

Random Man, deflation is a myth? Tell that to Americans in the late 19th century, who were hammered by it in the Long Depression.

Thomas, fascinating. It's a source of some amusement to me how many of the current round of theories in physics look remarkably like all those epicycles they tacked onto Ptolemaic astronomy to try to make the cosmos work with the earth at the center...

Rita, the partisans of the market economy love to take credit for that. I'd argue that it was the working of White's Law instead: given an unprecedented temporary influx of cheap abundant energy, the phenomena you've noted are among the forms of economic complexity that resulted.

Iuval, sometimes your employer or your government is unfair, too, and doesn't provide much in return for his services. Are other options worth trying? Of course, provided that you're willing to lay down your life for them -- because it does sometimes come to that, you know.

JML, you're welcome!

Doctor W., of course -- because the people talking about deregulation are intermediaries, just as much as the regulators they claim to despise, and the regulations they want removed are those that keep them from squeezing the productive economy dry.

Brad, neither one. First we get warband formation, which is well under way; then, over the next century or so, the collapse of public order in larger and larger portions of what's now the United States, until all or most of it has reverted to chaos; then, as the chaos begins to settle down, charismatic local leaders emerge and assemble local militias to fend off the remaining raiders; their descendants or supplanters become the proto-barons, the militias the proto-knights, and the ordinary people they protect the proto-peasantry. Three or four centuries later you have a fully developed feudalism -- and as you see, there's no shortage of violence involved.

Myosotis said...

All these men seeming half-thrilled at the idea of women losing their role in society to have babies all the time makes me roll my eyes.

Clearly they don't know their history very well, beyond the popular story we've sketched out about medieval times. Medieval women weren't generally chattel without agency. For many of the guilds, women couldn't join but neither could unmarried men become guild masters. The work was expected to take two skilled workers to manage the business, apprentices and household.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- you may well have a point there. The Farm was founded and directed by a strong charismatic leader who just died in the last year. In spite of the challenges that led it to evolve from a "commune" to a "community," it has persisted for over 40 years, far far beyond the usual life-span of intentional communities in the U.S. I wonder about Twin Oaks and East Wind, what their histories are and why they too have survived for decades after most others fizzled? Anyone with personal experience?

And a typo note -- I misspelled Jeff Poppen's last name in my previous comment.

Rita Narayanan said...

@wiseman quoted: And you can't seriously be comparing running hot water with what happens to the untouchables in villages. One can live without hot water, but can't without basic human dignity. Caste exists in all societies in one form or the other but what happens in India is one of the most vile and disgusting representations of it.

you must be well aware of the number of South Asians who are working as labourers and *help* in the domestic sector in the Middle east....they are subjected to the worst sort of working conditions and have hardly any recourse, do such people leave home and country for dignity.

Many of these countries are allies of the US and many alliances of Western leaders exist in these nations...since I was questioned about my thoughts I would like to ask Americans too "how do lecture others on human dignity when the Mcdonalds(global cheap oil) that you talk about owes everything to such cheap labour".

wiseman quoted Ambedkar “The love of the intellectual Indian for the village community is of course infinite, if not pathetic….What is a village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow mindedness and communalism?”

for the record I live in *Mumbai* not rural India and am not an intellectual...also it was Gandhi who romanticized the indian village, he also influenced Martin Luther King :)

Thanks JMG and @wiseman for a lively debate!

Sleisz Ádám said...

I think there is true feminine nature, though it is just a quite small core of the attributes our society expects from women today (and the same holds for masculinity). A society with politics dominated by women seems to be in the cards in the long run, but it is not so probable in the warband or feudal phase. I can be wrong of course.

What I can not contemplate is the aspiration to extirpate any differences in gender roles. Women may rule and even fight, but anyway, men have to find their own way to stand out. This is something firmly in the core, and both genders need it, as I see things.

Cherokee Organics said...


Yeah, we've only delayed that process through utilising every tool at our societies disposal, but the root causes of that particular scenario in the 1970's are both alive and well and also kicking hard right now. It's happening already, it's just that people don't really want to think about the implications of that scenario as it involves personal pain.

Honestly, it is weird to me that housing is considered an investment with anticipated returns. The only return that should be expected from a house is that it keeps the rain off your head! Mind you, I expect a few more stacked functions (a funky terminology for additional uses) from my house than just that one function, but the house here is not quite your ordinary house.

I never suggested inflation or deflation either, but simply took umbrage at people constantly suggesting that the future will be a deflationary period. Such an event truly fits in nicely with the world view.

Your suggestion makes lots of sense too as the causes of the Oil price shocks never really went away, they just sort of got worked around for a bit of time.

I look forward to your analysis and assume that you are drawing heavily on historical examples? i assume that that happened with the Paperiermark? I should probably read up on that history, but hopefully Galbraith will cover it later in the book. I'd appreciate a recommendation for a book on that history?



Phil Harris said...

JMG & Averagejoe
Most of Scotland cannot be cropped; much of it not even for trees. (At this latitude in the Atlantic an elevation of 100 metres and E/W rainfall geography makes all the difference.)
However, the E Coast has areas very favourable for cereals and oil seed – and held world record for wheat yield per acre for many years under modern production.

At population of 5.3M then persons per productive hectare (looked at as calories per hectare per year; see below for crops being 10% of agricultural area) works out at roughly 10 persons per hectare or 4 per acre, which is about the same as England and UK as a whole.
That could be ‘doable’ on a mostly vegetarian calories diet, (for example porridge for breakfast; barley bannocks; potatoes and kale and some milk and a little home-grown meat), provided there was still modern input into farming – N fertiliser especially – and we did not need too many horses.

Over long term even assuming still some trading overseas, population will reduce - but there will be ecotechnic choices.

Phil The total area of agricultural holdings in Scotland was 5.6 million hectares, equating to 73 per cent of Scotland's total land area. Just over half of this comprised rough grazing, with about a quarter taken up by grass, and about ten per cent used for crops or left fallow. The rest consisted of woodland, ponds, yards or other uses.
Additionally, almost 0.6 million hectares of land is used for the common grazing of livestock.
Amongst the crops grown in Scotland, excluding grass, cereals accounted for 80 per cent of the land area, with nearly three-quarters of that being barley (340,000 hectares). There were also considerable area growing wheat (87,000 hectares), oilseed rape (34,000 hectares) and potatoes (29,000 hectares). Amongst fruit and vegetables, a total of 911 hectares of strawberries were grown, mainly under cover, and was the largest source of income in horticulture.

Marcello said...

"Or am I exaggerating the meanness of our day, lacking a proper appreciation of the general tenor of societies throughout history?"

MindfulEcologist, at the interpersonal day to day level western societies are actually pretty peaceful by historical standards.
The USA for instance might seem currently a violent place: that is only until you look at crime stats or to accounts of mob violence in the 19th century. Even just making a passing reference to slavery not being the best thing since sliced bread would put you on the receiving end of a lynching mob in much of antebellum south. And at the same time New York had a gang population estimated in the tens of thousands. You get the idea.

Marcello said...

"it was rigidly caste-bound, brutally violent, and generally unjust. So is the system under which you live, dear reader, and it’s worth noting that the average medieval peasant worked fewer hours and had more days off than you do."

Thank You JMG for this. That is a killer argument to deploy against advocates of the cult of progress. I intend to research this subject further and use it as a kind of rhetorical sucker punch, when the need arises.

Well, one might compare the aftermath of 2008 in Ireland to that of the famines of the 1840s, 1740s, 1650s and so on all the way back to the 10th century. I know which period I would pick to live in.

I suspect that despite standard disclaimers people are falling in the common trap of idealizing the past. It may well be that people in the pre-industrial past worked fewer hours but estimates depend a lot on what gets counted either way and in any case it was often harder/unpleasant compared to what most people are currently called to in the privileged western societies. Try rice transplanting under the sun in a rice paddy fertilized with human excrement, which is what fed much of the pre-industrial world population. And if you think that modern police are arrogant remember that a samurai was actually legally entitled to execute on the spot a peasant for the slightest perceived disrespect, nor were his western counterparts actually nicer, chivalry mythology notwithstanding. For all the (increasing) failings of industrialized life most people in places like the West still enjoy standards of life in terms of nutrition, sanitation, healthcare, security etc. that could only be dreamed of in the past.

daelach said...

@ onething: Adults without children have always been there, of course. Both male and female, see e.g. monks and nuns. However, they represented a small minority, and I'm talking about the society in general. Not having children on a big scale is typical for late civilisations, that was the same with Rome, or with Greece before. Rome even tried to enforce more children by the marriage laws of Augustus, but it didn't help.

At the moment, however, anything that gets down the number of humans without too much suffering would be reasonable. 7 bio people cannot be fed once the oil gets scarce. So for the present, getting women world-wide interested in anything else than bearing children looks like a good idea. Women more than men because they are the limiting party in producing offspring. If one of two women renounces to children, that helps - if one of two men renounces, the other one could make up for it (biologically, I mean).

Concerning turning back time - no, quite the other way round. Just look at what happens with late civilisations, that's the point. It's just that I have a hard time believing that warlords not even adhering to human rights will somehow stick to gender equality. You know, conquering lands, slaying any resistance there doesn't really blend in with being nice exclusively to the women there. Rape and war have always gone together, even in modern times and with armies from countries where human rights are worth something.

@ JMG: No, the endurance factor is much less with women, especially with gear. The standards women have to pass for being recognised as fit are lower (already at school), but that doesn't help in the battlefield. On average, women have 55% of the muscle power and 67% of the endurance of men. The best 20% of the women are on a par with the worst 20% of the men.

See .

That blends well in with civil sport: the top-class female teams don't stand a chance even against a youth male team. E.g. the German national female team lost 0:3 against the U17 male team from VfB Stuttgart. The U16 male team of Eintracht Frankfurt defeated the female national team 2:0. The 3rd senior male team of Fortuna Seppenrade (Kreisliga - really far down) defeated the female team of 1st FC Cologne (national league) 3:0. So basically, the top female football teams perform worse that U16 male teams. That's why women play football separately; the game would be boring otherwise. There are no women in the "tour de France" bicycle races, either - because they wouldn't have a chance, anyway.

The reasons are hard-wired into the biochemistry of the body: women have less musclemass and more fat, less testosterone, less oxygen capacity. Of course, a trained and slim woman might outperform an overweight, untrained man, but that's choosing a skewed comparison basis. However, strength training for women is a good idea. While they will never reach the level of a male training the same way, it is still better than being untrained, and in reality, there are many untrained men.

The main reason why people have lost track of this is that we are a heavily mechanised society. When a man wants to transport e.g. 20 liters of water from A to B, he'll load it into the car and drive. Obviously, a woman can do it in exactly the same way. But with the mechanisation gone, things will change.

You are right, though, that personal defense with small firearms is a great equaliser. However, with the industrial base gone, our modern firearms will come to be a memory of the past, at least in the long run. Producing cartridges with ignition will not be sustainable, and the old-style powder guns which are likely to have a future are useless for personal defense because of the long time to reload, not to mention their weight.

Robert Mathiesen said...

I don't think it's a question of values, daleach, but a question of the complexity of reality. The sort of warlord society that you posit will of course emerge here and there, but it will hardly sweep away all other sorts of societies before its advance. Nor is a warlord society necessarily the model that will outlast all the others over time. History unfolds in a huge variety of environments, both outer and inner, and in some of them other forms of society are better adapted to survive over the long centuries. You seem (to me) to be reducing this complexity to a matter of comparative human birth rates and human death rates *alone*, and the ability of this or that society to gain a numerical advantage in those respects. It's really not that simple, either with other species in nature, or with our species in societies.

Ed-M said...

JMG, well I live in a blue town in a red state. Which means the same darn rascals get in again and again and again, only to be replaced by their friends. The only way these political gangs get thrown out is if they really mess things up (and sometimes, not even then) or if the locality gentrifies, as is happening to my town, New Orleans. The latter reason is why we have a white mayor now, as opposed to Ray Nagin, Our (former) Mayor Into Ruin, who got reelected *despite* his colossal mess-ups during Katrina, just because he happened to be black.

patriciaormsby said...

@Tim Thank you for the links! There is an abandoned house across the street from where I live, that could have still been inhabitable if the heirs had allowed me to rent it. They didn't want the hassle. They didn't realize how quickly houses fall apart in our wet climate if no one is there to keep the rats from taking over. The way the system is set up, an enormous amount of wasted resources is being generated.
The heirs all move off to the cities--there are virtually no economic opportunities for them here in the countryside, but that will change one day, and I suspect they know that, and that's why they keep hanging on to grandma's house.

Varun Bhaskar said...


I am aware. I only post things I am confident in posting. Plenty of things I want to discuss on this forum that I don't because it isn't secure.


Agriculture will quickly become the dominant form of economics in the near future. What happens when the Dalits suddenly realize that the urban-industrial economy is no longer available to liberate them?

Marcello said...

Also it should be noted that while western societies have generally privileged consumption over leisure it is a trade off, not something set in stone.
As a librarian I get something in the order of one month and half of paid vacation per year, plus sundays and the odd holiday; naturally I earn less than my American counterpart but I would say I am still better off than my medieval equivalent.
I suppose that this might well have been well been doable for pre peak industrial population at large if the suitable trade offs had been made.

Claudia Oney said...

As a young woman and feminist I was part of a group who were saving our little part of the world with a food coop. We purchased food at a very old facility in Chicago called South Water Market. I functioned with other women in our group as a buyer and truck driver at the market. This market was owned and run by old Chicago Italian and Greek families--none far from 'warlord' roots. Older men recalled running errands for Al Capone. Many of the dock workers there had moved from the South to find work, more than a few with prison records.

The very traditional men there treated me with deep respect. More so than many of the male world savers in our college educated group. Of course we were buying things, but the relationships in this old fashioned place were not founded on our buying power, but on our ability to fit in. Favors were huge. Parking spaces were the coin of the realm.

Education and sophistication do not create refined conduct or mutual respect for other humans. One of the real gentlemen at South Water, always willing to help, was illiterate and rumored to have been jailed in Tennessee for killing someone. Poor people and pockets of people hidebound by culture can be as gentle, thoughtful and accepting of change as more 'privileged' souls.

Finally, feminists are not angry, we do not want to erase the differences between the sexes and we, for the most part, love men dearly. That we want education and financial security and respect should not surprise anyone. That predictions of having baby after baby until we die upset us should not surprise anyone either. And I guarantee that my friend the Tennessee convict could pop a pallet weighing thousands of pounds into our food truck in seconds; his strength exceeded that of any male friend or relative by more multiples than any of us could imagine. So musings by the males of male strength makes me smile since many are likely not that much stronger than me. My point is that our future needs all of us. I think, if we are to successfully engage in a non market world, our dealing have to be based on honor and integrity, not just brute force. 4410

Marcello said...

"Marching in ranks and firing muskets and rifles in good order on command are skills that can be taught en masse through drilling, which is probably why women did well in eighteenth and nineteenth century armies."

I tend to doubt that the women who did the fighting in the 18-19th century armies and navies could be considered "typical".
Also while physical contact was rare the threat of it was still a potent force in that type of combat: masses of men coming forward with the bayonet would often cause opposing formations to break. Would a battalion of well drilled women hold up against a battalion of tall grenadiers marching forward with fixed bayonets, at least some of the time? Who knows? Would anybody make that experiment?

Iuval Clejan said...

Dear Onething, hi! I don't know about the sole purpose of males is to serve females, that feels oppressive. One purpose of males from a evolutionary perspective is to introduce variation into the genome, whereas females are more specialized in genome conservation. I think it might generalize to memes also, in that when a civilization finds itself in a hole women might prefer to dig deeper and maintain the same behaviors that got that hole dug in the first place (because it seems safer and risk taking is at odds with home and hearth and child maintenance), whereas men might try to find a way out. But that is a gross over-generalization.

When I was working with the self fertilizing nematode C. elegans I noticed that the males are much more adventurous. They are usually produced at a rate of 1 in 200, but when conditions get harsh, more males are produced. They can help reduce inbreeding in this highly inbred organism. Also sperm can only do quick and dirty repair of DNA double strand breaks, or none at all, whereas eggs only do slow and accurate repair of such DNA lesions. So sperm have more mutations than at least young eggs.

daelach said...

@ Robert Matthiesen: Of course the warlord society will not last because it will transform into feudalism. That has already been a topic in this blog (actually, this week). As for the rest of your argument, it amounts to rephrasing "but it's different this time" - which the Archdruid has been refuting here over and over. It isn't any different this time. That's the whole point of looking at history to make guesses about the future.

On a general note, gender inequality doesn't necessarily imply treating women bad. A historic example are the Germanic tribes where men and women had different roles, but that didn't mean that women didn't have rights or nothing to say. The example is useful here because the Germanics were the warlords of the falling Rome.

@ Myosotis: The usual derailing of a discussion by misunderstanding descriptive statements (it will be..) as normative ones (it should be..). It doesn't matter who's thrilled or not. Just as it doesn't matter whether or not we're thrilled by peakoil.

Btw-, Spengler ("Decline of the West") wrote some quite interesting paragraphs concerning women and children. To sum it up, the stance that having children is somehow belittling women is typical for late civilisations and is part of the process of their fall. It was the same in late Greece and Rome, and as we can see, it isn't any different this time.

Especially because not all women renounce to having children. The upper and middle class is affected, but the underclass is not and thus multiplies until those who are capable of bearing the culture are not there anymore. That is what Spengler calls the "fellah phase" after the collaps, alluding to what was left of Egypt when the modern West colonised it.

The interesting thing is that in a materialistic viewpoint, the upper/middle classes' renouncing to children looks like a cause for the collapse; but with the concept of the culture soul already dying, it may as well be a consequence instead. Or maybe a self-amplifying process.

Marinhomelander said...

Here's a new category of intermediation that we have been pestered with lately and what we are doing and you can do to help nip it in the bud.

You get a phone call from some serf in India who can barely speak English representing some local cleaning outfit. They stumble through the script, cannot answer any questions and try and sell you on some useless service like cleaning your air ducts or whatever. They make an appointment for "their" truck to come out and do the work.

After dozens of these calls, I finally made an appointment just to see who would show up.
The guy was actually an American. I quizzed him on the reasons for using the cold callers. "No one reads their mail anymore" he says.

"Yeah, but you're pissing people off with these calls at night and on weekends."
"Why don't you advertise in some local small newspapers or just get more business through referrals?"

He left mad.

Now whenever I get a call like this, either from a live human or a recording, I go through the steps to make an appointment--usually you push 1 as soon as you hear the recording start, and you send them to the address of a vacant lot.

I encourage everyone to do the same. Let's make the cold callers useless to any real local purveyor of services. If you don't your telephone will soon become a nuisance you pay for rather than a tool.

Tony Rantala said...

I think this is a good discussion on forms violence and its effects on societal organization, including gender equality.

I believe the kind of feudalism seen in medieval times is not viable, since firearms favour general population against the elites. Feudal organization worked as long as mounted elites ruled the battlefield.

Women can fight, but the real question is are they willing to kill and die to be equal to men. I suppose there would different answers in different societies.

Nastarana said...


Very few institutions in the western world reject modern feminism more thoroughly than the Catholic Church. Therefore, allow me to refer you to a statement made by Pope John Paul II in which he said (I paraphrase) that for women there are two vocations, motherhood and consecrated life. For that remark he received a lot of criticism as you can imagine. I invite you to look carefully at what the statement does not say. It does not say women have a vocation to nurture, pamper, protect the vanity of, men. It says we must care for our children. Period. Catholics have been criticized for not allowing divorce, until recently, but doctrine does allow separation, even if priests have discouraged it.

BTW, anyone who entertains the notion that nuns are sexually frustrated spinsters incapable of functioning in adult life has never met one. These are some very formidable women.

I tend to agree with the Archdruid that this genie is well and truly out of its bottle, and not going back in any century soon. If trends among the already collapsed are any indication, we may be moving towards a society in which children are raised in woman dominated, extended families, with boys at some age around maybe 10 leaving to join the men's house.

JML said...

For those interested in the essential differences between the genders, I recommend that you read a book called The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain by Simon Baron-Cohen. Also take a look at the list of human universals linked below.

onething said...


Again, I agree with much of what you say but not all. I am familiar with the strength stats you mention. I find it intriguing the mentions that have been made here of women disguising themselves (or not) and going into battle. Obviously it has happened from time to time. I do wonder what those women looked like. There is a subset of women who are built stronger and with bigger upper bodies. Perhaps the strongest women elected themselves. I doubt if it was ever more than a handful here and there.

I'm not in any way against women pushing themselves to find their highest potential in any department. But it does bother me, or perhaps I should just say that I "note" that such discussions still seem to me worrisome if at root they are motivated by a desire to prove that women can be just as strong as men. No way, no how, aint' gonna happen. And it is so sad and unfair to use such a standard at all, no more fair than it would be to order a man to produce the holy blood or nurse his newborn.

Let us honor one another. Brute strength is an attribute, a very useful one, but not the only one.

Me anyway, rather than being jealous of mens' strength or denying their general tendency to tinker with the outside world, resulting in them doing most of the inventing, I exult and say what marvelous, intelligent, and useful servants we have! I know someone might read that as silly or insulting, but I do really mean that in a sincere and complimentary way. It's just the way things are, resulting from the structure of the universe.

One reason, however, that I might applaud a woman going into battle is that I am very partial to not forcing people into much of anything. Let the one who marches to a different drummer do so. Let the outliers be outliers without persecution.

I defended myself once. I was about 18, got off the bus in Los Angeles on a fine summer evening near dusk, and began walking carelessly homeward, not paying attention or walking near the street as I ought to have done but in front of the buildings which had an alley behind them. All of a sudden I felt myself jerked into the alley by a cloth over my mouth. I was not carrying a purse and I assume the motive was rape. I whirled, screamed, and kneed him in the groin. He crumpled, I ran.

To be continued...

onething said...

The rest...

Still, Daelach, I think you focus too much on the violence and the warlords and all that. Violence and skirmishes will be here and there, but most times and places will be relatively stable most of the time. Yes, rape often happens in times of battle, but again it is forgotten and not the norm. In my opinion rape is inexcusable, and if I had a son who had raped anyone or a brother or husband returning from war who had done so, I would remove my affections from them permanently. And I might indeed warn them of that before they depart.

I am not sure that a warlord and his society would have to oppress women. The native Americans varied, I believe, in their treatment of women, but at least some of them had women voting, and we could consider them as permanent war bands.

I guess, too, that it depends on what you consider oppressive. In the kind of survivalist societies you seem to be envisioning, there will of course be a division of labor according to gender. What is oppressive is laws that give all rights to a man in divorce, allow him to automatically keep the children, laws that mandate severe punishment for infidelity by a woman but not a man, laws that allow fathers to decide who their daughters will marry, or denying literacy to women.

On top of that, there is much psychological oppression by the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious axis and this I believe is the crux of the problem in the west. Although, is it better in the east?
The presentation of God or the godhead as all male is horrifying in that on a philosophical level it denies that the female has true existence. This is quite shocking and is probably the root of the deep wound that I mention. The feminism that I rail against is a shallow assessment of male attributes as a source of the problem and desire to have those attributes.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Phil,

I thought that your Higgs Boson joke was quite amusing!

I'm an avid fan of Grand Designs UK which has been going for 14 years now and is better and much quirkier and enjoyable than when it started all those years ago.

I got some bad news for you. As a self confessed soil geek I always take note of the soils when they are breaking ground for a new building in that show. The observations are reasonably consistent in that they're not much better than the worst soils here and there are many instances where they're not even as good as that.

Sure, the climate is not as extreme, so there is plenty of green around - so they could recover within a few years with a bit of hard graft and sacrifice - but it all gets down to the soils as to whether a population can feed itself. And, what do you feed the population in the meantime?

I'd also have to point out that it is probably not a bad idea to consider the aspects surrounding closing the nutrient loss cycle and slowing the flow of water across your landscape. All the nutrients from your imported food are now currently flowing into your waterways and the ocean and this is probably a bad idea and a lost opportunity.

I've noted that floods seem to be an increasing problem in your country and this often a result of poor management of the watershed - i.e. deforestation and running sheep (a really bad idea - here too) in the high country.

Also it may be worth pointing out that cereal crops require a reasonably consistent climate and also rainfall at the appropriate times i.e. during the growing times and not during the harvest (which causes the crops to ferment). Extreme weather events seem to be just sort of getting well, more extreme.

Yesterday here it was 32'C in the shade at lunchtime, but by 6pm it had dropped to 12'C as a cool change hit. Such changes put strain on farm animals - and it can get more extreme than that here.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi daelach,

People can have as many children as they want, but if you can't provide them with sustenance and shelter, well nature steps in and sorts it out.

The lower birth rates during those times were probably a sign of decline in available resources more than anything else. Just sayin...



Redneck Girl said...

daelach said...

@ karendetroit:

Women's Country will never be - for a couple of reasons:

Oh daelach, you are so wrong for more than a few reasons! Some of my ancestry is tribal and in that tribe, the Tsalagi/Cherokee had two tribal councils. One was the men's council and the other was the women's council. The men's council allotted to the women the farmland each needed to feed her family. Might not sound fair until you know what the women's council handled. War. It was their husbands, sons and brothers that would go to war, they would risk the loss of the main hunters for their hearths so it was they who decided if a war was worth that risk. That custom almost balanced power evenly but to make sure it was even, one more custom was observed. If a woman had lost all of her masculine familial support due to war, she could petition the men's council to go, to revenge her family's honor. The men would consider the woman's capabilities and if she could keep up on the war trail she was allowed to make war as well. Cherokee Women don't sit down, shut up and let the men make all the decisions.

For that matter recall the Hopi mother in the Iraq War who died with a dry rifle beside her when her convoy was ambushed. Of course everyone focused on another driver, a cute blond girl who never fired a shot.

In fact I think you believe the propaganda many European nations formulated that women are incapable of making war. Most of the uprisings in French Polynesia were lead by WOMEN. The French weren't pleased as you can imagine. Neither were they pleased at one African People's resistance to their colonization. They reserved particular vitriol for the army of women who served their King in battle riding trained war Bulls as steeds.

There are recorded instances in Japan's history of women Samurai, carrying all three swords, just like the men.

Finally there's the family history of a g'g'grandmother who had enough of drunken beatings and hungry children. Saving a few pennies here and there she prepared for the pay day festivities by putting a new muslin sheet on the bed, getting a brand new broom, setting stout string and a heavy needle under the bed and having her and her children's clothes packed and set behind the front door.

Her husband came through the door and worked off his drunken temper beating her before he fell on the bed in a sodden stupor. She quickly sewed him up tightly in the NEW sheet, grabbed her broom and beat the holy Hades out of him.

War isn't JUST men beating their chests and declaring their abilities, its also planning, strategy and courage. Why do you think women have none of these things?


DeAnander said...

I agree with JMG that how human cultures assign gender roles, rights and responsibilities varies pretty widely, from the frankly male supremacist to the matrilineal, and it's hard to say which adaptations might be most successful over the long haul. Patriarchy certainly has had a long run and spread widely, mostly by force of arms. But it's not always as successful as it seems; there are those who would argue, for example, that the civilisational predicament in which we now find ourselves is partly created and driven by patriarchal ideation (the identification of Nature as female and subsequent devaluation and even hostility towards "her")... and tottering towards collapse on an impoverished planet hardly seems like "success" to me.

One interesting side note is that one of the problems faced by early Anglo colonists on the E Coast of N America (a vengefully patriarchal bunch, for the most part) was that women and children would run away to join the indigenes. The so-called "savages" offered more of a life than the home team, and often those who had been "kidnapped by Indians" and then "rescued" (i.e. hunted down and returned to their "rightful owners") ran away again, persistently. This was seen at the time as proof of the diabolical power of the savage to corrupt the European mind; to me, a couple of centuries later, it seems pretty obvious that the colonist men were complete jerks and the "savages" were a lot more fun to live among. So much for the idea that "backwards" cultures can only be worse for women or kids...

So it is sometimes the case that the good ol' patriarchal culture loses some of its reproductive potential if the guys next door are offering a better deal. Same is true among baboon troops, as Sapolsky observed in the field: the Big Boss Baboon certainly does get away with beating everybody up and raping any female who doesn't run fast enough -- but the females sneak around behind his back to mate voluntarily with non-dominant baboons who are much nicer and often form lifelong friendships with females. So much for alpha-hood enforcing genetic monopoly :-) Also it turns out the alpha male baboon suffers from stress-related illnesses and may not live as long as the nice guys...

Of course, in the long run the indigenes lost that conflict :-( (and patriarchal human cultures may yet wipe out baboons as well, the nice along with the nasty). But then in the longer run, the colonial civilisation that decimated them is losing a larger game. Who knows whether N America may one day again see cultures similar to those First forest and plains Nations... and maybe women and kids from the warlord cultures will run away into the forest to join the savages :-)

Shane Wilson said...

@ Bill
Out of curiosity, I visited the Farm's website. Ugh. A quote from Steve Wozniak, a link to a TED talk, even a link to" financial permaculture", and a very commercialized, promotional feel...
@ JMG,
Sorry I'm just now responding, but one thing I like about your blogs is their neat, clean, focused literary quality. If you're going to have a blog online, this is how you should have it. I'd hate to see you go the route of other peak oil bloggers, and go all in on ads, links, photos, social media links, etc. I like the plain, straightforward, literary approach

bicosse said...


The "serf in India who can barely speak English" who is phoning you from a call centre is probably a graduate who speaks excellent Indian English, though with a strong accent that you find hard to understand.

I used to buy organic, fairtrade cotton clothes from a co-operative in Bristol, England, that had built a long-term, highly-successful relationship with a village in South India. That co-op has now closed down, in part because it was so successful in raising living standards in the village that many workers there were able to send their children to university so that they would not need to become tailors or embroiderers in their turn.

I mentioned this to a friend who is an academic with a deep knowledge and experience of India and she said, "Oh, they'll probably go to work in call centres. That's what lots of graduates in India do."

I fear intermediation has some way to go yet...

Robert Mathiesen said...

No, daleach, I'm not saying it's different this time. It's not. I'm saying it's more complex this time *and* every time, with other equally significant variables to take into account, than your analysis takes into account. That's all.

onething said...

Dear Iuval,

I wonder how you are doing? I did not say that the sole purpose of males is to serve females. I said that it is their most primal purpose. The rest of what you said I more or less stated in a different way.

Daelach, Claudia and Nastarana,

There's a big difference between renouncing motherhood, and having 16 babies. I stated here and have so stated before, that my interest is to preserve knowledge of basic health, sanitation, and birth control as a way NOT to go back to 50% dead babies. And I think that not getting pregnant back to back is a big part of that. As a woman who has always had a strongish drive, I would have been destroyed by having to choose between my marriage and unwanted, excess pregnancy. Certainly in this I feel some anger at the Roman church. In my opinion this is perhaps the most common cause of human misery and ill health, and so easily rectified. To continue this stance in the face of the world population crisis is myopic and suicidally rigid. As to the pope's statement, I am confused. Surely he did not mean that every unmarried woman must become a nun?

That other declining civilizations had low births among the upper classes, and with an attitude that childbearing was belittling - well I never heard that and would like to know more.

wiseman said...

Of course there is always an outlier, there are a lot of rich farmers in India today but they are a minority. I was talking about the vast majority who own a few acres and do all the labor themselves. It's backbreaking work and not worth it, hence the spate of farmer suicides.

Might I remind you that agriculture is still the dominant form of economy in this country if not in size then in terms of participation rate, as far as as the future is concerned I don't know what's going to happen to dalits or any other group. One thing I know for sure is that there are a lot of under historically oppressed groups who have tasted success since India became independent and they are not going to give away those gains without a fight, so there will be violence.

On a selfish note I am more concerned with my immediate future and not in what's going to happen 100 years down the line. There is still too much energy and too much wastage in this world for it to return to full scale agriculture in the next 30-40 years and that's what I am interested in.

Steven Szydlowski said...

I thought you might find this little snippet indicative of another example of catabolic collapse and a return to a lower level of complexity: Best regards, Steve Szydlowski

John Michael Greer said...

Myosotis, yes, and there were also professions that were dominated by women in the Middle Ages. As I've tried to point out here and elsewhere, the history of gender relations is far more complex than either left-wing or right-wing stereotypes suggest.

Bill, I hadn't heard about Stephen Gaskin's death. I read a number of his early books back in the day.

Cherokee, I'll have to go look up what's available on the history of money. What I'll be talking about is actually more specialized: what happens to monetary systems in dark ages, and, ahem, what happens to the people who try to rely on monetary systems in dark ages.

Phil, okay, given the absence of modern inputs, it's going to be tough but potentially doable. I hope the government has the common sense to encourage a return to crofting as things get tight.

Marcello, no question, we enjoy huge advantages as a result of the reckless consumption of half a billion years of fossil sunlight. The point I was trying to make is simply that idealizing the past isn't the only possible mistake -- it's also very common for people to use the past as a dumping ground for fantasies on the other end of the scale, which are just as inaccurate.

Daelach, I'm not sure if you're aware that flintlocks have had a major revival in the US and are readily available. I'm far from sure that percussion caps won't be an option -- this is early 19th century technology, after all, and the revolvers that were standard personal weapons in the old West were made using handpowered equipment. Thus the use of firearms for personal defense and, more important, the defense of communities is pretty much a given in the deindustrial era, and musket battles don't have much in common with a soccer game, you know.

Ed-M, oh, granted. The town where I live is too small to have a really entrenched urban political machine, so there's more flexibility here.

Varun, glad to hear it.

Marcello, peasants in the Middle Ages got about one day off in every three -- every significant saint's day was a holiday from work. So you're not quite doing as well as your medieval equivalent in that department!

Claudia, the label "angry feminists" doesn't imply that all feminists are angry; it implies a distinction between those who spend a lot of their time expressing anger from those who don't. If you haven't encountered those who do, be glad.

Marin, funny. I hope they don't slap you with a lawsuit for misdirecting them.

Tony, the political implications of firearms in the deindustrial dark age is a fascinating question. Will firearms prevent a feudal system from forming? Will they lead to some kind of modified feudalism? Will the standard sort of post-dark age feudalism evolve anyway? None of us know for sure, nor will we have the chance to find out -- but it's an interesting question.

John Michael Greer said...

JML, thanks for the recommendation.

DeAnander, the First Nations lost that conflict mostly because of sheer demographics, combined with the huge gap in military technologies. I don't anticipate any such gap opening up in the future, not least because (a) the fossil fuel reserves that made the 19th century US so powerful are gone forever, and (b) firearms are a relatively simple technology and sufficiently advantageous in war that I don't imagine anyone will let it become a lost technology. Thus a future conflict between warlord societies and indigenes will likely take place on much more equal terms.

Shane, don't worry, I'm not going to chatter on about social media or start bringing in irrelevant ads and the like. I thought long and hard before posting links to my books alongside the blog, and that's about as far as I feel like taking things. One of the advantages of the way I've set up this whole project is that I have some control over such issues!

Steven, thanks for the link!

Charles Blair said...

"Just coming up with a non-fossil energy source won't cut it; we'd need an energy source that was at least as abundant and concentrated as fossil fuels, and preferably much more so, which could be used without wrecking the biosphere."

I was thinking specifically of aricles like this,, which is not the only article to mention it. The biosphere that would be wrecked would not be our own; we would simply be repeating a pattern of wreckage elsewhere (putting to one side the consideration of whether the moon has a biosphere, strictly speaking). Speaking for myself, a Riddley Walker kind of future is probable, if not inevitable. But Aristotle defined rhetoric (more or less, and paraphrasing from memory), as finding the available means of persuasion in any given case. Preaching to the choir is one thing. Preaching to those among my friends and acquaintances who could use persuasion is another. They will be impervious to what appear to them to be "faith-based" arguments, that the past is a predictor of the future. Most people believe in a linear, not a circular, view of history. To break them of that habit, some strong empirical arguments would help, such as, as I suggested, to do what you envision will exhaust the available supply of conventional energy to make that happen, or X, Y, or Z will occur to make it impossible (e.g., a climate or biological or whatever catastrophe). If arguments like these are not forthcoming, fine; one will simply have to rely on less quantifiable, more impressionistic (for the impressionable mind) means of persuasion.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Phil, I take issue with your assertion that much of Scotland can't grow trees. Maybe not for idiot monocrop forestry that's destined for clear-cutting (and a damn' good thing too, not to sustain such madness). But trees offer many blessings to the world and to humankind, beyond such crudities, even including still a certain limited amount of sustainably-harvested structural timber.

They're much better as permanent mixed, complex forests, and can certainly thrive all over Scotland as such; with, naturally, the full complement of all the other species who would be there, given the chance. And that needs to include the essential big predators, of course, to grow the whole ecosystem to maximum health and energy/matter productivity.

I look forward to the time, probably after I've quit this particular lifetime, when the citizens of an independent Scotland lead the way for the whole of Britain, in wisely assisting the Ents in their greatly-to-be-hoped-for regeneration of An Choile Mhor Dara/Yr Ail Coed Mawr/The Second Great Wood, which should by sound ecological rights be re-covering nearly the whole of the islands of Britain and Eire PDQ, ASAP. As long, that is, as climate shift doesn't make The Isles inhospitable to trees altogether.

But that's surely not true at the moment of any part of Scotland. Right now, there's no reason why even such mountains as Glamaig and Marsco - and all the rest - shouldn't be re-forested almost to their summits; progressively, given time and a little human help. Just restrain the sheep and the deer a little with the help of re-introduced wolves, bears, wolverines, and lynxes and - perhaps surprisingly - beavers.

And to balance the mix perfectly, to make still possible at least a reduced amount of domestic sheep and cattle keeping, add in Old-World shepherd-dog breeds, such as Anatolians, Caucasian Ovcharki, and all the rest of that stirling ilk...

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

PS: Specialist permaculture/forest-permaculture techniques can do some astonishing things, even in the most inhospitable places. The very famous case, of course, is Geoff Lawton's 'Greening The Desert' work, in Jordan.

But there are many others, in quite other climates, soils and terrains, too. I've had a hand in some of them myself. Nil desperandum, Phil! Scotland can do lots with what it's got; probably even better than Cuba in the Special Period... :))

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