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John Michael Greer's work
  • The Archdruid Report is a blog which is gathering up some folks interested in culture and future. He discusses themes related to peak oil, energy conservation, and strategies for economic survival and energy descent. He usually puts something up once a week, and there are often a hundred (moderated) comments each week, many of which he personally answers, so the discussion threads tend to be interesting too. This is a thread to discuss his ideas.
  • Victor Papanek's book Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change (first published in 1971, 2nd edition 1984) is well worth a read. A basic pdf version is available here

    As Papanek explained in the introduction to the 2nd edition

    On its first American appearance, the ideas in this book were derided, made fun of, or savagely attacked by the design establishment. One professional design magazine printed a review that classified some of my suggestions, such as greater energy savings, the return to sailing ships and lighter-than-air craft, and research into alternative energy sources, as ‘idiosyncratic pipedreams’ and dismissed the book as ‘an attack on Detroit [= car-industry] mixed with a utopian concern for minorities.’ I was asked to resign from my professional organization in the United States, and, when the Centre Georges Pompidou planned an exhibition of American industrial design, my professional society threatened to boycott it if any of my work was included. The tin-can radio was especially ridiculed and earned me the title ‘the Garbage Can Designer’.

    I find it very frustrating that Papanek's theory and practice of sustainable design is still relegated to the sidelines rather than being part of the mainstream.  It is getting on for 40 years ago since I first read it. I am reading through the'new and improved'  2nd edition and it is as relevant today as it was then.

    The problem is revealed in Papanek's quote - his approach was rejected and derided by the institutions which he needed to convert. There was no paradigm shift. So we have lost 40 years of  potential movement towards a sustainable future. Which makes the task at hand much harder than it would otherwise have been.     
  • Er, @alistairliv I'm not getting the connection between your post above and @wonderland 's? Could you connect them for me?

    JMG's last blog post was fully of tidbits I scampered off to dig deep into. His framing of Plato's Republic into Pluto's Republic, the contextualizing use of thaumaturgy and theurgy in particular:

    Bruno’s writings on magic describe magic in much the same way Culianu
    did, as a system of manipulation that casts out lures for nonrational
    desires. It’s a common way of thinking about magic, the kind of magic
    I’ve labeled thaumaturgy in earlier posts. The interesting thing here is
    that Culianu also discussed the very different figure of Marsilio
    Ficino, who was an even more important figure in the history of magic
    than Bruno, but who practiced the other kind of magic, the kind I’ve
    called theurgy...Instead of manipulating other people by means of nonrational lures, he
    taught students to direct the nonrational aspects of their own minds, so
    that they could think more clearly and avoid the distortions of thought
    and feeling that clinical depression brings with it. While Ficino has a
    place in Culianu’s book, though, the theurgic dimension of his work
    gets very little exposure there.

    The entire post is well worth reading along with the one early on Post Peak Oil Initiation.

    I've been a fan of JMG's since a World Full of Gods was suggested to me. The Myth of Progress as outlined in several of his books had my household sitting back on its collective heels nodding and murmuring in deep brain bashed agreement.

    I love reading his work as it reveals connections and in depth aspects of Western history tied to the occult, the study of Western Magic, and the Post Peak social economic down spiral. however, there have been a few times when the Western lens (admittedly his focus) is stressful and anxiety raising for me when I would  prefer a more global view.

  • XK -From the archdruid blog on 'Peak Oil Initiation'

    Given that our entire civilization had plenty of warning, and that ten minutes of unprejudiced thought ought to have been enough to demonstrate to anybody the absurdity of expecting to get away with infinite economic growth on a finite planet, why didn’t we do what must, to the eyes of the future, look like the obviously right decision, and downshift to a less energy- and resource-intensive steady state economy while we had the chance? Why, instead, did we keep on lurching blindly forward on a one-way street headed straight to history’s compost bin, all the while angrily shouting down the few that tried to warn us of where we were going?

    Victor Papanek was an advocate of 'a less -energy and resource- intensive steady state economy' and he came up with designs for socially useful products which would have helped the transition to such a sustainable economy. Papanek was one of 'the few that tried to warn us of where we were going' and was 'angrily shouted down'. 

    If we are going to get from an unsustainable to a sustainable society and economy, then Papanek's work needs to be remembered and applied. Which is why I mentioned him. 

  • Thank you!
  • Planning for the future: here is the Archdruid's recommendation:

    Learn one thing, give up one thing, save one thing.

    What do folks here think? Any ideas about what you are learning, giving up, saving for the future?
  • JMG presents an outline of what an adaptive response to peak oil would look like:

    "First, an adaptive response is scalable
    – that is, it can be started and tested on a very small scale, with a
    minimal investment of resources, and then expanded from there if it
    proves to work. A fusion reactor is not scalable; you either have one,
    after trillions of dollars of further investment, or you don’t. ... What we need, by contrast,
    are responses that can start out with individuals committing only the
    money, resources and time they can easily spare.

    Second, an adaptive response is modular
    – that is, it can be broken down into distinct elements, each of which
    functions on its own without needing the involvement of all the other
    parts. That allows something that doesn’t work well to be swapped out
    without disrupting the rest of the system; it also allows elements
    suited to one stage of the deindustrializing process to be replaced with
    something else when that stage gives way to another. Think of the
    difference between a machine and a toolkit. A machine either does the
    job or it doesn’t, and if the job changes, you usually have to replace
    the entire tool. If you have a toolkit, by contrast, the jobs that
    can’t be done with one tool can usually be done with another.

    Third, an adaptive response is open
    – that is, it can be combined freely with other approaches to the
    challenges of the future and the enduring predicaments of human
    existence. None of us can know in advance what belief systems,
    socioeconomic arrangements, and lifestyle choices will turn out to be
    most adaptive at each stage of the decline of industrial society.
    Locking a response into one particular set of approaches limits its
    usefulness, and could lead people in the future to jettison valuable
    options because they have become too thoroughly entangled with a
    dysfunctional economic system or a discredited ideology.
  • wonderland said: What do folks here think? Any ideas about what you are learning, giving up, saving for the future?

    I think his approach is pretty great especially dissensus and how that fits into everyone picking what to learn, give up, and save.

    I've learned a bunch of things including basic food preservation in response to his challenge. I haven't picked a thing to give up or to save yet as my test drives have resulted in mixed to bad social results.

    how have you done with it @wonderland ?
  • Just starting to think about it.

    I think my learn is biointensive organic horticulture. I am working on my composting skills, helped along by copious chicken manure and the fallen leaves I am gathering for their bedding right now - instant green/brown mix! When I am happy that I have a thermophilic compost pile I can do a lot with it - it's instant sanitation and a large lart of waste disposal, for a start. (Did I ever tell you I am hoping I can find someone willing to compost me when I stop living?) So perhaps composting starts, although the use of the end result to grow food is the point, really.

    I am thinking about the 'give up'. Because I live in a town that incinerates its rubbish, I have been mostly using disposable nappies for my daughter. She is just getting the hang of using the potty & loo for her toilet needs now, so this one is disappearing. One stroke that cuts our waste stream by half. I am considering another kid and the plan is not to use disposable nappies at alll for that one (although that was that plan for #1, my state of health and finishing my PhD kinda got in the way!). So disposable nappies is a candidate. Not sure what else. I eat crisps and chocolate regularly, so I could decide to stop buying those processed foods in general. I can buy raw cocoa beans at the wholefood shop, so I can still make what we call "virtuous chocolate" around here: raisins, cocoa beans, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds mixed in a bowl. I could try not buying the ready-made glutenfree food, especially since it comes overpackaged and often from supermarkets; I can buy the flour and make my own if I want bread-like things. The problem with that choice would be that those kind of foods are usually a sign I am over-extended anyway - if I am in good shape I don't need to fall back on them. So taking away a fallback option seems unwise. So, I will keep you informed if I find my way to a choice of "give up".

    Save is interesting. I am not surprised at the bad social results - I think it pushes a lot of people's panic buttons to even suggest we might have some responsibility for the shape of the future let alone that no-one else might save your most precious cultural artefact. Would you like to write more about what you have considered so far?

    I am considering - learning how to use a slide rule, and getting log tables; putting my small collection of bio-statistical texts (statistical tables, experimental design and teaching texts in statistics for experimental design) in a box and focusing on keeping that collection; getting the music for some of my favourite arias and learning to play and sing them; learning to make high quality functional bras from local fibres (!) this would be hard but valuable... Must dash, infant.
  • Best replacement for a candy bar I've found is a medjool date (pit removed), whole peeled cacao bean inserted, and sealed with a dollop of almond butter.

    I've learned so much from Permaculture and Geomancy but I often feel like I really should push myself hard on the well dowsing. Go work with more old timers and more importantly just do it more regularly. That feels like a solid skill to have. I should also combine the two interests/passions on the subject and learn to build solar cheapo water distillers. I've got plans, but again, not enough practical hands on time.

    My food growing skills are meh and I like to think it's because I don't focus as much as I should. Avoiding conflict with the neighbors over their dogs in the garden kept me somewhat emotionally distant from the garden here. I can claim experimentation watching the tomatoes go as they wish and testing the volunteer sweet potato as a guild plant, but I haven't done an intensive food production garden/ edible food forest and I really should.

    I have been steadily learning wild forage foods and food preservation and those new interests make me feel more functional. I gifted a friend some oatmeal out of the bulk I bought and it felt wonderful. Really want to get going on the lactoferments in house.

    Was thinking of giving up meals out as a non special occasion option but this was hugely unpopular with the spouse. I might give up a resource intensive food that gets shipped in.

    Your slide rule saving sounds fantastic! Thinkgeek had ones made a while back that I was thinking of getting and then asking my dad tot each me to use. That might be the way to go. Alternatively, I could step up to learn and save the rope and peg geometry Alexander Thom discovered was used for megalithic circles.
  • The utility of the biostatistics skill set might not be obvious, but it's one of the 20th century's greats in my opinion. The field was invented in order to do field trials of crops. Plant growing is so multivariate that statistical analysis was largely invented, if I understand correctly, in order to be able to properly co-ordinate and control the trials.

    Fermentation too! I am hoping to learn how to make miso - (have you heard me say this before? I have been hoping to learn for a while and not carved out the time yet.) I have an idea that miso-making will be hugely valuable - the better-cropping local peas and beans in the UK are not the most palatable, but fermenting those with aspergillus should produce great flavours as well as contributing the storage and good nutrition.
  • Re: slide rule - actually, right, it makes sense if I make an attempt at that package of wizardry: slide rule and log tables to caretake the numeracy upon which the biostatistics depends. If I am going to take that on I need to have a think about how. My community food project provides a context for me to use the knowledge, and a potential group to learn and use the skills with. I am not going to have much to offer if it is just a dusty box with the stuff in - better to be using them regularly to do the necessary calculations to test the different vegetable varieties and so on. I think it would be best if I find someone with a more steady, down-to-earth temperament to share this task with, as I am flighty, enthusiastic and vision-motivated but not always logical, systematic, or in touch with all the details. I am the kind of person who re-invents the system halfway through the task if I don't keep very strict control of my impulses, it's a wonder I finished my PhD.
  • wonderland said: it's a wonder I finished my PhD.

    That's a huge accomplishment for anyone and you should be wicked proud!

    Re: Miso

    I'm not sure if you have mentioned it before but have i sent you to these folks? They are fairly near to me (relative to the size of the country) and produce amazing yummy traditionally made miso: South River Miso
  • Seriously great vid on hand crafted miso makers South River Miso.
  • That is awesome. See, any one of these skills could easily eat my life - miso, slide rules, etc. How to pick just one?!

    I just realized nixtamalization of corn is an important skill for someone to save, too. Probably not me, since it is pretty hard to grow hard maize in this country.
  • Ooh, here's some good stuff:

    "Conventional ideas of planning tend to assume situations like the first
    scenario I’ve just outlined, where the problem and the potential
    solutions are both clearly visible and the only issue is how to connect
    them. More innovative ideas of planning – and it’s to the credit of the
    peak oil scene that these latter have been very well represented there –
    tend to assume situations like the second scenario, where investigation
    must precede planning, and then follow along the planning process to
    keep it on track, rather like a herdsman’s dog trotting alongside a
    flock of sheep. As I see it, though, the situation we face at the end of
    the petroleum age most resembles the third scenario, where all we have
    to go on is a relatively vague idea of what a solution might be like,
    success or failure can be known only in retrospect, and improvisation is
    the order of the day."

  • On the slide rule topic, I have discovered a tutorial, and have a plan - I think the thing to do will be to begin revising my A level mathematics and statistics, using a slide rule wherever I would previously have used a calculator. It would be ideal if I can find another person in town who wants to do the same one afternoon a month or an hour a week or something at a mutually convenient time. That's where I sometimes have difficulties locally - our fossil-fuelled reality-tunnels (do I get some kind of ex-lith bingo point?) are so widely divergent that in some cases we may as well be speaking martian to each other, and significant social investment is necessary before any functional communication can arise. Meanwhile the credit crunch crunches onwards, reducing the amount of trust in solution.
  • Hey, I've been thinking, could I persuade one of those expensive magazines for kids to have some pocket slide-rules made up to stick on the front as the free gift? Not sure how, but that would be great.

    More from Greer, on the political challenge ahead - he speaks from the USA but the situation in the UK is not profoundly different to my eyes:

    "Over the next decade or so, the United States will have to work out a
    way to stand down from a global military-economic empire it can no
    longer afford to maintain; it will have to find the money and the means
    to replace a mostly fictive economy based on the manipulation of baroque
    financial instruments with a real economy based on the production of
    goods and services for people; it will have to make good on decades of
    malign neglect inflicted on the national infrastructure on nearly every
    level, even as it struggles to convert a suburban landcape viable only
    in an age of cheap abundant fossil fuels to something that makes sense
    in the world of scarce and expensive energy ahead of us.

    Few of
    the changes that will be imposed by these necessities will be popular.
    Many, in fact, will be bitterly resented, and none of them will come
    cheaply. We have wasted so many opportunities and poured so many of our
    once-abundant resources into a decades-long joyride that the next few
    years will almost certainly impose one wrenching challenge after another
    on a society that the recent past has left very poorly equipped to face
    them. Our history is among the heaviest burdens we face, because the
    habits we learned during America’s imperial zenith are among the things
    that are most necessary to unlearn in the new and far more multipolar
    world dawning around us."
  • I've been obsessed with the nixtamalization of maize since I learned of pellagra.  Sharon Astyk mentions mixing in sterile ash from hardwood prepared especially for the task ( I think that's who it was...). I've been trying to grow heirloom blue corn and have succeed with two lovely if late maturing stalks in my front yard. I planted them too late to get ears I'm afraid, but they seem to have really quite liked the modified guild of watermelon and buttercup squash as a base layer companion. I didn't have any scarlet runner beans to put in there this year so it was 2/3 the normal three-sisters guild.

    I'm not sure how to test any of my maize food preps to make sure the nixtamalization is adequate? I should ask my biochemist sibling for a sanity check option.

    I'm also way into adapting Northern varieties of Japanese rice to New England growing conditions. There are some folks up in Vermont using traditional methods and I believe South River Miso grow a large amount of their own rice. Getting staple grains in as well as root veg varieties seems hugely important. to that end, I'm very excited my Japanese white sweet potato is thriving. Probably going to mulch it madly and bring in some slips to over winter.

    Back to JMG!

    I'm totally down with his dismissal of lifeboat eco villages out in the boonies and instead focusing on pre industrial small cities/towns that maintain infrastructure. I think given where I am, the state of Maine has a superbly vibrant and outgoing Permie community working hard to bring those resources online.

    That said, I still find the majority of people are sleep walking with the Myth of Progress full emblazoned on their eyelids. They seem to believe 'Merica will only continue to lead the world in military and other ventures and doesn't need manufacturing or embedded 'hippy' local food production.

  • That's a really good question about nixtamalzing - crucial, how to know if it's done right. You haz gud brainz.

    Sweet potato sounds good. Must remember to haul some slips in from mine before we get frost, won't be long now. My folks (10 miles away outside the city) had their first frost last week, so ours could be any time.

    I'm hoping it's adequate to be aware of the problems of the place where I live but not to immediately move. Without mains water, piped from reservoirs in the Peak District, we wouldn't be able to wash much. I think we could scrape on what rain I can collect (eat, drink, cook and wash hands) but the brook here is small, and the population large in comparison. There has been a city here for a long time (bronze age sacred lake under the city centre :/)  but this bit where I live is edge-of-city postwar housing project, built for folks on low incomes, and not much water. So I highly aware of my dependence on the water company for comfort!

    Yeah the sleep walking is incredible. And this brings me to this week's post - "A lesson in practical magic". What I am taking away from it is - ignorance of ecology/peak oil is a trance, heavily maintained by the commercial operations who depend on unsustainable consumption. He writes some stuff in this post about how we choose to spend our time, in order to stay focused on the reality of the ecological situation: firstly to avoid too much of what he calls popular culture; secondly to avoid too much exposure to people who consume large amounts of 'popular culture', and to make sure to fill up the space created with activities that feed the soul.

    I can see a clear advantage in taking the viewpoint he is recommending - that there is a monolithic "popular culture" and that many other people are heavily conditioned by it. Is there a fruitful alternative? I have for several years been wary of anything that has a flavour of elitism - mostly because so many of the people I have found who are fondest of considering "the masses" as "sheeple" seem to me to hold a very narrow perspective themselves. Greer's perspective obviously provides him with liberty; and I can see that adopting it could help me solve some of the problems I encounter with my attempts to live sanely. Could it be modified to avoid the flavour of elitism? Perhaps someone else will see more clearly.

    He goes on to discuss the way in which people can be attracted by the 'lively new tune' of a person who is liberated from 'popular culture', and this makes some sense to me. Bruno Latour (I think in the introduction to 'The pasteurization of France') writes about the impossibility of the "great man"; that each person has their own reasons for picking up a concept that works for them. I have a hope in my practice that pursuing my own work, finding solutions that work for me and please me, might be attractive and hence useful to others, and I think this is similar to what Greer is saying - when anyone finds a stylish solution, others may be inspired to find their own stylish solutions as well, and we can inspire each other, and advertize the tools we find to stay free of the trance of ignoring ecological reality.

    I think I might read Peladan's 'Life latent around you' differently; the effect on the objects which I handle and the non-human beings, not just the human beings. I am prone to animism, or at least a phenomenological approach, in quiet ways. I observe that the space around me is a very accurate reflector of the energy that I am experiencing (using energy to mean, the flavour of my emotional processes?). So the life latent around me in the embodied energy of the goods and possessions I handle at home, at work, in my neighbourhood - those have the capacity to reflect back to me a consciousness that is more or less constructive, with reference to my goal of living in ecological awareness.
  • "Yeah the sleep walking is incredible. And this brings me to this week's post - 'A lesson in practical magic'.
    What I am taking away from it is - ignorance of ecology/peak oil is a
    trance, heavily maintained by the commercial operations who depend on
    unsustainable consumption."

    There's a collosal anger response to anything which threatens to break that trance. I've found that mentioning anything even remotely connected to the concept of peak oil is enough to send some people into a state of irritation or even fury.  Just discussing a basic skill like soap making can be enough to send some people into a hissy fit.  "Substitute for coffee?  Why would you need a SUBSTITUTE for COFFEE?  THERE'S PLENTY OF COFFEE!"

    These days when anyone asks I tell them I'm preparing for the zombies.
  • My own version of the trance is more a flavour of despair.  If you can't engage with the mass culture in the way it wants you to -- by supplying the corporate machine with labour and then spending money on the things it produces -- it spits you out.  It spins a whole host of overwhelming narratives of personal worthlessness and insignificance.  Why bother cutting down on waste, why bother changing what you use or buy, when you're too tiny and insignificant to make a difference?  Why bother learning these skills, making these changes, when the majority of people aren't worrying about any of this stuff?  You're deluded, self-aggrandizing, ridiculous.  Step away from the soap vat, flip on X-Factor and drink this chai-mocha-latte with artificial sweetner.  You'll feel better.
  • Ouch! Crap, MC, that's dead on.

  • Wow, yes. Good words of power, @MC. And @XK upthread, thanks for much for linking the ThinkGeek Slide Rule, I am having a proper moment of consumer temptation.

    Reading your words makes me appreciate the value of writing those stuffs down. I know for me, if I am able to outwit the internal censor long enough to get them on paper, it's possible to use them as the material for transformation.

    So, if we are talking about the reverse-trance (I am thinking in NLP terms where any state could be a trance); we are talking about a trance of ecological awareness?

    How to re-enter it? In my own place and practice, I am trying to organize my home so it is easier to do the right thing than not. Greer is recommending staying out of consumer culture - in a way I imagine that might mean spending as much time as I can in spaces that I have more influence. I can gain traction on my wish to keep inside ecological awareness by monitoring the proportion of my time that I spend in physical spaces that symbolically and practically support my inhabitation of that trance.

    How to support it? As Greer mentions in the comments - not everyone needs social support; but I am one who definitely appreciates it. I think it is worthwhile, for me, to be pretty systematic about giving myself helpful social contacts. I have sufficient involuntary or obligatory social contacts that I am not isolated from society at large, but I recognize my need to connect with other thoughtful people of similar intention. I realized I while back that if I see or speak to at least three people I like, every week, besides my partner and daughter, it helps me stay on the happier side of life. I need a certain number of social contacts with people who value me, so my social animal gets reassured.

    I am assuming we share a common agenda of wanting most people to feel liberated from consuming/feeling worthless etc., - I am having some thoughts about how can it be lived in a way that is most gently approachable for those who are not inside it? (I think this is connected to 'How to (re-)enter it?') I know I have very little success when I am feeling panicky and trying to argue and persuade; or feeling angry and trying to get some message across that seems obvious to me. My practice is much more peruasive and effective if I am grounded in a practice of joy and wholeness, and I am sharing fruits from that practice - those are more likely to be fruits people want.
    @MC If you can't engage with the mass culture in the way it wants you to --
    by supplying the corporate machine with labour and then spending money
    on the things it produces -- it spits you out.  It spins a whole host of
    overwhelming narratives of personal worthlessness and insignificance. 
    Why bother cutting down on waste, why bother changing what you use or
    buy, when you're too tiny and insignificant to make a difference?  Why
    bother learning these skills, making these changes, when the majority of
    people aren't worrying about any of this stuff?  You're deluded,
    self-aggrandizing, ridiculous.

    This hits me so strongly, I am wondering if it could be used as a framework for constructing my counter-trance. I hope that's ok with you, @MC. I am aware of how valuable it is for me to use cognitive techniques in self-managing, using words and thoughts to fight against the tendencies I don't like in myself.

    Worthwhile & significant - what practices reflect back to me a feeling of worth; how do I know my time is well spent? What significance do my acts need to have, for me to be able to act?

    How do I know if I have made a difference
    ? Can I use regular opportunities in my practice - daily? Lunar or solar cycles maybe? - to assess the differences I can observe? I notice that I use this - I set some targets for this year and I think I have a hope of achieving them, managed the first one already and made a good step towards #2 last week.

    Why bother - this one is great! I love Meadows' "Theory of Anyway":
    "What it entails is this - she argues that 95% of what is needed to
    resolve the coming crises in energy depletion, or climate change, or
    most other global crises are the same sort of efforts. When in doubt
    about how to change, we should change our lives to reflect what we
    should be doing "Anyway." Living more simply, more frugally, using less,
    leaving reserves for others, reconnecting with our food and our
    community, these are things we should be doing because they are the
    right thing to do on many levels. That they also have the potential to
    save our lives is merely a side benefit (a big one, though).
    Deluded, self-aggrandizing, ridiculous: J M Greer suggested what I think is a good way to end-run this criticism), works for me anyway. He suggests that it may be more useful to be a comic hero than a tragic one; following the inspiration of 'Muddling towards frugality' (extensive excerpts free online by permission of author.)
    "As an alternative, Johnson offers the unexpected possibility of the
    comic hero. Throughout the Western literary tradition, comic heroes
    have most often been muddlers, stumbling half blind through situations
    they don’t understand with no grander agenda than coming out the other
    side with a whole skin and some semblance of comfort. They aren’t
    especially heroic, and their efforts at muddling through crisis fail to
    inspire the kind of reverent attention so many proponents of social
    change seem to long for. Unlike tragic heroes, though, they usually do
    come out the other side of the story, and not uncommonly bring the rest
    of the cast with them.

  • This hits me so strongly, I am wondering if it could be used as a
    framework for constructing my counter-trance. I hope that's ok with you,

    Don't mind at all.  I for one could do with an antidote to that stuff.
  • I found that my signal to noise ratio skyrocketed getting off FB and limiting my consumption of pop culture (including J-Pop). Tuning the intake is a huge thing in Buddhism especially  Thich Nhat Hanh's modern Zen approach. For me it isn't elitism to suggest we quality control our intakes to our own tailored desires. Garbage In -> Garbage Out vs.  Mindfulness In -> Mindfulness Out.

    My filters include removing: passive aggressive social media dramaz (FB), rape eroticism (this is hard as D/s is a wired stimulant for me so  I default to 2D ecchi/pr0n), gender essentialism, unexamined racism, and I'm working on limiting glorified violence. I add in filters to up the intake of social economic theory, ecological and social activism, and most recently educating myself more fully in the cause of Indigenous People locally and globally.

    I try and balance the desire for escapist entertainment with educational intake so  fiction novels  have a lower priority than new skill manuals. The trick is new coping mechanisms have to be brought online before down sizing the escapist consumer based current ones. I needed my Buddhist practices to be online before I could stop using the consumer medication (dopamine release in particular) to deal with life stress.

    Being part of the local Permaculture groups is a huge help for feeling validated about certain choices and thoughts. My close friends are all land focused artists who share Post Peak and social economic critiques.

    A personal example I have of rewiring myself is learning the reason I cherished my capacity for violence for so long was that I viewed it as functionally protective of me. Only in sitting meditation did I crank it down to see that it had never truly protected me only generated further conflict and my attachment to it was based on not having a more functional replacement. These insights were made possible by tuning out  the main stream culture and pushing myself into non violent interconnected theory.

    Even with all of this work over the last  decade I'm still am aware that I'm hobbled in my perceptions of personal success and not living in the future tense of expectation. Being comfortable in the present takes a shit ton of work.

    @wonderland I bet I can find you a used slide rule at a garage sale or a geek dad basement shout out...
  • Huge respect for that piece of work. Blessings!

    It's in progress - we have done a shout out on Quaker lists in the UK - replies so far from 2 men in their 60s who say, no sorry, you can't have mine I am still using it - which is good in a way. But also from a young woman who just inherited her grandad's slide rule collection - win. And I have been signed up to do a short workshop on slide rules and log tables next summer, so I have a deadline to learn towards.

    More from JMG, in the comments to an old post - found it intriguing:

    "As for the initiatory training, the interesting thing is that it covered none of those things. Instead, it's a training in learning how to
    learn; it focuses on understanding how consciousness, experience, and symbolism relate to one another. Once you grasp that, you can learn anything, because you've got the mental tools to unpack the deep
    structures of any system of symbolic reference -- that is, any kind of knowledge at all.
  • JMG on the lifecycle of cultures, after Giambattista Vico:
    "Vico’s argument is complex and difficult to summarize, but one of its
    core themes – the one whose relevance to the present struck me most
    forcefully that night in Las Vegas – is the role of abstraction. A wide
    range of social phenomena, Vico pointed out, focus entirely on specific
    concrete realities in the early days of a culture, and evolve toward
    abstraction over the lifespan of the culture. Law codes start out as
    lists of rules for specific cases, and broaden into statements of
    principles covering infinite variation in practice; words leave behind
    concrete meanings – how many people nowadays recall that the verb
    “understand” once meant literally “to stand under,” in the sense of
    upholding or supporting something? – and take on ever more nuanced
    meanings; religion begins in the shattering impact of the numinous on
    individual lives, and diffuses into elegant theological notions
    disconnected from the realities of human experience."
    I find this interesting and reassuring - because so much of my effort at the moment is decidedly concrete. But this fits if I am beginning to work in a new cultural framework. It's not surprising then, that the most concrete of concerns are what take up my time and effort. Not that such theories should be leant on heavily but it's good to have a conceptual security blanket in the trackless land of truth, especially for someone like me who has spent several years in the rarefied surrounds of what Bruce Sterling calls "technogothic" culture.
  • I used to own a slide rule, but can't think what happened to it. 

    I do know you can make your own.  In fact, there are lots of resources for slide rule building. (That last link is a video.)

    It's basically two slats with a third, sliding slat in between with some kind of pointer that slides up and down over all three. You could make a functional one out of cardboard in 20 minutes, I think (if you print out the scales). A nice wooden one would take a little longer, but would probably be more like an afternoon project than a week-long one. 

  • I have found that his comments on pop culture vs. "good taste" strike a rather jarring cord with me.  I get his point that "contemporary mass-produced popular culture exists solely for the purpose of emptying your wallet and your brain" is valid, but...

    Popular culture is an artifact of industrialization, geared towards encouraging the consumption of largely useless and disposable products; and the content includes narratives which support and reinforce toxic messages from the dominant culture.  I get that and I agree with all of that.  That said, he comes off as a little elitist.  Popular culture, for all its aknowledged faults, furnishes a kind of jumping-on point for creativity precisely because it is broken, its books and films are broken, and the creative mind (most minds) want to fix them into something more satisfying.  It can also offer a kind of faux-shared-culture that you can piggyback on to engage with other people, a Tarot hand of quick-and-dirty characters, tropes and talking points that can help smooth over gaps in shared experience.

    I kind of felt like I was being shooed away by some of  those comments.  Like "yeah, this writing isn't really aimed low enough for people like you.  I'm writing ABOUT your sort -- not for you."
  • I find his style of writing a wee bit off-putting.I have gone back to his first (2006) blog entries and tried reading through them but it is a struggle. I think my problem is that they remind me of the (liberal protestant Church of Scotland) sermons I had to listen to every Sunday. There is a perfectly unobjectionable Green moral narrative to the blog entries, but the cumulative effect is soporific. 

    The counter-productive result is that I now find myself becoming skeptical towards the peak-oil narrative...
  • Nah, "writing style" is not a reason to become skeptical of anything.  Evidence is evidence.
  • I can't be skeptical of the post peak oil issue when my country is holding what, two theaters of war, right now? Yeah, not so much needing anyone to write about it for me any more with the prices at gas pumps, food shortages over biofuel (artificial or not).

    It maybe that because I'm used to advocates of non toxic consumption of Western culture (Buddhist in particular) I don't dial into the elitist tone. I'm more familiar with JMG's dismissal of lifeboat communities as the privileged crap option for preserving the culture as a whole (he advocates  pre industrial towns/city infrastructure being revitalized). So unless we are speaking of different kinds of elitism my reading is that he posits we spend way too much time medicating with consumer based entertainments then actually focusing on celebrating our arts. I also find his emphasis to be on  the individual selecting what is worthwhile to save or learn non elitist, you filter for yourself based on criteria you apply.

    My reading is also informed by having met JMG at a conference on spirituality a few years ago. He was very much into hearing from other people and valuing the diversity of experience. So yeah, my reading may be very much influenced by first hand seeing how open to others he appeared to be.

    I'd be curious to see how he reacted to these questions via his blog directly.
  • @MC, I hear ya (glad I am not the only one who could perceive that in the piece under discussion), and thanks for your comments about this as well XK. I think the old conversations about accusations of racism being more like "your zip is undone" than "you are a bad person" might be pertinent. The societies in which we like are so often saturated with class and other prejudice; and people very frequently use these features as something to push against in their coping strategies, so it is easy to be unconscious of something which is nevertheless communicated in the way a person puts their words together. I hoped that highlighting what I saw (above) was a way towards defusing its impact on those on the sharp end - making the main thrust of the work more accessible; rather than dismissing it in any way.

    I was reading something of his from 2008 about the power of stories, which I thought folks here might find interesting:

    "Look at the beliefs underlying the idea of catastrophic global climate change and you’ll find, at their core, a story about human power. We have become so powerful through our technological progress, according to the narrative, that we are able to threaten our own survival and that of the Earth itself. The only limits most climate change advocates seem to be able to imagine are those they think we must place on ourselves; even if climate change leads to our extinction, we will at least have the glory of doing the deed ourselves. It’s almost a parody of the old atheist gibe: to prove our own omnipotence, we made a crisis so big not even we can lift it out of our way.

    Underlying the idea of peak oil, though, lies a different and far more sobering view of things, because peak oil is not a story about human power; it’s a story about human limits. If the peak oil narrative is correct, the power we claimed as our own was never really ours; we got it by breaking into the earth’s treasure of stored carbon and burning it up in a few short centuries. Despite the clichés, we never conquered nature; instead, we borrowed her assets and blew them in a three-hundred-year orgy of lavish consumption. Now the bills are coming due, the balance left in the account won’t meet them, and the remaining question is how much of what we bought with all that carbon will still be ours when nature’s foreclosure proceedings finish with us.

    These differences matter, because the basic assumption of the climate change narrative – the belief in human omnipotence – is a core article of faith in contemporary industrial societies. It’s so pervasive that its effects are rarely noticed, but it undergirds an astonishing range of popular attitudes and ideas. It’s axiomatic in the industrial world that anything unsatisfactory is a problem in need of a solution, and equally axiomatic that a solution can be found for it. The suggestion that some deeply unsatisfactory conditions may not be problems that can be solved but, rather, are predicaments that must be lived with, is at once unthinkable and offensive to a great many people these days.

    Yet this is exactly what the peak oil narrative suggests. If the world’s conventional petroleum production peaked in 2005 and faces imminent declines, as all the evidence suggests; if none of the proposed replacements for petroleum can take up the slack, and many of them, especially the other fossil fuels, are themselves closing in on their own peaks and declines; if the technological revolutions and economic boom of the last three centuries were a product of extravagant use of these nonrenewable resources, not of such impressive intangibles as “the human spirit,” and will not outlast their material basis; if, in other words, human life is subject to hard ecological limits – if these things are true, the narrative of human omnipotence falls, and a popular and passionately held
    conception of humanity’s nature and destiny falls with it."

    "In turn, the peak oil movement’s problems finding a hearing in the wider discourse of our time has nothing to do with a shortage of solid facts or compelling reasoning; it has both of these in abundance. Rather, I have come to think, those difficulties are rooted in the movement’s failure, at least so far, to address these deeper,
    nonrational issues. If the peak oil message is correct, then the Great God Progress is dead; however misguided the faith of his votaries may turn out to be in hindsight, it’s a deeply held faith, and those who
    rely on it to give their lives meaning and hope can be counted on to cling to it until and unless some convincing alternative comes their way. That their clinging may keep our civilization from finding useful responses to a crisis even more challenging than today’s financial debacle is simply one of the ironies of our present situation."
  • wonderland said: If the world’s conventional petroleum production peaked in 2005 and faces imminent declines, as all the evidence suggests; if none of the proposed replacements for petroleum can take up the slack, and many of them, especially the other fossil fuels, are themselves closing in on their own peaks and declines . . . if these things are true, the narrative of human omnipotence falls, and a popular and passionately held conception of humanity’s nature and destiny falls with it."

    There's the one that I find strange. 

    Even assuming peak oil, I see no reason to assume that the proposed replacements -- or all of the proposed replacements together -- can't take up the slack.

  • That's interesting. We'll see, I guess. From my perspective, the whole industrialized world is saturated with oil-energy, to a degree that is really quite hard for most people to recognize, and the most we can hope to replace with other sources is maybe 10-20% of the energy that is being used now.
    Have you looked much at embodied energy calculations, such as 'energy return on energy invested'? As I understand it, for example, photovoltaics come out about net zero in energy return on energy invested calculations. So all the energy they absorb from the sun is just serving to unlock the embodied fossil energy in them. If you can afford them now, it's a great way to buy yourself 20-30 years of energy supply. But they are not going to replace oil, not ever. Because the whole upstream supply chain is oil-driven, from mining, refining, transport of each component to the delivery of the things.
    Even baseload coal-burning electricity production in the UK is oil-dependent - mining operations, and the trains to deliver the coal are running on oil (it's a side-issue that there's not a whole lot of high quality coal around any more). Biofuels are somewhere between marginal and a net energy sink - we might be able to make them, at the expense of growing food, to power some special highly valued stuff - but there's no way to use those to replace fossil oil. Hydrogen isn't an energy source at all, it's only an energy storage mechanism - need to put in electricity via electrolysis of water to produce the hydrogen.
  • I was just reading about another (pie-in-the-sky... literally) alternative fuel source: using greenhouse gases to make hydrocarbons

    I think that's more about a good way to clean emissions out of the air than it is about replacing oil - I think they're still at a point where it costs more energy to get the fuel than the fuel actually makes. But the Sandia project is using passive sunlight to get the fuel, rather than burning coal to get the coal substitute. 

  • Off to do some gardening, meanwhile here are some thoughts on peak oil as heralding an age of austerity and a directed economy.

    Transport- railways  (including tram systems)  plus public transport are  more  energy efficient than roads and private transport. So by shifting long distance freight and passenger transport to the railways  with short distance transport covered by trams, light rail/ narrow gauge rail plus electric powered buses and small trucks, it would be possible to cut fossil fuel use. The possibility of sail assisted ships and airships should be considered and heavier- than- air  craft abandoned.

    Industry- all manufactured products will have to pass an energy audit. The aim will be to reduce production of junk - so long life, ease of repair and potential for local production to meet local needs would be prioritised. [Victor Papanek was advocating ‘design for the real world’ 40 years ago]

    Farming- will need to be gradually shifted towards low energy intensive forms or production e.g. organic.

    Directed economy-  the nearest parallels would be with the UK  economy during World War 2 when there was rationing, austerity and the overall economy was planned. The danger to avoid will be the type of bureaucratic inefficiencies  associated with nationalised industries.  Unlike the war time economy, when a temporary  period of socialism was followed by a return to business as usual capitalism, these changes will have to be permanent.

  • The most compelling, and simplest, reasoning I've heard for why other energy sources are not likely to pick up the slack from fossil fuels is that in order for us to be able to use our remaining fossil fuels to build out a renewable energy infrastructure, we would need to start 20-30 years before reaching the peak. Since many serious, careful researchers now believe the global peak is either here or already behind us, it seems unlikely that we are going to be able to bootstrap ourselves into a renewable energy economy without suffering significant privation. In other words, since we have not developed a way of building new solar cells, wind turbines, etc. with our existing solar cells and wind turbines and etc., we need to use fossil fuels to do that. But such uses of fossil fuels compete with other uses--sale direct to consumers, production of electricity, military uses, medical uses, transporting goods and people--it is harder and harder to allocate them to the task of creating that renewable energy infrastructure. If we had gotten serious about this in the 70s we wouldn't have that much to worry about, but instead we tried to dominate global supply to replace our tapering domestic supply.

    Alistairliv, John Robb (I think) wrote recently that capitalism is falling for the same reason the communist economies did: too much centralization. Can we have a decentralized directed economy?
  • enity- the question 'Can we have a decentralized directed economy?' is one that I have been puzzling over. It is it actually possible to plan for a sustainable future when events- like the current global economic crisis- can suddenly emerge and throw all existing plans into confusion?

    Got to get kids up now, but will return to this. A related question is what impact a long (ten year?) global depression will have on oil prices.
  • This is not really an answer to entity's question, but it is what I have been working on today as part of my book project.

    Where I live in south-west Scotland is the most heavily afforested region of the UK. The Galloway Forest district covers 470 square miles. I have just been looking at the 2009-2013 Strategic  Plan for Galloway  (pdf) and thinking about the current reliance on road transport.

    When the forests were first being planned and planted in the 1940s, a railway ran through the southern part of  the 300 square miles of the Galloway Forest Park. I don’t know but assume that it was planned that by the time the trees being planted then were ready to be harvested (in the 1990s), the railway would be used to transport the timber to distant sawmills and pulp factories. But then in 1965, before the problem of how to transport the timber had arisen, the railway was closed. 

    So when output from the forests began to rise in the 1990s, large, heavy timber lorries had to be used instead. The use of heavy lorries on narrow roads built for horses and carts has damaged the roads and create traffic hazards in the small villages through which the timber lorries pass. To overcome these problems requires investment running into several million pounds in strengthening bridges and culverts, renewing damaged road surfaces and expanding the 1000 km network of internal forestry roads. There is also a plan to establish a timber railhead at Barrhill in Ayrshire (on the remaining section of railway which serves Stranraer in Galloway), but this has not yet been achieved.

    Is there an alternative to reliance on road transport? Yes there is- a narrow gauge rail network. The core of such a network could use the existing track bed of the railway closed in 1965 west to a transfer station at Dunragit on the existing Stranraer- Ayr railway and east to Dalbeattie where there is a large sawmill. Feeder branches could be built into the forests to further reduce the need for road transport. These could be temporary. 

    Narrow gauge railways are cheaper to build than standard gauge ones. A freight only network built to a minimal standard would further reduce costs. Motive power could be internal combustion, but with the option of steam (coal or wood fired) if the price of oil continues to increase. Rail transport is inherently more fuel efficient than road due to the reduced friction of steel wheel on steel rail over rubber tyre on road surface. 

    Is it a realistic solution to the timber transport problem? Only once road transport looks  as if it will become economically impossible. And only if the value of timber from the forests is high enough justify the investment.  A shift away from replanting with Sitka spruce to increased planting of hardwoods would add long term value to the forests. As a renewable resource, construction quality timber is going to become increasingly important. Making bricks, cement  and steel are energy intensive processes.   

  • The way I see it, infrastructure investment could have been a good thing to do with the last 25 years of cheap oil. Since that is over, and all energy resources are already committed to maintaining the status quo, I don't see much likely to happen in the way of serious buildout for future energy scarcity. it's sad that almost everyone seems to have drunk the koolaid and invested psychologically in the myths about the space opera future, energy abundance etc. Those myths still have a huge hold over people - I encounter resistance from friends and family who don't want to see me working so hard - because a lot of more sustainable solutions available now require more human labour. Cash, energy and political will are all scarce now - I am not holding my breath for any sustainable infrastructure investments, though I hope I am prepared to be pleasantly surprised if I am wrong.

    JMG on amateur radio and future communications:
    "There are also few dimensions of modern industrial society more vulnerable to breakdown in the age of scarcity now beginning. The internet, the crown jewel of modern communications, depends on a huge and energy-intensive infrastructure that may well prove unsustainable in the future. A single server farm can use as much electricity as a small city, and the technology that makes the internet possible in the first place requires plenty of energy, exotic raw materials, and a very high level of technology – none of which can necessarily be guaranteed in the decades to come. On a broader level, most of today’s telecommunications, including the internet, support themselves through advertising sales, and the economic model that makes this work will have a hard time surviving the collapse of the consumer economy.

    At the same time, electronic communications media need not be as dependent on today’s industrial systems as they are. It’s quite possible to build a vacuum tube – the backbone of radio communications in the days before transistors – from commonly available materials using hand tools; Peter Friedrichs’ excellent book Instruments of Amplification, which details how to do this, has become popular reading on the more
    outré end of the do-it-yourself crowd. Fifty years ago, widely available books for the teen market such as Alfred P. Morgan’s The Boy’s First (and so on up through Sixth) Book of Radio and Electronics
    taught aspiring young electricians how to build remarkably sophisticated gear out of oatmeal boxes, spare parts and salvaged scrap. The possibility of viable electronics in a post-peak oil era deserves exploration.

    What would a viable long-distance communications network in the age of peak oil look like? To begin with, it would use the airwaves rather than land lines, to minimize infrastructure, and its energy needs would be modest enough to be met by local renewable sources. It would take the form of a decentralized network of self-supporting and self-managing stations sharing common standards and operating procedures. It would use a diverse mix of communications modalities, so that operators could climb down the technological ladder as needed, from computerized data transfer all the way to equipment that could be built locally with hand tools. It would have its own subculture, of course, in which technical knowledge and practical expertise would be rewarded, encouraged, and fostered in newcomers. Finally, it would take a particular interest in energency communications, so that operators could respond to disruptions and disasters with effective workarounds at times when having even the most basic communications net in place could save many lives.

    The interesting thing, of course, is that a network that fills exactly these
    specifications already exists, in the form of amateur radio. "

  • As an aside, I'm a bit skeptical of statements like "A single server farm can use as much electricity as a small city" unless they are backed up with some figures. It sounds kind of like the "A Second Life character uses as much energy as a Brazilian person!" thing that is still doing the rounds, which is based on totally spurious figures.

    All that being said, I'm very interested in ham radio as a way to hold things together a little when the internet can no longer be sustained.  It's a logical step and one I'm looking into.
  • Nod, I had very much the same "well I would like to see the numbers you are working from" reaction and also agree that the point stands. I hoped you would be interested, you appeared on the short mental list I could construct of folks who have some bg in electronics and might be interested to take this kind of thing forward.
  • Oy.  I have been really slack about maintaining that skillset.  Every so often I have a resurgence of culture and SOLDER ALL THE THINGS, but it hasn't happened for a while.  I'm digging around the theory and I'll probably be getting my own CB radio sometime soonish. 

    For interesting projects with radio, electronics, electricity and engineering, can I just recommend the Hel out of reading old Popular Mechanics back issues on Google Books?  Things got a little more staid after WWII, but in the 30s people seemed to just go ahead and build every kind of thing themselves, including a goddamn arc welding torch. 
  • Did you know that ham radio is where SST Records got its name? Greg from Black Flag started the business selling not punk records but Solid State Transistors. 
  • Huh!  I was not aware of that.
  • Good-oh :)

    Nugget from this morning's post:

    "You’ll find this principle expressed in different ways in magical traditions, but the phrasing I first learned is to my mind the one that expresses it best: what you contemplate, you imitate.

    It’s important to realize, before we go on, that this phrase means no more than it says, which is simply that the more attention you focus on something, the more likely you are to imitate it. In particular, it doesn’t mean that you can get anything you want simply by wanting it badly enough, or concentrating on it long enough; your own thoughts, words, and actions will be shaped by whatever most often fills the center of your attention, but if imitating whatever fills the center of your attention won’t get you what you want, the effect isn’t going to help you. Contemplating a new toaster oven, in other words, won’t get
    you one, it’ll simply make you imitate one—which is not exactly a useful thing under most conditions. If what you want to accomplish can be done by changing your thoughts, words, and actions, on the other hand, contemplation on carefully chosen subjects can accomplish a great deal; this is one of the major working tools of magic."
  • BRB, imitating a toaster oven FOR PROFIT.

    More seriously, I can see how this works.  If I let myself fixate on, say, a critical and negative ineraction I've had with someone, I two things happen: one, I find I become more critical and more negative myself, and two, I find I internalize that person's critical opinion of me or my ideas, shifting me more towards their outlook.
  • Hmm, yeah.  That way of putting it makes me wonder about mechanisms. From Candace Pert's worldview (where the neuropeptides in the body's immune system are understood as having characteristic emotional signatures), I can see how it might work. Perhaps we could say that what is contemplated has a particular kind of emotional charge, an "energy" or flavour which is experienced in the body as a certain composition of neuropeptides. As we expose our cells that that flavour repeatedly, biochemical changes happen, which make it easier to re-experience that emotional pattern. I love thinking about stuff with Pert's framework, because it supports the power I experience in spiritual practice - prayer, rituals and so on - and gives my scientific mind something to hang onto at the same time.
    I have recently been wondering about the social aspect of this, partly because one of JMG's posts a short while ago introduced a neoplatonic metaphor for the self which I find very useful - a rational charioteer pulled by two less rational horses, instinct and the social mind. I guess our biochemistry is expressed through the social stuff because we are constantly telegraphing a lot about what is going on in our biochemistry/emotions to the other animals around us - in body language, in the quality of the sounds we make, and also in pheromones. So when we are in social spaces where there is a choice of interaction, I think we are likely to form interactions with people who for one reason or another resonate with the biochemical flavours that are dominant in our own bodies - whether that resonance is co-operative or antagonistic. I see this stuff as the underlying mechanism of the profound effects that spiritual practice seems to have in my life, and I have been using it in my own understanding for a while but I have struggled to find the right words. One of the reasons I am excited by JMG's writing is I often have the experience that his posts supply words and images which seem to do a good job of articulating concepts that I strongly relate to, but had not found words that satisfied me to describe previously.
    Apologies that I missed the dodgy formatting in previous bit I posted, it is slightly comical.
  • A useful JMG summary essay from 2004 : The coming of deindustrial society: a practical response.


    "With the coming of Peak Oil and the beginning of long-term, irreversible
    declines in the availability of fossil fuels (along with many other
    resources), modern industrial civilization faces a wrenching series of
    unwelcome transitions. This comes as a surprise only for those who
    haven't been paying attention. More than thirty years ago, the Club of
    Rome's epochal study The Limits to Growth pointed out that unless
    something was done, a global economy based on fantasies of perpetual
    growth would collide disastrously with the hard limits of a finite
    planet sometime in the early twenty-first century.

    The early twenty-first century is here, nothing was done, and the
    consequences are arriving on schedule. The road that would have brought
    industrial society through a transformation to sustainability turned out
    to be the road not taken. The question that remains is what we can do
    with the limited time we have left."

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