Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Mentats Wanted, Will Train

The theme of last week’s post here on The Archdruid Report—the strategy of preserving or reviving technologies for the deindustrial future now, before the accelerating curve of decline makes that task more difficult than it already is—can be applied very broadly indeed. Just now, courtesy of the final blowoff of the age of cheap energy, we have relatively easy access to plenty of information about what worked in the past; some other resources are already becoming harder to get, but there’s still time and opportunity to accomplish a great deal.

I’ll be talking about some of the possibilities as we proceed, and with any luck, other people will get to work on projects of their own that I haven’t even thought of. This week, though, I want to take Gustav Erikson’s logic in a direction that probably would have made the old sea dog scratch his head in puzzlement, and talk about how a certain set of mostly forgotten techniques could be put back into use right now to meet a serious unmet need in contemporary American society.

The unmet need I have in mind is unusually visible just now, courtesy of the recent crisis in the Ukraine. I don’t propose to get into the whys and wherefores of that crisis just now, except to note that since the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the small nations of eastern Europe have been grist between the spinning millstones of Russia and whichever great power dominates western Europe. It’s not a comfortable place to be; Timothy Snyder’s terse description of 20th century eastern Europe as “bloodlands” could be applied with equal force to any set of small nations squeezed between empires, and it would take quite a bit of unjustified faith in human goodness to think that the horrors of the last century have been safely consigned to the past.

The issue I want to discuss, rather, has to do with the feckless American response to that crisis. Though I’m not greatly interested in joining the chorus of American antigovernment activists fawning around Vladimir Putin’s feet these days, it’s fair to say that he won this one. Russia’s actions caught the United States and EU off balance, secured the Russian navy’s access to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, and boosted Putin’s already substantial popularity at home. By contrast, Obama came across as amateurish and, worse, weak.  When Obama announced that the US retaliation would consist of feeble sanctions against a few Russian banks and second-string politicians, the world rolled its eyes, and the Russian Duma passed a resolution scornfully requesting Obama to apply those same sanctions to every one of its members.

As the crisis built, there was a great deal of talk in the media about Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas, and the substantial influence over European politics that Russia has as a result of that unpalatable fact. It’s a major issue, and unlikely to go away any time soon; around a third of the natural gas that keeps Europeans from shivering in the dark each winter comes from Russian gas fields, and the Russian government has made no bones about the fact that it could just as well sell that gas to somebody to Russia’s south or east instead. It was in this context that American politicians and pundits started insisting at the top of their lungs that the United States had a secret weapon against the Sov—er, Russian threat: exports of abundant natural gas from America, which would replace Russian gas in Europe’s stoves, furnaces, and power plants.

As Richard Heinberg pointed out trenchantly a few days back in a typically spot-on essay, there’s only one small problem with this cozy picture: the United States has no spare natural gas to export.  It’s a net importer of natural gas, as it typically burns over a hundred billion more cubic feet of gas each month than it produces domestically.  What’s more, even according to the traditionally rose-colored forecasts issued by the EIA, it’ll be 2020 at the earliest before the United States has any natural gas to spare for Europe’s needs. Those forecasts, by the way, blithely assume that the spike in gas production driven by the recent fracking bubble will just keep on levitating upwards for the foreseeable future; if this reminds you of the rhetoric surrounding tech stocks in the runup to 2000, housing prices in the runup to 2008, or equivalent phenomena in the history of any other speculative swindle you care to name, let’s just say you’re not alone.

According to those forecasts that start from the annoying fact that the laws of physics and geology do actually apply to us, on the other hand, the fracking boom will be well into bust territory by 2020, and those promised torrents of natural gas that will allegedly free Europe from Russian influence will therefore never materialize at all. At the moment, furthermore, boasting about America’s alleged surplus of natural gas for export is particularly out of place, because US natural gas inventories currently in storage are less than half their five-year average level for this time of year, having dropped precipitously since December. Since all this is public information, we can be quite confident that the Russians are aware of it, and this may well explain some of the air of amused contempt with which Putin and his allies have responded to American attempts to rattle a saber that isn’t there.

Any of the politicians and pundits who participated in that futile exercise could have found out the problems with their claim in maybe two minutes of internet time.  Any of the reporters and editors who printed those claims at face value could have done the same thing. I suppose it’s possible that the whole thing was a breathtakingly cynical exercise of Goebbels’ “Big Lie” principle, intended to keep Americans from noticing that the Obama’s people armed themselves with popguns for a shootout at the OK Corral. I find this hard to believe, though, because the same kind of thinking—or, more precisely, nonthinking—is so common in America these days.

It’s indicative that my post here two weeks ago brought in a bumper crop of the same kind of illogic. My post took on the popular habit of using the mantra “it’s different this time” to insist that the past has nothing to teach us about the present and the future. Every event, I pointed out, has some features that set it apart from others, and other features that it shares in common with others; pay attention to the common features and you can observe the repeating patterns, which can then be adjusted to take differences into account.  Fixate on the differences and deny the common features, though, and you have no way to test your beliefs—which is great if you want to defend your beliefs against reasonable criticism, but not so useful if you want to make accurate predictions about where we’re headed.

Did the critics of this post—and there were quite a few of them—challenge this argument, or even address it? Not in any of the peak oil websites I visited. What happened instead was that commenters brandished whatever claims about the future are dearest to their hearts and then said, in so many words, “It’s different this time”—as though that somehow answered me. It was quite an impressive example of sheer incantation, the sort of thing we saw not that long ago when Sarah Palin fans were trying to conjure crude oil into America’s depleted oilfields by chanting “Drill, baby, drill” over and over again. I honestly felt as though I’d somehow dozed off at the computer and slipped into a dream in which I was addressing an audience of sheep, who responded by bleating “But it’s different this ti-i-i-i-ime” in perfect unison.

A different mantra sung to the same bleat, so to speak, seems to have been behind the politicians and pundits, and all that nonexistent natural gas they thought was just waiting to be exported to Europe. The thoughtstopping phrase here is “America has abundant reserves of natural gas.” It will doubtless occur to many of my readers that this statement is true, at least for certain values of that nicely vague term “abundant,” just as it’s true that every historical event differs in at least some way from everything that’s happened in the past, and that an accelerated program of drilling can (and in fact did) increase US petroleum production by a certain amount, at least for a while. The fact that each of these statements is trivially true does not make any of them relevant.

That is to say, a remarkably large number of Americans, including the leaders of our country and the movers and shakers of our public opinion, are so inept at the elementary skills of thinking that they can’t tell the difference between mouthing a platitude and having a clue.

I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does. For decades now, American public life has been dominated by thoughtstoppers of this kind—short, emotionally charged declarative sentences, some of them trivial, some of them incoherent, none of them relevant and all of them offered up as sound bites by politicians, pundits, and ordinary Americans alike, as though they meant something and proved something. The redoubtable H.L. Mencken, writing at a time when such things were not quite as universal in the American mass mind than they have become since then, called them “credos.”  It was an inspired borrowing from the Latin credo, “I believe,” but its relevance extends far beyond the religious sphere. 

Just as plenty of believing Americans in Mencken’s time liked to affirm their fervent faith in the doctrines of whatever church they attended without having the vaguest idea of what those doctrines actually meant, a far vaster number of Americans these days—religious, irreligious, antireligious, or concerned with nothing more supernatural than the apparent capacity of Lady Gaga’s endowments to defy the laws of gravity—gladly affirm any number of catchphrases about which they seem never to have entertained a single original thought. Those of my readers who have tried to talk about the future with their family and friends will be particularly familiar with the way this works; I’ve thought more than once of providing my readers with Bingo cards marked with the credos most commonly used to silence discussions of our future—“they’ll think of something,” “technology can solve any problem,” “the world’s going to end soon anyway,” “it’s different this time,” and so on—with some kind of prize for whoever fills theirs up first.

The prevalence of credos, though, is only the most visible end of a culture of acquired stupidity that I’ve discussed here in previous posts, and Erik Lindberg has recently anatomized in a crisp and thoughtful blog post. That habit of cultivated idiocy is a major contributor to the crisis of our age, but a crisis is always an opportunity, and with that in mind, I’d like to propose that it’s time for some of us, at least, to borrow a business model from the future, and start getting prepared for future job openings as mentats.

In Frank Herbert’s iconic SF novel Dune, as many of my readers will be aware, a revolt against computer technology centuries before the story opened led to a galaxywide ban on thinking machines—“Thou shalt not make a machine in the image of a human mind”—and a corresponding focus on developing human capacities instead of replacing them with hardware. The mentats were among the results: human beings trained from childhood to absorb, integrate, and synthesize information. Think of them as the opposite end of human potential from the sort of credo-muttering couch potatoes who seem to make up so much of the American population these days:  ask a mentat if it really is different this time, and after he’s spent thirty seconds or so reviewing the entire published literature on the subject, he’ll give you a crisp first-approximation analysis explaining what’s different, what’s similar, which elements of each category are relevant to the situation, and what your best course of action would be in response.

Now of course the training programs needed to get mentats to this level of function haven’t been invented yet, but the point still stands: people who know how to think, even at a less blinding pace than Herbert’s fictional characters manage, are going to be far better equipped to deal with a troubled future than those who haven’t.  The industrial world has been conducting what amounts to a decades-long experiment to see whether computers can make human beings more intelligent, and the answer at this point is a pretty firm no. In particular, computers tend to empower decision makers without making them noticeably smarter, and the result by and large is that today’s leaders are able to make bad decisions more easily and efficiently than ever before. That is to say, machines can crunch data, but it takes a mind to turn data into information, and a well-trained and well-informed mind to refine information into wisdom.

What makes a revival of the skills of thinking particularly tempting just now is that the bar is set so low. If you know how to follow an argument from its premises to its conclusion, recognize a dozen or so of the most common logical fallacies, and check the credentials of a purported fact, you’ve just left most Americans—including the leaders of our country and the movers and shakers of our public opinon—way back behind you in the dust. To that basic grounding in how to think, add a good general knowledge of history and culture and a few branches of useful knowledge in which you’ve put some systematic study, and you’re so far ahead of the pack that you might as well hang out your shingle as a mentat right away.

Now of course it may be a while before there’s a job market for mentats—in the post-Roman world, it took several centuries for those people who preserved the considerable intellectual toolkit of the classical world to find a profitable economic niche, and that required them to deck themselves out in tall hats with moons and stars on them. In the interval before the market for wizards opens up again, though, there are solid advantages to be gained by the sort of job training I’ve outlined, unfolding from the fact that having mental skills that go beyond muttering credos makes it possible to make accurate predictions about the future that are considerably more accurate than the ones guiding most Americans today. .

This has immediate practical value in all sorts of common, everyday situations these days. When all the people you know are rushing to sink every dollar they have in the speculative swindle du jour, for example, you’ll quickly recognize the obvious signs of a bubble in the offing, walk away, and keep your shirt while everyone else is losing theirs. When someone tries to tell you that you needn’t worry about energy costs or shortages because the latest piece of energy vaporware will surely solve all our problems, you’ll be prepared to ignore him and go ahead with insulating your attic, and when someone else insists that the Earth is sure to be vaporized any day now by whatever apocalypse happens to be fashionable that week, you’ll be equally prepared to ignore him and go ahead with digging the new garden bed. 

When the leaders of your country claim that an imaginary natural gas surplus slated to arrive six years from now will surely make Putin blink today, for that matter, you’ll draw the logical conclusion, and get ready for the economic and political impacts of another body blow to what’s left of America’s faltering global power and reputation. It may also occur to you—indeed, it may have done so already—that the handwaving about countering Russia is merely an excuse for building the infrastructure needed to export American natural gas to higher-paying global markets, which will send domestic gas prices soaring to stratospheric levels in the years ahead; this recognition might well inspire you to put a few extra inches of insulation up there in the attic, and get a backup heat source that doesn’t depend either on gas or on gas-fired grid electricity, so those soaring prices don’t have the chance to clobber you.

If these far from inconsiderable benefits tempt you, dear reader, I’d like to offer you an exercise as the very first step in your mentat training.  The exercise is this: the next time you catch someone (or, better yet, yourself) uttering a familiar thoughtstopper about the future—“It’s different this time,” “They’ll think of something,” “There are no limits to what human beings can achieve,” “The United States has an abundant supply of natural gas,” or any of the other entries in the long and weary list of contemporary American credos—stop right there and think about it. Is the statement true? Is it relevant? Does it address the point under discussion?  Does the evidence that supports it, if any does, outweigh the evidence against it? Does it mean what the speaker thinks it means? Does it mean anything at all?

There’s much more involved than this in learning how to think, of course, and down the road I propose to write a series of posts on the subject, using as raw material for exercises more of the popular idiocies behind which America tries to hide from the future. I would encourage all the readers of this blog to give this exercise a try, though. In an age of accelerating decline, the habit of letting arbitrary catchphrases replace actual thinking is a luxury that nobody can really afford, and those who cling to such things too tightly can expect to be blindsided by a future that has no interest in playing along with even the most fashionable credos.

In not unrelated news, I’m pleased to report that the School of Economic Science will be hosting a five week course in London on Economics, Energy and Environment, beginning April 29 of this year, based in part on ideas from my book The Wealth of Nature. The course will finish up with a conference on June 1 at which, ahem, I’ll be one of the speakers. Details are at


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John D. Wheeler said...

Of course, computers aren't necessarily antithetical to thinking. Looking at the physical realm, while machines have allowed many people to be fat and lazy, certain other machines have helped athletes reach levels far beyond the machine age. I think the situation is analogous with computers and the mind: for people who wish to develop their minds, computers can be a useful tool.

Jose Coces said...

I find it amusing to notice that, the more brittle the American empire becomes, the firmer the beliefs that it is unbeatable and will last forever become. Previous generations of American citizens and politicians would never utter such bold claims, even in good times. And these are not good times.
As of this moment, JMG, I'm learning to communicate in Chinese and in Spanish. I think these languages will be more useful to conduct good business in the future than English.

Bruin Silverbear said...

This post caught me excitedly as I am a lasting fan of Herbert's fiction and have often compared "Oil" to spice as it has a definitive set of corollary values. Be that as it may, I do believe that there is a an enormous amount of human potential that could be levied at these problems if, as you posit, we are able to collectively break out of the rather silly notion that the planet is simply an overgrown oyster which we can scoop out in order to maintain the status quo, a status quo which is inexorably becoming less affluent then that of our folks.

I spent some time many years ago towing the conservative party line about limitless resources and waiting for my flying sports car to roll off the production line. It was only when I started wondering why so much of what I heard seemed diametrically opposed to what I observed in nature, I began my mentat exercises and broke with "the faith". It seems to me like a fairly simple equation that is given to over complication by those who want to confound us while they continue scooping out the oyster. The sad part to me is that in this country at least, as long as the road to Walmart is paved, most people won't worry about it. When that road ceases to be paved, it will already be to late to settle into the long descent.

John Michael Greer said...

John, I'm by no means sure I agree; the application of machines to athletics seems to produce athletes who are much more narrowly focused in their capacities than those of previous generations, and achieve new records in specific areas at the cost of much less in the way of all-around capacity (and very often, shorter careers as well). What I've seen of the consequences of applying computers to thinking is parallel -- think of the almost visceral inability to think in terms of whole systems that we've seen here so often from the geekoisie! Still, it's an interesting question, and one that's probably worth a post of its own one of these days.

Jose, those, Russian, and Brazilian Portuguese seem like good bets to me -- though English is the most common second language in India, you know.

Andy Brown said...

(Andrew Brown) One thought stopper I'd add that's probably propelled a number of your readers here is: "there's nothing we can do to change things."

John Michael Greer said...

Bruin, exactly. That's why it's so important to start those mentat exercises now, so you can think clearly enough to see the obvious consequences of the collective choices being made right now.

jean-vivien said...


a first practical step would be to learn how to remember. I think it goes along with reflexion - if your memories are very diverse, you will have access to more diverse lines of reasonning.
Besides, we are basically outsourcing our memory skills to electronic devices. This will make it extra easy to develop a case of collective amnesia, once the access to electronics becomes scarcer and a government has decided to reshape past History. But even on an individual level, the link to our past and future is some sort of spiritual need for humans.

Thomas Daulton said...

This is an interesting and timely post, and I have a few random tangentially connected thoughts to share:

JMG used the example of energy transition as a springboard to discuss logical thinking. However, if anyone is interested in a discussion of energy transition, a podcast called "The Extra-Environmentalist" (where JMG has given interviews before) posted a nice audio discussion on that subject just a couple of days ago.

JMG is in sparse company, but fortunately he is not the lone Diogenes attempting to fan the feeble spark of Western logical intelligence. This is not a bad place to start: "Your Logical Fallacy Is"

On the other hand, you can lead an American to logic, but you can't make him think.

I wonder just how much of this logical thought can really be learned from external teaching. At some level it has to be grasped internally, and used with personal judgment. For example, the above list of logical fallacies is great to have at one's fingertips, but I have also heard pseudo-intellectuals attempt to shout down more solid logical arguments by insisting, at great volume and repetition, that the opposing argument bears some passing resemblance to one of the well-known logical fallacies on the list. Michel de Montaigne is credited with the adage, "We can be smart with other men's knowledge but we cannot be wise with other men's wisdom." As Mr. Spock found out during numerous Star Trek episodes, logic itself is a tool which, in malicious hands, can be perverted and abused to support any position the speaker wishes. Logic itself does not help us evaluate the premises of a logical argument as worthy or unworthy.

Doctor Who: All elephants are pink, Nellie is an elephant, therefore Nellie is pink. Logical?

Davros (a nonhuman alien): Perfectly.

Doctor Who: You know what a human would say to that?

Davros: What?

Tyssan (a human passer-by): Elephants aren't pink.

Davros: Humans do not understand logic.

Pure Logic itself cannot help us make human judgments, such as what is "similar", what is "relevant", and what is "judicious". I hope some advice on those topics accompanies your course on logic!

Unknown said...

Jay here. In my experience, becoming a mentat is much easier than getting people to listen to the mentat. The mentat is likely to say things that the listener does not already agree with. Professional mentat-substitutes (business consultants, media pundits, preachers) would never make such a rookie mistake.

Building skills for the future is all well and good, but building robust local organizations would be better. Both would be best.

Pongo said...

Critical thinking requires thought - deep, sustained thought of the kind that is not troubled by constant interruptions and distractions. The inability for the average American to face reality - to think critically about our world and our country's place in it - has been attributed to many culprits, it has been blamed on everything from the increasingly rotten educational system to the corporate media to a cowardly inability on the part of the average person to deal with hard, unpleasant truths. Of course all of these things play a part in our current platitude-riddled predicament, but in my view the constant distractions of everyday life are also a major source of the problem. Case in point: I happened to read this latest blog entry about five minutes after JMG posted it, but that was now one hour and ten minutes ago. It has taken me this long to write even these meager few sentences because of my inability to concentrate. I'm at my office right now, and even though it's the end of the day and things are slowing down that has not stopped my cell phone from ringing. It has not stopped my e-mail from pinging with new messages. It has not stopped notifications about how this other player has attacked me in a Facebook game I play (all too much, I'm sorry to admit). And these are just the electronic distractions, I've also been stymied by in-person interruptions from co-workers and the office phone. Add to this the fact that I am so wound up from the past ten hours of work that concentration is almost impossible unless I walk away and try to organize my thoughts.

I mean this kind of thing is common. People in this society have lost the ability to focus on one task, to concentrate on one thing. I notice - on a fairly regular basis - that I am turning in shoddy work on many of my endeavors, and when I can I really have to force myself to go back and do better. Last night I had to write a biography of myself for the website of a business I am associated with, and even though I obviously knew the topic intimately I ended up turning in a shoddy draft because I had so little time to really concentrate on it. All that this technology does is make you try and do everything at once, and it makes other people expect you to do everything at once.

Going back to the critical thinking aspect - I am trying my best to at least to make a coherent point here despite my mental exhaustion - I think that a lot of these "thoughtstoppers" as you call them serve multiple functions. Obviously they provide psychological comfort but they also provide an accessible, pre-packaged viewpoint that is much easier for the mentally harried to latch onto in a world where sustained thought and reflection are rare luxuries.

On a final note, this little response of mine is quite short, yet it has taken me a full hour and a half to compose thanks to the distractions I referenced at the beginning.

Sarah Heller said...

My apologies for posting this publicly, but I couldn't find a direct private contact. The URL for the article is -- your current URL is throwing an error. Looks like they've fooled you by using dashes rather than slashes, those ruddy imps.

GreenEngineer said...

My favorite phrase along those lines is "I've got to believe..." This is almost always followed by an assertion of how a person or organization is going to behave in some way that seems entirely common-sensical but is almost always false. I learned this one working for a startup where the boss would trot this phrase out. It's a form of self-blinding.

On the topic of what our leadership really believes: You often assert that they are, as a group, as dumbed-down as the average American appears to be. But is this true? Do you have evidence of this?
There's an alternative theory, that most of them mostly understand what is going on and where the world is headed. They just don't care, because they don't think it will affect them personally; and for at least some of them, they would prefer to be lords of some future industrial feudalism rather than merely very rich citizens of a theoretical democracy. Their rhetoric is exactly what you would expect in this case - it's red meat for the plebs, but they (again, mostly) don't believe it, or at least don't believe most of it. (This isn't to say that they are NOT deluded about the future. Just that their actual delusions are different from the delusions they project in their public speech.)

For myself, I go back and forth all the time. I feel like I really don't have enough evidence to settle on one point of view rather than the other. Both interpretations seem to fit the facts. And while I can infer that the average American really IS that dumb, based on what I see in mainstream media, I have no equivalent insight into the minds of the elite. I have only what they say publicly, and I don't know any of them personally. So I'm left with a big data gap in my model of the future.

You seem to have persuaded yourself that your interpretation is the correct one. What was your basis for doing so?

Dan the Farmer said...

Hey! Thanks for the shout-out! ;-)

I hope you understand that some of us thinking that there are variations in the pattern, with some collapses rougher than others, does not mean we value your insight less.

Shane Wilson said...

I don't think the internet has improved thinking at all. It's just id saturation and a cacophony of data, most of it irrelevant, bombarding you at all times. Sorting for relevance was much easier pre internet, and more edited mediums silenced a lot of stupidity that the internet facilitates, not to mention bad grammar and incoherence

Justin Patrick Moore said...

I extend my congratulations on your work being included in the prestigious eeecourse and your attendant speaking engagement.

I've been really digging into the work of Ivan Illich lately. It's crucial for my own essays on decline, education & job training I've been writing. In his work "The Vineyard of the Text" a commentary on Hugh of St. Victor's Didascalion there is much to be gleaned from any aspiring mentat. Hugh required his students, as recorded in the Didascalion, to First be versed in the Art of Memory, Before they were even to begin learning the seven liberal arts. Pretty sweet mentat stuff.

Hugh's version of a memory palace I find to be fascinating in regards to the present human predicament. He used the image of an ark, as in Noah's, instead of the traditional building or theatre. Of course the word archive is related to the word ark. With the ongoing rise of sea levels -and an attendant golden age of sail- the use of an ark as a repository for a mentats inner library fitting.

Last week in the comments you asked if I was interested in getting into distillation. My answer is I am interested in distilling the contents of all the reading I've been doing as a library worker -and perhaps preparing myself for a future as a mentat. Among other things.



rakesprogress said...

"For decades now, American public life has been dominated by thoughtstoppers of this kind—short, emotionally charged declarative sentences, some of them trivial, some of them incoherent, none of them relevant and all of them offered up as sound bites by ..."

For a moment there, I thought you were talking about advertising, far and away America's most monumental postwar achievement. (In terms of enduring effects, the space race had nothing on that.)

Thanks again for your work. When I think back on the past year's worth of ADR posts... just, wow.

ChaosAdventurer said...

Credo Bingo! I think that would be a great tool to help some people start on the path to understanding that "progress forever"/"To infinity and beyond" is going away. You just need to make images or pdfs of of a few and make them available here in some fashion. Alternatively see if you can get it added to and/or just assemble a good list of credos we can feed into

Lance M. Foster said...

As integral parts of this interested in beginning mental training, JMG, you have mentioned several useful tools in the past, such as Ars Memoria and the Memory Palace, and the process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis (is this the same as your ternary thinking? -if I got that right) and the scientific method. I think I like these kinds of things you integrate into your blog best.

Besides this, there are two books I am reading and re-reading that also could help start one in mental training.
1. The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric, by Sister Miriam Joseph
2. Critical Thinking: 30 Days to Better Thinking and Better Living Through Critical Thinking, by Linda Elder and Richard Paul.

Two more contemporary books I am reading that I recommend:
3. Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, by Paul Bloom (looks at some of the genetic and psychological evidence)
4. The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch, by Lewis Darnell (could stand alongside your Green Wizardry book..I like The Knowledge a lot too, although it focuses on technology and doesn't consider some of that same technology is what helped get us into this fix in the first place!)

Pogust said...

I found this interesting, can explain why some of us don't "get it". Found no link to the actual paper yet.

Scientists Find a 'Hole' in Most Human Brains.

“This could explain why we humans decided to develop industrial machines running on fossil fuels to exploit natural resources more rapidly even when the fact that such fuels were finite in scope and the burning of carbon produces the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide,” said Dr. Brothers. “I've often wondered how humans could believe that economic and population growth could go on for infinity when all of the science we know tells us not,” added Dr. Swansong. “Now I think we know,” she added, “Most people seem to have this ‘black hole’ in their brains where good judgments simply disappear through the event horizon.”

rabtter said...

It certainly gets my attention when a hint about a series on adult education shows up on the radar.

So many viable topics, so few Archdruids.

Ruben said...

I am reminded of the saying, "Have your thoughts, don't let them have you."

Richard Larson said...

Here is the Natural gas explanation and chart I was showing people at a recent home show (linked below). People wanted to argue just exactly the theme of this weblog even after seeing and hearing the logic. I'm sick of trying to talk sense into them. Am throwing in the towel on this solar installation business and now will plan for myself.

SDBoneyard said...

As a "secluded writer" in San Diego (doesn't "secluded" sound better than recluse) who's been reading you for some time now, for me that answer of what can I help save, starts w/ well, what do I know?

-- Books. I am slowly amassing a beautiful library of acid free volumes which will (if kept dry) last a couple centuries. The Library of America in particular does good fairly inexpensive work (compared to the cost of filling a gas tank once).

I have also amassed a nice collection of work in the Classical Chinese for when books slowly become more expensive. Not just the paper, ink, and type, but the shipping, etc. I also print my own slim volumes of poetry on acid-free paper.

Mentats, yes! Or, as the Bene Gesserits teach: I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"That is to say, a remarkably large number of Americans, including the leaders of our country and the movers and shakers of our public opinion, are so inept at the elementary skills of thinking that they can’t tell the difference between mouthing a platitude and having a clue."

The CIA and others inside the intelligence community are starting to realize this and are look at ordinary Americans to see if they can find better.

"For the past three years, Rich and 3,000 other average people have been quietly making probability estimates about everything from Venezuelan gas subsidies to North Korean politics as part of , an experiment put together by three well-known psychologists and some people inside the intelligence community.

According to one report, the predictions made by the Good Judgment Project are often better even than intelligence analysts with access to classified information, and many of the people involved in the project have been astonished by its success at making accurate predictions."

Looks like they're finding the mentats among us, even though they don't realize that's what they're doing.

"The redoubtable H.L. Mencken, writing at a time when such things were not quite as universal in the American mass mind than they have become since then, called them “credos.” It was an inspired borrowing from the Latin credo, “I believe,” but its relevance extends far beyond the religious sphere."

Credos sound like they're on the other side of the same coin that has S. I. Hayakawa's "snarl words" on it.

"It may also occur to you—indeed, it may have done so already—that the handwaving about countering Russia is merely an excuse for building the infrastructure needed to export American natural gas to higher-paying global markets, which will send domestic gas prices soaring to stratospheric levels in the years ahead..."

That thought has occurred to me about an analogous project--the Keystone XL pipeline, which will deliver relatively cheap diluted bitumen from Canada to the world market, allowing it to be sold for a higher price, raising the cost of petroleum distillates in the U.S. That will end the trend of slightly lower prices for oil and gasoline year-over-year that the U.S. has experienced this year and last.

"When all the people you know are rushing to sink every dollar they have in the speculative swindle du jour, for example, you’ll quickly recognize the obvious signs of a bubble in the offing, walk away, and keep your shirt while everyone else is losing theirs."

I had that experience with real estate. The news on the radio in June 2005 trumpeted record home sales and prices. I took it as a sign of the market top I'd been looking for since 2001 and immediately drove to the nearest real estate office to my home in the Irish Hills of Michigan and listed my house for sale. The house sold in April 2006 and closed in May 2006, just as the bottom was about to fall out.

That was not only good for me, but good for the deer. That winter, the deer ate my shrubs up to the seven foot level. Good thing they were eight feet tall at the time. I vowed that if I were still in my house the next firearms deer season, I'd finally break down and buy a rifle and a deer hunting license. I never got the chance. Lucky deer.

Kyle said...


Really enjoy reading your posts and books. Nothing sparks the warm fuzzies like reading somebody who thinks well.

Was wondering if you know Robert Anton Wilson's work? When you talk about false dichotomy, it reminds me of him. Another good thinking dude, he was. And people reading here could likely be interested in him.

John Roth said...

I was thinking of the phrase "They'll think of something," recently, and something occurred to me. In those five words, three are problematic and could represent serious thinking problems. Those words are, of course, they, think and something. (The fact that all three are members of the 65 root concepts all humans over the age of three share is probably not relevant.)

'They,' and 'something' are pronouns, and have to be defined in context. Here, the context doesn't provide any definition - they're dangling in the wind.

Thinking doesn't make things happen; only action makes things happen.

The counters are, of course, "Who exactly are 'they,'", "What, exactly, is 'something,'" and "So, they think of something. What will they actually do about it?"

If you use those counters on someone else, prepare to duck.

Redneck Girl said...

JMG by whole systems do you mean along the lines of my hypothetical boarding stable? In-put being from hay, grain and bedding for the boarded horses, manure and bedding being taken out to pasture and spread on top of the ground. Once grass is up, (a natural selection by exposure to soil and irrigation) cattle is grazed on it, (used for cow penning), which is followed by chickens to scratch and mix manure into the soil. Then mowed for weed control, irrigated to grow grass and after recovery horses turned out on it (without the threat of persistant parasites since cows and horses don't share the same ones), and then cows turned back out on it, (rinse and repeat). The cows eventually sold for grass fed beef and the chickens and eggs from pasture fed birds. (Two sources of extra income there!)

And of course that doesn't even mention the run off from the barn into the cattail swamp to clean the water, that would be channeled through it into the pond that would grow wild rice, bass and croppie. (Some home grown 'gourmet' food there!) Those cattails have to be taken out every so often and the roots are full of starch and make an excellent alcohol to power an open source tractor/generator/well drilling rig/etc.

Not to mention a dozen ways to incorporate those landscape features for training trail or working stock horses! And I haven't even gone into all the permutations I could work out for the stable after industrial civilization falls down and breaks it's hip! (Raising a line of good working stock cum trail horses with maybe a line of old style Morgans as well!)

Is that the kind of whole systems thinking you're referring to? :D


Boddah Meep said...

@ John D. Wheeler

While I think I might agree with JMG that athletes are not really better due to computers, (they are better for other reasons, IMO). I do not think there is any doubt that Grandmasters in chess are better due to analysis using computers. Now I'd say that it has made the mental sport less appealing, as the games of grandmasters lacks a certain artistic quality that you might spot in the games by Alekhine and Capablanca. And the openings are all but choreographed due to a massive database and again, computer analytics. But it appears that chess has been solved, and the human mind has resigned itself to having to play like a computer at the upper echelon of chess.

I also believe that the management of sports, (particularly baseball) has been contributed to by computers.

I'm sure there are other examples. I agree with John D. Wheeler, while they mostly don't, computers can contribute to intellectual advancement.

Tom Bannister said...

I have FAR too vivid an image (I'm I'm sure you'll have heard this analogy used many times before) of the Monty python and the holy grail scene of the black knight with both its arms and legs chopped off defiantly charging king Arthur with cowardice, when you describe US foreign policy in Ukraine, not to mention of course insistence in technology etc saving us any time now... sigh.

I always find silent contemplation, nature, comfortable surroundings, inward clarity and what-not are good places to start when training to and staying a mentat :-)

P.S: I have sketched out a tune/lyrics to the popular hymm 'they'll think of something'. hopefully I'll be able to record it someday

Kevin said...

It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.

I eagerly await my mentat training. Not to qualify for a job with the Baron, however (for I wonder what happens to those applicants whom he rejects?).

The snappiest Bingo card I've encountered so far, when bringing up the topic of energy and resource depletion, was "We've always thought of something before." I've yet to come up with an equally snappy riposte to set the thought process back in motion. It's a formulation that appears to adduce prior conclusive evidence of infallible human cleverness, and how could anyone possibly ever argue with that?

Your post touches upon topics that are much on my mind lately, though not directly related to its core theme. Suffice it to say that magic, art, and the ideas of Josephin Peladan are concerned, among other things.

John Michael Greer said...

Andy, that's definitely one for the bingo cards.

Jean-Vivien, absolutely! That's a good and very important point.

Thomas, that's a good example. The passing human was using a very simple form of the scientific method to check the consequences of a logical argument against experience -- a crucial skill, and one that's very carefully neglected these days.

Unknown Jay, it's a waste of time trying to get people to listen unless they're already prepared to do so. Leading by example is one of the best ways around that.

Pongo, and one of the important aspects of mentat training will thus consist of knowing how to turn off the cell phone (or not have one in the first place), shut down the other sources of noise, and establish a personal space in which thinking can happen.

Sarah, I just clicked on it and it appears to work -- try refreshing your browser and giving it another shot.

GreenEngineer, there are a number of reasons why I don't believe that the current US political class understands what's going on and is being Machiavellian about it all. The most important, though, is that the policies they're pursuing are wrecking the system that gives them their power and influence. Lacking a viable US economy and polity, they're just another set of clueless suits -- and the actions they're taking are driving the collapse of our economy and polity, not into anything they might be able to dominate. (Lesson #1 of emergent feudalism, btw, is that the people who run things aren't the holders of abstract wealth from the former imperial society, but the people with weapons who cut the throats of the holders of abstract wealth and scoop the pot for themselves. We'll talk more about this in the upcoming series of posts.)

Dan, of course some collapses are rougher than others; some regions have a rougher time in any given collapse than others, for that matter, and so on down the range of potential variation. The claim I object to is the one that insists that because some collapses are rougher than others, we're all certain to croak by next Thursday at the latest.

Shane, I ain't arguing. The internet is a brilliant example of what Marvin Harris used to call the disservice and misinformation economy.

Justin, excellent! Have you read Mary Carruthers' excellent books The Book of Memory and The Craft of Thought? She draws extensively on the Didascalion.

Rakesprogress, good. Very good. Advertising deals almost exclusively in thoughtstoppers, of course.

Chaos, good heavens -- I wasn't familiar with either site. I think we've got the makings of a new contest! I'd like to ask my readers to list the credos they hear when the subject of peak oil and the future of industrial society comes up; let's see if we can get enough to make some Bingo cards, and then use those to do a little memetic engineering...

Derv said...

Wonderful post this week JMG. I love Dune and have been thinking along the same lines for a while now. I have four things to say about it:

1. Gray's Law applies here with our leadership. "Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice." When a man is driving your car off a cliff, there's not much point in debating whether he means ill or not - just get out of the dang car. I couldn't say what their intentions are, but I can certainly see that it's a long way down.

2. I think I was about 19 when it finally hit me that everyone I knew was parroting what some particular authority told them. Usually it was the TV, and usually it was verbatim. When pressed beyond the soundbite, they had perhaps a single sentence to back their thinking up, after which their argument collapsed and they became uncomfortable with the conversation. I think it took another year or two before I could really take that in.

I'm pretty sure the main reason I wasn't doing the same thing was that I'd been knee-deep in Aquinas, Augustine and Plato for years by that point. I'd read others, some quite talented, but overall I think the others are wrong. :) I'll spare you the details. My main point is simply that a background in real philosophy is almost a necessity for deep thinking. And heck, even if we were miraculously spared by some deus ex machina at this point like cold fusion, these mentat skills will still be useful as the world tends toward greater specialization for most workers.

3. I've seen many people bring up these issues before, and I've noticed a theme - they universally speak of modern man as being dumbed down. This may well be true; being young, I have no first-hand experience on it. But I do believe, at the risk of sounding like an elitist snob, that the majority of humanity in every society and time has done exactly what Americans do now.

Was there ever a time when the average joe wasn't just focused on the day's work, didn't think much about deep subjects, and just listened to what his father/king/priest told him? It seems to me that this is just how the world is. Most people are, for lack of a better term, peasantry, and there's nothing wrong with it.

Depending on the civilization, the deep thinkers become noblemen, mayors, feudal lords, philosophers, generals, scientists, or Wall Street scam artists. Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that our leadership has failed the people, that it's not that we have a set of leaders but that we simply have the wrong ones? Democracy, in any true sense, has never really existed to my mind.

4. I bought Green Wizardry as part of my training. My wife and I are putting a great deal of it into practice this spring. So thanks!

Michael and Yulia said...

We live in Ukraine and will take the new Prime Minister and his government over the kleptocracy of Yanukovych, but we do become concerned when the government starts to make noises about shale gas. We support many pro-Western Ukrainian politicians, but it seems like too many of them want to just cut and paste what the US does and do it in Ukraine.

We came to Ukraine from America, so we know what works and what doesn't work. Unfortunately, many Ukrainians just see that the US is fabulously wealthy compared to their country and assume that everything the US is doing is right. We do our best to discuss the nuances with people here, but our voices are only so loud.

We live in a small village in western Ukraine (the old Austrian province of Galicia). It is in the crosshairs of Shell and Chevron who want to go after the shale gas here. With the recent push to become energy independent from Russia, we feel like grist indeed.

John Michael Greer said...

Lance, thanks for the recommendations. I really do have to talk about the two steps Hegel left out of his scheme, don't I?

Pogust, funny.

Rabbter, that's been on the agenda for a while now. I want to do the sequence on dark ages first, and then we can start talking about what the monks and mentats will be teaching in their schools.

Ruben, excellent advice. I also like the maxim, "Don't believe everything you think."

Richard, we'll be talking about why most people won't hear what you're trying to tell them in an upcoming post.

Boneyard, excellent. I'm barred from any role in founding the Bene Gesserit by possession of a Y chromosome, but if the ladies want to get working on it, I'll cheer.

Pinku-sensei, I did the same thing with real estate, the other way around. My wife and I stayed completely out of the real estate market until 2009, when prices had crashed good and proper but credit could still be had, and snapped up our current house for an absurdly small sum. Having a clue really does help!

Kyle, I do indeed. I read the Illuminatus! trilogy when it was first published, in fact; despite a certain tendency to take Leary's acid trips a little too seriously, Wilson's stuff is worth reading.

John, you get a gold star and advanced placement in mentat training for that. Excellent work!

Girl, that's a very good start. Your next question is this: how does that set of systems integrate into the whole systems that surround it -- those of human society as well as those of the biosphere?

Boddah Meep, by that logic, using a crutch makes you walk better. The fact that people can use computers to substitute for thinking does not make them better thinkers.

Tom, oddly enough, that hadn't occurred to me, but it's a very good comparison!

John Michael Greer said...

Kevin, good. How about "That's like the guy who jumped off the 50th floor of a skyscraper so he could get to the ground faster. He was talking to a friend on his cell phone, and the friend asked, 'So what's it like?' The guy responded, "Great, so far!"

Derv, I hadn't encountered Gray's Law before -- that's a keeper. Your second point will be central to the forthcoming series of posts on education. As for "dumbed down," hmm -- you're right that the basic habits of nonthinking probably haven't changed much, but I keep on returning to the contrast between the Lincoln-Douglas debates and today's political blather; I think some things have changed in the interval, and that those deserve attention. As for point #4, delighted to hear it!

Michael and Yulia, it's your country and not mine, so who runs it is none of my business! With any luck, though, the shale bubble will pop before you suffer too much fracking there; what's happening here is mostly smoke and mirrors, meant to pump up stock sales and other financial gimmickry.

Kutamun said...

Yes , it may have even been you that illustrated the image of our societies becoming islands , ever decreasing in number with a constantly rising water level. The wealthy inhabit the pinnacles of these islands , and people such as these have long since forsaken any loyalty to place , and worship power only . Curiously this seems to remove one somewhat from the earth sphere , ones own species , perhaps to become some type of airy astronaut , floating around the decaying orb, looking on quizzically at the goings on far below , Like Saint Exupery Arras , somewhat detached from it all. 

As things move along ( i think this is Orlovs image ) , these islands become fewer and further apart , though trade and technology and all things luxuriant , such as wanton travel and fine goods contracts to an ever decreasing elite , until they too are gone sad. 

You sense the planetary consciousness and the Jungian "collective unconscious" to be one and the same thing ....the ability to see things before they happen, dreams , time not being linear. What then , is the nature of the shadow ? This curious admixture these elites seem intent  on submitting themselves to in their insurrection of disconnection. Do they identify with the lizard brain ? or perhaps they are turning themselves into stones and minerals of earth , whatever it is , it is not communal . Are they themselves an adaptation that seeks to twist itself away crom the writhing mass if humanity down some other evolutionary branch ? , is their strident binary the way to this ? It would not seem so ... 

Still the question remains , why then , does the earth itself persist with its manifestations , to what end ? 
These big Mentat Questions still remain , though they do not helpme split the firewood this evening , JM , my dear pragmatist .,,

Regards ,

Thomas Daulton said...

'Nuther riposte I like versus the credo, "We've always come up with solutions before"-- besides JMG's joke about the guy falling from a skyscraper -- goes like this: "What did the farmer say when his cow died? 'Gee, she's never done _that_ before!!' "

Kevin said...

Personally I'm about ready for a Butlerian revolution. I've become thoroughly disenchanted with the whole notion of personal computers as an allegedly indispensable attribute of modern life, the lack of which is an unthinkable deprivation. I've sunk a good many thousands that I could ill afford into these devices, supposedly for the purpose of securing steady remunerative employment, and what have I got to show for it? Several cubic feet of computer carcasses and their pointless peripherals. And yet people still keep telling me "you've just got to get a computer." Never have so many been so devoted to a product that is guaranteed to so swiftly become absolutely worthless. Truly, this level of planned obsolescence is a triumph of thaumaturgy and black magic. The only worthwhile thing for which PCs are apparently indispensable is the Internet; and that, as you've cogently argued, is likely to be withdrawn from the public sphere in the fullness of time.

TomK said...

Dear JMG, thanks for another great post. As a Central European, I am glad you mentioned us being grist between the millstones. In the recent short period post 1989, it was easy to forget the millstones for a while. It was possible to maintain the illusion that this age is about (re)integrating with the expanded West and eventually keeping up with their level of consumption. That despite the fact that we essentially became a source of cheap labor force and a new market to dump western trash to. Also, we got to decimate our defense in favor of some few elite colonial units which we sent to places like Afghanistan. Now that more and more people wake up to the fact of having become a sort of soft-core colony and that the desired western-level consumption will never materialize (actually, it might, the west will decline to our level at some point:-), some are tempted to cheer at Putins middle finger towards the West. It is here the analogy to the millstone comes in handy. In the approaching age of what you termed as scarcity industrialism, what will remain of the big powers will be even more ruthless in pursuit of securing their power or remaining resource base. If we ever need help from the West, we will be conveniently dumped and forgotten, just as it happened many times in the past. So the western millstone will tend to ignore and abuse, but that does not make the prospect of embracing the Russian bear anymore attractive. The Central and Eastern European nations need to unite on some level and defend themselves together so that the already begun descent won't be such a turmoil as Ukraine. Oh well, dream on….

Avery said...

@Jose: "I find it amusing to notice that, the more brittle the American empire becomes, the firmer the beliefs that it is unbeatable and will last forever become. Previous generations of American citizens and politicians would never utter such bold claims, even in good times."

This kind of assertion is a pretty solid sign that an empire is on its way to death. I'm reading Chinese histories such as Three Kingdoms right now, and it's interesting to see that familiar attitude from dynasties on the brink of destruction. This is such a common trope that Isaac Asimov made use of it at the beginning of "Foundation".

I liked the history lesson about the word "credo". We'll have to be on the lookout for these! :)

John Michael Greer said...

Kutamun, why does the earth persist with these manifestations? Why does a child play with pebbles?

Thomas, that'll do nicely.

Kevin, no argument there. One thing that can help, if you need a computer for your livelihood -- as I do -- is to get used, "outdated" machines; if you know people who buy into the myth, they'll often give you their used machines for free, since it's cheaper than disposing of them. That way you keep a little e-waste out of the waste stream, and contribute nothing or next to nothing to the computer industry...

Tom, exactly. The game of power politics is what it's always been, and weak nations on the periphery of power need to remember that the great powers are out to benefit themselves, not their subject nations.

steve pearson said...

How about this one: a Texas RRC commissioner was quoted on Ron Patterson's blog as saying that U.S. oil & gas resources were "relatively boundless". As someone subsequently noted: that was quite unique.

Jason Heppenstall said...

I was on the receiving end of a thought-stopper a few days back when the latest IPCC report was released. Having suggested off-handedly that one of the basic assumptions of the report - i.e. a continued expansion in oil and gas consumption into the far future - might be worth examining in more detail, I was howled down with: 'Are you a climate scientist? Do you want billions of people to die? No, then shut up'. That seems to be the latest way to close down discussions on the topic and prevent anything meaningful happening.

Anyway, great to hear about the Mentats. I'm working on getting a story in for the competition and it features Mentat-like characters. It's set in the Arctic, about 500 years from now, and involves archaeologists and ships. I won't reveal more now.

As for the EEE course - I'll book the conference and train tickets right now.

Andrew said...

A bit off-topic, but among the skills that would be valuable to preserve, I would rank rather high the ability to give birth without medical intervention. Accoring to these data (1), (2), that is becomming rare indeed (and caesareans are only a part of the medical interventions that take place). In nature any species that has this much trouble to repoduce will go extinct very quickly of course, but I have come to think that the staggering high costs of having a child the modern way, emotionally, physically and financially (3), (4) for both mother and child (which will be the next generation), will lead the way to decreasing birth-rates and decrease of population, at least in the US.

Luckily, there are some brave women out there who do keep this skill alive (5), (6) altough they are, of course, on the outer fringes, and will probably be there for the forseable future.

Kutamun said...

Then to the extent that we identify ourselves with the planet , we can begin to exercise a modicum of "choice", through the virtue of the planet itself having the power of choice  , being a vast  sentient being several orders of magnitude greater than we can properly comprehend . Choice in regard perhaps , to the nature and manner of our being . Perhaps then , when we choose to identify ourselves with something other than the planetary consciousness ( power)  , we become something other than the planet itself, perhaps a little like excrement , or "grist for the mill"  . Dimly do we as specks of dust sense the great cosmic dance of vast sentient suns and planets , perhaps with their own families , societies and polities on a scale and in a fashion largely unbeknowns to us .. To the extent that we move away from the isolating  and disconnecting hubristic effects of access to vast amounts of concentrated energy , we may get on with this business of being "planet stuff" and assist our vast being with retaining its integrity , rather than being like a comical , annoying little gnat  that is the tail mistaking itself for the dog...
Or.... This could all be crap ..

Marc L Bernstein said...

Last night I watched a documentary about nuclear power and how it has recently gained some surprising supporters (James Lovelock, Mark Lynas, etc.), because nuclear power plants can produce large amounts of electricity without also putting much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I listened carefully to what several former opponents of nuclear power had to say, and concluded that their points of view were legitimate except for a nagging fact that was not mentioned - that industrial civilization itself is going to decline severely during the next several decades, and as a result the infrastructure necessary for the construction, operation and maintenance of enormous new power plants might not be there.

Those familiar with finance would probably mention that the capital to build large nuclear power plants is not going to be there either.

Those familiar with Peak Oil arguments would mention that all of industrial civilization, nuclear power included, is based on the availability of reasonably cheap fossil fuels, particularly oil. As those non-renewable fuels decline in availability, nearly all large-sized construction projects will gradually be abandoned. James Howard Kunstler might use such an argument.

Maybe there are other pertinent arguments against nuclear power (health issues, nuclear waste disposal problems, mining hazards for uranium, safety, etc.). The subject matter is interesting enough that you might feel inclined to weigh in on the matter at some point.

The "it's different this time" theme can be applied in this case, although not easily. The principle I would suggest (care of Chalmers Johnson) is that empires in decline invariably hasten their downfall by investing in projects too elaborate and costly in comparison to their value to the citizenry. The suggestion to build a series of new-fangled nuclear power plants (based on thorium, cooled by liquid sodium, etc.) is just another example of the pathological grandiosity which often accompanies the decline of an empire.

As Joseph Tainter might say, there are few if any declining civilizations that prudently downsize, simplify, or make a transition away from giant projects and towards smaller, simpler ones.

This simplification is what we need of course, but there is obviously no large movement in favor of disconnecting from the electric grid, joining eco-villages, giving away various electrical appliances or seeking a lifestyle that does not require an automobile.

Sven said...

Well, I for one am rather excited to hear you're visiting the UK. Are you speaking anywhere else while you're here?


MawKernewek said...

The promise computers and the Internet had was that it would fulfill the libertarian dream of information access, by breaking the power of the big media monopolies both governmental and corporate, and make it easier to access unbiased information.

However, what actually happens, is that people drown themselves in a torrent of trivial and superficial data through social media, which leaves them no time or mental energy to think.

I don't know what to think about Ukraine. It is clear to me that the main external players are out for their own economic interests, the claim that the "West" (whatever that has supposed to have meant since 1990) is exempt from this strikes me as reheated Cold War propaganda.

TomK: I believe that here in Wales, we are now below the economic level of Slovakia, and Cornwall has a lower PPP GDP (whatever that means) than parts of Romania. Eurostat

Jose Coces said...

@Avery: "pride goeth before the fall" and all that, yeah. A shame, really, These things repeat themselves over and over and over again in history, and too few seem to get a clue. Nothing new under the sun and all is vanity, indeed.

@GreenEngineer: now there's a typical American credo - "we can never be the subject of things". Americans seem to believe that the world is passive, just there for them to act and shine, or fail and cry. The world never does anything that the Americans could not have foreseen, stopped, or defended themselves from. "The US failed and 'Nam because America lost the will to fight; the congs could have been beaten", "9/11 was an inside job", and so on.
Well, reality is actually different than that. There's no "American exceptionalism" in the real world. The US can be, and actually is, outsmarted, tricked and even militarily defeated by other nations. Now, there is no shortage at all of dumb dominating political elites elsewhere. Why there would be in the US? Even the Romans suffered an oblivious elite during their later days. So are the Americans, and there is nothing surprising or uncommon with that.

Daniel Najib said...

"get a backup heat source that doesn’t depend either on gas or on gas-fired grid electricity"

So, a cat then?

In all seriousness, I installed more insulation last year, and it sure has helped with energy costs.

Daniel A. C. said...

I was listening to an interview that you had done with Bob Hieronimus, and you mentioned on it that you were thinking of doing a book on Renaissance techniques to improve thinking. I was really interested in that idea, is that project still in the works? I'm thinking the series of posts on thinking might cover a lot of that ground.

I also wondered if you'd ever come across the books of Edward de Bono? They seemed pretty ubiquitous in bookstores in the 90s, and I was reminded of them when I was reading about cybernetics in your Green Wizardry book, as de Bono was where I first heard that term. Not sure what the value of his work is, but he certainly came up with a lot of techniques and exercises related to thinking.

Congratulations on the course related to Wealth of Nature - it's a fantastic book! Glad it is getting widespread exposure.

YJV said...

I read the previous article on the skills needed for a wizard and found it quite interesting. I'm glad that activity in debating has led me into an environment where these logical fallacies are easily detected - although my peers still are adherents to the gods of progress and growth.

The Vedic curriculum and it's branches had many of the skills you mentioned mandatory back in the day. A scholar Brahmin arriving in the University of Nalanda would have already been proficient in grammar, maths, military & political strategy, physical science, astrology, humanities and fine arts. Aspects of this system survived, in whatever degraded form, well until 1835 when Thomas Macauly ripped the system from its roots.

Although trying to revive the system would only result in pointless nostalgia, there is a good amount that can be learnt. Especially if in the future, one's descendants won't be in a position to inflict violence in order to survive (remember, even Werhner von Braun managed to get away on account of his value to his captors).


Ursachi Alexandru said...

JMG, as far as I know, Romania imports about 25% of its natural gas from Russia, the rest being supplied from our own deposits. This alone could give this country a big advantage on a regional level, and indeed work is already underway on the construction of a pipeline to help Moldova shake off at least some of its dependence on Russian gas. If our society was less clueless than it already is, and that would be reflected in our political class, we could at least try to have a more powerful role in regional politics and not just be a toy to be tossed around between the big powers.

That being said, I'd like to suggest to anyone interested to check out the latest article from my photo-blog, not least because it touches the subject of regional geopolitics:

RPC said...

Okay, here's my worksheet from your exercise assignment: the urgency with which the oil industry pursues the Keystone XL pipeline seems to be directly correlated to the spread between Brent and WTI oil futures; therefore the true goal of Keystone XL is to bring US oil prices up to international levels.
On another topic, how does one as a mentat become revered as a source of wisdom rather than get burnt at the stake as a heretic? (I suspect some of your "silly" nomenclature has something to do with this issue...)

Jim R said...

There will be abundant natural gas from North America, as well as Russia, in 2020.

The unfortunate part is that, like so many natural things, its source will be widely distributed among countless tiny seeps across the melting permafrosts of Canada, Alaska and Siberia.

Edde said...

Good Morning John Michael,

What a pleasure to read your report each Thursday. Congratulations on the course, academic use of your book, plus the speaking gig.

Please send a credo bingo card immediately. I sit on our community's financial planning committee and will likely fill that card at our next meeting;-)

Best regards,


irishwildeye said...

Not strictly relevant to this weeks post but related to the ongoing discussion here about the future of the bicycle. Homemade wooden bicycles in the third world. Is this the bicycles future?

Juhana said...

I was not going to comment, but you mentioned Ukraine, so here we go...

Let's start from the begin.

I personally believe that derailing Ukraine into anarchy and chaos was directed by US and EU intelligence agencies. They wanted to oust democratically elected Yanukovitsh from the power and bring in more Western-oriented government. Desire for this action is no surprise, because Russia contained Western interests in Syria quite succesfully, and troops of Syrian government have made steady progress in the civil war during last two years. In Syria Russia prevented military operation against Assad government, but allowed Obama to save his face by letting him lead dearmament of chemical weapons in the country. That was wise move, because it's plain stupid thing to unnecessary make realm as mighty as US angry.

But West wanted to get even.Who can blame them?

Timing of Maidan operation was brilliant. It started practically simultaneously with Winter Olympics in Russia, making it extremely costly in the PR sense for Russia to intervene. And persons behind these calculations were right. There was no mentionable response during the Games. But after that, it seems that professionality and pure speed of Russian takeover of Crimea took Western intelligence agencies by surprise. That was excellent military operation indeed. It was fast, clean and almost bloodless. Disclipine level of Russian troops involved was astonishing, when compared to troops sent into First Chechen war at 90's. They have learned their lessons fast in the Krasnaya Armiya.

On the other hand, speed of Ukrainian mobilization was very slow. It took 4 days from them to get Zaporoszhe motorized artillery on the road. It took at least one week before Kiev government could announce that they had 60 000 men at arms, and only fraction of those were combat ready. Over half of Ukrainian army was situated at Crimea, and from those troops over half changed sides, including elite Ukrainian marine brigade. Russian sources claim that only 11 % of Ukrainian troops at Crimea chose to leave, while all the rest either defected or demilitarized. It seems that Ukrainian armed forces have not get rid of problems left behind by Soviet collapse, from which their Russian counterpart suffered also many years.

One remarkable aspect of this crisis of eastern Europe is the rise of paramilitaries. They have operated everywhere, from Crimea to Kiev, with close collision with more official forces. For example, during early days of crisis, temporary interior minister of Ukraine gave paramilitary groups of Right Sector right to patrol streets of West Ukraine. It was remarkable that those troops used as their arm band yellow cloth with inverted ”wolf fishing rod” symbol in it. I do not know it's actual English name, but in German it's called ”auf Wolfsangel”. Symbol has quite deep history behind it, and all of that history is not very nice. From paramilitaries with policing rights, using it was quite strong statement. On the other hand, ethnic Russians of East Ukraine formed their own paramilitaries, so who am I to blame anyone....

This bond between unofficial grassroots organizations of football firms of eastern Europe and paramilitary activity seems to get stronger also, week after week. Russians are paying back now, like recent burning of German national flag by Petrograd Zenit ultras during match against Borussia Dortmund shows. Last time there was this much nationalist zeal sloshing around football terraces of eastern Europe it was ultras of Belgrad Crevna Zvezda fighting now legendary battles against ultras of Zagreb Dynamo. For a while after that ultra boys of mentioned Serbian football club organized under man called by his Turkish nickname, Arkan, and formed one of the most feared paramilitaries of Yugoslavian civil war, called Arkan's Tigers. Boys in the other side of the fence were also called to arms.

History have tendency to repeat itself.

Paulo said...

Great post, JMG. Thanks for the effort and clear thoughts.

My input. For the past 17 years I taught, off and on, grades 5-12...most subjects. I was hired to teach shop but moved around when I became bored. The last few years before I retired was spent teaching at a high school that drew from a variety of sources; from poor parts of town, from upper-end French immersion type families, and from various gulf islands.... some of which were quite remote. When I started in 94 I had to insist one paper a year was based on internet research. When I quit a few years ago I had to expend huge reserves of energy and frustration to get sstudents to put down their phones, get off google, and think for themselves. It drove me crazy. The kids with fancy smart phones and huge grade expectations were average at best. The students from the remote islands had a great work ethic, could figure things out on their own, and often were quite brilliant having been raised by folks who long since dropped out of modern culture. I had parents come to see me when making a 'town run' and they were consumed with life and their projects; everything from home hydro projects to making bio-diesel. They often had children who were not only capable and able, they were the first to join the acting club and band. Many of these familes were off-grid homesteader types. Their knowledge and experience was both inspiring and daunting. Their families seemed old fashioned and 'healthy'.

My point is this. In this short version of my watching society's children become 'computerized', I could/can easily see the dumbing down of almost all. Most of the survivors, who retained imagination and work ethic, came from what was thought to be unconventional and/or disadvantaged circumstances.
I think many will do well with a future step down from our 'liberating technology'. It will free us by forcing people to do and think for themselves.

By the way, we relocated to a remote valley some 10 years ago and have never looked back. For now, cell phones don't work here. For now.


Tracy G said...

The credos you're discussing are thought-stoppers because, among other reasons, they contain little or no "I," and thus no personal call to action. The subjects of those statements are "it," "they," "technology," "the world," "the United States," and so on, not "I." Whereas a credo expressed more like this has some teeth in it. Or a flaming sword, as the case may be. It steps beyond the statement of belief into a statement of responsibility.

Pinku-Sensei said...

@JMG "Having a clue really does help!" Yes, it does. Now to see about buying property as it struggles off the bottom.


"Yes , it may have even been you that illustrated the image of our societies becoming islands , ever decreasing in number with a constantly rising water level. The wealthy inhabit the pinnacles of these islands , and people such as these have long since forsaken any loyalty to place , and worship power only ."

Those pinnacles of islands already exist. As Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone: "That conflict will be between people who live somewhere, and people who live nowhere. It will be between people who consider themselves citizens of actual countries, to which they have patriotic allegiance, and people to whom nations are meaningless, who live in a stateless global archipelago of privilege – a collection of private schools, tax havens and gated residential communities with little or no connection to the outside world."

There is a name for that global archipelago of wealth and privilege--Richistan. As for how global it remains during the long descent, that's another story. Greer himself noted that the kind of people who inhabit it today won't necessarily be the ones running the show a couple of centuries hence.

Taibbi isn't the only author who thinks that way. Mike Lofgren wrote the following in the American Conservative about the Revolt of the Rich.

"Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it. If one can afford private security, public safety is of no concern; if one owns a Gulfstream jet, crumbling bridges cause less apprehension—and viable public transportation doesn’t even show up on the radar screen. With private doctors on call and a chartered plane to get to the Mayo Clinic, why worry about Medicare?"

It says something when two authors with as different political views as Taibbi and Lofgren are on the same page when it comes to the global rich. In the meantime, welcome to Richistan!

onething said...


" ... - they universally speak of modern man as being dumbed down...

Was there ever a time when the average joe wasn't just focused on the day's work, didn't think much about deep subjects, and just listened to what his father/king/priest told him?"

Perhaps so, and yet it's interesting to delve into older texts and note the decreasing use of complex language, and in fact school kids are now marked down for not making strings of simple sentences. If you could have said it more simply, you did it wrong! The odd thing, though, is that the simplification seems to have preceded modern media. Check this out:

Yourmindfire said...

Excited by the opportunity to see JMG in London, concerned that his host will be the School of Economic Science.

thrig said...

On computers, Evgeny Morozov's writings are a useful counterpoint to the "computers are good!" line of thought, or in particular that "The Internet" has changed everything and that therefore current algorithms behind Google and Twitter can do no harm. (We have flying cars, they are called planes, and are expensive, and in America, use leaded fuel that the small planes industry is busy finding reasons to not stop using.) A useful use of computers might be the results summarized in Piketty's excellent "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" (which I've gotten about 8% of the way though) compared to the troubles for previous researchers:

"In the 1970s, when Alice Hanson Jones collected US estate inventories from the colonial era and Adeline Daumard worked on French estate records from the nineteenth century, they worked mainly by hand, using index cards. When we reread their remarkable work today, or look at François Siminad’s work on the evolution of wages in the nineteenth century or Ernest Labrousse’s work on the history of prices and incomes in the eighteenth century or Jean Bouvier and François Furet’s work on the variability of profits in the nineteenth century, it is clear that these scholars had to overcome major material difficulties in order to compile and process their data." — Piketty, Thomas (2014-03-10). Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Harvard University Press.

While computers can be useful, distractions from them are best limited: have no Internet at home, if possible wake early and troll the birds with bad flute playing (I've no smart phone nor really carry one), walk to free your mind (or to get to the coffee shop, which does have Internet), and turn off all the notifications and chimes and dings and geegaws that force context switches on your mind.

Anna said...

I'm wondering if I can use your idea of the bingo card when I'm teaching the "Post Carbon Fiction" course next year--It would be a really interesting exercise for students to go and talk about Peak Oil to people and see who can fill up their card first!--I'd also appreciate a bunch more one-liners to fill the cards up (I'm terrible at that sort of thing).

What a great idea!

wvjohn said...

Much of what has been written about energy and the Ukrainian

situation and the recent IPCC report has simply astounded me in its

complete disregard of troubling little things like facts. Like many

here, I have tried to raise those facts with otherwise rational and

well meaning people and the response hasn't even been as elevated as

"it's different this time." It has largely been complete denial that

facts have any bearing on the situation. This morning I read an

article on BBC which referenced possible "increases in US energy

production by 2030 changing the global balance of power" (actually

2035, but I'll use the voguish date) and I felt as though I had been

reincarnated in a dismal alternate universe.

Ignorance is generally a neutral term, defined as lack of knowledge

or information on a particular subject. I was largely ignorant about

peak oil and climate change issues until 5 or 6 years ago, simply

because I had never sought to become informed on those issues. As

you and others point out, we do live in a golden age of information

access, and ignorance is now largely a choice if you have access to

the internet. I am ignorant of how to perform actual scientific

research in a particular field (such as CO2/methane release by

melting permafrost) but I am familiar with the principles behind

scientific study. What I seem to be seeing more and more is people

who may not be familiar with a subject (scientific research) simply

excluding anything flowing from it. I think I understand why a

radical religious fundamentalist movement - for example, Boko Haram

("Western Education is Sinful or No Western Knowledge") can arise in

a poor and exploited corner of the world. The lure of the

possibility of a return to simpler and more just times simply by

embracing traditional values is frankly appealing, if not rational.

How it has gained such a foothold in the fraying empire that is the

US is beyond me at the moment.

Thanks as always for a place to vent. There are a couple of nice

pieces recently by the American Association for the Advancement of

Science which talk about the prudence of considering "tail risk" in

climate matters.


What We Know

Liquid Paradigm said...

Congratulations on the conference. I'm almost done with 'The Wealth of Nature' and have been recommending it highly to everyone I know. Especially the credo crooners. It's been invaluable in helping me organize my thinking on the "economically vs. technically feasible" trap that always seems to snatch up people with whom I'm speaking about decline and fall.

As an aside, just a couple of days ago I was advised that here in Denver property values went up 10% last month, and that (the ever ubiquitous) "they" are saying it's going to keep up like that from now on. I confess I had to stare slack-jawed at the house-flipper wannabe messenger for a moment before I could respond. We're not even 10 years out from the last real estate bubble, and many have already completely forgotten.

Probably because "it's different this time."


Myriad said...

I think it's worth mentioning that like the seafaring life discussed last week, the mentat career path is far from a safe one in difficult times. Between the Scylla of being a magnet for blame when even the best thinking cannot salvage the situation, and the Charybdis of being a conspicuous obstacle in the path of opportunists wielding credos and swords, lies the ever-present hazard of missing a factor and simply screwing up. I wonder whether the real purpose of the stars on the hat is to provide a momentary distraction when it's time to duck and run.

A strong solid mentat labor union (as appeared to exist in some form in the Dune universe) would be helpful.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Congratulations on the conference! So, a trip to Britain? Time to poke about a bit and see old friends?

My whole energy (heat) situation is something I wrestle with (puzzle over, think about, fret and worry) on a daily basis. I love where I live as it gives me opportunities to practice Green Wizardry. My landlord/friend is even writing it into his will that I can stay here as long as I like. Very cheap rent. BUT, the only source of non-electric heat is propane ... He feels the chimneys are fine for propane exhaust, but will not take wood heat.

So, I did a lot of insulating last year and will do more this fall.

Ten chicks arriving in the next few days to add to my flock. Then my meat / manure and egg system will be in place. I give eggs I don't use away, to build social capital.

Next week potatoes, asparagus and peas go in. Sprayed the apple trees, for the first time, with something non toxic last week.

Robert Beckett said...

JMG & Richard Larsen,

Richard on throwing in the towel on his solar installation business:
"People wanted to argue just exactly the theme of this weblog even after seeing and hearing the logic. I'm sick of trying to talk sense into them."

On nuking the Macondo well:
"As a serious proposal, though – and some of the people making it appear to be serious – it’s hard to think of better evidence that a significant fraction of the American people has simply stopped thinking at all." ADR, Alternatives to Absurdity April 6, 2011

Gentlemen, I share your frustration, yet look forward to JMG's analysis of the phenomenon of willful ignorance all too prevalent out there in the general population - but thankfully not so much among ADR commenters.

Robert Beckett

Ruben said...


"Was there ever a time when the average joe wasn't just focused on the day's work, didn't think much about deep subjects, and just listened to what his father/king/priest told him?"

The Lincoln-Douglas debates are often cited as an example of how farmers used to be active participants in discourse. The two men held seven three-hour debates.

Lincoln–Douglas debates - Wikipedia

My mother always said, "Get an education, so you have something to think about while you are digging ditches."

John Michael Greer said...

Steve, okay, good. That one's a keeper.

Jason, yes, I've heard that sort of thing also. I'll probably have to do a post one of these days on the way that climate rhetoric is being used to drown out all other issues. See you in London!

Andrew, fair enough. Are you doing something to help preserve those skills?

Kutamun, do the pebbles have any awareness of choice when the child's playing with them? How about individual cells in the child's liver? ;-)

Marc, then it's time to start a small movement, and that begins with each of us saying "No, I don't need the latest whatchamacallit" and turning down the heat.

Sven, yes, I'll be giving a talk to the Blake Society in London on June 3 and attending the 50th anniversary assembly of the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids in Glastonbury the following weekend.

MawKernewek, that sounds about right.

Daniel Najib, by all means get a cat -- if you choose well, you've also got rodent control!

Daniel A.C., the book in question is Giordano Bruno's On the Shadows of the Ideas; the translation's finished, and it's just waiting for me to have the spare time to doublecheck it, and write the intro and the long essay on how to use Bruno's art of memory. No, I hadn't encountered de Bono; I mostly read books by dead people, you know. ;-)

YJV, nostalgia has its place, but you're probably right that the old curriculum could use some updating. Still, the point's valid: an intellectual in the pre-industrial era was expected to have a broad general grasp of a very wide range of knowledge, and the results were arguably much better than the blinkered hyperspecialization that's in vogue these days.

John Michael Greer said...

Ursachi, thanks for the update on the ground, and the photo essay -- I'm startled to note that the roofs of old-fashioned houses in Moldova look like the roofs on traditional Japanese farmhouses!

RPC, good. The trick, btw, is to look for the third option -- in this case, "harmless crank" makes excellent protective camouflage, and also makes it easier for people to listen to what you have to say, since they know they don't have to take you seriously and therefore fail to put up mental defenses against what you're saying. How do you think a guy whose business card says "archdruid" became a major voice in the peak oil scene, with upwards of 200,000 page views here a month?

Jim, nicely put.

Edde, as soon as I get 25 credos I'll see if I can get cards made. I mean that quite literally!

Wildeye, thank you. I now withdraw any objections I may have previously raised to the viability of bicycles in the deindustrial future; if those wooden bikes are viable in today's Third World, we can expect variations on that theme for a very long time to come.

Juhana, those paramilitaries were called "auxiliaries" when they were serving the Roman army, and "warbands" when the Roman army disintegrated and the former auxiliaries began chopping the former empire into collops. That is to say, we're right on track for the usual process of decline and fall.

Paulo, I've seen the same thing at work in many other contexts. Those who are poor, hungry, and tough are likely to do a lot better than those who are pampered and have their heads filled with electronic babble -- but then it was ever thus...

Tracy, a very good point, which I'd managed to miss. You're quite correct, of course.

Pinku-sensei, in your place -- unless relocating to the Rust Belt is part of your plan -- I'd build up a sum of ready money, and wait for the fracking bubble to pop. My guess is that there'll be panic selling of quite a range of assets at that point, and you'll do quite well.

Yourmindfire, the SES has been remarkably open to the ideas I've been discussing -- that's not exactly common these days, so I take the opportunities that present themselves to me.

Thrig, thanks for the recommendation! I'll check out Morozov as time permits.

Anselmo said...

I think the Ukrainian revolution has been something of American Republicans and the German extreme right, and that one of the objectives was to hit Obama.

According to Gramsci, hegemonic ideas in public opinion determine the shape of the future government. It is for this reason that it is essential to subdue the population continued bombing by advertising campaigns through all means possible, and that action will be more effective as more brutalized the population will be.

exiledbear said...

I wouldn't say that Murica is hiding from the future, so much as it is clinging to the past. I would characterize what passes for "leadership" in Murica as wanting to turn the clock back to some point in the 90s and keep it there forever. I think to some degree the present and the future aren't comprehensible to them. So they fall back on what they do understand.

Doesn't really matter why - anything that clings to the past, becomes part of the past - and disappears from the perspective of the present.

I find myself more and more having less and less in common with Muricans because of this. I think at this point it's pointless to try to tell them what they're doing to themselves (and to stop it) and more pointfull to just leave and find somewhere else where the people, the leadership and the culture and clinging to the present or even the future.

Where that is, I'm not quite sure. Have to set a target before you can do an orbit burn.

Computers can't think for you, just like a radial saw can't build for you either. They're power tools, and unskilled use of either can damage you. I suppose the damage from unskilled computer use isn't physical, but it's still damage. However the way society and culture think, if the damage isn't physical, it's not really there.

Talk to a typical IT person sometime - people have a horribad understanding of computers and what they do, how they work and how to use them properly.

Twilight said...

Watching the Ukraine situation it has become quite apparent that the entire management of the empire has accepted totally the idea that perception is reality, and that they can create their own reality as needed. It has been interesting to see what happens when they come up against an external reality that is unmoved by their weak thaumaturgy. They seem quite disoriented by the ineffectiveness of their primary tool, but in this case cannot move to the only other tool they posses to deal with an unwelcome reality (violent destruction).

Also, it confirms to me your previous point that power in the empire is diffuse and factionalized. While I'm not trying to let him off the hook, it is not clear how much control Mr. Obama actually has over the imperial bureaucracy. Or even knowledge of what it is up to.

My concern is that the present generation of bureaucrats has always worked under the assumptions that escalation always works and are not accustomed to adversaries that have much capability. The machine may simply blunder on running the only program it has.

Anselmo said...

Michael and Yulia:

I´m Glad you are well. Probably you don´t remember but a few weeks ago I expressed to You my concern that Russia will invade Ukraine. I'm glad I was wrong.

Anna said...

I've just now finished reading to the end of the post, and--correct me if I'm wrong--but I think you've just advocated for a version of a Liberal Arts Education. Nicely done! :)

Cathy McGuire said...

Sigh… this post is all too true, and I can’t adjust myself to that fact, no matter how often I encounter it. Just got back from a painful (in several ways) tooth extraction, and trying to talk to the receptionist in a logical manner was an exercise in futility. She had a pile of thought-stoppers, the most primary of which was “we always do it that way.” As if that were enough. I agree with Pongo that distractions and also being too rushed is causing too many people to substitute pre-packaged “thoughts” for real thinking. (I believe that is another way that people move toward homogeneity and conventional thinking/behavior – they have no time to think their own thoughts.)

Along with the fallacies chart mentioned by Thomas D, there are two other text-based chart/lists here:

but as someone mentioned, knowing names of fallacies doesn’t help much if you’re not able to synthesize info and avoid them yourself.

Congrats on the e-course and your speaking! I’m so glad this is being addressed in an economic context!

@Kevin: The snappiest Bingo card I've encountered so far, when bringing up the topic of energy and resource depletion, was "We've always thought of something before." The correct answer is “And look where it’s gotten us!” ;-)

pintada said...

Archdruid says: "... is merely an excuse for building the infrastructure needed to export American natural gas to higher-paying global markets, which will send domestic gas prices soaring to stratospheric levels in the years ahead; this recognition might well inspire you to put a few extra inches of insulation up there in the attic, and get a backup heat source that doesn’t depend either on gas or on gas-fired grid electricity, so those soaring prices don’t have the chance to clobber you."

I must point out that the part of this sentence that goes, "... will send domestic gas prices soaring to stratospheric levels ..." ain't necessarily so. The implication that it will be a disaster - fine. The admonition to get set for that disaster - great. But, just because a commodity is less available does not require it to go up in price forever.

It is just as likely in my view that the gas will go out of the country, the price will go up some, (i.e. to match the european price) and then people and corporations will realize that we cannot pay for it at that price. The resulting drag on the economy presents a deflationary pressure. I suspect that deflation is more likely than inflation, because to have inflation, workers must be paid enough to afford the rising prices, and get raises, which does not happen in the US anymore.

Ray Wharton said...

One of the things that keeps me coming to the ADR is that it reminds me of my favorite youthful dream. When I was in College I wanted nothing more than to work in a school for advanced thinking. This blog and the discussion forum that follows it functions as such a school in many senses. Correspondence course online, and its free; though I try to buy as many books as my budget will support to balance that scale, Green Wizardry is going to be ordered today. The ongoing conversation here is a paradigm for ongoing conversation that local intellectual traditions might be inspired by and, by virtue of physical nearness of membership, aspire to supplement with practical projects. I hope Green Wizardry will provide as much support toward that goal as the other books I have acquired have.

As far as mentat training goes I want to recommend a serious study of Logic. I took two semesters of Formal Logic in school, and subsequently was the student aid for two more semesters. In retrospect it is the experience from college I most value, and it was more difficult than any other class I took. Professor Trelogan was a firm believer that every major, including philosophy, needed a course which would sift out the non hackers. Of 23 students in the first semester I was one of three to pass and one of two to take second semester. The most useful training were the arts of derivation and translation. Learning syllogistic logic is also very useful, and I recommend Lewis Carol as a gifted writer on logic generally. I takes a lot of patience, creativity, and precision to solve many derivation problems. And translation? extremely difficult in some cases! But translation makes the structure of narratives (of absence of structure) pop quite effectively. is a good source of translation problems to practice with. Be careful sometimes there are trick sentences which cannot be translated into the formal system.

On the practical side of getting a job as a mentat I have found inspiration in the writing of Benjamin Franklin. His autobiography is very fun to read and has useful advice on how to get work as a thinker.

The section that has most inspired my current tact is as follows.

" was, therefore, every one's interest to be virtuous who wish'd to be happy even in this world; and I should, from this circumstance (there being always in the world a number of rich merchants, nobility, states, and princes, who have need of honest instruments for the management of their affairs, and such being so rare), have endeavored to convince young persons that no qualities were so likely to make a poor man's fortune as those of probity and integrity."

The ol' Wizards were such instruments, and in all times there are persons possessed of corporal power in need of good hands. Ben's writings are rich in details which are helpful to making oneself noticed by those in need of a good wizard.

I also have attempted some of the magical training which Greer has pinned, to mixed effect. Last year I introduced AODA practices into my life to... humbling effect. I found that my tact was over ambitious and managed to burn myself out by August. Surprizingly the benefits of practice actually became far more pronounced when I lapsed in practice. With the equinox I have restarted magical practices, though now based on the Celtic Golden Dawn.

Even at 25 I have noticed some of my mental faculties fade compared to youth, I was earlier possessed of incredible retention, speed, and precision of thought, by virtue of inborn talent, but in recent years I have detected that where practice does not maintain those powers they are apt to wain. Alas some lazy habits which those talents permitted me to support are now becoming a liability. Keeping a planner and taking notes being the distinctive skills whose under development vex me more often than any other, in fact they were key hindrances in my first pass at magical workings.

Robo said...

Information and data are too often confused with wisdom and insight. In the internet era there is a surfeit of the former and a shortage of the latter.

Americans in particular are impressed by large numbers because we are a nation of scorekeepers. We want to win big. Big data means big numbers, so we hunger for more and more information.

On the other hand, wisdom is often devalued or ignored because it's scarce and hard to quantify. A wise person might decide that the best response to a stimulus or problem is to make no response. This choice makes no sense to a scorekeeper.

Just because the NSA, CIA, FBI, Google, Amazon or Facebook are in possession of most of the world's electronic data, it does not follow that they will have the wisdom or ability to act upon it, either constructively or destructively.

A recent story on NPR describes how an independent study proved that average citizens with everyday access to Google and public news media were able to interpret current world events and predict future developments far more accurately and effectively than expert government intelligence analysts who were plugged into the latest and most detailed secret data streams:

I agree with others here that constructive thought and reflection are increasingly difficult in our modern environment of noise, inputs and interruptions. The future will be quieter, so our responses to our problems to come will be much more considered. Your mentat training is much appreciated.

Mike said...

this statement is true, at least for certain values of that nicely vague term “abundant” -- reminds me of grafitti I saw:

2 + 2 = 5, for very large values of 2.

I've been trying to come up with an acronym for non-thinkers, along the lines of TANSTAAFL (There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.) How about DISTTOS, for Dude, I'm sure they'll think of something? It's easy to say, and sounds vaguely dystopian.

Ray Wharton said...


Thanks to for the links last week! Proposal 2012 especially has been interesting. Of course the technology set they are trying to preserve includes much more frankly expensive systems than my simple efforts are ever likely to be able to imitate. The thinking that went into the project is a valuable resource because some of the technologies they propose may be quite sustainable, and regardless of that it is a noble first stab at the problem of localizing technology systems to a complexity cost that have better than Frosty's chance in a sauna.


Natural building materials are where I have most of my experience (a couple rocket stoves, some cob walls, and a lime plaster work, wood framed solar gain walls and grow boxes.) and I must admit to being very pessimistic about trying to retrofit these terrible houses of the Fort Collins population boom in to anything beyond slum conditions. There is simply very little to work with which is resilient. The crawls spaces, attics, and walls are so poorly made that the house is unlikely to survive another decade with out retrofits which are logs beyond my budget. The mold last winter was very serious, and it was a massive time commitment just to keep up with the rate of deterioration.

Even with the PDFs on the site you gave me, it only shows how unaffordable any real fixes are to me. Alas my retreat from American style housing may be coming soon. Then again the happiest times of my life have been living in trailers and tents (because they are less bother than a house).

I believe that in a very real sense these house are the sets for a participatory theater show that once captivated the nation, but the rating are faltering, some sets are being canceled. And once the glamor of living 'just like that family from Growing Pains, or Boy Meets World' stops and the show in canceled they turn back into a hastily painted set piece of cardboard and plastic film. With out cheap fuel many of these homes will be good only as scrap and ghostly reminders of the madness of the city of dreams.

Conversely some of the rich people homes in the mountains are built to world historic standards for functioning off grid in difficult conditions. But I don't know how viable the roads will be... I worked on one just this week installing radiant floor heating, made good money too. If the road goes out I wonder what will happen to those places, I hear that the squatter communities in town are licking their chops... I will watch that scene play out with curiosity.

Many of the young farmers around here are moving into little trailers I have noticed, trailers also happen to be much easier to work on, and mobile. Since work on certain organic farms equates to about $3.50 an hour, I see their life approaches as a good guideline for the decline, as they are living on resources may become standard for the working class. It it the direction that my efforts at preparing for energy efficiency are likely to go, having my greenhouse destroyed soured my interest in attempting much at my current residence. I am going to try to retrofit it for the coming winter, but if energy prices go up much my best move will be to retreat to an alternative arrangement, which I have made some quite preparations for.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Derv asked: "Was there ever a time when the average joe wasn't just focused on the day's work, didn't think much about deep subjects, and just listened to what his father/king/priest told him? It seems to me that this is just how the world is."

Well, rural New England, back in the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s, was such a time and place. A great number of personal archives and papers survive from the lower strata of society, farmers and tradesmen, and they show widespread original thought, deep curiosity, and considerable independence over against the wishes of the upper crust. And this was the pattern in a world where, outside of the elite, most people had only a few years education: reading, writing and arithmetic as far as the "Rule of Three" (which is about finding the fourth number in a proportion when you know the other three). My wife's great-great-grandfather lived in rural Maine (in Newfield and Parsonsfield) from (I think) 1804 to 1851. He had two winter terms of schooling and no more, but that was enough to get him started on reading and writing, and he did the rest himself. We have his library and his personal papers. He was reading Butler's Hudibras, Pope's Iliad, Ovid's metamorphoses (I forget who the translator was), a university textbook of astronomy, etc. etc. The books all show signs of heavy use. He write poetry of his own, and quite interesting essays on political and religious questions, and so forth -- apparently for his own delight. He started out a Free-Will Baptist (his father had been a personal friend of the founder of that sect) and ended up a Swedenborgian, serving as librarian of his local Swedenborgian society. And he was a farmer and jack-of-all-trades, who grew food on his own land and worked at a bit of this and that to earn what money he needed -- not too much beyond what he had to pay in taxes.

Even here in New England, we have decayed so far below this model of life that it is "unbelievable." A noticeable fraction of this decay has happened within my own seven-plus decades of life. I think the main cause has been the rise of a consumer society, its foremost technique (saturation advertising), and its preferred medium (TV).

And as for computers, don't get me started. I use them skillfully and efficiently for my own purposes; in some ways they are an advance over typewriters and hard-copy books. But I do not *like* them in the least. They are a necessity for me in my work, but a repellent necessity. Ugh!!!

RPC said...

JMG - Oh, no question; hence my comment about nomenclature. I remember the reluctance with which some commenters met the term "green wizard!" It's particularly ironic that your position is not at all ironic; being a consistent seeker of truth is all it takes to be an outlier. But it seems to me that despite having put oneself "beyond the Jordan" like John the Baptist, one might still meet a similar fate. Or does the attitude of wry amusement (which J the B certainly did NOT possess) act as a deflector shield?

John Michael Greer said...

Anna, you may certainly use Peak Oil Denial Bingo for your class! In point of fact, as soon as I get a list of 25 standard credos together, the cards will be forthcoming.

Wvjohn, I share the feeling. I have the advantage of being able to vent to an audience of some thousands via this blog.

Liquid, I recommend figuring out some way to cash in on their credulity. It really is an effective source of consolation. ;-)

Myriad, a mentat labor union would be a great idea. In the wizard trade, we call those lodges, and yes, they're very helpful.

Lewis, it's pretty much entirely a business trip. Still, should be entertaining! Congrats on all the practical steps, btw.

Robert, a sense of humor is a real asset in times such as these. When most of the people around you are bleating enthusiastically as they're led to the slaughter, it really does help to be able to laugh.

Anselmo, hmm. I have a different analysis, of course.

Bear, except that the past Americans think they're clinging to never existed. It's really quite bizarre to watch the right bleating about a past that didn't exist, and the left bleating just as loudly about a future that will never exist either.

Twilight, well put. You're quite correct that escalation is the only thing American politicians know how to do at this point -- that's a central theme in my forthcoming novel Twilight's Last Gleaming, in which US politicians and generals escalate until the country falls apart around them.

Anna, why, yes, that's exactly what I'm advocating. You get today's gold star for catching on!

Cathy, best wishes for a quick recovery -- and many thanks for the links and the snappy comeback (which is a good deal better than mine, btw).

Pintada, did I say it would cause the price of gas to go up forever? No. I said it would cause the price of gas to rise very sharply, as it would -- and the fact that fewer Americans would be able to afford it would simply mean that more of it would be shipped overseas. Coming soon to a heating bill near you...

Redneck Girl said...

JMG said: Girl, that's a very good start. Your next question is this: how does that set of systems integrate into the whole systems that surround it -- those of human society as well as those of the biosphere?

That depends greatly on where it's placed. A few years ago there was some acreage, about forty total that would have done nicely. Fairly close to town for ease of access by boarders.

It was my thought to section the majority of land into large pastures, that would make it easier to grow and produce my own hay. Using hedges between them planted with blackberry vines and wild roses, with other plants and herbs that horses will naturally choose will give them a more natural diet When not stalled. Raspberry leaves are eagerly sought by horses and acts as a calmative. The wild roses are an excellent source of vitamin C for people although this being timber country pine needles do just as well! (Although pine needle tea can't compete with rose hip jelly!) The hedges would also be excellent cover for quail and other wild birds, I'd even be delighted by flocks of wild turkeys visiting. (Which the occasionally do even through the outskirts of town!) So many flowering vines, herbs and shrubs would be good for bees and butterflies adding to the diversity of life on the property.

Another notion I had was to supply realistic sized garden plots for my boarders. It would help with food budgets for an ever shrinking income and hopefully keep good horses from ending up as commodities for the meat buyers. That would help build local ties in the community. I wouldn't even mind using my AP room by the arena to run organic gardening classes. It would also assist me in keeping nasty chemicals and GMO seeds off the property! A stipulation I would make in the rental agreement.

Recently I had a thought about a rental barn for livestock, (not horses), to be used by 4H members and those not having property for small to large livestock, like pigs, sheep, goats and cows or anyone that just wants to keep a milch animal or two. Those waste products would go onto fallow garden plots.

Then after the crash once or twice a month I'd host a farmers market inside the arena in the winter, outside in the summer.

It's fun to turn over all the possibilities in my head but I don't do it often because I have no cash backers, although one or two of the local banks salivate at the thought of lending me the money! The thought of having an impersonal entity hold the note is a very uncomfortable feeling for me!


(BTW, signing my name in Cherokee, which means Like a Bee!)

Harry J. Lerwill said...

In addition to learning to think, people would also benefit from the Theater of Memory or other forms of mnemonic skill; not all the pieces of data needed to analyze a challenge are necessarily in the hyper-specialized material associated with the issue, it’s often from correlating wisdom from unrelated disciplines that innovative solutions are found. We used to appreciate this a lot more, and even as recently as my college days, courses included a lot of general skills in the process of learning – a “classical” education as my parents would have phrased it.

Unfortunately, computers and analytics currently are moving away from simply providing ‘normalized’ data to be analyzed by subjective minds, there’s a movement within analytics to make them more predictive, so that the decision maker simply has to acquiesce to the advice the number-crunching programs produce. The overall effect is decisions made on narrower and narrower sets of data, with very little resiliency when the universe fails to conform to the models.

As for Mentats, businesses are already waking up to the fact that there are individuals who think can outside the box, who can see relationships between apparently discrete data points, and have unique skills when it comes to data processing, with some companies like SAP actively seeking them out. We call it “Autistic Spectrum Disorder” and they make excellent programmers and analysts, often able to spot patterns and errors in data and formulate novel solutions.

Phil Harris said...

Glad you are getting a welcome in London.

Will try to catch you at the Blake Society June 3rd.

Phil H

thecrowandsheep said...


We were wondering if you could help us out on a matter? It seems you have a particularly keen sense of how easily useful methods can be lost for good through traumatic upheavals in history. Your focus on technologies is one example of that. What is interesting is that you are not exactly a, er, how does one say this, a firm devotee of the science/technology camp but rather more a member of the "other team". Of course, any good mage will know when and where to apply the right tool for the job but it seems there is something else going on here - as if you have direct experience of loss.

The idea is this: You have talked in the past about there having been a turning point, say 500 years ago, when the west could have swung firmly away from the methods that formed modern science and instead focused to the occultic arts you yourself are slightly more inclined. After having tried a little bit to track this down, apparently the church's attempt at banning books they deemed a little too uncatholic around that time was not entirely successful. Apparently banning books tends to increase their popularity so in order to both make a profit and appease the authorities, publishers sold certain banned books on the sly and made a big show of burning obviously uncatholic material that wasn't necessarily on the the banned book list and a lot of those burnt books happened to be of the occult.

Perhaps this wasn't a significant event, but if it was, we can well imagine a lot of occultic material being lost for good during this period. There are many Greek works we know of because they were mentioned in Plato or what have you, but the actual work itself is lost. Has something similar gone on in occultic literature, works that you know of as they are mentioned in other sources, that you would dearly like to stick your translator's teeth into, unfortunately got lost for good in the subterfuge of some Renaissance publisher's bonfire?

SLClaire said...

The reaction my husband and I usually get when we try to talk about what is happening and will likely happen is an abrupt change of subject. And I mean abrupt - no warning, no thoughtstopping phrase. The person we are talking to just launches into an unrelated topic. Not sure how you can put this on a bingo card, but perhaps "abrupt change of subject" will do. Since this is St. Louis, I think of it as the "how about those Cardinals!" version of a phatic communication, meant to signal that we'll stay friends with whoever we are talking with as long as we go along with dropping the previous topic.

Robert Suchanek said...

I'm a former computer programmer that loved to say something to the effect that to err is human but to really screw things up get a computer.

Elizabeth Kennett said...

Mr. Greer,
I came across your blog last year, and went back to the beginning to read everything thru in order. Your blog is a weekly link to sanity for me.

As far as preserving useful knowledge, I don't recall seeing any reference to Stewart Brand's, its sister website, and I think there are a few Mentats on these websites already.

Please keep up the good work.

Elizabeth Ann Kennett

thecrowandsheep said...

"Just now, courtesy of the final blowoff of the age of cheap energy, we have relatively easy access to plenty of information about what worked in the past; some other resources are already becoming harder to get, but there’s still time and opportunity to accomplish a great deal."

COuld I recommend one of the most excellent physics books online in, god bless him, Sanjoy Mahajan's "Order-of-Magnitude Physics: Understanding the World with Dimensional Analysis, Educated Guesswork, and White Lies"

If nothing else, the first chapter is required reading. It is a marvellous introduction into breaking down seemingly difficult problems into manageable and understandable components so that the larger whole can be estimated. "Divide and conquer" is the name of the game, speaking of empires.

"Every event, I pointed out, has some features that set it apart from others, and other features that it shares in common with others; pay attention to the common features and you can observe the repeating patterns, which can then be adjusted to take differences into account."

The next chapters teach one dimensional analysis which is the "hard science" equivalent of what Greer is talking about here and has in the past called morphological thinking. Identify the key variables for a given problem, reduce the number of variables in that problem using Buckingham's Pi theory and all problems sharing those same variables will follow the same behavior.

Do check it out!

(something for Krampus?)

John Michael Greer said...

Ray, logic is definitely important. I don't have a background in formal logic, but should probably remedy that -- my studies have been in informal logic with a good dollop of classical Greek dialectic. The mentats of the future should certainly use both.

Robo, good. As I pointed out here a while back, data doesn't become information until it's sorted out according to an intentionality relevant to the question, and if it's sorted according to an irrelevant intentionality, it's not information but noise.

Mike, good! Two direct hits.

Robert, that used to be fairly common. Odd Fellows lodges and other fraternal benefit societies back in the day usually had libraries, since it was assumed that the working-class guys who formed the core membership of those orders all wanted to learn as much as they could in order to better themselves, and so having a common stash of good books allowed them to save money while doing so.

RPC, John the Baptist's problem was that most people in 1st century Judea took prophets very, very seriously -- it had about the same status that the job of economist has today, though a better track record at predictions. (Guiding economic policy by looking at the livers of sacrificial sheep, I'm convinced, would yield better results than today's economic theories do; even if they were right only 50% of the time, that's about 50% better than modern economists manage.)

Wadulisi, fair enough. Of course the real challenge at this point is finding something you can do with the resources you actually have available to you; as the Long Descent continues, that's going to be the task that matters for most of us.

Harry, it's a point worth noting that the push for relevance in education is inevitably a source of disaster. The world's great education systems, the ones that reliably produced smart, capable thinkers able to apply their knowledge to the real world, one and all pursued irrelevant forms of knowledge: think of a classical British education, the Confucian education of the old Chinese elite, the old Roman educational system, and so on. All of them were based on close study of a canon of classic texts that could not have had less to do with the practicalities of life -- but they taught students how to learn, how to reason, and how to measure their own ideas about what had been thought before them, and that was what counted. More, much more, about this as we proceed.

Phil, I'll look forward to seeing you there!

Crowandsheep, er, you need to learn a bit about the history of the late Renaissaance and early modern era, because the way you've outlined things is quite simply not what happened -- not at all. I recommend Frances Yates' The Occult Traditions in the Elizabethan Age and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment as good starting points; you might also read Margaret Jacobs' the Radical Enlightenment to get a sense of where things went from there.

SLClaire, yes, I've seen that too. "Sudden Change of Subject" certainly belongs on the bingo card.

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, truly spoken!

Elizabeth, I'm not a fan of Brand's, though that mostly stems from his current habit of pimping for the nuclear industry. If he's doing something more useful in the time left over from that, that's good to hear.

Crowandsheep, fascinating -- I'll certainly look that up.

Greg Belvedere said...

Great blog.

The story of Thoth presenting writing to Ra from the Phaedrus dialogue comes to mind here. As a librarian I often repeat this story whenever discussions of the pros and cons of a new technology arise. Both sides make good points. Writing has given us tremendous benefits, but relying on any external resource has dangers.

‘Theuth, my paragon of inventors,’ replied the king, ‘the discoverer of an art is not the best judge of the good or harm which will accrue to those who practice it. So it is in this case; you, who are the father of writing, have out of fondness for your offspring attributed to it quite the opposite of its real function. Those who acquire it will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on writing to bring things to their remembrance by external signs instead of on their own internal resources. What you have discovered is a receipt for recollection, not for memory. And as for wisdom, your pupils will have the reputation for it without proper instruction, and in consequence be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant. And because they are filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom they will be a burden to society.

Cake the Small said...

Some for the bingo cards:

"But I heard that they just found some more (insert finite natural resource)."

"But the price of technology keeps going down, so a solution to (insert problem/predicament) will be affordable soon."

"Well, I can't make a living without my (car, mobile telephone, internet service, etc.) so it must be available to me."

"It's the government's fault, so we just need to replace the system with a better system."

"Well, I'm not going to be around when that happens, so I may as well keep doing wheat I've always done."

"They'll think of something."

onething said...

As for the credos, some people simply say "I don't know if I want to live through something like that," which, I suppose, is a variant of "I'll be dead before it happens."

latheChuck said...

JMG: Have you thought about trying to address the conference "virtually" (by video link)? After all, why transport the body when you really just need to transport the information? Of course, you don't want to just dial in, accept your introduction, read your presentation, and close the link. Imagine demanding that you have an always-on schmoozing station somewhere in the venue. Imagine how it might work if they put the same money and you put the same time into the virtual engagement as for a physical visit. But you wouldn't be burning the oil for travel, and you'd sleep in your own bed (on London time, of course). Demand a virtual seat at the banquet table!

The main thing which virtual travel prevents is the sharing of secrets. You can't pass cash under the table, and you can't accept a gift of extremely personal hospitality.

latheChuck said...

Here is a marginally-relevant story on the subject of governance and wisdom, from "The Way of Chuang Tzu", by Thomas Merton (Shambala Pocket Classics, 1965)

"Flight from Benevolence"

Hsu Yu was met by a friend as he was leaving the capital city, on the main highway leading to the nearest frontier.
"Where are you going?" the friend asked.
"I am leaving King Yao. He is so obsessed with the idea of benevolence that I am afraid something ridiculous will come of it. In any event, funny or not, this kind of thing eventually ends with people eating each other raw."

The story goes on to explain his prediction, that benevolence leads to complacency leads to corruption leads to ruin leads to starvation.

sgage said...

@ JMG...

I'm not a fan of Stewart Brand either, and it goes back a lot further than his current shilling for nukes.

Back in the late 60's, I found the Whole Earth thing sort of exciting and hopeful. A lot of the content of the Whole Earth Catalog was in fact Green Wizardry stuff, for years. But as the 60's ground into the 70's, something changed.

Perhaps it began with the Last Whole Earth Catalog, which sported the motto "we are as Gods - we might as well get good at it". From there on, it was rank hubristic technocornucopianism of the first water.

The nail in the coffin for me was his over the top endorsement in his "CoEvolution Quarterly" of G.K. O'Neill's Space Colonies as the solution to... well... all of humankind's problems. I think the headline was 'Apocalypse... Averted!'.

I sent in an anguished letter to the effect of "SB, how could you fall for this nonsense". But I wasn't the only one - many letters of dismay came in from many quarters, and the best and most cogent was from Wendell Berry. To SB's credit, he published them all, and he and WB had a conversation about it in print for a couple more issues (i.e., this thing unfolded over nearly a year - pre-internet, kids!).

Anyway, the Long Now stuff is interesting, I suppose, but I am not impressed with SB as a whole systems thinker, and haven't been for some time. He's a promoter, an entrepeneur, and he's good at it, but he seems to go straight for the 'shiny'.

latheChuck said...

Re: the drive to export North American natural gas. The companies that are struggling to do this are publicly traded. Who do you suppose their shareholders are? Do you assume that they are US citizens?

Apple Jack Creek said...

Having worked as a business analyst in software development, I acquired the skill of writing in pseudo code. Basically, you use plain English and careful formatting to help lay out what you want the program to do: IF this happens THEN do that ELSE do this other thing.
When applied to every day life, it helps one think through possible approaches to a problem, and how one might iterate through a variety of consequences. It also places the focus clearly on action and forces you to clarify the triggering conditions.

IF the weeds are unconquerable THEN I will use containers...IF my containers do not produce enough THEN I will try larger ones and so on.
A trivial example, but being in the habit of running thought experiments as a sequence of IF/THEN statements has spared me a lot of needless worry and mental circling.

It is, I suppose, one of the simplest kinds of logic ... One that is easy to explain, too.

Cathy McGuire said...

@SLClaire: Not sure how you can put this on a bingo card, but perhaps "abrupt change of subject" will do.
I've often used "speaking of nonsequitors" to extract myself from someone else's ranting (not that anyone needs to do that for me... ;-))

@JMG: not during the extraction (didn't dare) but after, I thought hard about how this would have been without anesthesia (the pliers were probably similar to Medieval times) - soooo... we HAVE to save anesthesia! Much, much more useful than internet in this future decline. Worth extra effort, believe me. ;-)

On credos, the one I hear most is some variation of "I've got my own problems - can't deal with that." As if it would go away because they're ignoring it.

Boddah Meep said...


Walking with a crutch will make you walk better. I'm not sure I understand your point. A) When you are injured, walking with a crutch will allow you to walk somewhat normally. B) A crutch will allow you to return to health sooner, and therefore help you to walk better.

If your point is merely that someone's intelligence is not going to change due to owning and using a computer for any real reason, thats fine, i can agree with that.

But the ability to use computers in chess has showed players a different way of looking at the game. Same for managers of baseball teams. I'm not sure how much you know about either. But the fact is computers play chess fairly differently than humans, and humans have begun to emulate it when they can.

Its not changing the players intelligence, I agree. But it is making them more effective at discarding the human move in favor of the computer move. Go look up how many elite or even sub-elite level chess players use computers to study.

Maybe I am missing your point. If it helps, I believe that one of the few ways to actually alter your intelligence is through meditation. Sitting on a computer is not gonna do it. But it does provide tool for learning. Just as a hammer doesn't make you smarter, it will make you a more effective carpenter.

John Michael Greer said...

Greg, quoting Plato gets you tonight's gold star. Thank you.

Cake, excellent. I've got the list under way.

Onething, thanks for your contribution to the list!

LatheChuck, I loathe videoconferencing, and my carbon offset for the trip consists of not having owned or driven a car in my adult life.

Sgage, I remember when the Next Whole Earth Catalog came out and Brand was gushing about how Herman Kahn's balderdash about a future of prosperity and abundance was so wonderful, and how he'd dropped his former apocalyptic viewpoint and seen the light. Thinking back on it, that was when I first began to realize that the myth of progress and the myth of apocalypse are two different forms of the same evasion.

LatheChuck, an interesting question, to which I don't know the answer.

AppleJack, hmm! That does sound like a helpful tool.

Cathy, several different kinds of anesthetic were in use in the late Middle Ages, so it's at least a possibility! Thanks for the contribution.

Meep, you're right, you don't understand my point. Still, I'll follow my own rules and refrain from hammering on it.

sgage said...


"Thinking back on it, that was when I first began to realize that the myth of progress and the myth of apocalypse are two different forms of the same evasion."

Me too. I think that's when SB left the path of wisdom. Herman Kahn's balderdash, indeed!

Pinku-Sensei said...

@JMG I relocated to the Rust Belt from California 25 years ago. Right now I'm only 4 miles north of Detroit. I find getting an up-close-and-personal view of a city undergoing collapse perversely invigorating. As I say, welcome to Detroit, Ground Zero of the Post-Industrial Future. The solutions to North America's problems will be developed here first and then exported to the rest of the continent. That means the locals have a responsibility to promote the good solutions and squash the bad ones. May they be able to tell the difference.

My donkey said...

The type of thoughtstopper that really galls me is the declaration that your idea is impossible... and furthermore, you're an imbecile for even thinking it.

Examples: "Good luck with that, buddy!" or "Dream on, pal!" or "That'll never happen, my friend."

Coming from a stranger, the addition of "buddy" or "pal" or "my friend" has condescension as its sole purpose, implying that they are smart and you are something less than smart.

Ironically, the folks who make these kind of statements are usually no brainier than your average dolt; they have no ideas to offer or arguments to make, and they have nothing more to say except "Forget it, son!"

Their declarations of impossibility are not a guide to action (as a credo is) but rather a guide to inaction -- a sort of anti-credo. I'd like to perform the action of kicking such people in the crotch.

John Michael Greer said...

Sgage, I wouldn't be a bit surprised.

Pinku-sensei, somehow I managed to forget where you were located. That being the case -- well, depending on where you want to invest, vast tracts of real estate can be yours any time you want!

John Michael Greer said...

Well, that was fast! Many thanks to all those who contributed credos. I'm delighted to announce that Peak Oil Denial Bingo is up and running. I'll be including the link in next week's blog, so everyone can join the fun. ;-)

Mark Rice said...

A credo I hear from others:
"The free market can fix everything."

My own bad credo:
"The collapse cannot be stopped, so there is nothing I can do."
This comes from the fact that political discourse is so broken, there is no hope of our political system dealing with the real problems. But I am starting to entertain the notion that things I do in my own life may be of some small benefit to people in the future.

On the subject of our feckless endeavours in Ukraine, The Rude Pundit nails it. Warning: Very Bad Language. I think the Rude Pundit is in the anger stage.

latefall said...

Credo Bingo: I like it! You could adapt that to pointless protest banners quite effectively as well.

Also happy to hear about London trip.

As for the rest regarding education, I'll see if I can be a bit of a devil's advocate on that.

1. (Adult) education
a) Critical thinking
My impression is that many people get really smart/clever/wise in spite of much of the institutionalized education - not because of it. It may be comparable to putting on nice clothes before you go to church - it will not do a whole lot for your spiritual development. It may make you curious as to what the point of putting such an effort into churches etc. is.
If a specific part/type of education is not valued by society people tend to ignore it. If something is valued, society doesn't necessarily have to make an "organized effort" in educating people in it. My impression is that understanding happens the (inter)personal level in a very non-linear and erratic fashion with larger variability between persons and throughout their development. Proper thinking (divergent and convergent) for me includes, speaking, listening, feeling, drawing and turning upside down, writing, dreaming, occasional intoxication, what iffing, recursion, leaving, forgetting, and remembering. A list of logical fallacies and cognitive biases sure helps, and a lot can be thought in 30 s but depth needs time (years), or travel with me.
b) As for teaching adults critical thinking: It depends a little whom you call an adult, but generally I would say: it is too late by then. I have just had my in-laws and my wife's pre-school age nephew there. It seems they have almost exactly the same level of control of their cognitive and meta-cognitive facilities. Sure, they have a different vocabulary and personality but the general pattern is not different. She is retired from the ministry of environment, cooked 50% more (industrial) chicken legs than anyone could eat and wrapped the surplus baguette in several layers of aluminum foil before going back by air when the option of rail travel would not have taken significantly longer or more money.
I can't help but try to teach the old ones - though I am fairly certain it is a waste of breath. I would rather hope they convert their lawn back into the subsistence garden plot my wife still has fond memories of.
My perception is when the big ones have kids, one should make one more serious effort (really only to "save the kid"), but if their horizon by then is still the herd - then that's it. There are things that no amount of beating can fix. Humans above the age of 30 maybe just cannot be considered durable goods for investment on a planet that already has so many of them.

Although I am usually not a big fan of numbers as they are all too often abused to show that one is right - before the good questions ever come up, still:
Education market in China (2011) 240E9 $ for 1.3E9 capita, in US (today) 1300E9 $ for 0.32E9 capita
Of course advertisement plays a crucial role in development and continued use of mental faculties as well. The ad market in US 2010 was estimated at 125E9 $. Is it fair to say that each month about 30$ per person is spent on misinforming the public? I would assume a substantial amount is targeted at (broke) minors, who generally are the weak back door to the parents bank account. I wonder is there countries that tax ads (targeting minors)?

latefall said...

re: evil computers and the internet

I am with exiledbear on this.
Do more ingredients make you a better cook? No - at least not straight away.
And if you can't help eating sugar only - you'll just get more of the same in slight variations.

I would want to call an "either/or fallacy" on this:
"[...]whether computers can make human beings more intelligent, and the answer at this point is a pretty firm no."
The largest part of it is an attitude thing.
Societies are not homogeneous. There are people who will (try to) become smart using the internet.
Also there are people that will simplify and reduce - the question is of what consequence they are in the bigger picture. Possibly that becomes more clear when the population bottoms out.

Then there's the general problem with the net that if you're not paying for high quality information, you probably aren't getting it - with one thing "that is different":
As the net spreads and data multiplies the cost of piling it up and turning some of it into information gets drastically reduced. Maintaining this for the long term is another matter. As is organizing it.
Yet, I love the internet, project gutenberg, and the wikipedia. If I had had a better education, or wouldn't have felt that I need to pack up and move every few years to stay in the rat race I may have been happy with a modest library of physical books. As it is - the by far largest part of important reading has come to me through the internet. I am a digital native even though I don't like many things about it (and to a degree turned my back on it), but I am quite sure I will miss it for a while when it is gone. Oh well.

latefall said...

@ Robo
"Just because the NSA, CIA, FBI, Google, Amazon or Facebook are in possession of most of the world's electronic data, it does not follow that they will have the wisdom or ability to act upon it, either constructively or destructively."

Sometimes I wonder who is in possession of whom...

I just ran into a big pile yesterday - I haven't started reading it really and I am sure there is a lot of lofty fluff in there
At least it should come with a lot of refs that can be searched forward and backward to get a grip on what is happening where....

Also, have you considered to have a compressive spaceframe core and just dangle the insulation down. It strikes me as the thing more suited to the nature of insulation. Of course you can meet in the middle and have a little more robust (an thermal mass) material in the lower parts. I've sketched up a version using 4 old containers on 2 levels as secondary rooms (within the insulating/green house shell) and another "5 star" room with additional insulation that dangles between them. It is pretty cheap - but one needs to give some though to thermal management and dew point issues with those frying pans.

latefall said...

I was trying to rethink the
"give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime"
line recently.
The thing is his tackle is going to break sooner or later, so you'd need to teach him how to make a fishing rod, etc. Well, then at some point the "fishing rod maker" dies. And from my perspective you quickly head straight to the necessity of an education of which a core is not applied or technological - but rather values or principles.

Marcello said...

"Watching the Ukraine situation it has become quite apparent that the entire management of the empire has accepted totally the idea that perception is reality, and that they can create their own reality as needed."

This makes me think that at this point fracking has been promoted to the "too big to fail" category of economic activity, given that it has aquired a political, symbolic and strategic significance far beyond stuff like corn ethanol had in the past. Expect that if it runs into into trouble all the sort of tax breaks and other covert help will be provided to prop it up, while any decline in production will be described as minor setback soon to be turned around by new technology. The smallest production uptick will be then promoted by drumbeat media campaigns. So there will not be a recognizable (by average Joe) bust or anything of the sort I suspect.

Cherokee Organics said...


Congratulations for the lecture opportunity in the UK. It is really great to see your ideas and perspective getting further out into the world. I really enjoyed the book too.

Back to this weeks essay.

Ahh, master, a challenge?

I accept, but am not yet worthy.

That was an interesting observation about the possible future gas exports. Yes, that is exactly what is going on here too. Of course, we do actually have to pay for all of those imports somehow - as does the US (eventually anyway) for that matter.

You could potentially alter the phrase, "whomever controls the debt, controls the asset" to "whomever controls the energy, controls the asset". The effect would be much the same and it was quite clearly shown to be true in recent events.

That was a very cheeky "oh well"-ing, me last week, I had not forgotten. hehe! It produced a very loud chuckle here. Tidy work.

Did you know that Frank Herbert and Jack Vance were good mates? Nice mentioning Dune as it was an excellent read and original fictional universe.

Hey boss, how come no one here mentioned that the US could become dominant in world affairs again through hard graft (graft may possibly have a different definition for US readers. It means hard work here)? This could be achieved through potentially reducing the internal consumption of energy. Obviously, other drastic social changes and a drop in the standard of living would need to be made to implement this, but it should be remembered that whilst the US imports massive quantities of energy, it also produces huge quantities of energy too. Perhaps that option is not on the table?

As an interesting side issue, a couple of months back, I was harassed into watching a US show, “Breaking Bad”. Apparently the show is a modern classic. I couldn’t actually sit through much of the show because the entire story line revolved around escalation (which you mentioned earlier). Exposing my consciousness to that story line and escalation technique was unpleasant and I discontinued watching the show. Escalation is a technique, but it is only one of many techniques. I hope that show was not in any way representative of US culture as every decision that the characters made was pretty much the exact opposite of what I would have done had I been in those circumstances. Unpleasant.



Cherokee Organics said...


I'm unsure whether these are credos, but the following are some argumentative techniques spewed out time and time again:

> Play the man and not the argument.

This can mean anything from, name calling to other more insidious forms of discrediting an opponent so that their argument is generally ignored;

> Introduce a beautiful chunk of vapourware.

Do I really need to expand on this point?

> Introduce a chunk of commercially available technology that is completely uneconomic.

This one is easy to spot because there is so little of the technology installed about the place. Hydrogen cars, hybrid PV inverters (with large battery banks - be nice people), and electric vehicles all fall into this category;

> Insist that future large scale infrastructure projects will be implemented thus alleviating any personal responsibility for change.

The plan to make a plan gets wheeled out pretty often in this country.

> Pretend that technology doesn't have to exist within the natural environment.

Nuclear reactors on a coastline that has been subjected to historic tsunamis anyone (at least pumping the cooling water is cheap)? What about pretending that night-time couldn't possibly be a problem for PV solar output? What about major dams built on active fault lines?

> Thinking that there is some cabal of elites guiding us away from utopia.

This is the, if only, or but for... argument.

> Pretending that the 1% is someone else other than ourselves.

I put this one down to a lack of firsthand experience in the third world. Just sayin...



Marcello said...

"I´m Glad you are well. Probably you don´t remember but a few weeks ago I expressed to You my concern that Russia will invade Ukraine. I'm glad I was wrong."

The only way this crisis is over is if Putin has used Crimea only to draw a line in the concrete and the West is going to respect it. Neither are safe assumptions as of yet, particularly the latter.

S P said...

America supposedly values free speech and enquiry, pluralism, the marketplace of ideas, etc. And to a certain extent this is true.

But what is the one thought that is unspeakable, that is not tolerated? The idea that American empire has peaked and America itself might decline and fall. This is simply not allowable in any public or political discourse.
The other thing that Americans are not allowed to openly and genuinely discuss is race, but I think this is secondary even as it is important.

And of course this is understandable, right?

But the basic problem is that it creates a sort of systemic lie. If you aren't allowed to discuss something, you don't truly live in a free society. I think Americans sort of get this at some level.

There is an enforced, happy faced optimism that blinds Americans to genuine problems. This, in turn, ensures that the problems will never be confronted or solved.

Verily I tell you, the religion of America is America. Take your time on that one.

mr_geronimo said...

I'm starting to act at last. Buying a slide ruler and hitting the books on electrical engeneering.

The electricity must flow.

And a resource for the first generation of mentats:

Bob Wise said...

Congratulations on being a part of the course and conference at the London School of Economics! It's a significant milestone in bringing the "peak oil" point of view into the mainstream, and a laudable achievement for you as a writer and commentator.

Mr O. said...

Blast! Missed the bingo deadline but just wanted to add my brother's favourite reply on mentioning peak oil "ah, but you don't understand" followed by a torrent of so called facts from " industry sources".

On the topic of literature for mentat training might I suggest 'Meditations on the Tarot' by Anon ( aka Valentin Tonberg). If you ignore the Roman Catholic gloss (this is also a useful exercise for aspiring mentats) it is a classic treatise on Hermetic modes of thinking firmly grounded in classical philosophy.

Janet D said...

George Monbiot had an excellent commentary ("Loss Adjustment") on this weeks site. He referred to a play written in 1882, "Enemy of the People", which Mr. Monbiot uses as a metaphor to describe reactions to climate change news. It also perfectly summarizes how people react to Peak Oil. It seems relevant to this week's topic(s), so I'm copying/pasting Mr. Monbiot's summary of the play here.

[] Henrik Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People.... Thomas Stockmann is a doctor in a small Norwegian town, and medical officer at the public baths whose construction has been overseen by his brother, the mayor. The baths, the mayor boasts, “will become the focus of our municipal life! … Houses and landed property are rising in value every day.”

But Dr Stockmann discovers that the pipes were built in the wrong place, and the water feeding the baths is contaminated. “The source is poisoned …We are making our living by retailing filth and corruption! The whole of our flourishing municipal life derives its sustenance from a lie!” People bathing in the water to improve their health are instead falling ill.

Dr Stockmann expects to be treated as a hero for exposing this deadly threat. After the mayor discovers that re-laying the pipes would cost a fortune and probably sink the whole project, he decides that his brother’s report “has not convinced me that the condition of the water at the baths is as bad as you represent it to be.” He proposes to ignore the problem, make some cosmetic adjustments and carry on as before. After all, “the matter in hand is not simply a scientific one. It is a complicated matter, and has its economic as well as its technical side.” The local paper, the baths committee and the business people side with the mayor against the doctor’s “unreliable and exaggerated accounts”.

Astonished and enraged, Dr Stockmann lashes out madly at everyone. He attacks the town as a nest of imbeciles, and finds himself, in turn, denounced as an enemy of the people. His windows are broken, his clothes are torn, he’s evicted and ruined.
{End of Summary}

I find it disturbing that the past 130 years or so has not brought ANY improvement whatsoever in people's willingness to hear unpleasant news. Sigh.

Peak Oil Bingo card looks great. No need to add mine, but they would be: Blank Stare (as in "why would you even be thinking about that") and the "You're-Crazy-There-Is-No-Peak-Oil-Stop-Listening-to-The-Crazies".

thrig said...

Per legal theorist Roger Brownsword (by way of Evgeny Morozov in "To Save Everything,"), and circling back yet again to the tree topic: we can consider three ways to help preserve trees. First, a moral argument: teach respect for trees, venerate them as fellow life, study and appreciation, culture appropriate uses, etc. Hard to teach, I would imagine. Second: prudence. This is warning people that hey, if you cut that last tree down, then what will you do? Maybe plant some new ones, yeah? Self-interest is likely easier to teach, if perhaps superficial. Third: practicality. Confiscate or tax the axes and saws, build walls around the trees, etc.: the trees are now much more difficult to chop down, and so humans are less able to axe them. This last method (also known as Situational Crime Prevention) has apparently been something of a thing in recent decades. Less charitably: Autopia.

Another nice mentat tidbit to ruminate on by way of Morozov is Albert Hirschman in "The Rhetoric of Reaction", whereby criticisms may be raised on concerns perversity (the boat is now sinking faster), futility (nope, still sinking), or jeopardy (boat not sinking, but is now on fire, thanks!). And these are all flawed. Anyways, back to learning how to undercook or now burn bread.

Nastarana said...

Juhana, As for your point about American and EU "intelligence", you should excuse the expression, services being involved in the Ukraine: of course they were. Fingerprints are all over the place if you know where to look.

I can't speak about the EU, but among Americans there are a couple of different factions at work. The Brezhinsky faction, that is the evil Zbig, his progeny and assorted hangers on, have been planning something like this for years as part of the grand plan to take down Russia, the hated enemy of Poland. Obama is a Brezhinsky client who owes his career in part to their patronage, and they no doubt have blackmail material at hand. The new twist was added by the neo-con faction who lost in Syria, and needed a win to regain their confidence and influence and to separate Obama and Putin. Good relations between the American and Russian presidents is NOT part of the plan and not to be tolerated by either faction. I would say that that portion of the American public who pays attention to public events is heartily sick of the pretensions of both factions and would like to see them gone from public influence. For how much longer the entity which has lately been called the Deep State will continue to find either faction useful I can't tell, but the fact that foul mouthed Victoria still has her job is not reassuring.

There was no way Russia was going to give up its' naval base in Crimea, and even a cursory reading of the history of the region reveals no historical ties between Ukraine, or the Cossack hetmanate, is that the correct word?, which preceeded it, and Crimea, whose cultural origins seem to lie in Greek and Roman antiquity.

I think more attention needs to be paid to the role of agribusiness in the affair, especially the Four Horsemen, Monsanto, AKA Monsatan, AKA, most hated corporation on this planet, Syngenta, Dow and Du Pont, chemical companies who now are heavily involved in agriculture as a way to sell their patented seeds and their chemicals. They have previously visited pollution, corruption and financial ruin on the Great Plains of North America and the Pampas of Argentina and now have the world famous black earth of the Ukraine in their sights.

I would urge any citizen of Ukraine or neighboring countries to beware the incursion of western agribiz, and the four agents of Sauron in particular. Your governments should sign no treaties which allow for patenting of your historic vegetable and grain varieties. Monsanto is said to be building a corn processing plant in the Ukraine. I urgently and respectfully suggest that Monsatan must be not allowed to dominate your grain crops. If the processing facility is allowed to operate, it must be forced and required to accept all corns, not just its own patented varieties. And, on behalf of gardeners everywhere, I respectfully urge you to take every possible step to protect your national seed banks and the historic treasures they contain.

Ekkar said...

John Micheal, Thanks again for a great post. As for your detractors...COINTELPRO?.. Or TV. In any event I very much look forward to each Thursday mornings reading at the Archdruid Report. I am always a bit like "bummer" when you start spending time on folks who just can't let go of their narative of buisness as usual shall set me free, American exceptionalism, or their own personal exceptionalisms. So if I may, I would give you a bit of advice from my own life, stop putting so much of your energy into feeding those who just wish to argue their own point no matter how unfruitful it is for them. Instead communicate more to those of us who come here because they are paying attention, and they are letting go of the cultural dreams of being outside history and/or physics. Those of us actually trying to build something workable and beautiful for our world and our families. As for those who would detract, perhaps they are just not ready in their own lives to except the knowledge that you are freely sharing. "Do not cast pearls before swine" -Christ

ViewFromHere said...

100 years ago the US Congress formed the Cooperative Extension Service with the purpose of:

SEC. 2. ø7 U.S.C. 342¿ Cooperative agricultural extension work shall consist of the development of practical applications of research
knowledge and giving of instruction and practical demonstrations of existing or improved practices or technologies in agriculture, uses of solar energy with respect to agriculture, home economics, and rural energy, and subjects relating thereto to persons
not attending or resident in said colleges in the several communities, and imparting information on said subjects through demonstrations, publications...

In our rural communities these people were placed in every county and served that general Mentat role. Helping with community efforts, home, farm, and kids (like the 4-H program). This is one of the loses we've sustained due to industrialized agriculture-- Mentats not needed for monocultures.

Rita said...

I've got another credo for you.

"They're just claiming shortages so they can raise the price."

Of course that one goes along with the

"Oil companies bought up the design for a 100mpg carburetor and are suppressing it."

Wonderful--spell check wanted to change my misspelling of carburetor to eliminator--it's like machine generated poetry.

daelach said...

@ JMG:

"one of the important aspects of mentat training will thus consist of knowing how to turn off the cell phone"

Funny that you mention it. I do own a cell phone, albeit an old-fashioned one. However, I normally leave it at home except if I have good reason to take it with me. People know they can reach me by SMS, but I won't answer quickly. No always-online-"smart"phone, no Facebook and the like. (Oh and no TV. And no car. I could easily afford this, but I don't need these things.) When looking at gadget-geeks, it is astonishing how much time their gadgets consume although they claim to make things more efficient.

Of course I do loose some contacts this way - but those aren't relevant, obviously.

Coming home friday evening often involves lighting a candle, sitting down and just concentrate on breathing. This may last for an hour or so. Maybe some would call it "meditation", I don't know, but it makes the mind calm.

Another big mental skill will be to think in solutions, not in emotional reactions. Being able to improvise, to find fallbacks, at least buying time for a real fix. Not just becoming angry when something fails, but finding some useful reaction. McGuyvering. (:

Somewhatstunned said...

@BobWise (and possibly others)

The "school of economic science" is NOT the london School of Economics.
As JMG says, a speaking gig is a speaking gig, but non-uk readers should be aware that the SES is not a university, and not particularly prestigious.

(No offense in any way intended to anyone btw).

Varun Bhaskar said...


I started my mentat training about four weeks ago by setting up my garden of memory per your instructions on the AODA website. Still working out the bugs in the system but it is practice that I've combined with my meditation routines. Combined with the memory systems that were developed in India this should be an exciting journey into becoming a fully realized magician...err, mentat. As I read about the various systems that are used I think I'm coming up with some modifications that I can put into practice. Your articles on the AODA website have been immensely helpful in all this, just in pointing to some writers I've never considered reading.

Funny thing is that only a hand full of people understand the value of these old systems. Everyone else is simply buying the newest do-dad. Or rolling their eyes in my direction.

I think I'll be pushing to druidry training and mixing it with my own vedic background. Lets see what results from that intellectual ferment.

In other news I've had to set aside my website project, since I am getting ready to move and don't really have the time to dedicate to it. Hopefully it'll be running again at the end of this year.


Varun Bhaskar

Matt McNeill said...

@somewhatstunned - yes, thanks for the clarification there. The LSE is a completely separate thing.

I've been following JMG on here for many years and I've been a volunteer facilitator at the School of Economic Science for a number of years (the school is a completely voluntary non-profit org that has managed to work this way for almost 80 years).

JMG's thinking has had some influence on the economics study groups in the School (esp. The Wealth of Nature & Green Wizardry). The school has been very supportive in allowing us to host the course and conference and bring interested people (like the readers here) together to discuss things further.

If you're interested in a bit more background, there's information on the course website here which I've quoted below.

"The Economics, Energy and Environment course emerged from a real and genuine question: why doesn’t our current economic system explain well the various environmental and challenges of the commons that we face today? Inspired by the study of both Philosophy and Economics in the School of Economic Science, we wanted to offer a holistic view of our economic system which embraced the environment and understanding of our physical sciences.

The study of economics was the founding inspiration for the School. Dismayed by the poverty and despair of the great depression in the early 1930s, the small group of founders became convinced that economics was profoundly misunderstood and set about finding answers that conventional economics had failed to provide. The founders looked for natural laws governing societies. They found inspiration and insight in the writings of Henry George, who highlighted the key significance of access to land and natural resources as an economic factor.

As the study progressed, taking economics to be the laws governing human beings in society, it became obvious that it was necessary to study the nature of the human being, and so began the Practical Philosophy course which is now one of the most popular courses offered by The School.

Consequently, The School is today a centre for spiritual and practical knowledge and enquiry. Our aim is to help anyone who seeks it to lead a fuller, richer and more useful life and to evolve the spiritual aspects of their being in accordance with natural laws. This aim is pursued mainly by offering innovative courses in practical, living philosophy inspired by the philosophy of advaita or unity, and economics with justice.

Philosophy and economics are directly related because, ultimately, economic life depends on the philosophy underlying economic systems and on the philosophic culture of the people living and working in an economy. We offer a wide range of other courses, inspired by the broad principles of practical philosophy & economics, as well as seminars, workshops, concerts and lectures. We are a registered charity, founded in 1937.

More information on The School can be found here:


latefall said...


Both of your points are rather interesting. I'll try to keep a tab open for them once in a while.

One question: Why does Cargill not get a mention? Are they not also active in Ukraine?

Lee Roy said...

About Peak Oil Denial Bingo... I just came across Wingnut Bingo just a few hours ago (what a peculiar coincidence):

This wiki is the lair of the International Conspiracy of Mad Scientists (ICMS). :D

Also something that interests me (and am currently scraping together in a text file) is a Descent Glossary and Index. Reading the literature it dawned on me that the set of core concepts and memes that our scene employs could be quite mind-sized. Outlining an index could be helpful when sharing this knowledge with newbies. In which case, a section on Frequently Used Denial would necessarily be an essential bit.

I'd appreciate any nudges in the right direction about this endeavor.

Anselmo said...


4298838 18517

Cherokee Organics said...


Just wanted to share a thought bubble I had this morning. Mmmm coffee, good!

Anyway, one possible reason that the natural gas export terminals are being completed despite declines in the outputs of wells and the very vocal write downs of the lease assets, is that:

Many economic faux pas can be forgiven if a client state has natural resources to export.

The beautiful thing about such a strategy is that such an argument can be sold to the domestic population because it is being imposed by an outside country and culture as an economic necessity. Perhaps it could be thought of as a way to pay for past economic sins?

Client state with special status has a nice sound to it, doesn't it?

It is just one possible explanation - with staggering consequences (throwing under the bus again, but much bigger) for the domestic population. Why else would companies continue throwing capital at these projects despite write downs in the fields and leases themselves? It just doesn't make sense.

I'd like to believe that global warming is not going on, but the number of weather records being broken here is just wrong:

Melbourne swelters through record April warmth

Just in case people thought Tasmania was a safe bet:

Hobart swelters through hottest April day in 132 years

Perhaps the south island of NZ would be a safer bet than here?



Michelle said...

My (late) entries in the Bingo:

"I'll just come to your house if things go bad."

"I'll think about that tomorrow." (a la Scarlett O'Hara

Apple Jack Creek - I use a similar technique, to which I refer as 'running multiple flow charts in my head.' I need to do A, B, and C, etc.... but I can't do B until I do D, and I can't do C until I do A. E.g. I want to have hens, but I need a shelter for them. I can't build the shelter until I squander 2 years of my life kow-towing to the local Conservation Commission (true story). Then once I had the shelter (barn) built, I wanted goats. But as any caprine servant knows, NO GOATS BEFORE FENCES (at least in suburbia/exurbia). So I had to install fencing.

SP - "But what is the one thought that is unspeakable, that is not tolerated? The idea that American empire has peaked and America itself might decline and fall." IME it's slightly different - the unspeakable, intolerable statement is that America HAS/IS an Empire. The first time someone said that to me (c. 1992, I was on active duty in the US Navy at the time) I was horrified and offended at such calumny. We were defending and promoting democracy, not engaging in empire! Over time, though, I realized that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck....

GreenEngineer said...

(I accidentally posted this topic to the Steampunk article from a month ago. It's appropriate there, but much more directly pertinent here, which is where I meant to put it in the first place.)

On the subject of post-modern computing, this article is pretty amazing.

Of course, these analog computers relied on the industrial technology of high precision machining. But that's a technology with a much lower fabricatory depth than digital computers, so we might see a re-emergence someday. It depends on just how post-industrial things get.

John Michael Greer said...

Donkey, while crotch kicks do have a certain naive charm, it's usually more effective to come up with a couple of snappy comebacks and use them ruthlessly. "I bet your great-granddad said that to the Wright Brothers" is an example. (If they come back with "Yeah, but you're not the Wright Brothers," snap right back with "the Wright brothers were just two bike mechanics from Dayton who didn't listen to the naysayers.")

Mark, the collapse cannot be stopped, so there's nothing you can do to stop the collapse. Are there other things you can do that matter, given that the collapse is going to happen? Bingo.

Latefall, the kind of adult education I have in mind is for people who realize that they need to know more and think better than they do. Those who don't know and don't care will be compost soon anyway.

Marcello, hmm. We'll see; my guess is that the fracking bubble is going to pop messily, and be replaced by some other bubble. I'll explain why in an upcoming post.

Cherokee, "graft" means "work" in Strine? That'll cause some confusion! In Murcan it means "corruption" or "bribery." As for hard work, though, it's going to take a long time before Americans are going to be willing to consider that as an option! Many thanks for the suggested credos -- I'll see if I can add them to the list.

SP, the civil religion of Americanism has already been discussed here at some length, so folks may be quicker to grasp your suggestion than you expect.

Mr. G., excellent! Thanks also for the link -- that's worth having.

Bob, nah, it's not the London School of Economics, it's the School of Economic Science, one of the alternative-economics nonprofits that came out of the Depression era. They don't have the money or the influence of the LSE, but they're a good deal more open to critiques of the mainstream economic consensus!

Mr. O, you're the third person in the last month or so who's recommended Tomberg to me, oddly enough.

Janet, you might consider what the Athenians did to Socrates. There hasn't been any improvement in 2300 years -- or, quite probably, in the history of our species. Why should there be? It's not as though we've been progressing all that time, after all.

Thrig, there's a fourth way, which was practiced in most feudal societies: harvesting timber without the permission of the relevant authorities was punished by death, or some other harsh if less terminal penalty. I'd be surprised if that doesn't come back into vogue in the centuries ahead.

John Michael Greer said...

Ekkar, understood, but most of my readers also have to contend with such people, and we all have to contend with the internalized attitudes that such people reflect back to us, and that we all get from our cultures. Even the most passionate green wizard has moments of wondering whether it's worth it, in the face of widespread scorn and even more widespread delusion; I'm speaking to that, as well as to my critics, in posts like this one.

View, I wonder how much of the records and teaching materials of the old Extension Service might still be salvaged.

Rita, thank you -- those are keepers.

Daelach, excellent. Getting rid of the TV, and as many of the other noisemakers people use to fill up their time so they don't have to notice what's happening around them, is a crucial step, and it's good to see others taking it.

Varun, you won't be the first Vedic druid -- the redoubtable Myfyr Morganwg enlivened a Welsh Druid convocation in the mid-19th century with a prayer to Kali, and nobody turned a hair. (Druids are like that.)

Lee Roy, a glossary and index would be great -- start with Richard Heinberg's books, Jim Kunstler's, and (ahem) mine, and go further afield from there -- that'll give you a workable starting point.

Cherokee, might be that, but my guess is that it's simply that natural gas prices in the US are a third of what they are in the global market, and US natural gas firms want to export gas so they can force up domestic prices and make more money.

Michelle, when somebody says, "I'll just come to your house," I laugh at them and say, "Good luck with that. Why should I let you in the door?" If they say something about coming with a shotgun, I say, "Okay, good. I can add you to the list of people to shoot the moment they cross the property line," and don't laugh when they do. That usually brings the conversation to an abrupt close, but it gets the point across.

GreenEngineer, you can make fine gears with hand tools -- that's how most clockwork was made for the first few centuries; you use geometrical constructions to lay it out, hand tools to shape it, and then make hyperfine adjustments with tiny files as needed. That is to say, you're quite correct that a mechanical analog computer of that sort could indeed be made in a deindustrial world.

Greg Belvedere said...

Let me be the fourth person to recommend Meditations on The Tarot to you. It is the only book I have reread immediately after finishing. I learned about it from the suggested reading list in Catherine MacCoun's On Becoming An Alchemist (an incredibly accessible intro to the subject). Coincidentally, she had suggested your work to me.

Ekkar said...

Well put. I suppose your position as a teacher puts you right in the line of fire of dealing with the lowliest of denominators. God's speed to you! God's speed to us all!

Glenn said...

John Michael Greer said...

"when somebody says, "I'll just come to your house," I laugh at them and say, "Good luck with that. Why should I let you in the door?"

Or you might remind them of AEsop's fable of the Ants and the Grasshopper.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

P.S. Last night's supper: Our potatoes from our cellar, our green beans (frozen) and a dozen oysters I gathered from the bay 3 miles up the road. Condiments courtesy of Business As Usual, but it's a good start.

HalFiore said...

Not sure if anyone has mentioned this one:

"We'd have plenty of oil if the dang communist envarmintalists would let us drill it."

latheChuck said...

Here's one for credo bingo: I may do bad, but I do more good than bad.

Or as Al Gore might have said it: "It is indeed unfortunate that my personal goals require me to consume so much energy, but I have paid the carbon offsets to compensate. Because, you know, if I can get everybody else to buy their carbon offsets, my individual extravagance won't matter. In fact, if I can get everyone else to buy carbon offsets, it won't matter whether or not I do."

Have we logged this one yet: "If everybody acted rightly, we would solve the problem, but my action alone is entirely useless"?

latheChuck said...

Re: video conferencing. I know how terrible the video conference can be. I've been scheduled to speak for an hour, lost the first 15 minutes to coordination problems, tried to make up for lost time by rushing and editing on the fly, and being cut off in mid-sentence for no apparent reason. But, nobody said that energy conservation was going to make life more pleasant. I have faith that if I keep practicing the art of the VTC, and working out the details of the format, that it can become more practical. In all seriousness, though, it MUST evolve to support "virtual cafe conversation", not just the style of "every minute is costing us another dime, so get your business over with". (Penny wise, but pound foolish.)

Bob Wise said...

Oops - thanks for the correction, John & Somewhatstunned. Must be age, or not deep enough into my first cup of coffee. LSE would have been nice, though.

Nastarana said...

latefall, Cargill is a predatory capitalist company, no doubt about that, but so far as I know it does not own 55% (the figure I have seen) of any country's commercial seed supply and it is not pushing GMOs and the attendant chemicals.

Breanna said...

I would like advice on how best to raise a child to be able to be a mentat-type (if he wants to be). I have my sleeping 4 month old son on my chest as I type this and I am trying to figure out how I can best prepare him for the world he is likely to grow up in.

So far, I'm actively doing things like breastfeeding, attachment parenting practices, and lots of outdoor time. And I am planning the following:
-Waldorf-informed homeschooling with lots of handwork, art, and practical skills
-Introducing abacus in first grade and slide rule some time in middle school
-Active gardening stuff as soon as he is big enough
-Avoidance of media/electronics until age 7ish and avoidance of advertising even longer, if I can manage it
-Focus on entrepreneurship as soon as possible (ie, selling his creations at farmers markets, thinking about how to make a living at various skilled tasks, etc).

I also want to encourage systems thinking, and to help him develop defenses against thought-stopping and all that sort of thing. I am not exactly sure how. I am interested to hear any recommendations for practices, books, etc. applicable for any time from infancy to high school.

tooldude said...

@ Cherokee

"Hey boss, how come no one here mentioned that the US could become dominant in world affairs again through hard graft (graft may possibly have a different definition for US readers. It means hard work here)?"


2 [graft, grahft]noun

the acquisition of money, gain, or advantage by dishonest, unfair, or illegal means, especially through the abuse of one's position or influence in politics, business, etc.

a particular instance, method, or means of thus acquiring gain or advantage.

the gain or advantage acquired.

British Slang. work; labor.

American politicians have come to only know the first three definitions.

Anselmo said...


My last commentary in wich I had wrote a number was mistaken...Sorry

Do you think Russia can invade another parts of Ukraine?

Ursachi Alexandru said...

JMG, umm, I think that particular roof wasn't old-fashioned, and the similarity with traditional Japanese roofs struck me as well.

Cherokee Organics said...


Well, I'd like to think so, but massive capital intensive facilities are rarely built without all sorts of guarantees in the background. The focus on return on investment is even greater, if multiple facilities are being constructed...

Anyway, decline is built upon the millions of daily decisions based on self-interest and these projects sort of just feed into that. Most of the coal seam gas (fracking) here is for the export markets which is what started me thinking along those lines.

I'm really chuffed for you for the UK speaking gig and overall influence on the five week course. I hope you get the opportunity to also visit some historic sites whilst you are over there and it isn't all just work, work, work? All work and no play makes for a dull Archdruid! hehe! Just sayin…

My favourite bingo card was “The stone age wasn't ended by a stone shortage”. I’m working on increasing the supply of rocks here tomorrow (peak rocks has been reached here) so had to laugh about that bingo card.

I planted out some freebie fig trees today and also the new tea camellias. I found the tea plants on a "get these plants out of our sight" table at the CERES nursery in Melbourne.

If people get the chance, I seriously urge them to get some comfrey plants in the ground too. These plants are true garden wonders and I have hundreds of cuttings here now (with more all of the time).

As an interesting side note, Kurt Cobain , the voice of Gen X died 20 years ago today. Vale Kurt.

Hi tooldude,

Nice one! hehe!

Hi Michelle,

Two years to get permission to build a chicken shelter? Wow, that's hard. I thought I had troubles with the local government here because of some of the things I do, but that is taking it to 11.



wvjohn said...

@Greg Belvedere

An excellent point that is often overlooked. As a law librarian trained in the pre-internet days, I always told my students not to rely solely on the results of free text searching, referring them to early research showing that even in the context of a semi-controlled vocabulary (legalese, in this case), there was a significant chance that certain relevant documents would never be found. The Curse of Thamus: An Analysis of Full-Text Legal Document Retrieval. Many people erroneously believe nearly everything is available on the internet AND it can be found.

In my local community, the illiterati voted down the proposed school tax levy which partly funded
the local library. The funding for the library was used to get a matching grant from the state library commission. A revised levy is coming up in May but does not contain the library funding, in part because of assertions that libraries have nothing to do with education. The school system is looking at a loss of 40% of their funding, so they eliminated everything they could from the revised levy as a matter of political survival.

The continued operation of the library will be a practical exercise of skills for the "Long Descent". Staff and hours are being severely cut to just keep the doors open. Fortunately, the library has strong support within the community, and we'll pull something out of the proverbial hat.

Johan said...


On computers, I can't resist quoting Owen Barfield (from "What Coleridge Thought", p. 119):

"Perhaps the best analogy to mere understanding is the idea of the perfect computer. Raise the computer to absolute perfection: reduce the understanding to absolute "mereness": and there need be no significant difference between the two instruments."

Those familiar with Coleridge's schema of the mental powers - Reason/Imagination/Understanding-Understanding/Fancy/Sense - can thus see clearly the relation between computers and thinking. Then consider the way that all tools require us to enter into the tool's worldview to some extent, and you may to begin to understand why computers don't and can't make people smarter.

Ray Wharton said...

Turns out that University web masters have befuddled the links for daily translations, fortunately Trelogan runs his own server of translations.

Even if you don't know a formal logical system, it is illustrative as to how cumbersome translations between natural and formal languages are. Even though formal systems are almost useless except for describing cybernetic pathways, the practice is good for the mind.

Kevin said...

Denial Bingo entry: "If that happens, I'll just turn Amish." Encountered in online discussion.

MawKernewek said...

This post has made me consider my own mental life. I in fact attended lectures in Thermodynamics by the aformentioned Sanjoy Mahajan back in 2004 in Cambridge as part of the Physics course of the Natural Sciences Tripos. The lecture course was somewhat controversial, because many thought we should really be diving straight into the mathematics of statistical thermodynamics, rather than doing a course based on order of magnitude estimation.

I have had an interest in computational linguistics for a while. There a sets of lecture notes from Edinburgh University available here on these topics. This perhaps may be a way to start to think about logic, and also the limits of computers.

I will mention something of what happened to me after beginning what was intended to be a PhD in Astronomy, focusing on Andromeda and Triangulum. I began to run into problems, in the second year, around the time I discovered this blog, and realised that the current ways of human civilisation have no long-term future. I suffered from what is thought in the medical community as a kind of mental illness. I am not sure why this happened, I don't buy the reductionist model of brain chemistry alone, it appears to me now that there was a profound reevaluation going on, that could not be completed at the conscious level. I think what was really difficult was the feeling of being pulled between different sets of incompatible expectations. After a break of a few months, I struggled on with the PhD but I wrote up as an MSc in the end. I was in work for a short time, but after more illness, was out of work and unsure what to do next.

More recently I decided to so another MSc, a sideways step, but this time in remote sensing within a geography department. I wished to continue in science but was unsure of whether another PhD and academia was right for me. At the moment I'm leaning towards the view that it isn't right now, but still not sure what should be next.

Another book I'd like to flag up is Roger Penrose's Road to Reality. I have had it for several years, but have yet to read much of it. This post has inspired me to have another go!

John Michael Greer said...

Greg, duly noted.

Ekkar, thank you. It's just one of the complexities that comes with my assortment of funny hats.

Glenn, an excellent start!

LatheChuck, good. "I'm already doing my share" is a version of that I hear all the time, usually with reference to a few spare bucks thrown in the direction of a big-name environmental lobbying organization now and then. As for video conferencing, my preferred option would be to travel by boat, but time and money both militate against that; give it a decade or two.

Bob, it would indeed have been nice; I expect that to happen promptly after Beelzebub's back yard freezes solid and pigs sprout wings, mind you.

Breanna, that's a subject for an entire post, or a whole series of posts. The thing I'd suggest for right now is reading stories aloud to your son -- old stories, not contaminated by modern marketing, and if at all possible stories you knew and loved when you were a child. Narratives are the basic tools of human thought, and a child that grows up hearing (and then reading) plenty of stories, with different narratives and morals, will have more to think with than a child that doesn't have that advantage.

Ursachi, fair enough! It wasn't just one roof, though -- the half-gable pattern was, iirc, on a number of roofs.

Cherokee, I see you haven't had much contact with modern American business practices. These days the sole point under discussion is whether it will boost stock prices this quarter. Huge capital investments get made here even when the result will be bankruptcy a few years down the line, because the executives who made the decision will have moved on to another firm by then, and they'll have the reputation of success while the people who come after them are left holding the bag. Yes, it's really gotten that bad.

Johan, excellent! You get today's gold star for the Coleridge reference -- and of course you're quite right as well. Using computers to think with ultimately means thinking the way a computer does, i.e., not at all.

Ray, many thanks! Looks like a very good set of mentat exercises.

Kevin -- oh man. Clearly whoever said that has never met anybody Amish!

Kevin said...

I've just recollected some more Denial Bingo nuggets, encountered in the same online forum as the one above.

"We can easily obtain all the resources we could ever need by mining asteroids. Private companies are already working on this."

"Right now private investors are developing space tourism for wealthy individuals. Eventually, economies of scale will make space travel affordable for everyone."

"Orbiting solar panels can easily provide all the energy we could ever need."

"We can easily provide for all our needs through technologies that don't exist yet."

Yes, I have actually encountered the last statement presented as a serious argument. In all cases I'm paraphrasing, but in this instance "technologies that don't exist yet" were the exact words used. These arguments all came from the same person, with an emphasis on libertarian ideology. His basic thesis was "there are so many ways to solve this problem that it simply isn't a problem."

Another case study:

"Nuclear batteries are on the drawing board right now. In the future they'll be powering towns and households everywhere."

"Small scale renewables simply can't compete with industrial energy and its associated products."

The last of course being true, but the implied thesis being that industrial-scale technology is eternally available, and therefore economically unassailable, as a matter of course.

And an example from an IRL conversation:

"A major Detroit motor company has invested $300,000 in a college project that's developing a new hyper-efficient and non-polluting type of engine. Now I feel much better about possibly buying a car."

In several instances the people making these arguments cited various sources: wiki articles, news items about investors proposing to launch private space enterprises, etc. But the evidentiary standard didn't rise too high, as is often the case where belief in Progress is is concerned. In the same forum, two or maybe three people got it. One had encountered Richard Heinberg's "Peak Everything," another was a serious gardener and hunter with some prepper/survivalist ideas that he was apparently putting into practice.

Here's one more IRL example, concerning the future not of energy or resource availability, but the political and economic prospects of the United States: "We won't be the world's sole superpower any more, but we'll still be a major country." Which could possibly turn out to be true, but I'm not betting my life on it. The statement came from an exceptionally intelligent and educated individual.

In short, what I've found is that once you start consistently challenging the faith in progress and presenting cogent arguments against its presumptive apotheosis, you will encounter tactics of squirming and dodging without end: as you've no doubt discovered several thousand times over.

Hopefully this will help to bring the total up to 25. Feel free to edit as needed.

latefall said...


Have a look at ecopoly - digital or analog
I assume you can find similar things for somewhat younger ages.

I liked pen and paper roleplaying games for entertainment, I think they should help with developing empathy as well as various cognitive abilities.
I haven't played all that many systems but the one I still think of after decades once in a while is Ars Magica ( It is nice for starting to think in longer time scales and cycles, it gently pushes you into history, but is not particularly helpful for complex systems or interconnected thinking.

If you are in the US I would also try to make an effort and see what childrens stories sell on the other amazon sites and for what reason...
As a couple of jump off points:
and of cours Grimm's Märchen.

Librivox is useful for quickly going through a bunch of old books and finding some that seem appropriate at the time.

I would also throw in a bunch of scientific papers, including dated announcements of vaporware.
What might help a little in selecting the other articles is + google scholar
Oh, and for making yourself understood, and understanding just how far below potential most scientific articles are -

Pen, paper, and a filing system (supporting non-linear approaches), visulization support (pin board, flip chart, magnetic wall paint, whatever)

I am not really sure what fundamental critisim can be levelled against electronic media that couldn't be used against printed books, other than they are new and possibly (probably?) not sustainable in a "nice scenario".
Personally I tend to a "facing the enemy" approach, for which I recommend going in from the right end, e.g.

Mark Rice said...

If we were trained to be logical, we would not be as easily manipulated by advertising. A good school curriculum would have training in spotting the manipulations and illogic of adverts. This training is not in the short term interest of the plutocrats.

Greg Belvedere said...

Thanks wvjohn. Interesting to see another librarian reference the same story to highlight the same idea. Though I guess not surprising.

As a former public librarian I'm very familiar with the threats to the mission of the public library from without and within. So I sympathize. I remember the constant fight against budget cuts. I also remember the attempts from misguided board members and blindly carrier-minded administrators to turn the library into a community centers where people can play video games and rent DVDs. I worry a lot about the degradation of this valuable resource.

Libraries also seem to be following the trend of contracting out services. If you follow this trend to its conclusion it could mean a lot less well-trained librarians and more clerks masquerading as librarians. While some people will not know the difference, the difference between a well-trained/read librarian and the average clerk who can barely do a keyword search is the difference between a Mentat and...well I won't say anything too insulting to library clerks. But I do recall several instances where clerks gave responses to questions that reminded me of the classic, "Do you like Kipling?" "I don't know I've never kipled."

I fear that as we slide down the long descent people won't be able to find anything in their local library except trashy romance novels and the like. I'm speaking form my experience working at a large urban public library (Brooklyn Public). From talking to other librarians I get the impression that smaller communities have a bit more control.

I also worry that like Erikson's sons abandoning windjammers, we might digitize everything and find ourselves in some trouble when that become untenable.

latefall said...


I assume this link will come from another dozen people, but here's a bit on systems thinking in schools:

Arnold Fouts said...

Noting the various speculations on the obvious pathologies of current political discourse in America I am reminded of the following quote:
"Whom the gods would destroy, they first give TV." —Arthur C. Clarke,

It is beyond being merely patterned on the more famous quote with it's "make crazy." by offering a cause leading to an effect.

By the way in addition to many good qualities of the blog itself, it is currently the only one whose reader responses are of value. No doubt due to some invisible Druid magic in the background.

As per magic, I am
A. Fouts (who knows maybe a descendent of THE Faust of Faustian civilization).

latefall said...

With all the books and techniques recommended here I can't help but wonder if there are any that may be counter-productive to a person's development - even though, or actually because they are "too spot on".
I actually have that feeling once in a while when I read a few recommendations (including some from sources I know very well).

I can't imagine (even very good) books are exclusively helpful.
One obvious potential drawback could be that you'll be guided by only one specific (written language based) reasoning at a point - and it may become more difficult to side-step or solve a remaining problem looking at it from that specific angle. Sometimes if I feel some work deals with the exact problem I'd like to have a solution to, I start "circling" the text rather than reading it.

Nastarana said...

Breanna, I have found that most kids love to play board and card games. Again, echoing the Archdruid, I go for the oldies such as cribbage, checkers, parchisi, dominos, and so on. These games can teach kids how to think strategically in a safe, family setting, and how to play to win while not insulting one's opponent. All but the most electronically addicted will take out the ear plugs for a good card game. The time will surely come when expensive electricity can no longer be used for entertainment, and, at the present time, good board games can be had for reasonable prices.

Cherokee Organics said...


Yes, that is bad. It has been a while now since I was in big business. Back in those days they had rigorous analysis of those sorts of decisions and lots of signatures had to put their jobs on the line. Of course people didn’t move around as much either. Defecating where you eat is a bad strategy.

What you are indicating is perhaps an unexpected side effect of loose monetary policy going on at the moment in the US? I've been wondering for a while now what happens to all of those additional dollars let loose in the economy month after month.

Such an undocumented feature may also serve to sink entities that are up to their eyeballs in debt - as you quite rightly pointed out.

Bankruptcy is a culturally accepted form of debt forgiveness. I wonder if in the future, other leaner and meaner entities recycle that productive physical capital at a lower cost base than the debt laden entities now?

Such activities indicate to me that we are on the downward slope of the inverted bell shape curve which represents the overall trajectory of our civilisation. It is an example of gaming the system really.

On the other hand, when virtually free money is sloshing around the system and those tokens still have value, where do you park it so as to generate a return? It is a conundrum.

Perhaps I'm just living in the past and future at the same time and no longer relevant to the present. There's no way I would stand around quietly and passively while those sorts of games went on.

Onto the rocks today!



onething said...

Poland the enemy of Russia...the latest iteration in a thousand year war, begun in 1054 and even before, when the churches of the east refused to bow to the pope. This, I think, is the true cause of the constant denigration of Russia by the nations of the west.

It would truly be heartbreaking for Monsatan et al to get control of Ukraine where the food is superb, the women beautiful, and the people in blooming health.

"But, when the 7th angel blew his trumpet there were loud voices in heaven, saying,

...the time has come...for destroying those who destroy the earth."

Doctor Westchester said...


Your reply to Cherokee about American business practices painfully reminded me of something I read today in the official fluff magazine of the American Chemical Society. Entitled "The Building Begins", it's an article on all the new chemical plants being built on the Gulf Coast in order to take advantage of all the abundant cheap natural gas that we now have. A large number of new ethylene crackers are being built to come on line in 2017-8. Gee, how could this ever go wrong?

One can find the article at It's behind a paywall, but if you belong to the ACS you can read it.

onething said...

Hmmm...breaking ground around here is no joke. 6 tree stumps removed so far, endless roots and rocks, including one that required a tractor to lift out. I'm voracious for real rocks, but all those little stones, there is quite a pile at each of the four sides, I haven't thought of much use for. We can add them to the driveway I guess. That's about a 2200 square foot garden.
OK, this is getting strange. People have sometimes complained about the word verification but I rarely have trouble despite the fact that they are often unreadable and require guessing. Yet the only times I ever fail are when it was easy and I was sure of my answers. Now, I have been told that my characters didn't match on both of my last two posts, yet they were all numbers and easy to read. And yes, I double checked them before posting.

I believe there is a capricious little man in there, messing with our heads.

Jim R said...

I think it's fairly easy to resolve that question in favor of: no, they don't really know and they are not thinking about it, for the most part.

First, recall the French and Russian revolutions. Do you think that any of the royals involved really had any clue about their fates? Did any of their functionaries or bureaucrats have any idea? Were they thinking about it?

Now fast forward to the present. We recently saw a picture of the NSA chief dude's office. It was made to look like the administrative deck of the space ship in Star Trek: NG. Do you think he really has any idea what he is doing? Yeah, they are collecting a lot of data from computers and cell phones. So what?

While there may be some effort to withhold embarrassing information here and there, I'm quite sure there isn't any grand conspiracy to keep the plebs in the dark about the energy crisis; they don't want to know. And to tell the truth, other than giving in to my hoarding instinct, I have had a hard time convincing myself to change my own lifestyle...

@Richard Larson,
If I were at a fair and walked by you explaining that gas supply chart, I'd probably keep walking, too. Yeah, yeah, gas chart. I've already seen it. Anyway, maybe it'll be a warm winter next year.

Candace said...

@ Mark Rice-"If we were trained to be logical, we would not be as easily manipulated by advertising. A good school curriculum would have training in spotting the manipulations and illogic of adverts. This training is not in the short term interest of the plutocrats."

I think you might not be aware of the history, money, and research involved with the development of advertising. The very goal of advertising is to short cicuit logic. That is why some posting on this forum would only somewhat jokingly refer to it as "Black Magic". If you look at some of the studies you will find that even people trained in logic and understanding the techniques of advertising are still manipulated by advertising.

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

Well, the Trivium and Quadrivium survived the fall of Rome intact, and it can do it again. I am particularly interested in the Logos doctrine of the Stoics, which was the guiding energy behind teaching people to think in the classical world. The ancients believed the "word" was connected to the "Word", and bent considerable energy to unraveling Nature's allegorical mysteries, albeit from a religious point of view. Popular, no, but effective, apparently so, as it managed to hibernate and emerge to create the Middle Ages.

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

JMG: Marshall McLuhan in his dissertation on the Trivium maintained that the Renaissance was a reaction against scholasticism, the same scholasticism that gave us nominalism and modern science. He claims that the "magical" notion of the Logos always had champions, even in the Middle Ages, notably in Bonaventura and others, who were trumped in the later Middle Ages.

Off topic, but related: I used to wonder why the stiff penalties on poaching the king's deer were occurred to me that if the collapse happens, the local Ouachitas and Ozarks are going to be full of bandits and people who over harvest game to the point of extinction, at least locally. So, although my heart is with Robin Hood, I have to say, at least the king was interested in protecting the woodlands and the game.

onething said...


I think the single best thing you can do is not have a television. When you've got electronic media around, somehow the slow and thoughtful games, and not just board games but games where you make up the games, just don't happen. When I grew up my horrible mother was the ONLY woman in America in the 60's who refused to buy a television (and we were the ONLY kids in the school eating whole wheat bread, too). She spoke the word "television" in a voice dripping with scorn. Now, my mother indeed had a few truly horrific faults, but with the above choices she not only gave me a chance at having a mind, but taught me to be able to buck the trends of society and take health seriously.


I'm pretty sure the short term business decisions have been going on for several more years than the recent rounds of quantitative easing.

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

Great post and comments all! I'd recommend this book;
Nicholas Carr--The Shallows; What the internet is doing to our brains.
Carr suggests that extensive internet use changes the neural connectivity and function of our brains. This helps us adapt to an environment where continuous use of the internet and computer tools are mandatory, but impairs memory and other thinking skills that will be critically needed in upcoming decades.

JMG, I think the 'Mentat' concept is almost right, but what you really need is a group like the Oracle(s) at Delphi-- In ancient times, these were not only Mentat in their function, but combined their skills with 'readings of the future' that were ambiguous enough to cause their clients to re-examine their motives and actions. Sometimes, calamity was avoided.

Like the Oracles of Delphi, you need to wrap the needed insight/advice in a shell that makes it culturally palatable to the recipient.

Another example of this was recently described in the Atlantic Monthly; A healthcare worker in an Asian country noted that chronic iron deficiency was impairing the health of the population. They were too poor to buy iron cooking pots, but could get the same effect by putting a hunk of iron into their Aluminum soup pots.
He tried distributing iron chunks with instructions, but mostly they were sold or used as door stops.

Then, he got someone to make the iron chunks in the shape of "lucky fish," based on a local folk story. The same people who were skeptical about improving their health with a chunk of iron in the soup pot, gladly believed that the iron "lucky fish" would make their soup more healthy, and used the fish.

Best of luck to all Mentats, Delphi Oracles, and Forgers of Iron Lucky Fish :-)

Somewhatstunned said...

JMG said (in reply to Johan)

Using computers to think with ultimately means thinking the way a computer does, i.e., not at all.

This reminded of something Jaron Lanier has said a number of times (notably in his book you are not a gadget). I'm quoting from memory, but it's something like "we make ourselves stupid to make computers look smart".

The interesting thing about Lanier is that he might be described as an uber-geek - very pro-digital technology, well respected, did pioneering work on virtual reality (invented the term itself, IIRC). Despite all this he seems pretty clear sighted about the reality of both computers and online 'culture'.

I bet this clarity is because he's also a musician :)

(Apparently the Kurzweilies hate him)

latefall said...

I would really like to see google or someone do a "map of systems thinking on the net". Maybe even better a map of large discrepancies of commentator intelligence indicators and absence of systems thinking patterns or vocabulary. I believe one thing that made me stick around here was high concentration of systems thinking based reasoning in the comments. I don't pay much attention to the articles in general unless the comments convince me to.
I could nicely imagine that some professions need a sort of "blind spot" or cognitive dissonance to function properly if you are an otherwise intelligent person. Now, I imagine there would be some fun to be had if one went to seek out critical nodes of "systems thinking abhorrence" and politely bombs them with subversive systems thinking (and possibly provides links to logical fallacies for the replies), then sits back and listens to the sound of wishful thinking scraping on reality.

I also believe systems thinking has been actively unlearned or filtered out in many parts of society.
This ecopoly game I referenced pitched a bunch of students (close to the lowest end of the grade spectrum) repeatedly against professional deciders (politicians) of increasing caliber - and the "dumb kids" fared much better.
Although I have to admit I don't know the (possibly important) details of how this went down.

Luckymortal said...

Excellent as always. 2 thoughts:

First, I agree with posters who propose meditation for Mentat training: more specifically, the intentional practice of calm, happy, focused attention--both object oriented, and open attention to the activities of daily life.

Second, these "incantations" can reveal truth as well as conceal. In these comments I learned of "Gray's Law," which concisely explains what I could not: why your series on "Fascism" inadvertently convinced me that the BAD part of "Fascism" is inevitable. Whether malice or advanced incompetence (or feigned incompetence) the government that oversees the decline in population, quality of life, health, and access to resources and democratic participation, will certainly seem malicious, and rightly be called "fascist" by increasing numbers.

These little phrases aren't all bad, just tools like any other.

Unknown said...

We have a resource that is largely untapped, our aging liberal arts graduates. Yes, the folks who have long been discredited as dreamers who will never be able to compete in 'the real world'. But theirs has long been the world of critical thinking and synthesis. And now they have accumulated a lifetime of experience that can be used to enhance their skills while our higher educational system has dismantled training in critical thought. They can be our analog to the tribal elders.

thrig said...

Hmm, what to teach?

"I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning." — some dead Greek dude.

So get children an instrument; most locales should have a musician who can help instruct the child, and a good musician could also cover functional harmony and counterpoint (in the Western tradition; other cultures have their own rule systems). In theory standard education should cover music, but budget cuts and more testing, you know. Elena Mannes has more to say about music, if you distrust dead Greek dudes, or want a modern opinion (hint: more data, same conclusion).

Ray Wharton said...

Each week I go to the CSU research forest, a wondrous place, with trees from all over the world all gathered together to see how they grow in this climate. Before going I enjoy the coffee hour at a local Church, and talk with the congregation which is filled with successful and... well intended folks. But to the point!

Today I went to their 'adult education forum' and was dismayed to see that it was a presentation on the relationship between fracking and the environment, mostly assuring that the EPA has very adequate protections against fracking. My stomach could only endure a few minutes of the presentation before I had to leave and wash some dishes. I report this as a data point on the infiltration of such marketing strategies into liberal progressivism. I informally interviewed a few of my acquaintances on their impression of the presentation, two were fairly impressed, but still cautious about some of the claims concerning surface storage, and one was not at all impressed, asking what the companies would do for the clean up when something went wrong while 'working the bugs out'.

The ticking keeps getting louder on this bubble.

streamfortyseven said...

Illustration on point:

streamfortyseven said...

You're most likely to find your "mentats" in the "unschooled" population. Schooling "is an essential support system for a vision of social engineering that condemns most people to be subordinate stones in a pyramid that narrows as it ascends to a terminal of control.... Such a curriculum produces physical, moral, and intellectual paralysis, and no curriculum of content will be sufficient to reverse its hideous effects. What is currently under discussion in our national school hysteria about failing academic performance misses the point. Schools teach exactly what they are intended to teach and they do it well: how to be a good Egyptian and remain in your place in the pyramid."

And so there is already a core cadre of "mentats" out there, it's in the growing population of "unschooled" people. Do a search on the term "unschooling", that should lead you in the right direction(s).

latheChuck said...

Had a nice after-dinner conversation with my wife. I asked "when it comes to the use of non-renewable resources, are there any good options?"

"What do you mean? We do a LOT of things here better than anyone else we know! We're cold in the winter, and warm in the summer. We're driving cars that are older, getting all of the usage from the materials possible. Our house is smaller. Our family is smaller. I telecommute, which reduces both our own consumption, and the congestion between here and my employer. We hang laundry out on the clothsline, when it won't aggravate my allergies. You're growing food in the yard. We're buying wind power... These are all good things for the environment."

"I guess the root of my question is this: when we're talking about fossil fuels, there's no option for putting them back into the ground. We can only use them, more or less quickly. In that sense, we're still on the same side of the balance pivot as everyone else. We're not compensating for their extravagant ways."

"So, what's your point? Are you saying that we should crawl into a cave? Just so you know, I'm not coming with you into a cave-house."

"No, we'll keep doing what we've been doing, and look for ways to do better. It's just a question of perspective, whether doing less bad can be considered 'doing good'."

So, what do you blogger-readers think?

russell1200 said...

Putin has won? Crimea is, like most of the former USSR that doesn't have resources to extract an economic basket case that has as its main economic driver a tourist industry that caters to a mostly poor populous.

With 40% of the populous being Ukrainian, this looks like a very expensive way to regain a marginally useful warm water port. it doesn't even need to go Afghanistan to become a huge money pit.

None of which in any way counters your argument about the lack of critical thinking on our part. It just seems like Putin isn't an example of what I would think of as the counterpoint to that thoughtfulness deprivation.

Glenn said...

latheChuck said...
""No, we'll keep doing what we've been doing, and look for ways to do better. It's just a question of perspective, whether doing less bad can be considered 'doing good'."

So, what do you blogger-readers think?"

You can only do what is _possible_ at any given time. At some point in the near future, few, if any will be able to use fossil fuels or other non-renewable resources. Whether we "live in a cave" or not, the best any of us can hope for is enough people being frugal to slow the decline enough so the transition is less painful. I'm not holding my breath on that. Those of us who "collapse early and avoid the rush." do not do so to either "save the planet" or "save civilization"; we do it to save ourselves and our families, that is develop the skills to survive. It seems a better tactic to me than waiting until there's no choice.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi onething,

Quote: "I'm pretty sure the short term business decisions have been going on for several more years than the recent rounds of quantitative easing."

Yeah, I reckon you are drawing a long bow to suggest that was what I meant.

There are other forms of short term business decision making too, other than loading up a business with debt. A focus on sales as distinct from profitability is just one example that comes to mind, amongst other disasters... If you ever have the opportunity to face a board comprised entirely of sales people, you’ll know what I mean! Hehe!

Other than that I have no argument with you. I reckon the fixation on short term goals may have possibly arisen out of excessive remuneration to boards and senior executives. This is a relatively recent phenomenon you know.

I took myself out of the game and decided to do something different altogether and I recommend that approach.



Cherokee Organics said...


Sorry but the recent spike of heat gave me another kick up the posterior to sort out my immediate environment. I have a serious fire risk with the firewood stored near the house and that means a new shed (recycled materials) with more rainfall catchment area, which means more water storage and another pump/sprinkler combination. So many projects. It takes a long time to admit to and rectify weaknesses in systems.

Video footage of fatso the wombat had to take a back seat. I also need to update the video of growth in the orchard too and provide audio commentary this time. So much to do, so little time.

Today, a great idea about fencing for the blackberries popped into my head using primarily local materials and I'm being pulled in this direction too.

Hi streamfortyseven,

Very amusing. As someone who has been on the pointy end of the implementation side of corporate debates, that link gave me a true headache and quite a few laughs at the same time. My only advice, beware of attractive red heads asking for kittens! hehe!

Hi latheChuck,

What an outstanding question! Well caves are a hard sell to the loved ones...

I'm with Glenn on this subject.

Every time a load of compost works its way up the hill here is only by the magic of fossil fuels. At a guess there are probably now about 450 cubic metres of the stuff up here now. I certainly couldn't have achieved this any other way and I'm left shaking my head in true wonder at the efforts of the pioneers and Aboriginals to eke out a living here.

Years back I stated on this forum that the Aboriginals never ventured onto this land, but I can quite honestly now say that from retrospect I'm completely wrong. One tree here which most certainly predates white settlement even has a canoe scar cut out of it.

My only advice is to use fossil fuels to bring a long term benefit to your immediate environment in whatever way you can.

Hi onething,

Just got to your comment about rocks. If you have rocks, then either make rock walls or raised beds out of the rocks. Raised beds will extend your growing season and offer some insurance from the extremes of climate that seem to be the norm here (and at a location near you - soon).

PS: I just recorded some video footage of how stumpy the house wallaby reacts when faced with the dogs here. Will post it when I get a free moment. As a hint - does not care...



steve pearson said...

@IatheChuck, I would say you are doing more than most. To me the main point would be that your wife, to some extent, realizes the situation we are in and is probably open to doing more as the conditions become more severe.
There is a fine line between doing something constructive in ones life that one feels good with, and would be happy to continue with, and doing something only through a worry about surviving future tribulations.I know lots of people who have done the latter and then burned out when the apocalypse didn't arrive on schedule.Ideally it comes down to Don Juan's( Carlos Castaneda) concept of following a path with heart.
Are you on the same path? Do you want to share the same cave? Where is your heart? Where is hers? Life is an adventure. Good luck with it.
Regards, Steve

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi everyone,

If people can forgive the potty mouth in the commentary (one glass of mead - true story, it is strong stuff), they can get a look at the interactions between Poopy the Pomeranian and Stumpy the Wallaby (hint: Stumpy is tougher):

Stumpy the Wallaby versus Poopy the Pomeranian - Ultimate stand off

I realise that this is massively off topic, but everyone can see firsthand the rocks that I've been breaking up and collecting for the rock walls here. Plus, people here at this blog can see the beauty that is a hopping wallaby – they move gracefully and fast.

Also, if people are really observant they'll note what an extreme summer can do to the herbage and how it bounces back in time. It really is a boom and bust environment here. Hopefully this boom and bust scenario doesn't come to a town near you soon. Poopy the Pomeranian on the other hand may be be free to a good home though…



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi everyone,

In a fit of guilt about the potty mouth in the previous Stumpy the Wallaby video, I also uploaded the video of Fatso the Wombat cruising the herbage here:

Fatso the wombat

The amount of wildlife that this garden has to contend with is truly staggering. Interestingly too, most of the wildlife action occurs at night because of the heat during the day. They're probably just smarter than us humans!



Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Hello JMG,

Have a good, stimulating, meaningful time in the UK! I was just there in the fall and passed through London on the way to Norfolk. It's so nice to be able to get on a train to pretty much wherever you'd like to go in a country.

Re the Blake Society: Yes, of course & now I understand one reason why you would be interested in hand printing. I'll never forget the first time I saw Blake's manuscripts and original books at the Tate. Wish I could hear your talk.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Re "The Wealth of Nature": rarely do I tout my own writing, but anyone interested can read my essay about the book here:

Ecological Reality Is Not What You Hypothesize

DesertedPictures said...

That was a surprisingly violent response, JMG. May I suggest an alternative?

Your friend, having laughed at your ideas about decline all his life, finds himself in big trouble. It's winter and the local electric/gas company failed to secure a stable fuel-source and cut off all connections in the area. He is freezing in his house that lacks insulation and food is running out. He remembers the one person that he knows that prepared for this: you.

He swallows his pride and knocks on your door. You open it, put your shotgun down, relieved as you are that it's your friend and not a member of a traveling gang, looking for food. You give him a cup of tea, tell him 'you told him so' (you are human after all) and then you offer to help him get on his feet in the though times ahead. Luckily you can show him how he can take care of himself in the future. With the help of him and other neighbours like him you have the start of a new community.

Or not.

Anyway: it's very American to believe in the magical (sorry, couldn't resist) properties of arms to defend your home. But it's only invting others to bring bigger guns and there are going to be a lot more people with guns that did not prepare for the decline, then there are green wizards that want to defend their wel prepared ground.

And yes: I know it was your response to the question, not your actual response to such a situation. But still: it reminded me to much of the people that threatened to shoot their neighbours during the cuba crisis if they wanted to get into their well prepared shelters when 'the big one' would hit.

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