Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Refusing the Call: A Tale Rewritten

I have been wondering for some time now how to talk about the weirdly autumnal note that sounds so often and so clearly in America these days. Through the babble and clatter, the seven or eight television screens yelling from the walls of every restaurant you pass and all the rest of it, there comes a tone and a mood that reminds me of wind among bare branches and dry leaves crackling underfoot:  as though even the people who insist most loudly that it’s all onward and upward from here don’t believe it any more, and those for whom the old optimism stopped being more than a soothing shibboleth a long time ago are hunching their shoulders, shutting their eyes tight, and hoping that things can still hold together for just a little while longer.

It’s not just that American politicians and pundits are insisting at the top of their lungs that the United States can threaten Russia with natural gas surpluses that don’t exist, though that’s admittedly a very bad sign all by itself. It’s that this orgy of self-congratulatory nonsense appears in the news right next to reports that oil and gas companies are slashing their investments in the fracking technology and shale leases that were supposed to produce those imaginary surpluses, having lost a great deal of money pursuing the shale oil mirage, while Russia and Iran  pursue a trade deal that will make US sanctions against Iran all but irrelevant, and China is quietly making arrangements to conduct its trade with Europe in yuan rather than dollars. Strong nations in control of their own destinies, it’s fair to note, don’t respond to challenges on this scale by plunging their heads quite so enthusiastically into the sands of self-deception.

To shift temporal metaphors a bit, the long day of national delusion that dawned back in 1980, when Ronald Reagan famously and fatuously proclaimed “it’s morning in America,” is drawing on rapidly toward dusk, and most Americans are hopelessly unprepared for the coming of night.  They’re unprepared in practical terms, that is, for an era in which the five per cent of us who live in the United States will no longer dispose of a quarter of the world’s energy supply and a third of its raw materials and industrial products, and in which what currently counts as a normal American lifestyle will soon be no more than a fading memory for the vast majority.  They’re just as unprepared, though,  for the psychological and emotional costs of that shattering transformation—not least because the change isn’t being imposed on them at random by an indifferent universe, but comes as the inevitable consequence of their own collective choices in decades not that long past.

The hard fact that most people in this country are trying not to remember is this:  in the years right after Reagan’s election, a vast number of Americans enthusiastically turned their backs on the promising steps toward sustainability that had been taken in the previous decade, abandoned the ideals they’d been praising to the skies up to that time, and cashed in their grandchildrens’ future so that they didn’t have to give up the extravagance and waste that defined their familiar and comfortable lifestyles. As a direct result, the nonrenewable resources that might have supported the transition to a sustainable future went instead to fuel one last orgy of wretched excess.  Now, though, the party is over, the bill is due, and the consequences of that disastrous decision have become a massive though almost wholly unmentionable factor in our nation’s culture and collective psychology.

A great many of the more disturbing features of contemporary American life, I’m convinced, can’t be understood unless America’s thirty-year vacation from reality is taken into account. A sixth of the US population is currently on antidepressant medications, and since maybe half of Americans can’t afford to get medication at all, the total number of Americans who are clinically depressed is likely a good deal higher than prescription figures suggest. The sort of bizarre delusions that used to count as evidence of serious mental illness—baroque conspiracy theories thickly frosted with shrill claims of persecution, fantasies of imminent mass death as punishment for humanity’s sins, and so on—have become part of the common currency of American folk belief. For that matter, what does our pop culture’s frankly necrophiliac obsession with vampires amount to but an attempt, thinly veiled in the most transparent of symbolism, to insist that it really is okay to victimize future generations for centuries down the line in order to prolong one’s own existence?

Mythic and legends such as this can be remarkably subtle barometers of the collective psyche. The transformation that turned the vampire from just another spooky Eastern European folktale into a massive pop culture presence in industrial North America has quite a bit to say about the unspoken ideas and emotions moving through the crawlspaces of our collective life. In the same way, it’s anything but an accident that the myth of the heroic quest has become so pervasive a presence in the modern industrial world that Joseph Campbell could simply label it “the monomyth,” the basic form of myth as such. In any sense other than a wholly parochial one, of course, he was quite wrong—the wild diversity of the world’s mythic stories can’t be forced into any one narrative pattern—but if we look only at popular culture in the modern industrial world, he’s almost right.

The story of the callow nobody who answers the call to adventure, goes off into the unknown, accomplishes some grand task, and returns transformed, to transform his surroundings in turn, is firmly welded into place in the imagination of our age. You’ll find it at the center of J.R.R. Tolkien’s great  works of fantasy, in the most forgettable products of the modern entertainment industry, and everything in between and all around. Yet there’s a curious blind spot in all this: we hear plenty about those who answer the call to adventure, and nothing at all about those who refuse it. Those latter don’t offer much of a plot engine for an adventure story, granted, but such a tale could make for a gripping psychological study—and one that has some uncomfortably familiar features.

With that in mind, with an apology in the direction of Tolkien’s ghost, and with another to those of my readers who aren’t lifelong Tolkien buffs with a head full of Middle-earth trivia—yes, I used to sign school yearbooks in fluent Elvish—I’d like to suggest a brief visit to an alternate Middle-earth:  one in which Frodo Baggins, facing the final crisis of the Third Age and the need to leave behind everything he knew and loved in order to take the Ring to Mount Doom, crumpled instead, with a cry of “I can’t, Gandalf, I just can’t.” Perhaps you’ll join me in a quiet corner of The Green Dragon, the best inn in Bywater, take a mug of ale from the buxom hobbit barmaid, and talk about old Frodo, who lived until recently just up the road and across the bridge in Hobbiton.

You’ve heard about the magic ring he had, the one that he inherited from his uncle Bilbo, the one that Gandalf the wizard wanted him to go off and destroy? That was thirty years ago, and most folk in the Shire have heard rumors about it by now. Yes, it’s quite true; Frodo was supposed to leave the Shire and go off on an adventure, as Bilbo did before him, and couldn’t bring himself to do it. He had plenty of reasons to stay home, to be sure.  He was tolerably well off and quite comfortable, all his friends and connections were here, and the journey would have been difficult and dangerous. Nor was there any certainty of success—quite the contrary, it’s entirely possible that he might have perished somewhere in the wild lands, or been caught by the Dark Lord’s servants, or what have you.

So he refused, and when Gandalf tried to talk to him about it, he threw the old wizard out of Bag End and slammed the round green door in his face. Have you ever seen someone in a fight who knows that he’s in the wrong, and knows that everyone else knows it, and that knowledge just makes him even more angry and stubborn?  That was Frodo just then. Friends of mine watched the whole thing, or as much of it as could be seen from the garden outside, and it was not a pleasant spectacle. 

It’s what happened thereafter, though, that bears recalling. I’m quite sure that if Frodo had shown the least sign of leaving the Shire and going on the quest, Sauron would have sent Black Riders after him in a fine hurry, and there’s no telling what else might have come boiling up out of Mordor.  It’s by no means impossible that the Dark Lord might have panicked, and launched a hasty, ill-advised assault on Gondor right away. For all I know, that may have been what Gandalf had in mind, tricking the Dark Lord into overreacting before he’d gathered his full strength, and before Gondor and Rohan had been thoroughly weakened from within.

Still, once Sauron’s spies brought him word that Frodo had refused to embark on the quest, the Dark Lord knew that he had a good deal less to fear, and that he could afford to take his time. Ever since then, there have been plenty of servants of Mordor in and around the Shire, and a Black Rider or two keeping watch nearby, but nothing obvious or direct, nothing that might rouse whatever courage Frodo might have had left or  convince him that he had to flee for his life. Sauron was willing to be patient—patient and cruel. I’m quite sure he knew perfectly well what the rest of Frodo’s life would be like.

So Gandalf went away, and Frodo stayed in Bag End, and for years thereafter it seemed as though the whole business had been no more than a mistake. The news that came up the Greenway from the southern lands was no worse than before; Gondor still stood firm, and though there was said to be some kind of trouble in Rohan, well, that was only to be expected now and then.  Frodo even took to joking about how gullible he’d been to believe all those alarmist claims that Gandalf had made. Sauron was still safely cooped up in Mordor, and all seemed right with Middle-earth.

Of course part of that was simply that Frodo had gotten even wealthier and more comfortable than he’d been before. He patched up his relationship with the Sackville-Bagginses, and he invested a good deal of his money in Sandyman’s mill in Hobbiton, which paid off handsomely. He no longer spent time with many of his younger friends by then, partly because they had their own opinions about what he should have done, and partly because he had business connections with some of the wealthiest hobbits in the Shire, and wanted to build on those. He no longer took long walks around the Shire, as he’d done before, and he gave up visiting elves and dwarves when he stopped speaking to Gandalf.

But of course the rumors and news from the southern lands slowly but surely turned to the worse, as the Dark Lord gathered his power and tightened his grip on the western lands a little at a time. I recall when Rohan fell to Saruman’s goblin armies.  That was a shock for a great many folk, here in the Shire and elsewhere.  Soon thereafter, though, Frodo was claiming that after all, Saruman wasn’t Sauron, and Rohan wasn’t that important, and for all anyone knew, the wizard and the Dark Lord might well end up at each other’s throats and spare the rest of us.

Still, it was around that time that Frodo stopped joking about Gandalf’s warnings, and got angry if anyone mentioned them in his hearing. It was around that same time, too, that he started insisting loudly and often that someone would surely stop Sauron. One day it was the elves:  after all, they had three rings of power, and could surely overwhelm the forces of Mordor if they chose to. Another day, the dwarves would do it, or Saruman, or the men of Gondor, or the Valar in the uttermost West. There were so many alternatives!  His friends very quickly learned to nod and agree with him, for he would lose his temper and start shouting at them if they disagreed or even asked questions.

When Lorien was destroyed, that was another shock. It was after that, as I recall, that Frodo started hinting darkly that the elves didn’t seem to be doing anything with their three rings of power to stop Sauron, and maybe they weren’t as opposed to him as they claimed. He came up with any number of theories about this or that elvish conspiracy. The first troubles were starting to affect the Shire by then, of course, and his investments were beginning to lose money; it was probably inevitable that he would start claiming that the conspiracy was aimed in part against hobbits, against the Shire, or against him in particular—especially the latter. They wanted his ring, of course. That played a larger and larger role in his talk as the years passed.

I don’t recall hearing of any particular change in his thinking when word came that Minas Tirith had been taken by the Dark Lord’s armies, but it wasn’t much later that a great many elves came hurrying along the East Road through the Shire, and a few months after that, word came that Rivendell had fallen. That was not merely a shock, but a blow; Frodo had grown up hearing his uncle’s stories about Rivendell and the elves and half-elves who lived there. There was a time after that news came that some of us briefly wondered if old Frodo might actually find it in himself to do the thing he’d refused to do all those years before.

But of course he did nothing of the kind, not even when the troubles here in the Shire began to bite more and more deeply, when goblins started raiding the borders of the North Farthing and the Buckland had to be abandoned to the Old Forest. No, he started insisting to anyone who would listen that Middle-earth was doomed, that there was no hope left in elves or dying Númenor, that Sauron’s final victory would surely come before—oh, I forget what the date was; it was some year or other not too far from now. He spent hours reading through books of lore, making long lists of reasons why the Dark Lord’s triumph was surely at hand. Why did he do that? Why, for the same reason that drove him to each of his other excuses in turn: to prove to himself that his decision to refuse the quest hadn’t been the terrible mistake he knew perfectly well it had been.

And then, of course, the Ring betrayed him, as it betrayed Gollum and Isildur before him. He came home late at night, after drinking himself half under the table at the Ivy Bush, and discovered that the Ring was nowhere to be found. After searching Bag End in a frantic state, he ran out the door and down the road toward Bywater shouting “My precious! My precious!” He was weeping and running blindly in the night, and when he got to the bridge he stumbled; over he went into the water, and that was the end of him. They found his body in a weir downstream the next morning.

The worst of it is that right up to the end, right up to the hour the Ring left him, he still could have embarked on the quest.  It would have been a different journey, and quite possibly a harder one.  With Rivendell gone, he would have had to go west rather than east, across the Far Downs to Cirdan at the Grey Havens, where you’ll find most of the high-elves who still remain in Middle-earth. From there, with such companions as might have joined him, he would have had to go north and then eastward through Arnor, past the ruins of Annuminas and Lake Evendim, to the dales of the Misty Mountains, and then across by one of the northern passes: a hard and risky journey, but by no means impossible, for with no more need to hinder travel between Rivendell and Lorien, the Dark Lord’s watch on the mountains has grown slack.

Beyond the mountains, the wood-elves still dwell in the northern reaches of Mirkwood, along with refugees from Lorien and the last of the Beornings.  He could have gotten shelter and help there, and boats to travel down the River Running into the heart of Wilderland.  From there his way would have led by foot to the poorly guarded northern borders of Mordor—when has Sauron ever had to face a threat from that quarter?  So you see that it could have been done. It could still be done, if someone were willing to do it. Even though so much of what could have been saved thirty years ago has been lost, even though Minas Tirith, Edoras, Lorien and Rivendell have fallen and the line of the kings of Gondor is no more, it would still be worth doing; there would still be many things that could be saved.

Nor would such a journey have to be made alone. Though Aragorn son of Arathorn was slain in the last defense of Rivendell, there are still Rangers to be found in Cirdan’s realm and the old lands of Arnor; there are elf-warriors who hope to avenge the blood shed at Rivendell, and dwarves from the Blue Mountains who have their own ancient grudges against the Dark Lord. The last free Rohirrim retreated to Minhiriath after Éomer fell at Helm’s Deep, and still war against King Grima, while Gondor west of the river Gilrain clings to a tenuous independence and would rise up against Sauron at need. Would those and the elves of Lindon be enough? No one can say; there are no certainties in this business, except for the one Frodo chose—the certainty that doing nothing will guarantee Sauron’s victory.

And there might even still be a wizard to join such a quest. In fact, there would certainly be one—the very last of them, as far as I know. Gandalf perished when Lorien fell, I am sorry to say, and as for Saruman, the last anyone saw of him, he was screaming in terror as two Ringwraiths dragged him through the door of the Dark Tower; his double-dealing was never likely to bring him to a good end. The chief of the Ringwraiths rules in Isengard now. Still, there was a third in these western lands: fool and bird-tamer, Saruman called him, having never quite managed to notice that knowledge of the ways of nature and the friendship of birds and beasts might have considerable value in the last need of Middle-earth. Radagast is his name; yes, that would be me.

Why am I telling you all this?  Well, you are old Frodo’s youngest cousin, are you not? Very nearly the only one of his relatives with enough of the wild Tookish blood in you to matter, or so I am told. It was just a month ago that you and two of your friends were walking in the woods, and you spoke with quite a bit of anger about how the older generation of hobbits had decided to huddle in their holes until the darkness falls—those were your very words, I believe. How did I know that? Why, a little bird told me—a wren, to be precise, a very clever and helpful little fellow, who runs errands for me from time to time when I visit this part of Middle-earth. If you meant what you said then, there is still hope.

And the Ring? No, it was not lost, or not for long. It slipped from its chain and fell from old Frodo’s pocket as he stumbled home that last night, and a field mouse spotted it. I had briefed all the animals and birds around Hobbiton, of course, and so she knew what to do; she dragged the Ring into thick grass, and when dawn came, caught the attention of a jay, who took it and hid it high up in a tree. I had to trade quite a collection of sparkling things for it! But here it is, in this envelope, waiting for someone to take up the quest that Frodo refused. The choice is yours, my dear hobbit. What will you do?


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Pongo said...

Presenting my entry in the post-peak fiction contest...A DEAD ART FORM:

Matt Heins said...

I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way.

wolfvanzandt said...

By the time I entered college (1971), sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists were already talking about the "insane society" (ours). Strangely, I've never heard it mentioned by politicians or judges - perhaps they didn't take it seriously. In psychology, we have a phrase: Neurotic people build castles in the sky; psychotic people live in them. It's hard for insane people to see what's happening on the ground, so they're surprisingly good at filtering out things they don't want to know. So it's not too surprising when they don't see "it" coming.

Travis Marshall said...

Even though I am one of the few aware of the descent, and making a considerable effort to prepare for it, I still thrive off of the proverbial "kicks in the rear" that the last two post have been. Keep up the motivation, regular readers know the path we are on and how we got there by now but I for one always enjoy a few choice words reminding me to dig deeper and do more. I like the tactic you used because (and I assume this is what you were thinking) so many people, if taught to view our coming challenges as an adventure and a change of course to their comfortable, and sadly predictable lives, then maybe they could begin to take some chances and make some changes rather than pretending it will all go away or pretending there is nothing they can do.

John Michael Greer said...

Pongo, got it. Thanks also for your offlist story -- very telling indeed.

Matt, that earns you a gold star, fashioned in the uttermost West by Feanor himself. As for the way, we'll get to that.

Wolf, I think they see it. I think the reason things are so crazy just now is that they see it everywhere they turn, and can't deal with that.

Travis, that's the hope!

John Roth said...

Great one. Of course, we've also got the zombies - undead monsters shambling around looking eating people's brains. Another metaphor.

laughingbirdfarm said...

Drat it, Radagast, you want me to get off my cozy couch and leave behind my comfortable life -not to mention my full pantry -to go off adventuring just on your say so? Adventures are messy things that invariably make you late for dinner, and I don't *like* being late for dinner. Or any other meal, for that matter.

You're promising a journey of physical hardship and almost certain death...what's in it for me again?

*looks towards the doors behind which my family sleeps peacefully*

All right, all right. I'll go. Give me a few minutes to pack my things.

On a more serious note, a good proportion of the American populace wasn't yet alive when the 80's dawned, and I can't help but wonder how many of the 34 and under crowd realize, much less understand, what happened.

godozo said...

I think that your story is a bit too common to be normally noted, although putting the story up against a story we know is instructive. I would have had Frodo kill himself after a few days of searching for the ring, having long become fully unable (physically, intellectually, morally and spiritually) to do the trek (and afraid Sauron already had it), but those are my biases.

btidwell said...

Of course, it's far too late now to worry about what might have been 35 years ago and, to be absolutely honest with myself, maybe part of my curiosity is looking for an excuse for why it never happened. I do wonder, though, what kind of life a full embrace of appropriate technology would have provided. How much would the mass of Americans been expected to give up at a time when very few people had any clue that anything really needed to be done at all?(other than the intuitively obvious clue that a finite planet is finite, but ever since men realized that they could sail around it, they have felt like that meant they could sail for ever.) My suspicion is that, even though it would have led to a future less dire than we face now, it would have been a present that most middle-class people would have recoiled from in horror.

If Christians had been humble enough to remain a minor cult religion in the Near East, 9 million "witches" wouldn't have been tortured to death. If the Southern aristocracy had freed their slaves and voluntarily accepted bankruptcy and destitution, the Civil War would have been unnecessary. There are countless moments in history where the past can be judged for not living up to a level of heroism that we ourselves can only commit to in retrospect. Thirty five years later, and even the majority of readers of this blog (myself included) still have computers, Cars, TV(?), Central heat and air, shop at the store for international merchandise, and generally enjoy American affluence.

I think the LOTR analogy fails in that no, one, brave chivalrous person could save us from Peak Oil and no single person's sacrifice makes an appreciable difference, at least to anyone but perhaps themselves and that difference is hedged by the unclear question of how much one actually needs to suffer now in order to be prepared for the future. I don't think it has ever been a part of human nature to embrace suffering with enthusiasm. Although, perhaps if Billy Graham had started a new protestant movement of Eco-puritanism to give asceticism the frisson of self-righteousness? Even then, probably not.

Gaianne said...



Very nice!


Grebulocities said...

In echoes of your "How It Could Happen" series, a rather interesting event occurred over the Black Sea on April 10 (or 12, depending on source). I'm not sure if anyone's brought it up yet, or if the news article I'm reading is accurate, but I'll paraphrase what it says.

The US Aegis-equipped destroyer USS Donald Cook sailed into the central Black Sea from Romania, where a Russian Su-24 fighter approached it. The plane was equipped with no weapons but the had the latest in Russian electronic jamming equipment. It was detected incoming, but as it approached, all the radar screens and targeting systems on the destroyer suddenly went blank. They were unable to do anything as the fighter made 12 threatening passes, simulating attacks, at distances closer than 1000 meters, before flying away. The destroyer headed immediately back to Romania with its electronic tail between its legs. Russian news source claims the entire crew tried to resign, although the Pentagon only says that they were demoralized.

Either way, I think this shows that any US military action attempted against Russia or China could be easily monkeywrenched in more or less exactly the way you portrayed it in "How It Could Happen." Your crystal ball seems to be in good working order!

On a lighter note, The Onion reports a new, devious strategy by Al Qaeda: simply sitting back and watching America fall apart on its own. Al-Zawahiri yells "Allahu Akbar!" as he watches a CNN report about stagnant wages.,35788/

Enrique said...

Speaking of the non-existent oil weapon against Russia, the Saker has been saying he believes the Ukraine crisis marks the beginning of the end for the American Empire.

I daresay he’s probably right. I have found it rather amusing to watch the impotent flailing of the US government, the EU and their puppet regime in Kiev, not to mention the utter incompetence of the Obama administration, once it became clear that things were not going according to plan in the Ukraine. These guys make even Dubya and his handlers look like a model of professionalism and competence by comparison, and it’s pretty clear that Bush Jr. was one of the worst US presidents in history. This time, the latest attempt by the US political establishment to engineer another “color revolution” has backfired spectacularly.

The US government and the EU have gotten far too used to being able to bully their adversaries into submission. The problem with using bullying as a tactic is that sooner or later, someone comes along who has the ability and the will to fight back. Russian officials have made it clear that for them, the use of the NATO no-fly zone in Libya as a pretext for regime change was the last straw, and they have drawn the line. The result has been an embarrassing string of defeats for the US and the EU in Syria and the Ukraine since then, no doubt with more to follow in the years ahead.

I think by the time this whole sordid farce is done with, we will see the end of the American Empire and the EU and the formation of a new Russian Empire, euphemistically known as the Eurasian Union. It may not happen overnight, but it will happen. Oswald Spengler famously predicted that the next great civilization would come out of Russia, and I think he was absolutely right on that point as he was on so many others. The peoples of Europe might want to consider brushing up on their Russian language skills, and Americans would do well to start learning Spanish and Chinese if they haven’t already begun to do so…

Robert Mathiesen said...

And there's more to be said, I think, maybe the most important thing of all for these dark times. I am in a weird, fey mood tonight, so I will say it here, inspired by our host's alternate tale.

In Tolkien's version, Frodo did take up the burden Galdalf laid before him. Through many dangers and much grief he reached the fires of Mount Doom at last, and stood at the edge of its fiery heart.

And then, having done far more than anyone might have expected of him ... at the end, Frodo failed the last challenge of them all. He refused to give up the One Ring. He decisively and irrevocably failed in his task!

This is exactly right, and it is true to Frodo's character as Tolkien had delineated him up to that point.

What saved Middle Earth was not Frodo, but Gollum.

Gollum, who had been warped out of all recognition and seemed barely a hobbit any longer, fought Frodo for the Ring, and bit it from Frodo's hand. It was Gollum in his burning hunger for the Ring who overreached himself and fell to destruction, carrying the One Ring with him into the only fire that could unmake it.

Had Frodo foreseen all the danger and hardship, he might well have set out anyway. That was his character, and Gandalf knew it. Had Frodo foreknown his final failure, though, why would he have wanted to set out at all? Even so, Gandalf might have been able to persuade him to go

But . . . had Frodo foreknown that it would be Gollum who would get the job done where he, Frodo, could not . . . had he foreknown that it was precisely Gollum's insane hunger for the Ring, and not any heroic virtue at all, that would get the job done in the end . . . would Frodo have been able to face this certainty and still set out on the quest? Would Gandalf have been able to persuade him? I think not. As Tolkien portrayed Frodo, he could not have set out on his quest, had he foreknown with certainty that a creature such as Gollum would save the day at its end, not a determined and dutiful hobbit.

It was not just the Ring of Power that needed to be destroyed, but the monomyth of the hero and the quest. *That* is what Tolkien did so well. Gollum is Tolkien's masterpiece.

As we face our own lesser Dark Lords and Ringwraiths during the coming Dark Age, it seems to me that we ought to cherish the example of Gollum, and also to remember how Gandalf counseled Frodo to hold his hand when Frodo thought to slay him.

IN this weird, fey mood of mine, I am as certain as I am of anything that it will be the Gollums whom we meet in those coming Dark Ages, and not the heroes and heroines, nor even the stubborn hobbits who we might aspire to be, that will get some of the most needful tasks done for bringing a remnant of our descendants safely through the coming Dark Ages.

This is the paradox of our world, and also the paradox of the human condition. In the most desperate straits, vice will sometimes tip the balance toward a good outcome where virtue cannot.

Tom Bannister said...

Thank you for this! I've been thinking about the quest to do something about peak oil and a post industrializing world (as like a narrative of a fantasy adventure novel) for quite some time. (I'm just about young enough to be frodo when he first received the ring too!).

I know you're not a fan of the Harry Potter series, But i could write a similar narrative about Harry quite simply refusing to put himself in danger all those times in the books. For one thing, Lord Voldemort would have returned in the first book instead of the forth, probably with a similar reaction on the part of the ministry of magic (don't do anything/ put your head in the sand). Thus the ministry are quietly taken over without even putting up a fight. Harry meanwhile is quietly killed or imprisoned by Voldemort. No one knows what happened to him.

Still though the Order of the Phoenix continue to fight some kind of resistance. The Horcruxes remain in place to potentially be destroyed by anyone who discovers them/ takes up the quest, and with that hope of destroying Voldemort endures...

Anyway thanks for the post! Intriguing!

Glenn said...

Not a terribly subtle parallel; but I take the point. I had the privilege of growing up in California while Reagan was busy doing all in his gubernatorial powers to wreck the state. His national election was as unwelcome to me as it was inevitable. "Morning in America" was received with a large snort in my quarters.

I don't know the way either. And I presume, that as an advocate of dissensus, neither do you. "Go not to the elves for advice, for they will say both yes and no." We each strive in our own fashion, though I have no doubt that you will continue to suggest guidelines.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Kutamun said...

How curious , it is Autumn here and i watch the leaves discolour and fall, the Black Riders weaving between the trees with each cold blast .. Tolkien knew the ring was the wheel of the year, and that the hero resided in the heart of each of us Hobbesian Hobbits , who must answer the call and turn within , lest the pain become unbearable for each and all as it currently is, with the promise of far worse to come ... His despair at the dispatching of the forest blending uncomfortably with the images of mass slaughter and seething caches of dead men lying rotting  in flooded shell holes, impaled on razor wire , how apt, fitting him perfectly to be the chronicler of the Faustian society with its doomsday pact ( together with his Narnian Tommy mate ) , the tortured Nietzschean Superman , doomed to fall after replacing his tired Christian God with one or two far more terrifying ...

Bram Stoker sat  in his country house watching the cat and modelling a form for the all too knowable dark force with which he was in contact .....a predatory beast from the underworld . As i sit here with mine i am in awe of her terrifying ability to climb things hundreds of times higher than her, like Jack and the beanstalk , like a human leaping thirty times its height in a single bound, obligatory carnivore ; yet no Royal Navy square rigger would be without one of her to control the rats , Entropy made manifest . Are mass movements of any use to her ? I doubt it ..when the energy runs out her and her kind will not only survive , but thrive ..

Brian Bates , Professor at the University of Brighton had plenty to say about the origins of decay as The Saxons weaved their way warily around these strange Roman Ruins , falling by the way back during a time when the world was far more enchanted ... You could say they avoided this strange ruined sorcery like the plague , being far more concerned by barrows of sleeping dragons , busy burying the King with his ocean going vessel at Sutton Hoo... " The Real Middle Earth - Magic and Mystery In The Dark Ages " ... 

Me ? I intend to cower in my Hobbit Cave , though purposefully working to interact with the power of the ring which sprang from the tree whose seed lies at the Centre of The Earth ....

Cheers Mate 

James Eberle said...

Hello Mr. Greer.

I have an entry for the short story contest and wanted to make sure you were aware of it. It is called "The Ninety-four Forties", and can be found at my very new blog:

I also wanted you to know that I find you the most provocative and inspiring writer I have come across on the Internet. Voices that challenge conventional wisdom on urgent issues have been marginalized by the MSM. Thank God for you, Richard Heinberg, James Kunstler, Guy McPherson, Thom Hartmann, Dmitri Orlov, Carolyn Baker, Jeffrey Brown and so many more for being courageous. RIP Michael Ruppert. You will be dearly missed.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"They’re unprepared in practical terms, that is, for an era in which the five per cent of us who live in the United States will no longer dispose of a quarter of the world’s energy supply and a third of its raw materials and industrial products, and in which what currently counts as a normal American lifestyle will soon be no more than a fading memory for the vast majority."

That first part about how the U.S. is using 25% of the world's energy has already started to go away and most people, even experts, haven't quite noticed it. The National Geographic video "7 Billion" made in 2010, lists the U.S. as using 23% of the world's energy. I have it embedded in an entry at my blog.

In 2012, Business Insider came out with a startling report using data from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy showing that China was the number one consumer of energy, using 21.3% of the world's energy, while the U.S. share had fallen to 18.5% in 2011.

I've been looking for other sources that confirm this conclusion the I.E.A. and E.I.A. in particular, and haven't found them yet, but if it's true, the American Empire's ability to command five times our per capita share of the world's energy slipped away dramatically during the past decade. Now we can't even get four times our share.

Of course, that's mostly because China has been vastly increasing its energy use while ours has been relatively flat. Even so, the idea that the U.S. is no longer number one is an increasing number of statistics seems to be seeping through into our awareness, even as most people consciously deny any such thing.

About the monomyth--that's a hero's tale. There's also the prophet's tale, such as Buddha being born a prince or Moses being adopted as one, then leaving a life of luxury to lead a spiritual journey instead of or in addition to a physical one. It think there's one of those for Merlin. There's even a rogue's tale--which is much more picaresque. Aladdin comes to mind. It's too bad those aren't as well known as Campbell's favorite.

As for you being Radagast the Brown, that's an amusing image, especially since I now have Sylvester McCoy's protraying of the character in my mind. On a quest like that, having a sidekick from one of the actor's other roles, Ace from Doctor Who, might come in handy. Blowing things up in a "No Future meets The Future" world would be a useful skill.

Enrique said...

Ironically, I recently started re-reading “The Lord of the Rings” novels, starting with “The Fellowship of the Ring”. Along with the original “Dune” novels (I can’t stand the pastiches by Brian Herbert, but I love the original series) and the Elric of Melnibone series by Michael Moorcock, it’s probably my favorite collection of stories. John J Reilly also had an interesting alternate ending for the “Lord of the Rings” which explores what might have happened if Sauron had won…

Tony Rasmussen said...

Perhaps many will send / have sent you this article; I was blown away by how many points are made in it that you've been making for years:

Not exactly mainstream media but I saw it linked on The Dish (Andrew Sullivan), which has a pretty big following. The ideas are getting out there, even if few are ready to listen and fewer still are taking action.

Pongo said...

I'm 31 years old, and when I was coming of age in the late 1990's I can remember that even then there was, in the middle of this vast (temporary) economic abundance, a certain weariness among people of my generation with the materialism of that time period. I can remember going to the mall and spending the first two paychecks that I got from my first real job, this amazing feeling of what it was suddenly like to have more money than you knew how to spend and what it was like to pull $20 bill after $20 bill from your wallet and know you still had more. Followed by the empty feeling of getting home with bags of clothes and gadgets and DVDs and having the novelty of your purchases wear off. And even though my peers were not as well versed in history as I was at the time (my father was a history buff) I can remember others my age voicing this uneasy feeling that there really had to be something better for our generation to do than shop and party. But what? All the great struggles were already over with it seemed. For a brief moment it really looked like Fukayama’s end of history was upon us. We had won the future – but victory felt empty and boring and almost pointless.

There are a LOT of people out there who will happily answer the call for adventure and action. But I think especially younger people are not used to having leaders who will call for them to do anything bold and dramatic. My father was inspired to go onto politics by JFK. In contrast to that, the sacrifices that our current “leaders” ask us to make, the dangers that they tell us to endure, they don’t have a romantic or exciting quality to them, in fact they are generally just cruel and banal: live with declining wages, decreasing opportunities and the risk of dying from an illness that would have been treatable had health insurance been affordable. And don’t complain.

So far there have been two times in my life – with Bush after 9/11 and Obama after the ’08 election – when I felt that America had leaders who were about to issue that call to do something great and dramatic, but both times it fizzled out. Bush’s people told Americans that if they wanted to help they should go shopping, and Obama disappeared behind a bureaucratic wall and left his supporters demoralized. But the desire for action is still there and I believe people will still respond to a really passionate call from an effective leader. Unfortunately we don’t know who that will be. Will it be someone who can inspire people to do good? Or will it be a Fred Halliot?

Cherokee Organics said...


Radagast was always my favourite. He was dismissed by Saruman out of hand and yet he was clearly witness to the events proceeding through his networks and part of the world. Saruman turned his back on the choices of the Valar to send the wizards, thinking he knew best, when they had chosen him as well! Still Saruman's lust for power was proven to be folly at the end of the day.

Being dismissed out of hand is actually a strength, an advantage and a good survival strategy. Gandalf on the other hand was well known and would have been a target for an inevitable confrontation with Sauron.

It would be interesting to know what Fatso, Stumpy and co would have to say about things. I'd listen too, you know and try to work with them as they'd have some interesting observations about the forest here.

I came across an article by Geroge Monbiot on a proposal to build a service station in the middle of an ancient woodland in the UK.

Reframing the planet

As I was reading the article, I was thinking to myself this is a terrible proposal, why would they do it? But then a quote jumped out at me: "wiping out half the wood and fragmenting the rest".

I was taken aback and had a look at some aerial photographs of the woodland. It is a small patch of forest, much smaller than I'd even imagined. Please don't get me wrong, I'm not justifying the actions of the developers on the basis that it is insignificant. It is significant. What disturbed me was that how could the forest have been reduced to such a tiny extant. Are things that bad in the UK?

I can look out the window and see mostly forest to the horizon and because I'm in an elevated situation, that's about at least 50km distant.

The thing that was not addressed in the article was the elephant in the room that nobody wants to speak about.

Radagast would have known and warned about it.

PS: Beautifully written. I'll save a mead for you at the Green Dragon, especially if there are buxom barmaids!



Mister Roboto said...

In response to the first few paragraphs of this post, it really does seem lately that people who have been mostly normal and reasonable in the past seem to have gotten up one day and suddenly decided to be utterly fruit-bat crackers. I assumed it was because of the astrological Grand Cross of late, but there could certainly be more to it than that.

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

By the by, I have a friend who has started up Evergreen, a form of storing wealth as an alternative to money:
It may have its place in the Long Decline. Joel Dietz is the CEO and acquaintance. This is not a pitch, because I don't know enough economics to analyze whether it will work, but I know him; here are some essays:

Brilliant story, I did not see Radagast coming till the very end as it happened! Well done, and such a quaint and yet effective form to put it in.

I've learned (lately) that gardening with free range chickens can be challenging - they like to dig at the base of plants, or scratch up seedlings. I have eradicated sticker grass from the yard with burning and picking it by hand (not all organics are good). And my catalpas came back over the winter: what a great Southern shade tree. Meanwhile, the potatoes came up, just like I remember from my boyhood.

John Michael Greer said...

John, true enough. I suppose it's just that I find zombies utterly dreary.

Laughingbird, nicely put. As for your final point, of course you're quite right; that's one of the reasons I've made a point of talking about what I experienced back then.

Godozo, granted, the story could have been written that way, too. I expect to see a lot of people take that way out when the Ring slips from their fingers.

Btidwell, the point I was trying to make was about a certain kind of psychology. Of course one person couldn't have made the same kind of difference as in the story -- but each of us faced, and still faces, a comparable choice: to stand against the Shadow, so to speak, or to crumple to our knees before it. Which will you choose?

Gaianne, thank you!

Grebulocities, I saw the Onion article -- as usual, they've got the most accurate news going these days, which is distinctly unnerving. As for the claims about the destroyer -- hmm. I'd want to see more about that from multiple sources. If it's true, the US is in imminent danger; an empire that loses the capacity to impose its will by force is dead meat.

Enrique, I'd be more impressed by Saker if he laid off the Jew-baiting buzzwords and the fawning at Putin's feet. Empire is an ugly business, no matter who runs it, and a Russian empire will be no more humane than the American one was.

Robert, oh, granted. Still, it's no part of my job to create Gollums; there are more than enough of them, and they always answer their own twisted call. It's the ones who get the Ring most of the way there who are my immediate concern.

Tom, no question, most heroic quests could be rewritten along the same lines.

Glenn, it's as though there are dozens of Rings and dozens of different places that might be the one real Mount Doom. You take your Ring the way that seems best to you, I'll head the way that seems best to me, and if enough of us do the same, sooner or later enough options will be covered...

Kutamun, I'll be talking about the Saxons in the not too distant future.

James, got it and thank you. Please drop me a comment labeled "not for posting" with your email address, so I can contact you if your story gets selected for the anthology.

John Michael Greer said...

Pinku-Sensei, exactly. Most Americans aren't prepared to deal with the contraction that's already happened -- look at how many are still going through the motions of a departing era! I could well believe that we're down to 18% and dropping, and when the total begins to decline as well, things are going to get very colorful indeed.

Enrique, hmm! Nicely written, in its own way. Thanks for the link.

Tony, well, yes; Richard Heinberg, the author of the article you linked, has been saying all this publicly since well before The Archdruid Report started -- in fact, it was his book The Party's Over and Jim Kunstler's The Long Emergency that convinced me that you could talk about these topics again, after the decades when nobody wanted to hear it at all.

Pongo, to my mind it's the habit of waiting for a leader that's half the problem. I hope to inspire people to say, "Screw waiting for a leader, I'm going to get up off the couch and do what must be done all by myself, and if others join me, great." If anything has the potential to do some good, it's that.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, I was always fond of Radagast too -- I wished Tolkien had given him a larger part. As for the UK, based on what I've read, it's hugely crowded -- 63 million people on an island the size of a large US state -- and yes, there isn't much woodland left there.

Mister R., fruit-bat crackers sound like a tasty Indonesian delicacy! All joking aside, though, I think that even an astrologer would suggest that there's much more to it than that.

Matthew, I'll check it out. As for the potatoes, glad to hear it -- our rhubarb is up, the first asparagus shoots are appearing, and early peas, radishes, turnips, and onions are thriving; it's a good time to be out in the garden, and the wild native bees seem to have come through the winter in good shape.

D.M. said...

You know, it is funny that I was just thinking about how instructive stories can be.

As far as everything else goes, I have been quietly making plans about what to do as we approach our most likely future, of course using the money I have been earning due to being situated in the Williston Basin, which contains the Bakken Formation, since my family does have a tendency to be economic nomads of sorts. This post along with the attendant comments has really got me thinking about even though like many others I do not exactly know the way in how I will achieve my plans, or something like them, I do feel I am doing what most likely needs to be done to ensure the best outcomes for myself that will then benefit many others. But enough of my ramblings, I guess the point I am attempting to make is that it is appreciated the service you are providing by doing these weekly blog posts, namely providing a wake up call in the form of a swift kick to the rear. I always had that intuition that something was wrong but could never quite put my finger on it until I started reading this blog, and seeing how all of the pieces fit together. And for that I thank-you JMG.

jean-vivien said...


I was checking out a youtube channel new to me called GameSack.
The concept is like... adventures in bargaining, but not just any merchandise : bargaining older generations of video games.
While the pursuit in itself seems pretty inane, it tells a narrative connecting these people to local shops and human merchants (as opposed to WalMarts or Amazon).
Besides, there is a channel operated by people who decided appropriate solar tech could be cool :
So I thought, why not mix the two angles, and create a channel like... the Solar Chasers ?
Videos showing various places where people have homemade solar concentrators, with a very simple narrative :
the quest for the Ultimate Solar Concentrator.
I am sure there would be cool gear to display on such a show, and it could be sprinkled with anecdotes, moments of comic relief or conviviality (outdoor barbecue...).
Featuring pet-fondling intermedes as well, because youtube audience love pets.
And you could have sequences displaying lush organic gardens along with the techniques that produced them (raised beds, mulching...), and some of the wild animals living in the garden hedges or in the garden pond.
Homemade desserts, canning tips...

I reckon that advertising appropriate tech through a Youtube show seems like a dumb idea, or a plain waste of time.
But isn't wizardry after all about finding pragmatic ways to deal with people's inner lives ? We are still living in the Internet age. Like Cherokee Organics said, we still live in the Amazon age where books printed in the USA can get delivered to a remote NZ mountain range under a handful of days.
Besides the whole narrative would neatly fit into the cultural defiance your national psyche holds against centralized governments.
It's time to re-enchant the household ! And Youtube is a convenient, modern way to retrieve those narratives.

P.S. : it is also a good way to let people sit on their couch and do nothing but stare at the screen. Now I understand, after reading today's lecture.

Matt McNeill said...

"At around 12% forest cover, the UK is one of the least densely forested countries in Europe. This compares with 37% for the EU as a whole and 31% worldwide."

This is actually something that has been getting better. We were about 5% about 1900. William the conqueror had taken it down to about 15% in 1086, so its a long standing issue, and a consequence of living with only renewable resources. I would expect to see this a lot all over the globe once fossil fuels decline.

Interesting article here.

steve pearson said...

Robert Mathiesen, Beautifully put. Thank you. That one may keep me awake for awhile.What did Macbeth say: that which the poor heart fain would deny, but dare not?

steve pearson said...

The last figure I saw on US usage was 19% on the energy & 25-30 on the total resources. Definitely sliding though.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

The (lack of) woodland cover in Britain is terrible. I have this recurring daydream of Yr Ail Coed Mawr - The Second Great Wood - returning to the island as population and intensive land-working die back; sometime over the next century or two, I imagine.

Life feels at its rightest to me when I'm in a woodland. Happens all too rarely in almost-treeless Britain (Eire's marginally worse still, I believe).

A small part of the Greer dissensus idea that I've carried on for decades now is guerrilla tree-planting. Amongst other native species, lots of willows, for example, because it's so amazingly quick and simple to snap off a willow stick and push it into a patch of neglected damp ground, or the edge of open water; anywhere it might have a chance of not being tidied away by suburban tidiness-zombies. Lot of big young willows hereabouts now, sequestering atmospheric carbon, and contributing their healing blessings to undertreed Britain, thanks to that one ridiculously easy habit.

Maybe after two or three more gettin'-reborn cycles, 'I' might grow up again in a forested landscape in this island. Wonderful!

Marc L Bernstein said...

I was quite amused by your remarks about vampires, which have become an obsession among the less imaginative script writers of science fiction and horror for television and movies. Werewolves seem to have drifted back into obscurity in the last decade or so, but new shows featuring vampires keep cropping up. It seems like an indication of the bankruptcy of the creative imagination within our culture. Morris Berman might say something similar.

On the subject of lost opportunities, I remember well when I was an undergraduate in the mid 1970s, and Amory Lovins paid a visit to Humboldt State University where he gave a lecture. Lovins' talk was on "Soft Energy Paths", and unfortunately those paths were never taken, as you noted in your remarks on the Reagan era. It's also unfortunate that Lovins is still singing the same tune today, apparently ignoring the work of Richard Heinberg and others, who say that it's too late to convert to renewable energy while maintaining a similar energy-intensive lifestyle as we have today.

I never read any J R Tolkien, so I rapidly perused the end portion of your article. Perhaps I missed something by putting an emphasis on science and mathematics during my youth, ignoring fantasy writing.

Val said...

Nice analogy. I enjoyed reading it. I recollect all too well the dismal disappointment of Mourning in America, and consider our current predicament to be part and parcel of all that has flowed from it. Yet never until recent years did I realize how dire the long-term consequences would be, nor how irrevocable.

I find quite disturbing the way our propaganda industry - I will not call it the "news media" - is obsessively dwelling on doings in Ukraine, as though it were imperative that the United States somehow intervene and do something about it. As suggested by another poster, if we were to act militarily, I can very easily see the results lending the publication of the novel-length version of your story "How It Could Happen" an undeniable timeliness. And I fancy the results for the US economy, if that happens, will be awful (though it might help the sales of your book). Current reportage gives me the strong impression that the country is presently being run by clueless clowns.

As I recall, there are supposed to be five wizards in Middle Earth. I wonder who are the two unmentioned ones? I had noticed independently the resemblance of yourself to Radagast quite some time ago. Don't let anything that turncoat Saruman says bother you.

Odin's Raven said...

Here's another entry for the story competition. In 'The Sovereignty of Wessex', the King and the Land are One, they have a very un-modern attitude to technology and science, no oil or electricity or even much metal. They do have Green Ladies, wyrms, a wren, a White Horse, an Archmage, and even an answer to the Grail Question.

There's a short version of about 7,300 words at Short

and a longer version of about 14,500 words at

Freebooter said...

'Ahhh, Lord Confirmation Bias, take a seat and tell only what we wish to know...'

Robert Mathiesen said...

Of course you're quite right, JMG. There's no need to create Gollums; they abound. But I wanted to highlight Gandalf's counsel to Frodo: stay your hand and slay not, for Gollum may make all the difference in your quest.

There is a mood these days, among those who see what is coming: only let enough of us cultivate and practice heroic virtue(s) as well as we can, or at least be dutiful and determined, and we may make a difference. Indeed, we may and we shall. Nonetheless, I consider this mood to be a dangerous one. A Gollum or two may also be what our times will most need at this or that crucial juncture down the road.

I have been a scholar and an Ivy-league professor, dwelling in the highlands of respectability as our culture understands such fleeting things. But I am also the grandson of professional petty criminals and con-artists, who successfully avoided the attentions of the law all their lives. I learned some of their lessons and skills, too, as a boy. Like them, I have a certain appreciation of the Gollums of this world and the ways in which they can matter more than all the Frodos. The so-called "weeds" have their necessary place in the ecosystem, and woe to the gardener who forgets that.

Jason Heppenstall said...

It's interesting that the hero myth is so pervasive. Frankly, it's difficult to imagine any other mythic narrative that could fit in with our time and still shift copies ... it dovetails neatly with the idea of individualism, the religion of progress and eventual attainment of happiness/fulfilment/nirvana etc. (I think Kurt Vonnegut nailed it).

Anyway, I had fun with the narrative for my own story for the competition - here it is.

Saga and the Bog People

streamfortyseven said...

Let's see... the first Energy Crisis came about in 1973 with the OPEC Oil Embargo and lasted until about 1980 or so. Figure that people who were - say - 13 in 1978 or so would recall what life was like back then, the gasoline rationing, the 55mph speed limit, in rural areas people using chicken manure digesters to power their pickup trucks - lightweight Toyotas and not the monsters we have today... That would mean that the youngest of them would be 49 this year. Today's 40 year olds would have been 13 in 1987, they'd be the first Internet/videogames generation. They could not be expected to know about a lot of the things that we knew about in the late 1970s, any more than the people born in the late 1950s would really know about Victory Gardens or "Make it do, make it last, fix it, or do without". Anyone younger than 40 would be solidly a part of a consumerist generation, used to goods that wore out in 3 years and which could not be fixed - and weren't worth fixing, because you could just go out and buy another item for much cheaper - and it would be more technologically advanced in the bargain. Well, that's about what could be expected for their knowledge of recent history and culture.

You're calling for people to exercise individual initiative, and there's a reasonable expectation for people who graduated high school before, say, about 1987 to be able to accomplish this. But since then, the schools with their zero-tolerance policies and consistent drugging of students who won't conform to expectations, along with huge doses of indoctrination in the avoidance of any sort of conflict - especially with any sort of authority - have produced a generation - getting close to two generations now - of people who have had the simple desire to take any sort of individual initiative thoroughly beaten out of them. There's a piece on this here:

There are people who haven't succumbed to this, but in the public schools they're few and far between; amongst the home-schooled population they're far more prevalent.

I doubt that public schools can be reformed, they're part of the system and they produce the results the system demands - and really always have, but in the last 20 years, they've become really, really effective at that task.

I'm not sure what it will take, but we've got to have a look at the causation for the current situation before we can figure out some means of fixing things...

Robo said...

I can't speak to the Middle Earth metaphor here, but I do know that Americans in particular have been carefully taught to be increasingly fearful of the world around them. This conditioning process has been going on since the myth of the Red Menace was institutionalized after World War II, and has lately been accelerated to a frantic pace. The consumer culture of the US is a culture of terror, through and through, inside and out.

Fearful people are easily controlled and confident people are not. Fearful people shrink away from death and uncertainty to seek comfort at any cost. Confident people move steadily ahead, knowing that death and uncertainty are inevitable, and that life must be lived in the meantime.

Yupped said...

Very enjoyable. You've written in previous posts about this period of Reagan/Thatcher reaction in the early 80s, overturning the beginnings of a move towards sustainable adaption to our basic energy, environmental and economic realities. For those with eyes open it is now easy to see the arc of recent history in these terms: a promising future squandered by an ultimately dead-end reaction, with Jimmy Carter (in sweater and solar panels) providing the dramatic victim role.

Back in the UK, where I grew up, the narrative didn't play out that way at the time, at least as I experienced it. The mid to late 70s were difficult times: economic crisis, government-imposed 3 days weeks, power blackouts, my Dad losing his job, union strikes, trash and riots in the streets, etc. As a lower middle-class punk rocker in those days it was kind of a wild adventure, those years of "no future" Britain, and flirting with anarchy in the UK.

But then along came Thatcher's reaction, made possible by the rising flow of North Sea oil, and many breathed a sigh of relief and welcomed in prosperity. Well, not everyone. Plenty got left behind and the country was very split for a long-time. But it was split between those who wanted the old industrial settlement to continue, and those who went with the new prosperity. Me, I graduated college, shaved off the mohawk and got a job in the burgeoning computer industry. I followed the money. Not proud, but that's what I did, at least for a while. Until I got my head straight.

But my point is that we didn't think we were just giving in, like Frodo, closing our eyes and sitting on our duffs. We thought we were part of dramatic times, taking a stand. If you went left you were fighting the rise of Thatcherism, but ultimately trying to turn back the clock. If you went right you saw yourself as fighting back against decline and the rough times of the 70s. There wasn't a lot of focus on a third way of sustainable development. I've read enough of your work now to understand how destructive that binary choice was. But at the time, whether you went left or right in early 80s Britain, there was the energy of a quest behind that choice.

A doomed quest as it turned out, that was literally going to run out of gas. Looking at North Sea oil production now, it all seems so silly. Flailing at windmills was all it was.

gregorach said...

"What disturbed me was that how could the forest have been reduced to such a tiny extant. Are things that bad in the UK?"

The UK was mostly deforested by the middle of the 14th century - that was our first great energy crisis. What little remained was cleared in two waves of agricultural mechanisation - the first by steam power in the 19th century, and the second by diesel in the years after WWII. What most Britons think of as natural landscapes are nothing of the sort, they're the result of clearance, enclosure, and over-grazing. Although I haven't looked into the details of the woodland you mention, there's a very good chance that it isn't really "ancient" at all. There's almost no genuine old-growth forest anywhere in the country, even in the remotest glens of Scotland. It's probably a patch of regrowth scrub no more than a couple of hundred years old, allowed to re-establish itself because the terrain didn't suit mechanised farming, which is what passes for "ancient woodland" in most of Britain these days.

Somewhatstunned said...

Cherokee Organics said:
Are things that bad in the UK?


(and I wonder if the half-concious feeling amongst our rulers is that destroying our natural landscape is really a sacrifice which will induce the return of growth)

[btw, Chris, although I don't comment much here, I do enjoy your bulletins from Aus!]

Zosima said...

JMG said ---Pongo, to my mind it's the habit of waiting for a leader that's half the problem. I hope to inspire people to say, "Screw waiting for a leader, I'm going to get up off the couch and do what must be done all by myself, and if others join me, great." If anything has the potential to do some good, it's that.

Well, unfortunately we do have leaders, and as long as we do, what they say and do does matter. They can lead people in directions that have horrible consequences - Hitler is the obvious example. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both openly mocked and denounced your idea of trying to live sustainably. At Bush’s political party’s convention in his last year as president in 2008 the crowd chanted “drill baby drill!” at the top of their lungs. It matters that Rush Limbaugh has been on 2000 radio stations every day for the last 25 years calling people like you and others who care about saving energy, “environmental wackos”. That stuff matters. Young people without much perspective see it or hear it and are are moved by it, and they are led in the wrong direction.

You learned about sustainability from writers who wrote books about it in the 1970’s, they were leaders in the world of ideas. The ideas of sustainability and limits to growth were virtually unknown to the popular imagination before that time, and they represented a challenge to more 400 years of the dominant capitalist idea of endless growth. The fact that you yourself are trying to inspire us with those new ideas, makes you a leader. The fact that you’re growing rhubarb inspires me. Take your tall ships idea. I do have the means to grow rhubarb, but unfortunately not to build tall ships, but maybe you will inspire people of greater financial means. For instance, we do have more than 440 billionaires in the US, and a number of them, like Paul Allen and Elon Musk, are building space ships rather than tall ships. But if one of them was to start building tall sailing ships instead of space ships, that could be quite inspirational. Let’s hope your writing inspires one of them to try.

Jason Heppenstall said...

@Chris—it's true. Britain is the European country with the least forest cover, I believe. I chose to live in Cornwall, which is the county of England with the least forest cover. And I chose to live in the western part, which has hardly any trees at all. It's here that I have my woodland ... which makes it kind of special!

BTW when you mentioned Fatso and Stumpy I assumed you were talking about Sam and Frodo ...

backfire said...

Sorry for the cross post on a previous article - is there a link to the short story contest rules? I know no alien space bats is one of them...

DesertedPictures said...

I think Rivendel would have fallen last, if Sauron had won. Something like that is mentioned in the book. But that's part of America's tale as well. It did take those first steps to Rivendel. Then it decided it liked the place and wanted to stay there while the rest of the world slowly began to burn around it.

And apparently that strategy failed to work since the year 2000: economists have calculated that the American Middle class now, for the first time in modern history, is not the richest anymore. Note, that this was not a case off the shrinking middle class, but of the wealth of the families that can still be considered to be part of it. Since 2000 that income hasn't gone up, unlike the income of the middle class in other countries.

I don't know if this has anything to do with peak oil (other countries where the poor and middle class saw income rise have to deal with that as well) But I thought it was a sign of decline you mentioned (at the very least it's a sign of stagnation).

DesertedPictures said...

Here is the link to that story if you are interested:

RPC said...

"I suppose it's just that I find zombies utterly dreary." John Medaille points out that the zombie is a symbol of our present society. Zombies are the ultimate mindless consumers, ideal members of the corporate state. I think it's the very dreariness and banality that is one of the most horrifying aspects.

Bill Pulliam said...

And Bombadil remained unconcerned with all of it... perhaps as the oldest, he knew from the beginning that the ring's days were inevitably numbered, even if that number seemed long to mortals.

Dan the Farmer said...

I'm turning over in my mind the idea of the quest, and the words of Michael Pollan, words to the effect of "Life wants to be, but it doesn't want to be much. But it wants to go on."

My quest is not to destroy a ring or find a grail. My quest is to stay home, and have home keep me. The irony of this weeks post is that the fictional reference is about harsh travel and dangerous adventure, and the reality of green wizardry is not necessarily so far from home. It's a journey inward, rather than outward.

I planted some summer squash yesterday, even though it's early. I covered them with a scrap of greenhouse plastic, so maybe they'll sprout. Today my quest may be to find fresh carrot seed. And despite this morning's I Ching casting warning me against decadent behavior on the journey, I have a mind to rebuild my mostly decorative garden windmill, which I sometimes see as a prayer wheel to the wind, and sometimes as a quest to understand how quickly the wind destroys things.

I was discussing the New York Times article about Paul Kingsnorth ( with a friend on facebook, and the friend pointed out the artifice and fashionable green disfunction to some of it. I pointed out that like the rest of us, Kingsnorth essentially has no model to work from, no map, a quest without a clear goal or format.

But maybe that's the nature of a quest.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Greetings JMG,

Dear Radagast: Lovely allegory, and also made me nostalgic for that Middle Earth geography I once knew as well as my own --wasn't fluent in Elvish, but did imagine a country to live in, in a less noticed corner that would have fit in the overall scheme.

I think we can live quietly and still be taking up the challenge. Besides the on-going make-the-house-sturdier-and longer-lasting project, I've committed to really learning how to bake bread well, and am expanding my backyard food production. Luckily my day job involves educating others and taking part in networks centered on more resilient ways of doing things.(As does yours in a different way. :))

I think we should pay attention to Sam Gamgee, too: gardener, tinkerer, forager, peacelover, with a strength that comes from the earth; the one who is somewhat overlooked, yet not only helps keep the quest going, but has the skills and knowledge to help culture carry on in the Shire after the devastation. He kept that box of earth safe the whole time. Many of us might be more like Sam.

Drat! Now I'm late for work.

Matt said...


I'm a huge fan of your work and I truly enjoyed this post as a fellow Tolkien nerd. I agree strongly with the message you're conveying.

One little quibble, though. The number of people taking anti-depressant medications doesn't equal the number of people who are clinically depressed, as those meds are used for a variety of conditions including vascular angina and menstrual problems. However, many people taking those drugs do suffer from depression (a disorder only recognized as such relatively recently) and as you say, there are many sufferers who are untreated.

Richard Larson said...

Well. Can't think much about the ring, unless it falls out of that tree and bounces off my head. Who knows what I would do then!

But I am planting a lot of trees right now, the list the last two days included common persimmon, northern pecan, hardy apricot, chinese chestnut, these as a main crop, black locust to feed them. On the edges I planted american plum & hazelnut, and saskatoon service berry. More nitro shrubs are on the way.

All planted on swale mounds seeded with birdsfoot trefoil, a nitrogen-fixing cover crop planted to feed the trees!

What does the green wizard think of that?

averagejoe said...

Humanity has many flaws, but for me what stands out most is ‘short term-ism’. It doesn’t take much development before a human realises that the inevitable consequence of life is death. A coping strategy of dealing with this is to simply ignore the issue, by embracing ‘short term-ism’. In essence this is safety mechanism for dealing with anxiety. Myself having read Johns books, as well as others by Richard Heinberg etc, did start to feel the heavy burden of knowledge, and the conclusion, that alone, I can do precious little to deflect modern day society from its path. Anxiety started to become a problem. The strategy for me is to recognise the difference between ‘thinking’ based anxiety, and ‘reality’ based anxiety. I can do something about the former much more readily. Most people do not recognise the difference. By thinking short term they avoid the problems that are explored on this web site. They play out their lives in a sort of ‘matrix’, happy to live the dream peddled by politicians and the main stream media, and to make themselves blissfully unaware of other broader long term issues. Perhaps humanity is better designed to simply deal with the circumstances one finds oneself in? For all the additional capability that our brains give us, we seem quite determined simply to consume whatever resources are available until they are not, and then suffer the consequences of readjustment at that time. It may not be a sensible strategy, but perhaps the only one the majority of us can cope with. Having said that, it does not prevent us taking an adventure, as set out in the Johns article. I do wonder though, how many of us undertaken an adventure, which has a straightforward definable goal. In moving forward, the issues we face seem very complex, are require the delivery of goals that out of reach of any single individual. That being the case, perhaps the best we can do, is pursue our own individual adventures, regardless of whether they will affect the ‘whole’, because that’s the best we can offer or deliver.

jemand said...

One thing about the quest story form is that the quest will *end.* That is one thing about modern culture, the focus on grand productions instead of small, drawn out stories.

Much less resonance for Sisyphus or Cassandra now, for instance.

The idea that what is necessary is one grand push which will then end, spills over everywhere these days, even to our models of love and romance. Big productions of "proposals" and weddings, storytelling almost always about this, and not building the lasting foundation with everyday small actions.

We are so impatient now, in analogy we insist on using dynamite to cut rock, where water, wind and time cuts the best and the deepest.

Stacey Armstrong said...

My partner and I embarked on a farming adventure that probably has us turning more Entish than warrior-poet. By that I mean we are incrementally changing our everyday patterns very firmly in place. Some changes are the relinquishing of the fripperies of the middle-class princess (or prince) and other changes involve deep roots in our community and still others are a turning away from a set of metaphors that are no longer of any use. Heroism can manifest is some very mundane ways.

The bigger challenge now which I think is more relevant to this weeks post, is building and embracing stories and thought patterns that are not primarily a response to empire or "the big bad" whatever it may be. I haven't ever been a great protester. After I gave up finishing graduate work in English, still a sore spot, my addled brain could only find authenticity in things that did not use language. I am gradually tip toeing my way back to having an intellectual/scholarly facet to my life. I am very much looking forward to the next arc of posts. The island where I live is awash in committee work and I fear I will have to leave my nettle patch to do a bit of Entish travelling on occasion. A working brain will be of some use, but perhaps not as much as my Japanese hoe.

jemand said...


Those numbers are fascinating! I wonder how much the US numbers would go up again if energy *used* in China for building products which *end up* sold in the US were counted as a type of embodied energy... Or do the numbers already correct for this? Nevertheless, it's a trend which isn't turning around and the US's ability to continue to buy all those Chinese products has already started to erode.

d said...

Mr. Greer,
I was attending elementary school in the 70’s and remember the push for energy efficiency. I helped (as much as an eight year old boys can) my Dad install storm windows, roof turbines, and we switched from electric heat to wood with the purchase of a wood burning stove. I remember the euphoria as the nation “woke up” the Reagan’s morning and went to the shopping malls that were popping up all over our country. Now as those same shopping malls are being abandoned, it seems to me that those young people who are in their mid-twenties are the ones who are most likely to realize that the American Dream that they have been told about their whole lives is just that, a dream.

Most people that I talk to day to day seem to realize that the days of American Greatness are 30 years passed. They realize that life is harder now than it was, and that it is not likely to get better. I also think that there is a sense that we are on a downward trajectory and we’re picking up speed on our way down. People seem to want to believe the ballyhoo spouted by our political leadership and their media mouth pieces even if they don’t really believe it.

It seems that so many have refused the quest, mainly because most people don’t tend to accept the need to change until the pain of remaining the same is greater than the trauma caused by the change. My wife and I have started our quest, and I hope that we have 5-15 years to finish it before our current way of life shuts down completely. I don’t how much demand there will be for a conventional microbiologist, but I hope there is demand for beekeepers and organic farmers.

Don Plummer said...

Don't 'cha think, though, that if Frodo had refused to take up the quest, Sauron would have recovered the Ring in short order? After all, the Nazgul were knocking on Frodo's door that very same autumn. If Frodo had resolved to stay put at Bag End, he probably wouldn't have outlasted them for very long.

CWT said...

I thought the original Lord of The Rings story was dark. Something seems ominous about traveling through a substantially larger swath of enemy occupied territory, with routine images of ruins to remind one that those lands were once friendly. While this element existed in the original story, the amount of land laid waste to would have been substantially larger. I just found thinking about that quest to be much eerier than the original.
Outside of the Lord of The Rings alternate ending/metaphor, I was wondering if you had any advice for people who were wanted to help address the crisis of industrial civilization without a clear knowledge of the required steps.

Glenn said...

John Michael Greer said...
" it's as though there are dozens of Rings and dozens of different places that might be the one real Mount Doom. You take your Ring the way that seems best to you, I'll head the way that seems best to me, and if enough of us do the same, sooner or later enough options will be covered..."

Yeah, I got that. About thirty years ago I asked one of my cousins, who was on the Alameda County Open Spaces Council at the time, why he chose to live in Oakland, California; a town with a poor reputation. His reply was "you have to take a stand, or make a difference somewhere; I choose to do so here." I've never forgotten that.

You write and garden and whatever else you do in Cumberland. Cherokee tries to farm the outback. We homestead, fish and try to use human muscle and wind for transport on and about the Salish Sea. My brother is a solar energy wonk (commencing with passive solar house _and_ wood burning stove).

I'm sure we could all use more cross pollination, so we don't all have to re-invent the wheel. I'm still catching up as my arm has healed, but I owe Trammel an article or two on the G.W. site.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Mister Roboto said...

Further on that same note, while this may be silly speculation on my part, I'm really starting to think that's the reason factions of the elite of the USA are dropping their resistance to cannabis legalization. After all, it will probably be a net benefit to have an easily-manufactured sedative universally available that doesn't make people belligerent the way alcohol does. The wide range of medical benefits cannabis provides will also come in handy once people start losing access to the medical-industrial complex in large numbers!

Brian Kaller said...


Thank you. I find it fascinating that fantasy is the booming genre of fiction right now, taking over ever more space in bookstores and -- along with science fiction -- the top-grossing film slot every year for the last 15 years.

Yet these were marginal genres before my lifetime, relegated to pulp novels and B-movies. Better special effects aided its takeover of film and television, of course, but books had already created the demand. It’s tempting to conclude that Tolkien’s runaway success catapulted the genre to its current state, yet I believe his book sold poorly at first, only picking up steam in the 1970s among people who accepted a declining future.

I also notice that the standard Middle-Earth setting – thatched agrarian villages and ruined castles -- often resembles the Irish countryside where we live, or at least the way it looked until recently. Whether or not this was Tolkien's intent, many imitators have made the connection explicit, as in Patricia Kennealy's "Keltiad" books, or in film adaptations with pseudo-Celtic dress and music.

Finally, the standard fantasy universe is also, when you think about it, a post-collapse society, for of course vast armies of workers and a bygone empire of wealth had to build those now-ruined castles that Dungeons and Dragons parties explore or through which Aragorn leads the Hobbits.

All those things actually go hand in hand, for the traditional Ireland that Americans so sentimentalise was a post-collapse world, coming generations after the population crash of the Famine. I wrote an article about this a few years back, reprinted here:

When I give talks about a declining-energy future, I find this a useful thing to point out; the Shire is not the worst place to live. It's a sentimental version of agrarian life, to be sure, and I hope we preserve some higher level of technology than hobbits had -- and with as little hardship as possible on the way there. Nonetheless, I find people appreciate some healthier vision of post-decline life than the usual Zombie Apocalypse stories.

Eric S. said...

This was beautiful, and inspiring. I do wonder though what Radagast's advice might be to the young Took if he didn't know yet where the Ring was. It could still be waiting where Frodo dropped it in which case there's still time and hope; it could just as easily have been snatched up by Gollum, or by a Ringwraith in which case Middle Earth faces at best the darkness of the Second Age, at worst the doom that beset Numenor ten fold. That world wouldn't be a world without hope, but it would certainly not be a place for a Hobbit.

Not all shires can be saved, and we have no way to know where or when the worst of the crises of our age are going to take their toll. What do little hobbits do when the places and times they live in call for Elendils and Gil-Galads instead of Bagginses and Tooks? Fear can be every bit as crippling as denial or despair.

Two other brief things:

1. Not sure if you've checked it out or would be interested, but Margot Adler recently put out a book exploring Industrial culture's obsession with vampires and comes to some interesting conclusions that mesh pretty well with the theme of this blog:

2. My contest entry is in the final stages of peer editing. I know you usually post on Thursdays and have a pretty tight window where you read and respond to posts, if I finish later in the week would it be better to post my link and e-mail address in this discussion even though it may have already moved on by then or would it be better to wait until your new essay and the deadline gets posted next Thursday?


Kyoto Motors said...

Mr. Greer,
I have started my short story, but I'm not sure I'll meet the deadline. Interestingly, the premise is based on this very theme: not embarking. It is nice to read this now, as it come as a confirmation of my hunches that have shaped my story.
Thanks again for the excellent post!

Goldmund said...

Great post John! How did you know most of your readers are avid Tolkien fans? It had a profound effect on me in High School when I read "Lord of the Rings" in the 1970s. I was actually captivated by the final story, the one not included in the film version (I guess it was too anti-climatic for a heroic epic) which seemed to me at the time to serve as an apt metaphor for what I was experiencing in post-war, suburban America. I'm refering, of course, to when the Hobbits return home, after destroying the ring of power and defeating Sauron's armies, back to the Shire only to find it occupied by Saruman and his remaining army of Orcs, who cut down all the trees, poisoned the environment and enslaved all the hobbits. It reminded me so much of what I could plainly see all around me, with the "greatest generation", high on victory, (having defeated Sauron/Hitler in Europe) beginning the project of transforming the landscape at home, i.e. building the suburbs, the highways, the strip malls, etc... you know, the sorry state of affairs we see everywhere now. Even as a kid I recognized the spiritual pall that had descended on the US/Shire, as I witnessed the destruction of everything I considered beautiful-from gorgeous 19th century buildings and homes to old farms, woods, prairies and wetlands, replaced by soul-numbing slabs of concrete and all in the name of "progress". Thanks to Tolkien though, I saw Saruman at work everywhere and resolved to fight this evil the rest of my life, which began with me and my brother pulling up surveying sticks in the forest of the Ents(slated for a shopping mall) in the wee hours of the morning. Of course I'm not as naïve as I was in those days, but in a way I'm still pulling up surveying sticks, trying to hold off the destruction of Middle Earth until reinforcements arrive. Thanks again John for all the work that you do!

Kyoto Motors said...

"The hard fact that most people in this country are trying not to remember is this: in the years right after Reagan’s election, a vast number of Americans enthusiastically turned their backs on the promising steps toward sustainability that had been taken in the previous decade, abandoned the ideals they’d been praising to the skies up to that time, and cashed in their grandchildrens’ future so that they didn’t have to give up the extravagance and waste that defined their familiar and comfortable lifestyles. As a direct result, the nonrenewable resources that might have supported the transition to a sustainable future went instead to fuel one last orgy of wretched excess. Now, though, the party is over, the bill is due, and the consequences of that disastrous decision have become a massive though almost wholly unmentionable factor in our nation’s culture and collective psychology."

This is clearly your core message about recent American history, as it is not the first time I've read it here. Certainly, it is worthwhile hammering this home! use another temporal metaphor, the truth of this may finally be dawning upon the "powers that be" (who may be more aware of it behind closed doors than they let on?). Just yesterday a former minister of finance (Quebec) was heard admitting theat at least some industry insiders are coming to terms with growth being a thing of the past. ...without, of course, any indication of having grasped the principles of peak oil.
Dawn after all can preceed a new morning of grey skies, and chilly winds.

divelly said...

TLOTR is a fantasy.
There are other choices than the simplistic either/or.
As a '70s back -to -the lander and now again in "retirement", I can assure you that the PTB will make any alternative arrangements as difficult as they can.
btidwell is correct that no poorly informed Merkin will willingly sacrifice anything.That would require a level of maturity above the infancy enforced by Mad Ave in service of the Oligarchy that is the American way.

SLClaire said...

JMG, I've never read Tolkien but since I am a few years older than you, I think I get the analogy you are making well enough just from having been a young adult in 1980.

Apparently I accepted such a ring 20 years ago, not quite knowing that's what I was doing at the time. All I can say now is that I am *really* glad that I took that ring and that I continue to wear it now. I accept what is happening with equanimity instead of refusing to face it, thus I do what I can to preserve and pass on some of the skills and low-tech items that I enjoy. A life of LESS has turned out to be a far better life than the me-first life I tried to live in the 1980s and soon enough found to be empty.

william fairchild said...

Mr. Greer the Brown,

Thanks for your post this week. It was just what the Dr. ordered. You told me last week not to confuse grief and despair, that despair was the conviction that there was nothing worth saving. That makes sense. Perhaps it is also the idea that nothing CAN be saved. I struggle with that from time to time.

I know that it can be hard for some folks to have faith that much can still be saved. I wonder if part of the trick is to just pretend a bit, to act AS IF things can still be saved, even if you worry they may not be.

My big brother read LOTR to me when I was little. He was four years older than me, and was the resident scholar on Middle Earth and the Elder Days. I can remember asking him, "but what happened to Radagast?" Your mention of him brought back such fond memories. Thanks.

I wonder what happens to Sam and Merry and Pip in your narrative. Surely Sam married Rosie. They had a brood of kids, he expanded his gardening business and the tavern, and Miss Rosie would have none of it when he suggested that he take the Ring. He had Obligations after all. There were apprenticeships to arrange for the oldest boy, and just how exactly would Rosie make the loan payments on the Tavern expansion if he went off into the Blue? The prospect of divorce proceedings at Michael Delving was less than appealing.

Merry might have founded himself a Lifeboat Hermitage in the Old Forest from whence he fired off letters to the local paper warning of the impending Doom. He became more and more isolated as the locals shook there heads and forbade their children to associate with him. "And we thought Mad Baggins was cracked", they would say. Finally the paper began to return his letters, unopened. He was found dead of liver cirrhosis. Only four people attended his funeral.

Pippin went into politics, thinking he could change the System from within. In order to wind his election as Mayor, he was impelled to accept monies from Sandyman and the heirs of the Old Winyards and the Leaf interests of the Southfarthing. When he came up with a Grand Plan to destroy the Ring, it was made clear that his radical ideas would cost jobs, and impact the economy. Faced with the prospect of a smear campaign and a brutal election, he charted the safe course, and appointed a commission to study the potential danger the Ring might pose. The consensus was that it should be displayed at the Mathom House. The additional revenues from admission would surely offset the mounting pension costs of retired Shirrifs and Bounders, which were taking a larger and larger share of the Shire's budget each year.

And then silly old Radagast shows up with his birds and mice! Now I am just rambling, but thanks again.



gaias daughter said...

What an engaging, thought-provoking post this week! As a long-time fan of the fantasy genre, I was captivated by the mythological overtones of this re-telling and by the not-so-subtle call to each of us to find our own inner hero.

JMG, I know you are not as connected to the popular media as some of us still are -- but I have noticed a definite trend toward dystopian story-telling that seems to belie an uneasiness underlying the gloss and glitter of today's culture. "The Hunger Games," a thinly-disguised critique of the American Empire, is a case in point. As are the book/movie "Divergent," and the TV series "Revolution" and "Continuum," to name just a few. And I think that the huge popularity of video games is due to an innate hunger in humankind to be tested, to discover our own capacity for strength and courage, and to answer the call to adventure. I am optimistic that as things get tougher, more and more people will answer that call with inner reserves they never knew they had. I am also realistic enough to know that there will be those who respond in entirely negative ways. I can see this happening already . . .

Rich Brereton said...


Nice job with the alternate history of Middle Earth. What I struggle with is imagining the alternate history of our own planet if somehow the US had successfully become a conserver society beginning, say, with Carter's election in 1976, and Reagan had never swept into power. You often cite this period as a turning point in history. Wouldn't another nation have moved into the power vacuum, ascended to empire, and seized a comparable share of the world's energy and resources to what the US currently disposes of? Wasn't there an unspoken assumption in the Thatcher/Reagan moment of the Cold War that, if the US and its allies didn't pick the fruits of global hegemony, someone else (the USSR, China) would? Was it not inevitable that the globe would be driven to Hubbert's peak some time in the early twenty-first century?

How much better would our current prospects be as a nation if we had simply ended our relentless drive to global hegemony? How much better the prospects of industrial civilization around the globe? From a climate standpoint we would be just as fracked if others had burned all that oil instead of us. Do you think the US could have dodged the Long Descent if we had made better choices, or that we would simply have arrived at the bottom in a less bedraggled state?

I pose the question not to excuse my own actions at the time (I was born during Reagan's campaign for a second term) but out of a true fascination for the way things might have been. I also think my generation may be better able to forgive the baby boomers if we refuse to hate them for their fundamental, universal human weakness. Your thoughts on the matter, as always, would be illuminating.

On another note, where we're at (the northern tip of the BosWash megalopolis), winter has finally relaxed its grip and our radishes, carrots, and lettuce have sprouted.

Rich Brereton

AlanfromBigEasy said...

I see a way to significantly mitigate the future in front of us, and I am using as broad and as many possibilities to make a difference as a dedicated polymath can.

A small example, I contacted the head of R&D of a major lighting firm (I meet by accident years ago) about a small firm with superb LED technology that is closing it's doors. Up to 104 lumens
/watt, CRI 93 & R9 20 quality light, etc.

Buying this technology and hiring some researchers would put them in the forefront. Then apply this tech to 50 Hz, 230 V and get several EU nations to push this (say lower or no VAT).

Widespread use of such bulbs could cut electrical consumption by 1% or more, reducing carbon emissions and improving sustainability (25 to 50,000+ hour very efficient light bulbs will carry the owners through much of their lifespan, and deep into decline).

And that was just this morning :-)

And such accidental meetings help maintain my faith.

Best Hopes,


AlanfromBigEasy said...

PS: In my fan fiction of Star's Reach, I imagine that one of the most popular trade goods of the Union of Scandinavia and Antarctica is a 3.5 watt, 465 lumen LED light bulb (perhaps 12 volt, works on AC or DC).

And then there is the 0.9 watt, 103 lumen version as well. Both 100,000 hour life expectancy.

Power can come from a variety of sources (including foot powered generators - sold separately).

A little light has a lot of value.

Cathy McGuire said...

I loved the extended alternative plotline - certainly an apt analogy! I remember when I read the book (I gave up on the movies after the first one) that the day to day slogging seemed the worst of the quest... and I experience that some days myself. It's not the initial courageous response but the day to day followup that can be the hardest thing. But your posts (and a few others') really help me keep going.

Amazingly (or not), some evangelicals are trying to "fight" the ecological movement with a weird collection of fantastic assertions - mentioned over at on April 22nd, which has a link to a 2 minute video promo called "Fight the Green Dragon"
which - incredibly - uses the image of Sauron's eye as the image of the ecological "evil" that Xtians have to fight! (ironically especially 'cause the evangelicals seem to freak over fantasy genre -then steal from it??)

@Jean-Vivien: I reckon that advertising appropriate tech through a Youtube show seems like a dumb idea
I’ve found lots and lots of appropriate tech on You Tube: solar, beekeeping, organic gardening – it’s already happening. And there’s an intermediate between not watching and “all your time in front of the screen” – use a video or two for inspiration, then get out and do it!

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Robert Mathiesen--Well said.

@Enrique--I think you are overstating the consequences of Russia's current activity in the Ukraine. Putin is re-establishing a Russian sphere of influence to its west. That's a pretty normal state of affairs. Russia can pressure the EU with its military might and its control of part of Europe's fuel supply. He cannot parlay that into total domination unless the EU doesn't put up a fight. The EU has strengths of its own and once it realizes that the US isn't coming to the rescue, I expect some native resistance.

Control of the Ukraine is not a vital US interest; Obama has decided not to throw good money after bad. But if, as JMG said a month ago, the US's goal was to destabilize Ukraine rather than to control it, then the current situation is either a draw or a win for the US.

I disagree with your opinion that the Obama administration "make even Dubya and his handlers look like a model of professionalism and competence by comparison". Bush the Younger got the U.S. into a war of choice that was won quickly and with minimal US casualties by the then-excellent conventional forces of the Army and Air Force. Bush threw away this victory by outsourcing the occupation of Iraq to crony capitalists whose entire motivation was to make obscene profits from government contracts. These interests had no care for the people of Iraq, its survival as a nation state, or the welfare of the United States of America.

Bush's botched occupation lasted about as long as the Vietnam War and has done equal damage to the morale and effectiveness of the US Army. While Obama hasn't done much that is useful, so far his mistakes aren't as spectacular as Bush's. I rate him as a mediocre President, though ratings of presidents may change after they have been out of office for forty or fifty years.

Grebulocities said...

To follow up on my previous post:

I found the Defense Department's article on the destroyer-buzzing incident. A variety of other reports in Western sources largely echo it. It does not contain any information saying that the ship's electronic defenses were disabled, but it does confirm that a Su-24 made 12 close, aggressive, low-altitude passes (within 1000 yards and at an altitude of 500 feet, but never directly overhead) as a second plane circled nearby, and that the ship left international waters and went directly to Romania afterward. It does claim that the ship was never in danger, but that's obvious because the Su-24s were unarmed. This occurred on April 12.

I have not found any sources without a clear Russian bias that confirmed that the Su-24 used the Khibiny electronic warfare system to disable the destroyer's radar and targeting systems, but then again I wouldn't expect the Pentagon to want us (or them) to know that either. I'll list that as "plausible but unconfirmed" for the moment. Either way, the Khibiny probably is capable of massive electronic disruption, based on previous tests.

The claimed letter of resignation from the crew is dubious - perhaps they lodged a complaint or report that was misinterpreted by the Russian media as this, or it could be a total fabrication.

GHung said...

Suppose Frodo had picked up his copy of the 'Long Bottom Ledger' every morning (printed on hemp paper of course), his trusted source for all things 'Middle Earth', and read that things are actually proceeding along nicely, that Gandalf was an alarmist known to indulge in a bit too much pipe weed, and that Mordor was collapsing under the weight of its own gloom,, would Frodo get a pass for ignoring the whole thing while smoking yesterday's edition?

After all, it's just a ring, and the Ledger is published by trusted Elves in Isengard. They wouldn't print anything that's not true,, right?

William Church said...

A beautifully written article John, and it was a most welcome (and needed) addition to the morning for me.

The LOR is so multi-layered and multi-faceted that one can always count on finding new meaning in old text. To me, the impending extinction of cultures/races was one of the most important. How individual characters faced the knowledge of their own demise (or that of their race) varied greatly and provided much grist for a thoughtful man's mind.

You deftly switched the furniture of the story and the allegory holds to my mind. There is a decision to be made. Even were your theory on what the future holds proven invalid there still remains a huge decision for a lot of people IF we were to remain in equilibrium at this point. The system has shown that a lot of good people are to be left out of the American project going forward.

A man could well believe that things have stabilized and this is rock bottom and STILL look at his lifestyle (and economic security) and see three lifetime's of changes that need to be made. As you mentioned last week most have no choice but to keep at least one foot in the old economy, bad as it is. To my mind that is no license to not do some serious thinking about what the next 25 years holds for us.


DaShui said...

The people reading this must be of a different sensibility than me. Tolkien never had much appeal, Howard's Conan on the other hand, no quarter asked nor given... Praise Crom!

John Hachadorian said...

Hello Mr. Greer,

Thanks for inspiring me to write some fiction! Once I got going I had a hard time getting my story below 7500 words but I just made it. Here's the link:

John Michael Greer said...

D.M., you're most welcome. A boot in the backside is just one of the services I offer. ;-)

Jean-Vivien, it's an interesting concept. Do you plan on doing anything to make it happen?

Matt, well, that's promising. The treelessness of Britain is one of the few things that makes me uncomfortable there -- everywhere I've lived, there's forest all around.

Steve, exactly. Our allegedly non-negotiable lifestyle is no longer working even with the modest decline that's happened so far. As that picks up...

Rhisiart, guerrilla tree-planting sounds like a great idea! I can easily imagine teams of druids stealing out into the night, armed to the teeth with shovels and baskets of saplings...

Marc, I recall the wag who pointed out that Twilight was basically a story about a young woman making the choice between necrophilia and bestiality. It's telling, to my mind, that most Americans seem to find necrophilia much more appealing.

Val, their names were Alatar and Pallando, their color was blue, and they went off into the East; Tolkien mentioned a little bit about them in Unfinished Tales, if I recall correctly. Thank you, btw; if I have any resemblance to Radagast, I'm doing something right!

Raven, got the short form -- the long version's too long for the contest.

Freebooter, is that possibly the name of one of the Nazgul?

Robert, I promise I won't speculate about the similarities between the skill sets needed by a college professor and a con artist... ;-)

Jason, got it -- you're in the contest.

Stream, and yet I keep meeting people in their twenties and thirties who are doing exactly what you've suggested they can't.

Phil Harris said...

JMG & All
In Praise of the Shire

I read LOTR at about one volume per day as I could obtain them from our Public Library circa 1956 or 57, and later read the story to our children.

I developed, however, a critique of the story – Tolkien was of his time and place whatever his scholarship, wisdom and depth. The story deserves some framing in the context of British class structures of the day, with historical antecedents in the 18thC and 19thC.
That would need an essay or three, but it probably goes without saying (I think one comment already points this out) that our society was marked not only by scary industrial wastelands but by a million dead in recent industrial warfare, the decline of Empire, and the dereliction of British farming especially in the 1920 - 30s. This was the time also of DH Lawrence, FR Leavis, and the American poet TS Eliot who took up his literary calling in London and in our haunted countryside.

Because British farming did not pay very well (we got cheap food ingredients from abroad that could be afforded by a very numerous low-income urban population) it followed that much of the rural scene was not very different from 19thC or even mediaeval times. Rural wages were at poverty levels. I can remember as a boy essentially Tudor rural slums in old Cities; for example a small area of Church-owned property next to Winchester Cathedral. Tewkesbury with its amazing Abbey, and others had similar pockets.

Having said that, much of the countryside was incredibly beautiful in all its 18thC or earlier agrarian form – our poets were absolutely right, of course.

And the pubs could be of various magic – I could at that time have taken you, JMG, had you been old enough, to a rural pub not far from Glastonbury, where you could have felt at home in any of the preceding three centuries!

I left the Shire for Scotland and the North, but it was chastening when I brought our children south and tried to find some of the old haunts. The petroleum age had worked its magic.

I did not mind lowly clerks and teachers capitalising on increased values of their houses near London and seeking to retire to places they had enjoyed on holiday as children. Ugly small bungalows had a certain authenticity. What was more startling was the removal of all the previous rural population from what had been lonely villages, and most original labourers’ cottages knocked together and transformed into incredibly expensive ‘rural’ properties by a mobile wealthy class. Think of our Prime Minister’s family, though I understand they have further up-scaled more than a bit. It can still look pretty, but it ain’t the same!

More about our loss of Ancient Woods and other rural assets beloved of the poets, I could make perhaps in another comment. (Chris Cherokee refers to our tiny fragments.) Suffice to say that most of the loss of the last 250 years occurred in my lifetime!

But not all is lost – come sip our beer and ponder with us our bewilderment among the electronics – you are more than welcome, magic and all :)

Tom Crowl said...

Really enjoyed this tale!

I found it on David Brin's blog and want to give a compliment.

Bill Pulliam said...

This talk about young people not being able to comprehend a world that other than the one they grew up in is strange. Young people have generally been the harshest critics of the status quo, and the leading edge of those exploring other ways to be. There are plenty of people born in the 80s and 90s who are intensely aware of the problems, predicaments, and challenges of the present and future, and in serious backlash against the consumerist-internetist culture.

Redneck Girl said...

I am a baby boomer. My dad was training in jungle fighting when VJ Day was declared. Good thing he didn't go, his features and skin were enough to be taken for a Code Talker and that put a big target on their backs in the Pacific theater.

One of the results of WW II was all the super rich of that era were very much enamored of the money they made in the war effort. An agreement was reached as a result to turn America's culture into a consumer society and that decision is what gave us our current situation. It's easy to take the wrong path when you have no knowledge of the future and a naive trust in your leadership. After all, there was money to be made, empires to build and peoples to be used and discarded in the effort. Essentially business as usual.

I've enjoyed TLOTR but naturally I prefer the more organic life view of the original American Indian peoples. No, they aren't saints, far from it. But they had an ethic for and of the lands they lived in, considered themselves part OF. The ring that modern people wear and have forgotten they wear it, is that ring of entitlement. They don't want to give it up for all the things it has given them and it is the ring to destroy as it has damaged so much of the earth.

I am a child of a distant fire but all I really want is to be a child of the earth, like my siblings, the horses, goats and other beings that share the earth with me. That's all I really need.


Cherokee Organics said...


Begging me pardon my good sir. Me and some of the other fellas were on patrol through the woodlands the other day getting right worked up about how them older hobbits no longer seem to care that orcs, goblins and wolves are spotted on the eastern borders of the Shire. Worst o’ the lot is that Mr Frodo. He right yelled at me a few weeks back when I suggested sumnit should be done about it. I even heard he got some sort o’ magic ring, keeps all to himself, he does. Heck, Johnno was telling me the other day he met an elf fleeing through the Shire to the west. Said speak to Cirdan the shipwright, he did, and said some mysterious comment that all is not lost even now, whatever that meant.

Seems to me em older hobbits forget that with rights and advantages comes obligations. Mr Frodo and all them can have a magic ring and all that but when the Shire is a wasteland inhabited by orcs and goblins aint no good to us innit?

Fellas, were off an adventure.

In other interesting news:
- Melbourne's median house price just topped AU$600,000;
- Australia has agreed to purchase another AU$12bn of the joint strike fighters; and
- Some of the bigger Universities here are seeking to remove the government imposed cap on student fees (apparently so they can remain internationally competitive - if that actually means anything).

PS: It's ANZAC day here.



Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Paul Harris--I came across LOTR just a little too late in life to read it uncritically or throw myself headfirst into its world. Probably a good thing since I have a weakness for becoming obsessively involved in imaginary worlds.

I liked the trilogy a great deal, but had developed enough class awareness by then to find the depiction of the Shire sentimental, except during the Scouring. That episode was based very directly on contemporary history. Even more, I found the writing of the Sam Gamgee character condescending and painfully stereotypical.

It has been decades since I reread LOTR, but I think its insights on ecological destruction, industrialism, and the complexities of making moral choices when history is on the move hold up well.

John Michael Greer said...

Robo, now you've got me wanting to quote a passage from one of the other iconic novels of imagination of my younger days. I'll let my readers guess which one it is.

Yupped, fascinating. Well, as I've said more than once, I can only really speak to the American experience, having never lived anywhere else.

Zosima, neither you nor I nor all the readers of The Archdruid Report put together have any appreciable influence over who does or does not end up in a position of leadership -- nor, as Obama has demonstrated, do we have any way to know whether someone who campaigns talking about hope and change will turn around the moment he gets into office and give us eight more years of his predecessor's policies. That being the case, rather than putting your hopes on politicians and rich people, I suggest that turning off the tube, getting off the couch, and doing something about the crisis of our time is the better option.

Backfire, you can find the rules for the contest in this post.

Deserted, yes, I saw that. It's very much part of the beginning of rapid decline.

RPC, that makes sense to me. I don't think much of consumers, either!

Bill, Robinson Jeffers wrote some very good poems on that theme. I sometimes think he and Bombadil used to hang out together.

Dan, granted, the metaphor has its limits. I mostly wanted to talk about the psychology of refusing the call, anyway.

Adrian, true enough. There are many potential roles in this particular Fellowship!

Matt, depression has been recognized as an illness since the Middle Ages; the only thing that's changed is the terminology -- it used to be called "melancholy." That said, I'll accept your correction; alongside the ailments you've mentioned, there's also a very common syndrome we might as well call "my doctor wants the kickback he gets from the drug salesman when he prescribes this."

Richard, the green wizard thinks it's a very good idea.

Joe, one of the things I like about Tolkien as a source of metaphors here is that Frodo had no clear idea of what he was getting into when he headed out of Bag End that September evening. Like the rest of us, he had to do a lot of improvising.

Jemand, granted. I'll be addressing that next week.

John Michael Greer said...

Stacey, exactly. One of the downsides of Tolkien's story is that in many ways, he's better at portraying evil than good, and it's crucial to have a positive vision to aim for through the hard times ahead.

D, consider also using those microbiological skills in making fermented foods, beer, and the like!

Don, well, yes -- I had to take a few liberties with the story to make the point about the psychology of today's America I hoped to make.

CWT, why, yes, I do have some suggestions -- in fact, I wrote a book on exactly that subject.

Glenn, exactly. You find your place and you make your stand.

Mister R., I think it's partly that, partly the tax revenues for the states, and partly the fact that illegal drugs are draining huge amounts of money out of the US economy and keeping some of that at home may help keep the economy from imploding completely.

Brian, true enough -- I commented in an earlier post that fantasy fiction might just provide a better set of narratives for our current situation than any of the allegedly more realistic sources.

Eric, wherever you post it, I'll get it, so it's up to you. I'll look forward to your entry!

Kyoto, likewise!

Divelly, no, I figured you wouldn't get it.

"...may God us keep
From single vision and Newton's sleep!"

Grebulocities said...

I have another musing about the Ukraine crisis - I think the West and Russia would both benefit from Russia's annexation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine (assuming the latter happens, which looks likely).

Russia's gains are obvious: they already gained a militarily strategic peninsula/vacation spot in Crimea, and eastern Ukraine is the least poor part of the country, with most of the country's coal and other natural resources. Probably most importantly, Putin gets a huge popularity boost and shows that Russia is a great power again, thus more or less ending the national humiliation of Russia that started with the fall of the USSR.

On the Western side, the loss of territory will cause Ukraine to go from roughly 50-50 pro-Europe/pro-Russia to a strong pro-European majority. Ukraine will not come close to meeting EU membership criteria for a long time, but trade agreements could be worked out to let the European manufacturers to make use of a poor, low-wage country with a cooperative government and the added advantage of not having to transport the products long distances. Also, with the loss of its richer parts, Ukraine will be even more deeply impoverished and will accept whatever "structural adjustments" the IMF and World Bank choose to impose, allowing much of the country to be bought up by Westerners at fire-sale prices.

So I think we're going to see another Russian invasion to take Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Lugansk Oblasts, responded to by some more ineffective sanctions, minor troop movements, and strongly worded UN resolutions. Then things settle down and people get used to the new borders, while everything that isn't nailed down is sold and shipped off to Ukraine's new masters.

Atilio Baroni Filho said...

Hey JMG!

Have you seen the talk by Steven Kopits on supply-constrained oil forecasting?

What made me think of this post was the Q&A afterwards, when people were using the common incantation "but what about X" when confronted with an uncomfortable vision given by an industry insider...


exiledbear said...

Is there any way to just leave Middle Earth once you get to the shipyards? In your alternate tale most of the Hobbits have given up, more or less and are just waiting for their fate.

And the other People aren't too much better. Cynically, few actually wanted to do any of the hard work. They were willing to help, but even so, only so far as you could get to them, people rarely came to Frodo, he had to go to them. Only person who did come to Frodo was Gandalf, I think.

I don't blame your alternate Frodo for not wanting to be everyone's mule. But along with you, I blame him for at least not saving himself. But in your alternate story, well, he had given up, hadn't he? He had already died, long before he actually died.

Perhaps the right tale to tell, may not involve Hobbits at all, but the Men on Numenor who first started listening to Sauron, long ago, well before Hobbits or Rings?

They were able to create such wonders, powerful and arrogant they were...

jcummings said...

Great question! As a member of that group I can say for myself that we received almost no information about the early 80s. History class ended at Vietnam. I remember coming into knowledge of the world about the time the soviet union broke up. If something from the late seventies or early eighties ever came up, it would have been about Star Wars (the movies). I'm always fascinated when jmg goes into the history of this time because I have always felt like it is a fuzzy black hole of a time period in which my parent's generation went in hippies trying to save the world and came out rich yuppies trying to buy the world.

S P said...

Yes it's important to reflect on the transition that occurred in the 80s and I have been doing that at length. I'm 33 and so for me, it's about looking at charts, re-examining my childhood and some of the things I had, and did not have, growing up middle class in America.

But let's also keep our eyes on the ball. Let me say in no uncertain terms that it is the American response to 9/11 and the ongoing banker bailouts since 2008 which crushed my belief in this country/empire. Not the greed of the 80s and 90s by itself.

If it was merely material excess and then the loss of that material excess, the decline wouldn't feel as acute.

It's about much more...imperial overstretch, interminable wars, failure to control borders, total political and financial dysfunction, degradation and trivialization of culture, peak oil and diminishing marginal returns on investment, etc. I mean, truly, the complete implosion of a society in every way imaginable. Not even the most seasoned cynic in 1999 would have guessed this.

John Michael Greer said...

Goldmund, I didn't think much of the movies either -- the book is much richer, and the final chapters among the richest. Holding on until reinforcements arrive -- well, yes, that's basically the shape of it. We fight the long defeat until the world finally changes.

SLClaire, I never tried the yuppie lifestyle -- even from outside, I could tell that it didn't interest me -- but I certainly share the rest of your experience. Doing the right thing rather than the popular one has given me a far more interesting and fulfilling life!

Bill, yes, the story could indeed be expanded that way.

Daughter, I've long suspected that for those people who can find it in themselves to rise to the challenge of our age, the decades ahead are going to be exciting, even exhilarating. It's those who crumple who will find them a long dark plunge into misery, ending in death. More on this in a future post.

Rich, one of these days I may have to sketch out an alternate history in which Ronald Reagan lost the 1980 election, and certain other shifts happened, leading America to plunge ahead down the road to a sustainable future. The question you've asked is the kind of thing that might best be explored that way.

Alan, I have no complaint, since you're actually out there doing things; as I've noted more than once, that's my touchstone. You choose where you make your stand. Mine is in a different place.

Cathy, the evangelical pseudoconservative movement is dying, and it's fairly common for dying pop spiritualities to get extreme in their last days. I wonder if it occurs to them that all they're doing is identifying themselves, in the eyes of their own children, as evil.

Grebulocities, it'll be interesting to see if anything else surfaces about the incident.

Ghung, no, he wouldn't get a pass. He knows, as we know, what the real score is.

Will, the challenge is figuring out how to keep one foot in a collapsing system without being dragged down by it as it goes. I suspect we're fairly close to another round of crises, when that's going to be a serious issue.

DaShui, to each his own -- and it would probably be possible to weave a set of metaphors around Conan as well. Come to think of it, there may be a place for classic barbarian fiction set in postcollapse America. "That which does not kill us makes us sustainable!"

Or, perhaps, "To see agribusiness fleeing before you, to watch their executives doing perp walks, and to hear the lamentations of the bankers...that is best."

John, got it! Put through a comment marked "not for posting" with your email on it, and I'll be able to contact you if your story gets chosen."

John Michael Greer said...

Phil, British agriculture was crushed by the imperial wealth pump -- the influx of unearned wealth from the tribute economy made every economic sector that didn't have a spot at the feeding trough uneconomical, as it's doing with the US economy now. If Britain survives -- and with that many people, that's really a question worth asking -- things should straighten out once the rubble stops bouncing.

Tom, thank you! I'll look forward to see what Brin himself has to say, if anything.

Bill, that's been my experience, too. I wonder how much of it is the unwillingness of Boomers to consider the possibility that other generations could make a better choice than they did.

Wadulisi, that's good enough to earn tonight's gold star. The sense of entitlement is a common habit of the privileged classes in imperial nations, and it quickly becomes a source of misery and disaster once the empire goes away, so yes, it's fair to compare it to the Ring.

Cherokee, your interesting news would make me pack up my gear and head for the Grey Havens pronto. Unsustainable housing bubble, check; absurd tribute demands (disguised as defense expenditures in this case), check; profiteering at the expense of the vulnerable, check. It's going to be a wild ride.

Grebulocities, to my mind it depends on whether Europe and the EU are willing to put up with the public perception that they've lost. If they think they can spin that, you may be right; if not, expect more trouble.

Atilio, no, I hadn't! Many thanks for the link.

Bear, good. Very good. In a way, we'll be talking about that next week.

Jcummings, exactly -- and they do not want to talk about exactly how and when and why they sold out. That's why it's crucial that we talk about it, learn from it, and draw the necessary conclusions from it, because it was in that time that nobody wants to talk about that our society chose its future.

SP, there were people predicting it in the 1970s, so your cynic in 1999 was behind the times. Still, you're right that it's not simply a matter of material excess and the end thereof; what happened was that a civilization copied Faust, sold its soul for wealth and power, and is trying to pretend that nothing is going to happen when the time is up and Mephistopheles comes to get his part of the bargain.

Grebulocities said...

I don't know if the EU needs to spin a perception that they've lost, exactly. Instead they'll simply refer to Crimea and the eastern Ukrainian oblasts as "occupied territory" which they (along with the "international community") recognize as part of Ukraine but that Russia controls de-facto in breach of international law. Meanwhile the Western-recognized Ukraine goes along with Western agendas, and since no voters will turn out in the east or Crimea, pro-Western politicians have a lock on the country. At the same time, deals with Russia for gas can still be made with payment via the IMF, keeping European gas flowing while also allowing the Europeans and other investors to buy up non-Russian Ukraine.

Post-Soviet Eastern Europe (incl. the Caucasus) seems to have a talent for freezing conflicts for years in this way - South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, and Kosovo all claim independence without being recognized by all parties, but business of some sort continues among all of them and the neighboring states. Maybe the Cold War has evolved into the Frozen War...

das monde said...

A great anti-story, JMG! It is so much more comfortable to follow other's quest than to do one yourself.

Personal change gurus love Campbell's "hero's journey" as a metaphor of personal transformation itself. To change the habits and behavior to achieve real outcomes (or to breakthrough to elusive maturity) is nothing but a whole hero's journey. The dragons, black riders are your phobias, limiting beliefs, comfort preferences, and Sauron is your biggest fear you do not know well yet. There is no way to transform yourself but "hero's journey", they say. So if a transformation to meet the decline reality is needed... it's time to take off indeed. The economic-political media is certainly not helping to get that.

steve pearson said...

There is a beautiful autobiographical book, Cider With Rosie, about a boy growing up in rural England from the mid teens to mid thirties of the last century.The author, Laurie Lee, grew up in a very poor, single parent family in the Cottswalds, so, though the landscape would have been the one that influenced Tolkien, the lifestyle certainly wouldn't have.I would wholeheartedly recommend it for a feeling of rural England during those years.
There is an interesting book about Tolkien and C.S.Lewis and their group called the Inkslingers. The person who borrowed my copy never returned it, so I can't remember the authors name offhand. They were mostly Oxford dons and living a somewhat rarefied existence and of a certain class.This is pretty well reflected in the implied/assumed class structure of the shire and the Frodo-Sam relationship.
Anyone living in/traveling to the Oxford area who would like to see where most of these ideas were discussed, the pub where they met weekly is still there. It is called The Eagle And Child, commonly known as The Bird And Baby.

d said...

Well, I do make mead and brew my own honey wheat beer. I am a public health microbiologist and I am just hoping that I can have our small farm going and the house restored with solar hot water heaters, wood heater, coppicing woodlot and all the other green wizardry that I can squeeze in before the public decides that safe food and preventing the spread of communicable is not worth paying for.

I hope that I can bring some others along on this adventure that we are embarking on, namely a few troops of Boy Scouts.

Nastarana said...

jcummings, To give you some idea of the temper of the times in the 1970s, consider the negative income tax or guaranteed income for all citizens to replace the patchwork of programs collectively known as welfare. President Nixon, who had himself suffered the humiliations and privations of poverty, supported the idea. Many of his own party did not but what really shot down the proposed legislation was opposition from the left wing of the Democratic party which relied on social services as a jobs program for lefties.

The Republicans of the time had their own turn to the dark side when they forced Nixon to back off on his regimen of price controls. You might like to look at the concluding chapters of The Great Wave by David Hackett Fischer, for a sensible discussion of price controls; contrary to propaganda and popular myth price controls can work to revive a faltering economy.

william fairchild said...


I always heard the saying as:

"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

The meter and rhyme make it easier to remember thataway.

I wonder if eventually we will enter an age where oral tradition becomes more important and putting things into a poetic form in order to remember them becomes more common.

Myriad said...

In this metaphor, the ADR is the map in the front of the book.

You can't tell exactly where the quest is going to go, but the most prominent features and landmarks on the map are very likely to appear in the story somewhere.

(Great, now I'm tempted to dig up my old D&D hexagon paper and draw an allegorical map of the map. The Swamp of Entitlement, the Forest of False Hope, the Vale of Resilience, the Desert of Progress, the Obsidian Tower of Debt...)

onething said...

And yet, when I visited Cambridge two years ago, the thing that probably stays with me the most strongly is a breathtaking tree in the park, a willow so huge that I've never seen the like anywhere in this country. My two-story house could easily fit under its canopy.

"Daughter, I've long suspected that for those people who can find it in themselves to rise to the challenge of our age, the decades ahead are going to be exciting, even exhilarating"

I mentioned something to this effect once and was roundly scolded for it by both you and Bill. I must have said it wrong. At any rate, I feel both very worried and at the same time anticipatory.

James Hick said...

JMG said: "If Britain survives -- and with that many people, that's really a question worth asking -- things should straighten out once the rubble stops bouncing."

Okay, I'm officially terrified. :)

I've been thinking for a while about appropriate UK responses to the coming crises - this may be one of the few countries in a worse position than the States! The ludicrously over inflated housing market rules out buying and getting a low energy consuming home set up with food garden etc. for most people at the moment, the young especially. Added to which the fact we've had to import most of our food for the past several hundred years means a lot of belt-tightening in the future.

My situation is doubly precarious as due to a mild disability I'm pretty much unable to do any kind of laboring work or gardening. The best I think I can hope for is retreating to a small town in Cumbria and hopefully I can still get work as a bookkeeper. That and keeping up on my Marcus Aurelius!

Degringolade said...

I wrote this in my Blog, but I thought that I would cross-post it here as well.

Thanks JMG. This was fun. I won't get my future-history story done for this round of entries, but I will have it done for the next.

OK, people get peevish when I mention Mr. J.M. Greer, but such is life.

is a nice piece of work. I actually spent the time last night going over the map of Middle Earth and going over the route that our intrepid Took would take. Fun as all get-out.

I am suggesting that someone turn this into a serial novel a la "Stars Reach" and write out the adventure of Silas Took (Note the pointed hint Mr. Greer). It would be a joy to read.

The book would necessarily be a long one, full of the time compression used so judiciously by Mr. Greer in Stars Reach. Because missing the initial opportunity usually end up in a harder row to hoe. In the original Lord of the Rings, Gandalf reached the Shire on April 12, 3018 to tell Bilbo about the One Ring. Bilbo and the Keepers left Middle Earth on September 29th 3021. (References: Here)

This trip would be a lot longer. The resources available would be less, the hardships greater, and there would be more losses in the fights. The outcome would not be as rosy. But the story would be better. In my overactive imagination, Mr. Took would speak with Radagast on July 4, 3062 and die, with the ring, on the slopes of Mount Doom on November the 11th of 3075.

From Wikipedia
In his Foreword to the Second Edition, Tolkien said that he "disliked allegory in all its forms" (using the word applicability instead), and told those claiming the story was a metaphor for World War II to remember that he had lost "all but one" of his close friends in World War I.
I don't think that this story would require any of the warnings in the forward about allegory.

william fairchild said...

@ Myriad,

Oh great! You know what this leads to: Roll, roll, roll, check the manual, flip the page, fip, flip, flip, roll roll, roll... ;)

LewisLucanBooks said...

The day before yesterday, my small chicken flock (5) was ravaged and savaged by coyotes. I have one very freaked out hen, left.

There was a few moments of sitting on the couch and a desire to abandon the quest for a meat, manure, eggs system. But since moving to the country, 3 years ago, when things like this happen my "spells" are "Vast panorama of nature" and "This is life in the country."

Yesterday, between downpours, I began to do some heavy duty reenforcing of "Fortress Chicken." I'm taking in the two survivors of a neighbors decimated flock. Chicks are on order. The Journey continues.

I could continue the tale, but I'm sure it would run to three volumes, a prologue, an epilogue and several later discovered manuscripts. :-)

Varun Bhaskar said...


Something about this particular story creeped me out. The idea of the hero not taking up the cause just doesn't sit right with me. It is a good description of our society though. That sense of entitlement is already starting to take its toll. Most of my friends are effectively living on poverty wages but still refuse to give up their “luxuries.” Video games, TV, whatever the newest gadget is, fancy places to live. One even bought a smart watch, which doesn't really do anything his phone doesn't ready do. I've pointed out the unsustainability of their life-styles but not one of them will take the journey. The general consensus amongst them seems to be that “man is creative and will figure something out.”

I've started to wonder how many among them will fall to suicide in the years ahead. By the way will there be a further exploration of that particular facet of the long descent?

daelach said...

I'm personally really fond of werewolves, I even have a tattoo of one. The important difference to vampires is that vampires are dead creatures while werewolves are not.

It is not even modern to adore werewolves, the norse tradition knows the Ulfhednar, and many other traditions also have were-creatures. The key, however, is that power is nothing without control. But when you combine Uruz with Ansuz..

As for rougher times to come, I'm carefully training my ketogenic metabolism. Inspired by Hesse's Siddharta wo said his main abilities were thinking, fasting and waiting. Being able to fast enabled him not to be forced to do everything for immediate food.

Most first world people are so used to always have carbohydrates available that running out of carbs gives headaches and severe degradation in performance. That's because the ketogenic metabolism is shut down due to permanent input of glucose. The body should be able to switch to ketogenic fuel if needed, that's how we evolved. I think it will be a great advantage to be able to operate also with empty stomach instead of immediately collapsing.

Really, I do know people who start to shiver and get knocked out when their body runs low on its internal carb depots. They have to eat immediately, preferably something sugared, and that's what makes them different from Siddharta.

No wonder that Islam has some fasting, it's a warrior religion.

In fact, all this sugar in today's industrial food acts as a kind of drug with severe withdrawal symptoms, from circulation problems to headache to depression. Guess what will happen when access to food will be intermittent..

John Michael Greer said...

Grebulocities, that's certainly one way things could play out. The question is just how far the US and EU want to push this one -- or how badly they miscalculate.

Das Monde, exactly!

Steve, Tolkien grew up as the child of an impoverished widow in the rural Midlands, so he probably had a fair sense of the lifestyle, too! The book you're thinking about, btw, is titled The Inklings, by Humphrey Carpenter.

D, excellent! It sounds to me as though you're putting thos microbiological skills to very good use, then.

Myriad, now that sounds like a lot of fun! I was playing D&D back when it was three staplebound booklets plus supplements, so I can definitely relate. "I hear the rattling of a D6 -- watch out for wandering monsters!"

Onething, I'll have to go back to that earlier discussion to get a sense of the difference.

James, Cumbria might work -- or it might not. One thing we can be sure of is that there's almost nothing we can be sure of...

Degringolade, no can do -- the Tolkien estate owns the copyright on everything Tolkien created, and has the money to defend it in court. It's a pity -- I'd love to write a novel along those lines -- but I can't afford to do it as free fanfic, and so it's not an option.

Lewis, sorry to hear of it! Another chicken-keeping friend of mine also lost her flock recently; I gather it's one of those things that happens.

Varun, very likely, yes.

Daelach, no argument there. Generally, getting good at dealing with hard work, serious challenges, and doing without would be very good training for what's coming.

Rita said...

If the hero quest is the universal myth that means that half the human race has no myth. The only female role in the hero quest is as prize (princess in the castle) or wise adviser (elf queens or witches). It is possible to substitute a female for the male hero, but the nature of the quest remains--leave home, conquer fears, attain victory, etc.

It struck me long ago that one of the reasons males have to be indoctrinated with the importance of courage and the disgrace of cowardice is that they have the opportunity to be cowards. It is possible to run away from battle, duck behind a tree when the bull charges the hunting band or refuse to leave on the quest. Women's challenges have been made less escapable. If a woman mates, she may become pregnant and the risks of childbirth loom, with no way out beyond a short period in which primitive methods of abortion may be effective. It's like being on a runaway horse, all you can do is hold on and pray for the best. So women's courage has to be of the keep on keeping on variety. The steady slog of daily work to feed, cloth, clean, etc, punctuated by the regular crisis of giving birth or the occasional crisis of sick child, dead mate, etc. Doesn't make for as good a story as killing orcs, does it? I'm away from my books, so I can't look up exceptions to this lack of female experience centered myth. Anybody?

Somewhatstunned said...

@James Hick (and JMG)

James said:

this [the UK] may be one of the few countries in a worse position than the States!
The ludicrously over inflated housing market rules out buying and getting a low energy consuming home set up with food garden etc. for most people at the moment, the young especially. Added to which the fact we've had to import most of our food for the past several hundred years means a lot of belt-tightening in the future.

I mean this in a friendly way but I think you are exagerating (and there are good things that can be done even in a rented home).

Taking estimates of carbon footprints as a proxy for energy use, we use far less (almost half iirc) of the US. Unlike the states, we have a universally mild climate (even with the recent weird winters). The latest figure I've read (from a recent report from the Centre for Alternative Technology) is that, surprisingly, even now we produce 58% of our food.

There are also a number of cultural things (a blog comment is too short of expand this point) that act as cushioning. Yeah, we'll follow the US but it might be ... not saying "good", just saying "different and potentially not quite as bad". What worries me it that we seem to be busily chucking out our cushioning and desperately trying to be follow the path of the US. It's quite possible that we might squander some good stuff in a desperate clutching after the departing growth.

Note that I'm not saying "be complacent". And Cumbria would be a lovely place to live regardless of anything else :)

Ian Stewart said...

I feel compelled to reflect upon the militiamen and the rancher currently standing up to the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada, an occurence which some in my circle are enthusiastic about. I have some degree of sympathy for people standing up to an oppressive bureaucracy, but that is eclipsed by my suspicion that there may be agents provocateurs present, who may wish to demonstrate that America can suffer territorial disputes within its own borders. It's not just a matter of quests being started late, or with meager resources... in the years to come, the unwary traveler is likely to be presented with all sorts of dubiously fruitful, and potentially disastrous, side-quests!

I am grateful that we have a space here to discuss constructive approaches to the way the world is changing. Uncomfortably many people still want to burn everything down before starting over, and that's been true for a while now.

latheChuck said...

AlanFromBigEasy: if you're seriously interested in LED lighting, take a look at the LEDBERG light strip at Ikea. For $15, you get a 115VAC/12VDC power supply and three strips of lights that total 1.8W. Cut the cable, and you can run them on 12V directly. Run just one of the strips, and its 0.6W. I have one strip mounted over my ham radio desk, and it's enough to light to update the log book with, at about 12" distance.

If you want efficient lighting, take a moment to think about what we USE lighting for: navigation (which way to the kitchen?), collision avoidance (how not to trip on the cat), and tasks (reading, writing, sewing, knitting, etc.) Sub-unity wattage is plenty, if it's in the right place. There's no need to "light up the room".

latheChuck said...

Recalling previous discussions of "steam-punk calculators", I acquired a "Canned Food Process Calculator" at a recent estate sale. It allows the operator of a cannery to calculate the most efficient way to adjust his canning process to compensate for variations in food product, can size, filling temperature, and retort (i.e. pressure-cooker) temperature. It's a very specialized "app", but I guess there was a niche for it... in 1951. It's essentially a slide-rule, but with special scales, labels, and instructions for the task at hand.

It does automatic "input data range checking" by only providing reasonable ranges on the scales. It needs no electricity. It's small enough to ride lightly in a shirt pocket. It's not subject to withdrawal of the manufacturer's support, or virtual virus infection. (I suppose you could sterilize it with a mild bleach solution, if necessary.)

It's inspiring.

--*** ***--

Chris G said...

This was a perplexing essay to me, kind of. In one sense, clearly, an exhortation to take up the heroic quest of a small, peace-loving creature who has a quiet longing for adventure... well, not your version. He's baasically a coward. Very well then.

But it is, in the terms to which our culture is disposed, even though there is a sort of consensus ignorance/denial, a time of Autumn in America, and the industrial world; and it is depressing, at least in the respect that people don't see it, that it still isn't clear yet - enough - the price in destruction as a result of concentrated power.

But the story is a poor allegory, for a few reasons... If it was a good allegory, all of Frodo's neighbors would have a ring of power too, and even if they chose to destroy it, they would by doing so merely expose themselves to the others.

What would be needed, in a situation where everyone holds a ring of power, of varying degrees of power, would be an agreement to have them all destroyed at the same time, so no one can keep one and turn it to control over the others.

And frankly, being made to feel guilty for not taking up Frodo's quest to finally once and for all dispose of these reifications of concentrated power just makes it more depressing. Because no one else is going to give up theirs.

It doesn't fit the heroic narrative (which it was a little confusing to find in this essay both derided and then employed), but it would have been better for Frodo to sit down, talk it out with Gandalf and others, smoke the pipe for awhile, wait for the ring's power to just fade away, since it's impossible to permanently enchant anything with such concentrated power, and begin the slow and stready grind of learning all the little hidden dimensions in the grass and trees and the various goodies of the hobbit garden.

Really, the answer to many of the problems at present is not heroic at all, it's quite mundane, unworthy of the old epic tale, as it were. That way of telling a story has run its course - overshot its course really. Nevertheless, the pressures of heroism are nearly inexhaustible: it just takes one jerk using a ring of power to spoil it for everyone.

dltrammel said...

Might be a double post but here is my submission to the story contest

"A Fish Tale"

Bret said...

Thanks, JMG, for the wonderful post. For me, it (yet again) virtually immortalizes (yet another facet of) the contributions to Earth's and its creatures' well-being embodied in your visionary thought and its humane expression.

Combined, last week's post and this one -- especially as topped off by the notation as regards a metaphorical multiplicity of rings, each to be handled as its own bearer judges best, has overcome my reticence and I will confess to having spent the last year enrolled in my own little quest: the pursuit of a masters program at a major NYC university, studying...sustainability management.

I well understand your antipathy to the university-industrial complex, and I imagine you might well be expected to impart reams of constructive criticism if I had the privilege of your mentorship -- not just for wasting precious time and energy at university, but also on account of what I plan to do with my degree. (In a word, my dream job is to become the general counsel of the New York Green Bank, which today is a fledgling, yet well-capitalized, public-private partnership vehicle aimed at accelerating the deployment of energy efficiency and clean energy in the state.)

From years of reading your work I believe you'd have plenty of reservations regarding any such undertaking -- which, after all, I recognize seeks to address the long descent from within the (by hypothesis, catabolically collapsing) imperial-age legal and financial construct.

And yet, I'm heartened enough to come out of the closet, so to speak, by your benediction on those of us who, while we do think we understand, and know we empathize with, your vision, nevertheless pursue such different paths as we do. Born and bred as I've been here in Gotham, green wizardry on the lower-energy, appropriate technology path just doesn't seem to be my strong suit right now and so I'm hoping I can make a difference here, in and from my own niche (which I readily admit is an object lesson in some of the absurdities of life in the flailing wealth pump's engine room).

Perhaps it's all just a form of refusing the call and clinging to the last splinters of a sinking ship. I'd welcome any feedback on that question. So while duly girding myself for any number of chastening observations about my choices, all of which hope to learn from if they come, I do wish to take the liberty of staking out my own small vision of what a worthwhile version of "ring-bearing" might look like -- if only for purposes of adding a small further measure of diversity to the rich tapestry of thought here among your readers.

I guess I'd also say it seems to me that the more confidently those of us out here reading your stuff can test our varied visions and versions of "ring-bearing" "out loud", in your forum or elsewhere, the faster the momentum may build in our own efforts to translate our variegated thoughts and reflections into effective change agency of whatever stripe.

Many thanks once again.

KL Cooke said...


"Power can come from a variety of sources (including foot powered generators - sold separately)."

Interesting--Paolo Bacigalupi in his novel 'The Windup Girl' has computers working like that. Kind of like the old treadle sewing machines.

Regarding the proposed purchase of a lighting firm--I hate to be a wet blanket, but chances are if the firm were a good candidate for acquisition from a business standpoint, it would not be closing its doors.

"Business" did much to get us into this mess, but I don't think it will do much to get us out of it. The two are at cross purposes.

KL Cooke said...


"The claimed letter of resignation from the crew is dubious"

Actually, that claim is ridiculous. Can a navy crew resign from duty?

The accounts of the supposed jamming that I found on the Internet all seemed to be reprints from one Russian blog.

If the successful jamming of the Aegis system were true, our government and state controlled media would certainly try to keep it under wraps. However, I think the propaganda channel Russia Today would be all over it, and I haven't seen mention of it yet.

Also, if the Aegis were successfully disabled by this sortie, how would the Russians know, unless they had someone on board? Could it be detected by the attack pilot? I don't know.

KL Cooke said...


"There are plenty of people born in the 80s and 90s who are intensely aware of the problems, predicaments, and challenges of the present and future, and in serious backlash against the consumerist-internetist culture."

And yet, everywhere I look I see some kid chimping his smart phone.

steve pearson said...

JMG,The Inklings it is. Thank you. Had also forgotten Tolkien's impoverished background.

Jason Heppenstall said...

@James Hick

I think the situation with Britain is a rather complex one with many factors to consider. Following any 'scary' event we'd likely see the population go down fairly fast to a more sustainable level. I'm not just talking about the grim reaper—a sizeable chunk of the population has options to repatriate to other countries and will likely do so.

At present the country is being pumped up with Russian and Chinese money. Russians have re-named London as Londongrad and Chelsea, their favoured enclave, Chelski. Jumbo jets filled with children shuttle back and forth between Moscow and London every week, taking the kids to their expensive private schools in England's home counties.

Of course, that may not last, but Britain has done pretty well out of cosying up with the US for the past 50 years ... my feeling is that we're starting to look east. They are teaching kids Chinese and Russian instead of French in some schools.
, you know.

Anyway, if I truly believed that Britain was in such imminent danger I would have moved here from Denmark. Now that would be a terrifying place to be when the rubble starts bouncing.

Zosima said...

I’d like to offer some encouraging information from the book world. There is no single theme, vampires or otherwise, that could be described as a massive or domineering presence. Vampires are only one of a long list of themes that come and go in cycles. That theme probably peaked when Buffy was on the air more than ten years ago. After that, the zombie apocalypse briefly surged into prominence. Now Hunger Games and Game of Thrones style fantasies are dominating. I can also assure you also that Tolkien is still very popular. Also, the astoundingly popular Harry Potter books, which featured magic and wizards, had their run. So as a fantasy fan, you should be very encouraged by American recent reading habits, right?

There is no dominant obsession, but rather a series of shifting themes. Diversity and segmentation would be the best terms to describe where the American reading population it at today. It would be hard to pull a collective monomyth out of all of that.

And at the movies - vampires? Hardly. More like an endless stream of increasingly indistinguishable comic book superhero adaptations. Does that mean that Americans prefer the hero myth?

MattMc said...

Hmm Cumbria....

Seascale (aka Sellafield) is in Cumbria and where the UK has not only a nuclear power station, but also our main contaminant reprocessing plant.

When my uncle (who was from Sellafield) was dying in the lukemia hospital when I was a child, my family who visited told me there were so many visitors from Seascale area to the hospital that they laid on special busses.

Other than that, its a beautiful area. The reality is that nowhere in the UK is that far from a nuclear power plant so I'm not sure its a large factor in any decision really if you want to stay here in the UK.

As the saying goes: "in the US a hundred years is a long time, and in the UK a hundred miles is a long way".

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Robert,

Unless "weeds" lay unseen, they rarely prosper in a highly over managed garden. Just sayin...

Hi jean-viviene,

Of course there are benefits to be had from both joining in as well as abstaining from the dominant paradigm. Why not choose both?

Hi somewhatstunned,

Thank you. It has as much interest for me too hearing firsthand accounts of things elsewhere. As an interesting side note to you, I visited one of the historic hill station gardens up this way this morning (in the rain too). After I came back to the farm here I felt a strong sense of difference because of the mainly productive garden and orchard here (as distinct from ornamental) which I couldn't quite get my head around.

Hi Matt,

Yeah, sorry mate, but that woodland is about as big as a picnic ground reserve here. Glad to hear that things are getting better though. The soil in that woodland would have some really interesting diversity of bacteria and fungi and that diversity and seeds could be easily distributed with a bit of understanding.

Hi Glenn,

Thanks mate. Fish are good, plus I wonder about salt (long term) too, which shouldn’t be a problem for you. Good to hear about your productive endeavours.

Hi Phil,

Thanks. Nature is surprisingly productive, if given time and respect. I've watched Kevin McLeod tooling about on Grand Designs for the past twelve years in the UK during all sorts of projects. Plus, Manmade House. Good stuff, the thermic lance was a ripper! Unfortunately, the soil in the UK looks to me now to be about only as good as it is here (that isn't good). However, if you have access to seeds, organic matter and soil samples inoculated from old sites and know what to do with them, you are miles ahead of the game. Hope your worm farm (or treatment plant) is productive too! Plus Good Beer Week is kicking off next month here again and there is a thing to celebrate if ever there was one. I’d enjoy a beer with you too as well as our host.



Cherokee Organics said...


Oh yeah, this is happening. I've already run to the hills years ago, only to find that there is a different but related danger here still.

It was interesting that the summer just past showed me quite clearly and in no uncertain terms that danger can come from unexpected quarters. I'm referring to the bush fires to the south east (and completely unexpected) location from me.

I'm not sitting on my hands though and am taking some very serious responses to that particular threat which was historically unprecedented. It is just really hard work though and requires me to accept that I have stuffed things up and to move on from that point.

Of course, the silky chickens are on the lay still, the citrus and late season apples are still producing so I can't complain. Plus there are more vegetables and herbs than I can reasonably eat.

It's just that those cheeky wrens that you were writing about are happily gorging themselves on the tomato bushes here. I’d appreciate if you could have a discussion with them. It is my fault anyway because I took a short cut with the bushes earlier in the year which has proven to be disastrous for yields only because of predation. Which reinforces to me that, all of these skills are best learned hard and early when people can afford to make mistakes and have a backup plan. Little things can make a big difference here.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi gregorach,

I suspect that you are correct. The trees in the photograph looked less than 30 years old to me. That is what stood out the most at first glance, plus the fact that pretty much everyone was wearing synthetic materials. I felt sad that people were protesting for a sadly diminished landscape and yet described it as an ancient woodland. They don't understand what they were missing out on and I just didn't get it at all.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Zosima,

Stew your rhubarb into jam and/or stews.

Hi Jason,

Respect for your work.

hehe! Very funny! No, Fatso is a massive and well fed wombat that cruises the herbage here of nights (when it is dry) and Stumpy is a wallaby who is the nemesis of all fruit trees. But they are apt descriptions for the characters, aren't they? hehe! They both have very glossy coats. There's also baby wombat and big daddy kangaroo too, plus a harem of kangaroos. It is feral out there at night. With the eagles, owls, foxes, possums, sugar gliders, rats and mice etc. how I can grow anything at all is as much a surprise to me as it is an enjoyment to them.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Richard,

Top work. They are almost the same plants here. Not sure what a service berry is though.



Marcello said...

"So I think we're going to see another Russian invasion to take Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Lugansk Oblasts, responded to by some more ineffective sanctions, minor troop movements, and strongly worded UN resolutions. Then things settle down and people get used to the new borders, while everything that isn't nailed down is sold and shipped off to Ukraine's new masters."

USA & Co will let Russia take whatever part of Ukraine it has a chance of keeping without military reactions. But afterwards the West will put Russia in the "rogue state" category. To do anything less would mean losing all credibility. Besides the USA can dictate policy for which the europeans will have to bear the brunt of the costs, a pretty tempting position...

daelach said...

@ latheChuck: I am about to craft an abacus myself, in the size of a pocket calculator. 16 colums, stylus input. A steampunk PDA. I will take pictures with every step from the raw materials to the final product. That will be the "CPU".

I also made a lookup table with logarithms, square roots, reciprocals and trigonometric stuff. It will be a little book in A5 format, now that there are still print-on-demand services. Together with that "ROM", an abacus is slower than a slide, but offers more precision.

What I'm envisioning are times when computers are not available anymore and the wonders of them are only distant memory. An abacus with such a lookup table is still a digital computer. Plus wax tables in the style of Ancient Rome, that will be the harddisk. As for the RAM - that will be the user's brain. Steampunk cyborg.

Computers will die, but not their idea.. I wonder whether Captain Erikson felt that way? Being so much ahead of his time that he seemed to be looked being behind it?

John W. Riley said...


Please consider my story "The Letter" for your anthology. Thanks.


Robert Mathiesen said...

JMG replied to me:

"Robert, I promise I won't speculate about the similarities between the skill sets needed by a college professor and a con artist... ;-)"

Oh, JMG, you have no idea ... No outsider ever does. Often even the insiders try very hard to keep from having any idea.

Seen from the inside, academia is a land of hustle and con from start to finish, with self-righteousness as frosting on the cake. [It was, of course, the never-ending quest for grant money that shaped its current form during my working lifetime, but something similar was in place as early as the 18th century.] Of course, all the hustle and con does bring about worth-while discoveries from time to time, just not as many as the hype would have it.

I'm no good whatever at either lying or unshakable certainty. That, and a low physiological tolerance for stress, is why I personally chose to be honest rather than crooked. I can't lie convincingly -- not even were it to save my life, or the lives of those I love. So I never was a very successful academic, as the academy measures success. I was just a good, competent scholar, which is something entirely different.

Yet of all the lessons I learned growing up, the ones that my grandparents' stories about their past taught me are among the most important of them all.

Here are their rules (put into my own words), for whatever value they may have for readers of this blog during the coming Dark Age:

(1) Never break the law if you can get the same result lawfully with a little more effort. They catch you by your laziness.

(2) Never break the law in the same way more than once. They catch you by your patterns (habits).

(3) Know to the thinness of a hair just how skillful you are at lawbreaking, and never overreach yourself in breaking the law. They catch you by your arrogance.

(4) Never ever break the law when you are impelled by strong emotions (fears or desires). Then you will overreach yourself and they will catch you!

I passed these rules on to my best and most trusted students whenever I thought they needed to hear them. It was one of my modest attempts to pay things forward.

* * *

Chris at Cherokee replied to me: "Unless "weeds" lay unseen, they rarely prosper in a highly over managed garden. Just sayin..."

Ah, that's why in my comments here I have often urged "flying under the radar" as much as possible in one's life. Inconspicuous, hidden in plain sight, and so forth ...

Robert Mathiesen said...

More in reply to JMG on the same:

Actually, I'm convinced that both con-artists and genuine spiritual advisors and teachers (including college professors, of course) need many of the same rare skills if they are to do their job well.

In second place among all these skills is (I think) the ability to "read" the people with whom you interact. This includes what stage-conjurors call "cold reading" as well as other, similar abilities that are less well understood by that fraternity. (Myriam Ruthchild did pushed the envelope here in a few rare pamphlets, that were published for insider by Lee Jacobs many decades ago.)

The first among those skills is, need I add, real Wisdom. That is not the same thing as either life-experience or book-learning, though each of the latter can be used to cultivate Wisdom.

martinhensher said...


Thank you for a great piece of alternative Tolkein (something I have not encountered in thirty years)!

Here is a submission for the short story project, I hope you enjoy it:

All the very best!

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@Cherokee Organics

Hi Chris,
serviceberry is Amelanchior ssp. a class of shrubs and shrubby trees that are American natives. They produce delicious sweet fruits that look a little like blueberries. I grow two varieties and it's always a race with the birds to get them first. The varieties native to Oregon might work for your climate.

Another American fruit-bearing bush I recommend is Aronia. There are two varieties, red and black. The berries are very tart but full of nutrients and can make good jelly and jam. Birds leave them more or less alone.

I'm just starting to experiment with American currents and hope to explore gooseberries as well. When I know more, will let you know.

The Osage orange tree seeds I planted this month are starting to sprout.


Joe D G said...

Through teary eyes, I'll accompany the Ring Bearer as well.

Beautiful piece this week. Deep thanks.

I'll share my "summer project"
Design and build a working solar cooker to cook meals AND make charcoal - in part to fire our still.
It's a step down a long road. But the path seems to shimmer and take a more defined shape with every step.

The deeper message of this post reminds me of my time spent in deep Zen work (for lack of a better term). Clearing away the dust and dirt from the eyes, cleaning the mirror of the mind and sharpening perception. Jettisoning useless beliefs. When I was acting as a "guide" for a time I was asked: "Why don't more people want to "wake up?" Indeed. Seems as applicable to the "inward journey" as the outward. Always amazed at folk who want change...without having to actually do anything to change.

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

OK here's my entry for the Post-Peak Oil competition;

It describes a place and time where nostalgia, tradition, and garbagemen come together as a major holiday :-)

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Hi Rita,
your points re male-centered hero myths are well taken. (One reason I made up my own Middle Earth country when young.) Hard to be away from books!

Fantasy novels that resonated with my daughter more than Tolkien and are very well thought out and well written, IMHO, are the books by Robin Hobb. (Farseers, Liveship, and Tawny Man series.) Maybe you've read them? Through well-portrayed female (and male) characters the stories explore many of the issues you bring up in your post.


thrig said...

The refrigerator has been turned off, and between the now several-week-old yeast colony in a glass bowl on top of it, the ground mustard seed + apple cider vinegar + beer in a jar, and the eggs laying about, a health inspector might have a fit, but I'm not dead yet. The yeast has been much improved by feeding it hand-ground wheat berries (now there's a chore), and the bread quality is improving, despite my taking no measurements beyond whether the dough is too tough to work or too wet (hey, pancakes!). Eggs will keep for a few days; you can see if they sink or float in water as a test, something I had forgotten my mother doing for the eggs bought in Pakistan until a web search refound that test.

A coworker shook his head when I mentioned that I'd turned off the refrigerator, doubtless more evidence that I'm rather eccentric, being as I do not know how to drive, do not own a TV, and do not have Internet at home. The not driving bit was probably inspired by the Burkes, who used to mail books out to us (with mistakes corrected), and who also did not drive. One book was about a boy who goes back to a future technology-free British Island (trees everywhere?), though I've not been able to find the title or author on that.

(As for the hero myth, Piketty points out that wealth was key in the 19th century, by way of Jane Austen and the corresponding French novels, while modern meritocratics have characters that are skilled—Secret Agents, Jedi, and the like. Another interesting point is that economic and technological rationality should be considered distinct from democratic rationality—a tyrant can produce technological wonders, while a democracy takes different and unrelated efforts to produce.)

jansprite said...

Hi, JMG --

Guess I'm older than most posters on here, and remember, clearly, the first (US) energy crisis, Nixon, Carter, etc. I had my doubts about modern society long before the ‘70s, but somehow fell through the cracks of the 'hippies' too, although I never willingly 'sold out'.
I’m even a failure as a baby boomer, I guess, although I do not find that failure to be very onerous – some failures are a good thing! Recently, I was telling somebody, a young farmer, that I was born 40 years too early, or maybe 40 years too late. Anyhow, I haven't found my niche yet, probably never will.

I read TLOTR, of course, but was much more impressed by ‘A Canticle for Liebowitz’ and other post-apocolyptic stories than I was with fantasy and the mythic quest. (Just my own personal bias). I only found Star’s Reach a short time ago, about two months before it was all posted, but for me it’s right up there with Walter M. Miller Jr’s classic, which I’ve read several times. I hope to be able to buy your book(s – several of them, actually) but can’t right now. Another I keep rereading is ‘Wolf & Iron’, by Gordon R Dickson.

Also, I am amazed to be writing that I not only finished another story for the contest, I actually got two done -- and only yesterday, I was struggling to have either of them gel into anything. They gelled, last night.

Here are the links:

Take care,


John Michael Greer said...

Rita, er, did you notice the place in my essay where I specifically rejected Joseph Campbell's claim that all myth could be summed up in the hero-tale? There are many different narrative patterns in the world's myths. Nor, by the way, are quest stories as exclusively male as all that -- perhaps you've heard of Demeter's quest for Persephone, Isis' quest for Osiris, or Ishtar's quest for Tammuz?

Stunned, it's exactly Britain's current enthusiasm for following the US down the drain that worries me most -- you don't have the land area or the resources to maintain that course for long at all.

Ian, yes, I've been wondering for some time how much of the strident antigovernment rhetoric in the US these days is being paid for by money from overseas. I can think of quite a few countries that would have much to gain by stirring up an insurgency here.

LatheChuck, excellent! Yes, there were once all kinds of specialty slide rules out there -- analog computers, that is, designed for a range of specialized purposes. I'd like to see those back in circulation again.

Chris, of course the story isn't a perfect allegory for our current situation; I used it to talk about a particular psychology common in our time.

David, got it! You're in the contest.

Bret, nah, if that's the work you think is your best choice, go ye forth and do that thing. As I've commented in previous posts here, since none of us can know for sure what will work and what won't, anyone who's putting their own money, effort, time, and future on the line in some practical project deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Zosima, the plethora of superheroes in the movies tells me that, as usual, Americans are waiting for someone else to save them. As for your broader point, maybe so; I'd like to see fewer shark-jumping exercises involving decades-old fantasy cliches, but that may just be me.

Cherokee, I'll have a talk with the wrens, but they're cheeky little things!

Marcello, well, we'll see.

John, got it -- you're in the contest.

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, probably just as well that I chose not to pursue an academic career, then! Like a lot of people with Aspergers syndrome, I'm not at all talented at cold reading, thus have to use other methods to sort people out.

Martin, got it. If you could put in a comment marked "not for posting" with your email address, that'll give me a way to get in touch if your story is chosen.

Joe, that sounds like a great project! As far as people who want change but won't change themselves, well, yes -- I've come to think that a fair majority of human evil comes straight out of the insistence that the world should change so that we don't have to.

Emmanuel, got it -- you're in the contest. If you could put in a comment marked "not for posting" with your email, that'll give me a way to get in touch if your story is chosen for the anthology.

Thrig, glad to see that you're collapsing at a good clip!

Jansprite, got 'em! They're in the running.

John Michael Greer said...

By the way, I'd like to thank everyone who's contributed a story to the contest -- as with the first Space Bats contest, I'm impressed with the quality of the writing and the imagination going into these. If this keeps up there may be two anthologies, not just one, coming out of this contest...

Shane Wilson said...

My grandfather's 100th birthday was a chance to observe the differences in the generations up close, and it was truly sad. You could definitely tell who had been through a depression and learned and grown through privation and who had only known relative privilege and comfort. It was interesting to look around at those of the silent generation & the baby boomers and see the trappings of aging--greying hair, stooped shoulders, age spots, feebleness in some cases, yet none of the wisdom or maturity of the greatest generation. It's truly frightening watching Peter Pan generations grow old but not up, and realizing how much has been lost in the short 20 years between those born in 1914 and those born in 1934- just noticing how overall miserable the silent generation & boomers are compared with the greatest generation, it's like they're aware on some fundamental level that they squandered their lives and opportunities, and the existential strain is killing them. It doesn't look good for the future as the next round of crisis comes on. I see a lot of elder abuse/abandonment as these entitled enfant terribles make unreasonable demands of their children & grandchildren.

makedoanmend said...

For me the arrival and final destination of personal descent would be to enjoy the occassional festival, and use of some small item (a well made book or garden tool) that I truely cherished. The festival, breaking up the daily but life giving routines, along with a bautifully crafted item, would signal that I was moving back into some sort of tune with my entire environment. Something I haven't felt in over 35 years - something that seems virtually impossible right now.

Less can often be more valuable than more.

Robert Mathiesen said...

JMG wrote:

"Robert, probably just as well that I chose not to pursue an academic career, then! Like a lot of people with Aspergers syndrome, I'm not at all talented at cold reading, thus have to use other methods to sort people out."

Your books that I have read so far, JMG, prove that you are a fine scholar indeed. In the humanities, at least, it used to be possible for a fine scholar to fly under the radar without much in the way of cold-reading skills. I don't know whether it still is.

Also, I'm guessing that one might be able to work around a lack of cold-reading skills by using this or that formal means of divination. (Have you found this to be so? I'm a pretty good cold-reader, so I can't answer that question from my own experience.)

It used to be that if one kept a very low profile and got a reputation for not chattering much, one's occasional contributions, considered in advance and well-timed, were enough to get by.

So you might have been able to manage an academic career. But you made the better choice, from what I've seen of you.

You probably would have found the constant dishonesty, hypocrisy and self-deception too hard to stomach for long. Eventually it was too much for me to stomach, too, and I retired early.

Glenn said...

thrig said...

"Eggs will keep for a few days"

Eggs will keep unrefrigerated for a couple of months, if they are turned two or three times a week to keep the inside of the shells coated so they stay airtight. A rise in air temperature reduces keeping time to a month or so. If you can avoid store bought eggs and get some that have never been in cold storage they will last longer.

The Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew (2nd Edition 1995 Pardey Books, Middletown California) by Linn and Larry Pardey gives this and other excellent advice on how to live without refrigeration or freezers. Including which produce keeps best, and how to store each type. Sailors have a bit in common with homesteaders when it comes to limited energy resources.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Don Plummer said...

For what it's worth, I wanted to respond to Cathy McGuire's comments about evangelical Christians and their misuse of Tolkien's environmental consciousness, taking due account of JMG's reply to the effect that he believes the evangelical pseudoconservative political movement is dying.

I suppose I'm not surprised to see them so grossly misread Tolkien's clear message against environmental degradation so as to turn it completely on its head, even though it takes considerable mental gymnastics to try to fit Tolkien into their anti-environmental paradigm. Sigh. The root of their anti-environmentalism is hard to fathom as well, believing as they do that God created all of it and called it all "good."

Cathy wrote, "the evangelicals seem to freak over fantasy genre." While that's possibly true in the case of Harry Potter and maybe a few other fantasy writers, I'm not sure it's true anymore with Tolkien. I think they now recognize Tolkien as some sort of Christian, after all, largely because of his longstanding friendship with Christian apologist and writer of Christian allegory C.S. Lewis. Of course it's true that they primarily see in both Lewis and Tolkien what they want to see; both are far more complex figures than they tend to give either credit for. I personally think Lewis' The Discarded Image is a far more important piece of writing than the Narnia series, entertaining as it may be.

I'm still scratching my head, though, that Tolkien could be so grossly misunderstood. This is the age we live in, though.

Grebulocities said...

Just out of curiosity, do you know of any news that foreign sources have actually been funding antigovernment rhetoric, or any other veiled propaganda? It's certainly plausible to me that this could be happening, given the amount of this the US itself funds overseas, but excluding the overt sources of foreign propaganda (like RT and PressTV) this is the first I've heard of it.

Esther said...

"Daughter, I've long suspected that for those people who can find it in themselves to rise to the challenge of our age, the decades ahead are going to be exciting, even exhilarating. It's those who crumple who will find them a long dark plunge into misery, ending in death. More on this in a future post"

I am definitely seeing this in my own outlook. When I keep reminding myself that "this is it, it's happening, sow the wind, reap the whirlwind" I find all sorts of things to do and the mind stays busy inventing resourceful ideas for how to spend the time well. Focus on "poor me, such a raw deal" and things get awfully bleak and you just want to go watch more TV. We've been taught to think of the Middle Ages (or any period before the invention of your favorite gadget) as joyless and dark, & although the suffering quotient will get higher, some forms of suffering (like alienation for those who face up to things) will be less, and one may even experience profound joy and significance in saving what can be saved, & in teaching others to think like this. This unexpected joy will likely be the foundation of a new religiousness and dogma, which in the West, will most easily happen by recovering the roots of real Christianity, rather than the fake, sentimental, intellectual kind which masquerades as neoliberalism, conservatism of the new variety, and a thousand other heresies. Tradition is One. Support your local variety!

Steve From Virginia said...

China conducts its trade w/ Europe in euros, not dollars.

China needs euros (as well as other forex) because these currencies represent purchasing power rather than (spurious) claims against it. In other words, China's purchasing power is a derivative of other countries'; if this were not so, China would be unable to export.

Because China's finance system losses are very great ($11 trillion or more according to Charlene Chu), China is 'underwater' having multiples of losses relative to its forex collateral. This = loss in yuan purchasing power, as also in Turkey, Argentina, Venezuela, etc. China does not have control over its own currency destiny.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@JMG--I know that Rita is well acquainted with the three quest myths you mention. The protagonists of all three myths are immortal goddesses. They may suffer; they do not die.

The Hero of Campbell's myth is a mortal. He risks his life and suffers hardship in an undertaking that is unlikely to succeed. The narrative example of such a myth gives many men the courage to risk themselves in battle and in physically dangerous occupations. No myth valorizes the kinds of toil, deprivation and danger that are the lot of ordinary women in most times and places. I believe that was Rita's point, or part of it.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Robert Mathiesen--Words to live by. I figured out rule #2 some time ago. The other ones seem like common sense, but I can see how temptation arises to ignore them.

Though my own people are pretty square, I've had the opportunity to get to know a couple of guys who were successful youthful criminals, smart enough not to get caught and smart enough to quit the life of crime for honest work before I met them. Those men were very good company.

LarasDad said...

@steve pearson - is this The Inklings: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Their Friends by Humphrey Carpenter the title you were referencing ?

@LewisLucanBooks -- I share your grief, having lost 11 of 12 myself last year, to coyotes ! But I was to blame, letting them truly free range - now they live behind chained link dog kennel fencing. The one Barred Rock that survived lays every day. I replaced 8 (mixed breeds) at the time, and just got 6 new BPR chicks this Wednesday.

Toro Loki said...

Well Radagast. I have been practicing my seed saving for several years. I have more than 50 varieties of seeds that I have saved myself.
Also been practicing my Tai Chi and Wing Chun... any Black Riders who mess with me are going to be in for a surprise...
As well as that, I have built a modest photovoltaic system... admitedly it wont last forever, but it gives me a little bit of electricity to use for the forthcoming magical transition...

Zosima said...

Cherokee Organics said...Hi Zosima, Stew your rhubarb into jam and/or stews.

“Fatso is a massive and well fed wombat that cruises the herbage...Stumpy is a wallaby who is the nemesis of all fruit trees. There's also baby wombat and big daddy kangaroo too, plus a harem of kangaroos. It is feral out there at night. With the eagles, owls, foxes, possums, sugar gliders, rats and mice etc. how I can grow anything at all is as much a surprise to me as it is an enjoyment to them.”

An amusing scene. Your critter neighbors should be more like humans - stay in at night and watch cable TV. Sounds like they’re on a mission, I imagine every night the briefing concludes - “This nice man went to all this trouble to plant stuff for us to eat, so by God let’s not disappoint him.” Thanks for the laughs - and the rhubarb tip.

Somewhatstunned said...

JMG said, in response to my remarks:

it's exactly Britain's current enthusiasm for following the US down the drain that worries me most

Yes, quite.

(The comments I've made recently have prompted me into clarifying my thoughts a little - for other readers, can I say that I'm not trying to hijack the comments into an off-topic discussion of the UK situation because what I'm about to say here is relevant both to the wider issues of TAR and to the specific points of this weeks article).

The way things will go with Britain (and you're right JMG, no matter which way the upcoming referendum in Scotland goes, it is, of course "Britain" and not the "UK") is partly dependant on unpredictable factors. One of those unpredictables is exact timing and here is an example.

Although we do not yet have a fracking bubble, we do have a big push to create one. If the US bubble bursts soon, the wind will go right out of the sails of those trying to create one here (sorry for mixed metaphor). But passively expecting an early pop cannot be relied on. Part of the reason there is no British fracking bubble is the cultural one of our planning regulations - which there is also a big push to de-fang - but another part of the reason might be that there is actual old-fashioned protest. This suggests to me that environmental protest (both polite and of the direct-action sort) is worth doing because it can delay destruction, keep things from getting worse than they otherwise would be. Our single Green MP (Westminster, that is - there are a few more in the Scottish and Welsh devolved assemblies) was arrested recently, with others, at a fracking protest. They were let off and I think I detect in the judge's careful remarks, a certain resistance to the bullying which their arrest amounted to.

I don't much like my own conclusions here - I'm not a direct action sort myself, nor am I keen on the bruising and frustrating realities of politics more generally - though at the very least there are some milder ways that I can add some support to environmental resistance.

Anyway, to tie this back into the wider issues of TAR, I would add the idea of "public resistance" to the large pile of "useful things waiting to be done, if they call to you and seem appropriate to your circumstances" - and the legalistic forms of resistance (actually using those planning regs) sit well with JMG's remarks about the skills needed for democracy. To tie this in to this week's article, it is a reminder that we still have long way to go for it to be "too late" to do something useful - there is almost always something that could make things a bit less bad than they would have been otherwise.

Now, of course, I have to think how this applies to me.

Cherokee Organics said...


Exiledbear made a truly awesome point (I'm only up to that comment in the discussion, sorry work calls here. Today meant a new trench for some lights and tomorrow is filling up the firewood storage bays – which are an unforseen disaster to be rectified over the next few months).

What has become fracking obvious to me over the past few years is that in accepting the power of the ring, the population at large have become docile and accepting of that power. But they do not see that the power of the ring also binds them, but more importantly that that power has limits which cannot be exceeded. It was a ring of power to be sure, just like Oil is to us, but it is not the only power in that/this world - if we fail to look, we will certainly fail to see. Even in Middle Earth there were other powers afoot.

What really irks me sometimes is that I really wish that there was someone I could seek for advice about how to live in this environment. I just seem to set something up and observe how it goes and then have to rework it down the track.

Unfortunately, I'm yet to come across this person. I'm slowly starting to assist others, but what I fear is that only I truly know how little I actually do know. Everything learned here is by research, implementation, trial and error. It is a really slow process.

I've started boning up on alternative beekeeping methods and what is obvious is that these authors intuitively respect the lives of the bees.

On a positive note, the mates that I helped a few weeks on their new farm phoned me this morning to thank me for that help and they were really excited about things at their place. I was really touched by that.

Speaking of tributes (university fees), some new (old) players are flexing their muscles against old adversaries and winning:

BHP link to impounded Japanese ship

Interesting times. I’m never quite sure what the quality of news that you get over in the US or whether I should mention this stuff or not?

PS: Just finished cooking some really yummy toasted muesli in the wood oven. Was also thinking today that, given the sheer quantity of timber here, it may not be a bad idea to learn how to use a staff. Does anyone know of any good books on the subject?



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

Predation is a hard thing to take. Sorry to hear about the loss of your flock to the coyotes.

The enclosure here is covered in a double layer of 1.4mm galvanised chicken wire around the base to about 1,200mm high. From that point, 25mm x 25mm x 1.2mm galvanised wire mesh covers the entire enclosure.

The dogs have proven to me that they can break a single layer of 1.4mm chicken wire given enough time.

Mate, every man and their dog wants to eat chicken. I can't leave them for more than a few minutes in the orchard unsupervised. Even one of my own dogs has killed a chicken here - knowing full well that the consequences would not be good for him.

Cheer up, you're in good company. Start again and learn from your surroundings. It's a harsh way to learn though.

I use surplus eggs as social currency too, so I understand your loss keenly.



Nastarana said...

Dear makedoanmend,

I don't know if you live in the USA, but in case you do--

For well made American made garden tools I can recommend without reservation

The Red Pig., who is a blacksmith in Gresham, Oregon, who makes a fantastic line of hand tools.

The best kept secret in the world of gardening, IMHO, is Rogue Hoes, This small company in the Midwest takes used steel agricultural disks and refashions them into the best hoes you will ever need. Don't take my word for it. Read some other testimonials and reviews. Comments like "The best hoe I have ever used. Period" are common.

For spade and digging fork with long handles I had to find companies that import from England. Decent to excellent shovels and bow rakes can often be found at flea markets, if you live near any such.

Esther, I respectfully suggest that at some point even the most enlightened people need to back off and let other people figure things out for themselves. I would point out that a lot of working class folks, who at this time are mostly only intermittently employed, are already doing a lot of things for themselves and doing without a lot of other things they used to have, because they have no other choice. I live in a (mostly white) working class neighborhood. I see a lot of backyard gardens, people not owning cars and there is overall a conspicuous lack of conspicuous consumption. There would be more gardens if landlords did not prohibit them.

I think it has been something of a fad in academic history among English speaking scholars since at least after WWII to portray the European Middle Ages as a time of unremitting gloom and terror.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@unknown (Debra Bender)--and JMG and Rita, too.

Excellent point about female goddesses vs the mortal male hero. In addition, being a hero in the service of something larger than oneself with potential next-life rewards feeds right back into some of the previous discussions of fascism and other movements.

This also has to do with my previous comment about Sam Gamgee. I know you thought Tolkien portrayed him in a stereotypical way. However, If you look beyond Tolkien's time- and culture-bound language, Sam could almost be seen as an anti-hero of sorts: not really taken in by grand language and visions, doing what is necessary to survive, and using what we might, in this forum, term green wizarding skills, at that. To me, his position relates to yours and Rita's comments regarding the difficulty of applying the standard heroic tropes to women's stories. Had Sam been somewhat different in character, or in a different situation he might have employed Robert Mathiesen's rules, as well.

As far as I can tell, much fantasy attempting to create a heroic model for women often builds on the male model. To me it seems--to Robert's point--that much of the future discussed here is likely to require anti-heroic skills and knowledge--yet just as much courage.

Where is the myth about the person who, not an acknowledged leader or old-style hero or someone with super powers, accomplishes a quest or goal by forging connections, by enabling people to work together to survive in adversity?

We are all ultimately alone in our personal quests, which is what the Cambell archetype is getting at. However, women are often the ones who "keep the family together," or carry on a culture while the heroes are off journeying and fighting. Penelope and Rosie the Riveter come to mind. That work needs to be brought out of the shadows and valorized in a way that makes it stand as worthy on its own as opposed to worthy because it supports the hero. I suppose that's why we have the phrase "unsung hero," now that I think of it.

thrig said...

Rita: perhaps the curse? Though that may just be a lament with teeth, and the poems I know of are somewhat vague ("The Wife's Lament", "Wulf and Eadwacer").

Glenn: oh, excellent.

Grebulocities: Evgeny Morozov covers pro-Russia blogging and infotainment in "The Net Delusion"; anything beyond that is doubtless hush-hush (or: it is much less effort (and safer) to sit back and watch an unbalanced laundry machine do itself in). This avoids the facepalmery from, oh, I don't know, "twitter the Cuban revolution" projects leaking out, for example. In other words, brash and swagger is a typically American trait, others might play with more subtlety.

Cathy McGuire said...

I wonder if it occurs to them that all they're doing is identifying themselves, in the eyes of their own children, as evil. I’ve been wondering what meets them on the other side when they pass away… I believe in karma.

"That which does not kill us ..." Both of those new quotes are gonna be posted by my computer. :-)

I think I’m beginning to see some cracks in the mainstream denial: Sunset Magazine had a long article about the CA drought and how fracking is making it so much worse, and a friend who’s always been “too busy and stressed to look at climate change” confessed to me that she’s having flashes of “armageddon fears” about earthquakes and mobs and asking herself why she’s not preparing (alas, she still didn’t want to hear any suggestions – I wonder if the “gee, I’m taking risks” attitude comes before “I don’t want to take this risk” attitude).

perhaps you've heard of Demeter's quest for Persephone, Isis' quest for Osiris, or Ishtar's quest for Tammuz?
to that I would add Iannana’s trip to the underworld – a woman’s heroic quest if I ever read one!

@James Hick: My situation is doubly precarious as due to a mild disability I'm pretty much unable to do any kind of laboring work or gardening. The best I think I can hope for is retreating to a small town in Cumbria and hopefully I can still get work as a bookkeeper.
Without knowing the details, might I suggest it’s not all or nothing? I have an increasing spinal deterioration that is definitely impacting my ability to garden or do other physical work – but I’m trying to 1) find ways to garden easier and 2) find what things I can do (like raising chickens). For example, if you found broccoli grew easily and you could put in a patch or two, you might trade it for other veggies. Or topbar beekeeping – none of the heavy lifting of the Langstroth hives, and everyone wants sweeteners! Just because you can’t do what is standard gardening doesn’t mean you can’t do enough to eat or trade… keep open to possibilities.

@Lewis LucanThe day before yesterday, my small chicken flock (5) was ravaged and savaged by coyotes. I have one very freaked out hen, left.
Oh! I’m so sorry to hear that- it’s devastating to lose our critters to predators! I’m glad you didn’t give up, and I hope you’ll allow yourself time to grieve, too. And fortifying the fortress is a great idea! I had someone do that, too, when I lost only one (but for a couple scary minutes it seemed the whole flock), and I sleep better. But now I’ve expanded to two roo-led flocks so the 2nd one needs its protected run… soon, very soon – your post was a kick in the posterior!
When my 2nd hive of bees swarmed two days after I’d bought and installed them, I had a half day of severe discouragement. But I’m not giving up, either… we just breathe and move through it… and learn. And the option to give up seems to me to be a suburbanite thing – I know many folks my age (58) have “given up” on the homestead thing because it’s “too hard now” – but I just keep thinking I need to get used to hard, and learn to cope with it… now is not the time to give up!

Ray Wharton said...

I am at my Church again (a good place to post from, thanks to Wifi ready to borrow)

They are celebrating Earth day with a celebration of the late 70's, but I asked them what happened after 1980, and thereby invented a sustainable alternative to air conditioning.

Still a good sign, though also ominous if these so comfortable are even feeling vibe too strong to keep completely suppressed.

The ecologist who gives the environmental ministry talks still is claiming we have to take emergence measures in the next 30 years to develop sustainable and renewing technologies to run industrial society on. A good man he is, but still very trapped in the rhetoric of 1978 when he was a White House fellow. That is to say the heaven or hell choice that we much make some time in the nearish future, with vividly different pictures. Though I grant that the salvation path at least admits to the extreme economic belt tightening needed.

A room full of people wearing the ring of entitlement. But I love them, for they give me the churches compost, and the trusties have gifted me land to experiment with gardening, mulch, and irrigation line.

Me thinks I will start to slowly increase my volume at this venue, some ears are ripe. I am sad because they cannot think aloud that poverty might impose a limit on their grand plans. I hope to help a few people at the Church do at least a little to be ready, I think it would help alot to aid a few now so that key member might weather this storm which will ravage this castle of privilege so fiercely... COFFEE HOUR! I better offer some aid, the iron is hot!

troy said...

Here's my entry for the story contest:

It was tough keeping it under 7500 words. In fact, final word count for "For Our Mushrooms" is 7499 haha.

Robert Mathiesen said...

@ Adrian Ayres Fisher:

So many good points in what you just wrote! A fondness for "grand language and visions" has been the undoing of so many solid people ...

I see Sam Gamgee as you do. He's the only character in the whole LotR I can imagine myself to be, or would ever want to be. (After him, Tom Bombadil is my other favorite, because he reaches all the way back to the very beginning of things. But I could never be Tom.)

My forbears were all survivors, for at least fourteen generations. They were knocked down again and again, but they always got up and kept on doing the hard stuff. And then they died, which is also not a cop-out if you've been doing the hard stuff all your life up to then. The stories they left behind them are what keep us going as a family, our greatest treasure and source of endurance and toughness.

None of my ancestors were heroic, not a single one of them. They just did what they had to, no matter how hard it was or what it cost them personally. That's not heroism; one needs some other word for it.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Chris at Cherokee wrote:

"What really irks me sometimes is that I really wish that there was someone I could seek for advice about how to live in this environment. I just seem to set something up and observe how it goes and then have to rework it down the track. Unfortunately, I'm yet to come across this person. I'm slowly starting to assist others, but what I fear is that only I truly know how little I actually do know."

This puts you in excellent company, Chris, tight up there with Socrates.

As a young man, Socrates went to the oracle at Delphi to ask who the wisest man in the world might be, so that he (Socrates) could go learn from him. The oracle answered -- without its customary ambiguity -- "It's you, Socrates!"

The reply puzzled him greatly, as he knew that he knew almost nothing. As an old man with much greater experience of life, he eventually came to see why the oracle had said that to him. It was precisely because, even as a young man, he had faced up to how very little he knew, or would ever know. And yet he taught others, and much of his teaching has remained useful for over 2000 years.

John Michael Greer said...

Shane, I've seen the same thing, and it's not pretty.

Makedoanmend, impossible? Hmm. What actions can you take in your own life to get things moving in that direction?

Robert, thank you -- that's high praise. I'd already decided on a translation and study of Giordano Bruno's De Umbris Idearum as my doctoral dissertation, for what that's worth, when I decided that it wasn't worth trying to fit into the academic industry. It's still a worthwhile project, though!

Don, no argument there! I assign The Discarded Image as required reading for anyone who wants to study medieval and Renaissance magic.

Grebulocities, no, at this point it's just a suspicion on my part. The foreign powers in question would be well advised to keep their funding secret, rather than copying the US government in putting its hubris right out there for the world to see.

Esther, I've noticed that with other people as well -- grasp what's happening without falling into the morass of self-pity, and that awareness becomes a powerful source of energy and motivation.

Steve, well, we'll see. I have my doubts, but that's a subject for another time.

Unknown Deborah, of course quest myths with female protagonists differ from quest myths with male protagonists -- and they differ in exactly the way you've indicated would reflect female experience, i.e, no single triumphant victory-or-death struggle, but a long slow process. Nor are all female quest myths about goddesses -- how about the story of Eros and Psyche? The myths of the world are full of rich narratives reflecting the whole range of human experience, not just male experience, and it seems odd to me that so many women seem to be so closed to that reality!

Toro, it's good to see that some hobbits are making appropriate preparations!

Stunned, that last sentence earns you tonight's gold star. Thank you.

Cherokee, you are the wizard to whom others will turn for advice. It's just that you're still in that long, slow, hard apprenticeship stage when spells keep on going awry and burning your eyebrows off. ;-)

John Michael Greer said...

Cathy, that's good to hear. If I'm right, when the fracking bubble pops, we'll have another window of opportunity in which some people will be open to what's actually happening, and stories of the sort you've described will help lay the foundations for that.

Ray, that's a very common reaction; good for you that you pushed through it and said what needs to be said.

Troy, got it. Please put through a comment marked "not for posting" with your email, so I can contact you if your story gets selected for the anthology.

Matt Heins said...

Thank you for the star. (Though I'll leave a stern note to my descendants to turn it over to Faenor's sons cheerfully upon request.)

I am looking forward to the discussion of your ideas on the way to Mordor. As much utility as Green Wizardy has, I remain convinced that an institution of some kind will be needed.

For the West Wind is screaming "Form Clans! Build strong Houses! Storm comes!" so loudly now that - at least here in the Cascades - it is difficult sometimes to make out what folks are saying to me.

onething said...

Rita said,

"If the hero quest is the universal myth that means that half the human race has no myth. The only female role in the hero quest is as prize (princess in the castle) or wise adviser (elf queens or witches)."

I wasn't going to say anything until I progressed further into the book, but recent discussions here inspired me to get a copy of The Glass Bead Game, which I'm not very far into. It paints a picture of an intriguing and attractive world but one in which there are only boys and men. Sure, there are mothers in the background but they are wallpaper. This is an issue I've struggled with and pondered most of my life. Perhaps it's because I was naturally a tomboy and as a child would have preferred to have been born a boy. I've come to the conclusion that men and women are quite different, and their worlds not comparable. As someone who believes in reincarnation, I assume that the tasks when born as a female are simply different.

onething said...


Don't you fence your garden? Around here, if you don't, the deer get most of it. Not to mention rabbits and groundhogs.
I'm getting the impression that more people are aware that something is afoot with our way of life. Today at work the TV was (as always) on and some TV preacher mentioned the coming "financial armageddon." I find that people here and there do mention that they are expecting some sort of collapse. The full extent of it and the true causes such as peak oil may not have come together, but they are not clueless either, and I suspect there are way more of them than you might think simply because it isn't something you talk about until you know people better.

Andrea Jesch said...

Though a longtime reader I've never commented here before.I do consider TAR (along with the Dark Mountain Project)my spiritual home. Thanks for the work you do, JMG and for your repeated calls to take up the quest. I'm a language teacher and tell my students that without constant repetition (I call it "input") you won't assimilate new language material that at first exposure seems weird and goes against everything you're used to (in your own language)but gradually becomes ever more coherent and natural.

Here's my contribution to the story contest. The story is set in Spain, re-reconquered by the Arabs.

Somewhatstunned said...

JMG said:

that last sentence earns you tonight's gold star

heh heh heh!:)

I'm horribly, horribly aware that being fairly smart and fairly clever with words don't amount to anything in themselves.

(Seriously, please do let me know if you reckon you're going to make it to a pub in Glastonbury - I live reasonably near the place but have never visited and was planning to go in the near future anyway).

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Bret,

I'm not judging your choices, but since you asked for feedback...

It has been my personal experience that it is very difficult to change the system from within. Inertia is like a weight which can drag you down and drown you despite your best intentions or strength.

By all means, give it your best shot and perhaps you may make a major difference. Who knows?

The story of Peter Garret doesn't get more instructional in the difficulties of changing the system from within. The guy was an ex-lawyer, so he was well educated. As the lead singer of the Australian band Midnight Oil, he was very outspoken on many issues relevant to this blog. Anyway, he joined in Federal politics and was - from my perspective - apparently increasingly irrelevant over time. A sad morality tale and he really was very outspoken and part of a most excellent rock group too.

I wish you well on your journey and hope that the inevitable conflicts of interest that you will have to face don't give you as much pain as they did me.



Michael said...

Sorry! There are people who aren’t lifelong Tolkien buffs? Truely JMG, your message is difficult and painful to hear, and civilization really is at an end.

Reminds me of a quote: "The English speaking world is divided into those who have read LOTR, and those who will" Quite as it should be.

And a demonstration placard: "Frodo was robbed. Bush has the One Ring" I know, snarling, but so much more elegant than the usual suspects.

Listening, and hopefully making the necessary changes.

Nastarana said...

Unknown Deborah, You must recall that Athena was divine pratroness of BOTH war and handicrafts. And that Artemis, while she may have begun her career as a mother goddess in Ephesus, became the virgin patroness of wild nature and her vengeance against any who insulted her was terrifying.

My favorite quest story involving a female protagonist is that of Vasilissa the Brave who travelled to the hut of Baba Yaga and lived to tell the tale.

The ancient Summerians told a story of how Inanna "divine owner of Uruk" traveled to the sea and brought back the arts of civilization for her city.

dltrammel said...

Robert Mathiesen said:

"My forbears were all survivors, for at least fourteen generations. They were knocked down again and again, but they always got up and kept on doing the hard stuff. And then they died, which is also not a cop-out if you've been doing the hard stuff all your life up to then. The stories they left behind them are what keep us going as a family, our greatest treasure and source of endurance and toughness.

None of my ancestors were heroic, not a single one of them. They just did what they had to, no matter how hard it was or what it cost them personally. That's not heroism; one needs some other word for it."

(and to others discussing heros...)

There's a lot of usefulness in just being the companion of the hero, and some great freedoms too.

I can't remember the book, only the scene. It was a fantasy novel and the hero was climbing a volcano with his companion, who I think was a far traveling samurai.

At one point the villain jumps them, and the hero escapes while the samurai and villain fight. The samurai wins and the villain is left dangling over the lava with the samurai preventing him from falling.

The villain laughs and says something like, "You can't let me die, you're a hero!"

The samurai pointed up the hill and said "He's the hero."

Then lets go. Watching the villain fall to his death.

I'd like to think most green wizards don't have delusions of herohood but will know when its time to use a swift kick in the privates or a staff across the back of the head to straighten people out in the Long Descent.

Cathy McGuire said...

how about the story of Eros and Psyche?
Yes - and that reminds me both of CS Lewis' novel "Til We Have Faces" and Helen Luke's marvelous essay clarifying and expounding on his storyline (told from POV of Psyche's older sister)... I found all of those to be inspiring, thought-provoking stories!

Cathy McGuire said...

I found that the link for Red Pig Tools is - just FYI.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ LarasDad; Cherokee and Cathy. Thank you all for you're kind words and good advice.

LarasDad; Yeah, feeling guilt that I didn't do enough to protect my chickens. You sail along for a year and think all's well, and then ... I think one of the survivors from my neighbors flock might be a Barred Rock. I have friends coming to visit in two weeks who are good at chicken ID.

Cherokee; The wire you mentioned sounds like what we call "hardware cloth" over here. Expensive, so I've been squirreling up rolls of the stuff as I run across it at farm sales. Your right about the chicken wire. Will keep chickens in but not predators, out.

Kathy - Oh, I grieved. Eating the last two eggs yesterday from my departed girls gave me a turn. But then, last night, two eggs from the survivors I took in from my neighbors flock! Even after a year of fooling with chickens, I still get such a thrill collecting eggs. The miracle, magic-ness of it.

I'm letting the chickens out for the first time this afternoon and keeping my fingers crossed. I reenforced the chicken wire but won't get to the heavier hardware cloth, for awhile. As you know, this time of the year there is just soooo much to do. 12 or so chicks on order but the breeder is having fertility problems.

Oh, I understand the age thing. I'm closing on 65. The beginning of my 3d year in the boonies. The rewards still far outweigh the drawbacks.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

The San Francisco Chronicle did a weekend feature on Sonoma County, a few miles north of where I live, and amid the articles on wineries and restaurants were two that might interest some readers of this blog.

One relates to doing science on a low budget. The ten year old Robert Ferguson Observatory is an astronomical observatory run by volunteers and supported by donations. Their instruments include a hand built reflector and an X ray telescope salvaged from an aborted space probe. Astronomy is a physical science in which amateurs still make contributions.

Robert Ferguson Observatory

People who have expressed a desire to tackle the problems of Peak Everything and climate change in groups larger than the nuclear family might be interested in this article about the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. This is an intentional community on an eighty acre homestead. They support themselves in part by selling heirloom varieties of plants to gardeners. They do practical work relating to sustainability and have a variety of educational programs such as training schoolteachers who want to start gardens at their schools and teaching urban activists how to prepare their neighborhoods for the impacts of climate change and economic crisis. They have partnered with a local band of Indians who are trying to decide how best to use their band's land.

sustainability lab

Myriad said...

My entry for the story contest: A Mile A Minute.

SLClaire said...

Re the discussion of hero tales with mortal women as protagonists: Marsha Sinetar, in her book Living Happily Ever After, uses the tale of Hansel and Gretel as the guiding myth for her thesis on how to live happily ever after. Sinetar points out that it's Gretel who tricks the witch into entering the flaming-hot oven and then slams the oven door on the witch, thus saving Hansel and herself from death.

RogerCO said...

An entry for the story competition to be found here

Thanks for prompting me to finally write something. And many thanks too for the continuing stream of useful ideas.


Iuval Clejan said...

I like to think of these rings of power as memes, with some memes hierarchically controlling other memes, just like there are master genes controlling other genes. There is no "one ring to rule them all" in genetics (or ecology, it's a web), but maybe there is in memetics? Somehow I don't think petroleum is a very high level ring/meme.

Maybe privilege is a bit higher in the hierarchy. there is privilege that comes from living in the heart of an empire, there is privilege that comes from having much money, there is privilege that comes from having passive income (usually in the form of rent or taxes or interest bearing investments). All these privileges existed before petroleum and we are deceived if we think that by giving up the privilege of petroleum and the lifestyle that is made possible by it, we are destroying the correct ring. Imagine Frodo throwing the wrong ring into the fire. Oops, nothing much happened. So diagnosing the right ring(s) is critical--destroy the wrong ring and Sauron's power is undiminished. Perhaps someone already commented on this.

Marcello said...

"I've long suspected that for those people who can find it in themselves to rise to the challenge of our age, the decades ahead are going to be exciting, even exhilarating. It's those who crumple who will find them a long dark plunge into misery, ending in death. More on this in a future post."

Well humans are a sturdy and diverse lot. For some people war acts as a drug (Chris Hedges described this quite brilliantly).
Others may find meaning dedicating themselves to a fascist règime.
While people try to survive in the most hellish circumstances I suspect that the dynamics of a seven billion population working itself back to something sustainable are going to be unadulterated misery for the average person. None of the actual personal accounts I have read of what happened in places like Cuba or North Korea when the oil supply was cut substantially suggests much in the way of silver linings.

In some places the nastiness might reach biblical levels.

onething said...

Yes, many good female characters and roles in the fairy tales. I've read them all.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@Robert Mathiesen,

Thanks for the good words. I agree that family stories can be a source of strength.

In my family, my great grandmother, married young and widowed early, kept the small family farm going while raising seven children: as you say, endurance and toughness. And she was very proud of the day she went to vote for the first time after women's suffrage, too.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I sent in a comment the other day about Inanna's journey, Sumerian mythology in general, Sam Gamgee and Tolkien's religion, but it disappeared into bit soup. Thanks to all who responded to my previous comments.

Anyway, Tolkien wrote explicitly about his religious beliefs in the short story "Leaf by Niggle" and in his essay on fairy tales. He was a devout Christian. If all we had to go by was the Ring-related fiction, that might be a matter for argument.

One striking thing about Sumerian mythology is that it contains funny stories, such as how Inanna managed to garner so many powers. Some cultures' myths display a sense of humor; others do not.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@unknown (Deborah Bender)

Oddly, my comment about women and mythology disappeared into bit soup, as well. I am not familiar with Sumerian mythology--will have to check that out. Native American stories often have humorous elements. I've always loved the Lakota Iktomi stories. A trickster who never quite achieves what he thinks he deserves.

I think I will try reposting my comment.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Hi JMG, attempted repost:

Very respectfully:

You wrote, "The myths of the world are full of rich narratives reflecting the whole range of human experience, not just male experience, and it seems odd to me that so many women seem to be so closed to that reality!"

Very, very true. As this thread has gone on, I've thought of more and more examples, from Egyptian mythology, to the great Athenian dramatists, through Shakespeare and Native Americans to fairy tales such as "East of the Sun, West of the Moon."

Perhaps some women are "closed," because they perceive the very unfortunate difference between the rich narratives in myths and stories and cultural expressions of said myths in which women's stories are devalued in relation to the larger culture. This, I believe, also holds true for many faith traditions (which serve as a repository and validation for myths, as has been discussed so frequently and well in this blog and forum).

For just one example, there is quite a difference between many of the stories that early judeao-christianity has to tell, and the way they get functionalized in the dogma and rituals, practices and beliefs of many Christian churches. (The Fall of Man is not really all Eve's fault.) My faith tradition, as does Druidry, affords full valorization of women and their stories/experiences/struggles, and my faith tradition's leaders (male and female) have gotten in a lot of trouble for this at various times.

I believe that perhaps many women who have objections are struggling against these tendencies in our mainstream American culture, which has been so dominated by stories that distort in so many cases what heroism is and who is heroic. The effects of this distortion can be seen throughout our popular culture, our media, even our "national narrative." What is the myth of progress, if not a story of heroism (as defined by our culture)--gone--as you have so helpfully pointed out--wrong?.

Also, in our modern American culture, much of the great mythology is lost. Many people are not exposed to the original sources, and have no chance to see the full range of human experience so well expressed.

I think I understand, and value the point made in this week's post regarding complacency, and the dangers that lie therein, along with the call to accept the necessary journey. This is important for everyone, regardless of gender, considering what the future likely holds in store. I would love to see a story with a similar point with a female-centered narrative, informed by the mythic tradition of women's quests. What would a woman's refusal look like? What would a woman's acceptance look like?

LunarApprentice said...

Hello JMG,
Up thread at bit you wrote: "Robo, now you've got me wanting to quote a passage from one of the other iconic novels of imagination of my younger days. I'll let my readers guess which one it is.

I didn't notice any guesses, so I'll try: Is it "The Last Unicorn?" I'm certainly curious to know what novel, and what quote, you have in mind.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Adrian,

Thanks. I look forward to hearing about your experiences.

The serviceberry and chokeberry are available here as seeds, so it should be interesting, although I don't know how a chokeberry will cope with a hot and dry summer?

Currants both red and black are very hardy here and produce copious amounts of fruit without much effort. The Gooseberries are slightly less hardy but produce a nicer fruit that tastes like a table grape to me.

Chilean guava (ugni molinae) are worth growing too and they are hardy requiring next to no attention at all here.

Hi thrig,

Eggs will keep far longer than just a few days. Eggs have a protective coating on the outside of them which stops bacteria getting into the otherwise porous shell. My understanding is that commercial egg producers wash eggs - which removes this protective coating - and this allows bacteria to get into the contents. The reason they wash the eggs is remove all of the manure on the shell, but the old timers used to just gently brush the muck off the shell (I do here and only wash eggs when I’m gifting them).

Your mum is correct about the test too. They float because they have higher levels of gas inside the shell which is an indicator of bacterial action.

PS: Try to avoid eggs from sick chooks too.

Hi Robert,

It can be nicely summarised down to: "Don't get caught". A tidy set of rules and they are a good antidote to hubris.

John Silvester is an Australian author who has written quite a number of books on the Australian crime scene. As an interesting side note, he has written that crime doesn't seem to be an old man's game.

Thanks for the thumbs up too. I genuinely worry that I don't know enough and whilst I'm constantly learning, there are a lot of errors too - but because I face up to them and start to correct them, there is no cemetery of failed projects here.

Hi Zosima,

Many thanks.

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