Temple Grandin Uses Autism to Understand Animals

"The amazing story of Dr. Temple Grandin's ability to read the animal mind, which has made her the most famous autistic woman on the planet." – BBC

Ann and I watched Temple's story on PBS. She's turned a severe disability into a strength — she's an expert on animal minds and adapting to autism. She's become famous and wealthy. She lives life on her own terms by being creative and courageous.

Parts 2 – 5





Money Is Not Real Wealth

John Michael Greer continues to eviscerate conventional economic thinking in his series on economics. Excerpts below.

Link: The Archdruid Report: The Metastasis of Money.

If economists took a wider view of the history of their discipline than they generally do, they might have noticed that what most of them consider a fundamental feature of all economies worth studying – the centrality of money – is actually a unique feature of an economic era defined by cheap abundant energy. Since the fossil fuels that made that era possible are being extracted at a pace many times the rate at which new supplies are being discovered, current assumptions about the role of money in society may be in for a series of unexpected revisions.

In an ironic way, this process of revision may be fostered by the antics of the world’s industrial nations as they try to forestall the Great Recession by spending money they don’t have. The economic crisis that gripped the world in 2008 was primarily driven by a drastic mismatch between money and wealth. When the price of a rundown suburban house zoomed from $75,000 to $575,000, for example, the change marked a distortion in the yardstick rather than any actual increase in the wealth being measured. That distortion caused every economic decision based on it – for example, a buyer’s willingness to go over his head into debt to buy the house, or a bank’s willingness to lend money on the basis of imaginary equity – to suffer similar distortions. Now that the yardsticks have snapped back to something like their proper length, the results of the distortion have to be cleared out of the economy if the amount of money in the system is once again to reflect the actual amount of wealth.

Yet this is exactly what governments and businesses are doing their level best to forestall. Governments are scrambling to prop up economic activity at a pace the real wealth of their societies can no longer support; banks and businesses are doing everything in their power to divert attention from the fact that a great many of the financial assets propping up their balance sheets were never worth anything in the first place and now, if possible, are worth even less. Both are doing so by the simple expedient of spending money they don’t have. As government deficits worldwide spin out of control and the total notional value of the world’s derivatives market climbs steadily above one quadrillion dollars, the decoupling of money from wealth is even more extreme than it was at the height of the real estate bubble.

Teddy Roosevelt Quote on Preserving Beautiful Places

There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.

President Teddy Roosevelt, 1903


Why did John Michael Greer move from Oregon to Maryland?

John Michael Greer walks his talk. He moved from Ashland, Oregon, to Cumberland, Maryland, based on his view of the future. While this may seem odd for a guy who is quite unconventional, his reasoning makes sense, given his assumptions. Read his essay on the move East at the link below (check out the great comments). I've included an excerpt below.

By the way – if his view of the future is on the mark – this is good news for the people who live in cities and towns that have been devastated by the transfer of jobs to lower-wage countries. Maybe my hometown of Martinsville, VA, will start to rebound!

Note: Greer has begun laying the groundwork for a nonprofit organization, The Cultural Conservers Foundation, aimed at preserving the legacies of the past and present into the future.

Link: The Archdruid Report: Betting on the Rust Belt

America is learning the hard way, as Britain did a century ago and Spain a century and a half before that, that the sheer economic burden of maintaining a global military presence is quite capable of pushing even the richest nation into bankruptcy. The Asian industrial powers that once churned out consumer goods for American stores are calmly retooling, using the billions we send them each year, to produce goods to meet the desires of their own newly prosperous people. Meanwhile the age of cheap abundant energy that made 20th century-style globalism possible in the first place is coming to an end around us. The economic model that built California’s past prosperity, in other words, is done enough to poke with a fork.

As far as I can tell, very few people on the west coast – or anywhere else – have begun to think through the implications of that troubling fact. I wonder, for example, how many states within driving range of California have drawn up plans to deal with the massive influx of economic refugees that will likely follow once California’s relatively lavish entitlement programs are slashed to the bone or shut down completely. I wonder whether any of the other west coast states, for that matter, have faced up to the possibility that the import-driven gravy train they’ve been riding for the last half century may just have run off the rails. If that’s the case – if Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle play the same role in coming decades that towns such as Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo and Gary played in the recent past – some of the most basic assumptions of American social geography are headed for the dumpster.

Sussing out the geography of the future in advance is no easy task, but the constraints bearing down on what’s left of the American economy offer a few hints worth noting. Now that we’re on the downslope of Hubbert’s peak – world production of conventional petroleum peaked in 2005 – energy costs will, on average, take a larger bite out of economies around the world with each passing year. One of the implications is that transport costs will no longer be a negligible part of the cost of goods shipped over long distances. More energy-efficient transport modalities will tend to replace less efficient ones because they, and thus the goods they ship, will be more affordable; equally, diseconomies of distance will tend to outweigh economies of scale and foster the reemergence of regional economies. Among the likely beneficiaries of these changes are the towns that thrived best in an earlier, more regional economy — those that are well served by rail and water transport, surrounded by farming regions that don’t depend on irrigation, not too far from major markets, and provided with ample and inexpensive real estate for the factories and warehouses of a downscaled and relocalizing industrial economy.

Is Consumption-Based Happiness Real?

In the first chapter of his book Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation, Charles Hugh Smith provides some intriguing insights about false and real happiness as an introduction to adapting to reality after the financial crisis of 2008.

Since he launched his blog www.oftwominds.com in May 2005, Charles Hugh Smith has warned readers that the unsustainably leveraged global financial system was poised to break down. When the system finally crashed in late 2008, his goal switched to writing a practical guide for not just surviving but prospering – a concept he called Survival+ (Plus). He recommends liberating ourselves from failed models of credit expansion, resource depletion, financial looting and a counterfeit prosperity built entirely on debt.

Below is an excerpt from the end of Chapter 1. Warning: Reading this may make you uncomfortable. I started to see how much advertising and consumption affect our view of reality.

Link: Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation

…happiness has been distilled down by the marketing/advertising complex to a simplistic, superficial formula:

1. You are a consumer

2. A consumer's worth is measured externally by what is owned, worn, displayed, and by what high-status markers are certified by authority (diploma, membership) or the mass media (desirable avatar, fame, etc.)

3. Self-worth results from the acquisition of goods and external markers

4. The internal state of owning scarcity-valued goods and high-status markers is happiness

What is left unspoken is the motivation for this formula:

5. The purpose of this formula is to profitably sell the insecure consumer an unnecessary good or marker which has no connection to self-worth or happiness.

Being social mammals, humans' reproductive success depends to some degree on the level of status, power and material wealth each individual reaches; thus some 8% of the men in a wide swath of Asia carry genes which trace back to the extraordinarily prolific conqueror Genghis Khan.

But to equate high social status with happiness is to confuse two complex issues: higher status may well provide more access to material sources of well-being, but happiness–a state of mind, an understanding, a practice and a process–cannot be reduced to material ownership.

Indeed, numerous studies of the multi-faceted inner sensation we call happiness (which I would term well-being) conclude that the sources of happiness are largely internal and relationship-based rather than material or status-based. Common sense suggests that the security offered by wealth and income boosts well-being, but studies find additional wealth provides diminishing returns. Beyond a certain relatively low level, additional wealth in any form (cash, goods, travel, etc.) offers little improvement in well-being.

Factors often listed as sources of well-being include: Meaningful work, recreation, love, friendship and worship.

We might ask: since shopping did not make the list, how did the pursuit of happiness shrivel to the pursuit of goods and services?

The answer is self-evident: a secure individual identity does not require status or limitless externalities, and thus it does not offer many opportunities to sell unneeded goods and services at a profit.

The first project of the marketing/advertising system is to break down internally produced self-worth and identity and replace it with a permanent insecurity. Convince the target audience that their worth is not internally sourced but totally dependent on externalities, and you create a fundamental insecurity: one can never have enough external goods or markers to establish enduring inner security.

A new fad or status marker will soon be introduced, driving down the value of whatever you own and thus your own "value" will plummet. Gratitude is impossible when there is never enough.

In a peculiar dynamic, the undermining of inner security–that is, of an independently constructed sense of self–by relentless marketing has sparked the emergence of a simulacrum of identity and self-worth: the so-called self-esteem industry.

Such is the perfection of the marketing/advertising system's induced insecurity that the connection between relentless marketing and our culture's pervasive sense of inner worthlessness is never made.

Rather than identify the root cause–the marketing/advertising complex–the self-esteem industry focuses on the symptoms, which it attempts to ameliorate with simplistic "feel-good" slogans ("you can be anything you want!", etc.), a counterproductive reduction in standards and a profoundly distorting goal of eliminating all metrics which might introduce a sense of diminished self-worth.

Just as the marketing complex purposefully confuses happiness with consumption (and indeed, citizen with consumer), so too does the self-esteem industry confuse external metrics and slogans with inner security and well-being.

Even some elements of organized religion have accepted the consumerist framework. In a troubling distortion of the Bible's edict that "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God," some churchgoers have come to confuse wealth acquisition with spiritual attainment.

The Declaration of Independence's "pursuit of happiness"–implicitly a structured process, a journey toward a goal–has been replaced with an illusory and ultimately cruelly misleading end-state: happiness has been reduced from a structured journey (with inevitable setbacks) to the fleeting euphoria of a new purchase/acquisition.

An experience-based understanding of happiness is ontologically structured around the experiences of well-being, warmth and satisfaction offered by true friendship, accomplishment, generosity, romantic and spiritual love and the humility of worship. The acquisition of externalities and superficial markers has no place in this understanding.

In a parallel fashion, an independently constructed sense of self–what we term an individual's identity–grows from humility, self-knowledge and the strength of personal integrity, not from an illusory simulacrum of identity conjured by pronouncements ("I am a member of…") and possessions.

Indeed, all that is truly valuable in one's self and identity can never be taken away or even diminished: integrity, experience, self-knowledge and humility.

Rather than accept the derealizing, dehumanizing reduction to passive consumer, the individual seeking internal and external liberation must renounce the impoverishment of "consumer" and embrace the power of a citizen's independently constructed sense of self.

One key feature of the derealization created by the marketing/advertising system is the erosion of adulthood in favor of a simulacrum of adulthood: permanent adolescence. The very traits needed to negotiate adulthood–an awareness of being tricked/manipulated/cheated, an awareness that life is a series of trade-offs in which one desire is sacrificed to support another deemed more important, the ability to put aside short-term impulses to meet long-term goals, etc.–are derealized in favor of an easily mallable adolescent worldview of spontaneity (that is, impulse), immediate satiation of appetites, escape from everpresent boredom and an obsessively insecure monitoring of one's peers for approved behaviors and status markers.

The adolescent is the perfect marketing target: insecure, focused on gaining approval via external props and cues, easily distracted and bored, powerfully stimulated by "newness" (a key feature of marketing exploitation), drawn to "tribes" of prescribed behavior and identity, and prone to powerful sensory surges triggered by sexual and physical signals (taste, scent, etc.)

The ideal adolescent can barely restrain his/her impulses and emotions and is ever ready to indulge whims and desires. He/she is intensely insecure and doesn't trust his/her own experience but instead seeks the approval of peers or peer tribes via marketable clothing or other externals, suppressing his/her own inner life and experiences lest they conflict with the security offered by conformity. Regardless of the apparent marginality of the tribe he/she seeks to join/belong to, the conformity is equally intense, marketable and unthreatening to the State and the Plutocracy.

The more the "consumer" internalizes these positive cues for adolescence, the more they experience their own alienation as their own fault; given that the very adulthood skills they would need to break free of the trap have been eroded/derided by marketing, they find their inability to feel what they're supposed to be feeling ("happy") only drives them further into complusive, self-destructive behaviors (the primordial "eating a quart of ice cream in the bathtub" experience.)

The very shallowness of this ubiquitously marketed adolescent worldview insures the participating consumer will feel unfulfilled and insecure after the brief high of consumption wears off. Unable to cross the chasm to their own experience, they turn with increasing desperation to marketed escapes and distractions for relief.

When Consumerist Gods Fail

It is important to recall the context of the current Depression: the U.S. has consumed trillions of dollars of goods and commodities in exchange for rapidly depreciating paper. Once credit/debt cannot be created exponentially, then consumption will fall in line with surplus production.

The marketing/advertising complex will still be flooding every nook and cranny of the nation and its media with messages to consume, but if few have surplus money and credit then it follows that few will have the means to buy, regardless of the persuasiveness of the millions of messages.

Thus it is not that the false god of consumerism will be toppled but that it will be abandoned–in many cases, most sorrowfully–by believers and adherents who no longer possess the surplus cash to offer the consumerist god.

The key factor in a consumerist-based identity is that someone profits by selling you an identity, character and sheen of status. The idea that what you wear, drive, tattoo yourself with, load on your iPod, etc. has zero bearing on anything meaningful about who you are and what you value is sacrilege of the highest order.

If "my stuff" is no longer "me," then who and what am I? And indeed, what can I sell you if all you really need to be "yourself" and happy is friends, minimal shelter, unprocessed food, homemade music, a library and an Internet connection and spiritual communion/worship? How much profit can I make selling you a used guitar, a DSL connection and a bag of carrots?

It boils down to this: when you run out of money, you switch religions from Consumerism to one of the good old spiritual standbys.

The known sources of happiness require little to no consumption:

1. health

2. friends

3. free time to pursue interests

4. spiritual communion/worship

5. exercise/sports/play

6. gardening

7. meaningful work (unpaid qualifies)

The experience of well-being has been so derealized that the sense of deprivation experienced at the loss of fine dining, Caribbean cruises, season tickets to the games, etc. is itself suspect.

We might even speculate that the experience of genuine happiness and well-being has largely been forgotten, or perhaps is an unknown sensation to media-numbed "consumers."

Since sustaining the simulacrum of consumerist "happiness" will cause much misery as the consumerist economy slides to oblivion, we might profitably ask if the happier choice wouldn't be to jettison the entire artifice of consumerist "happiness." Upon reflection, it was never real happiness after all; it was only a means to reap immense profits.

The Structure of Happiness

Let us revisit a key concept:

This process of bridging the widening gap between what we experience and what we're being told we should be experiencing via the substitution of simulacrum for authentic structures is central to this entire analysis.

In other words: when we have lost the possibility of indulging the marketing/advertising system's fantasy of endless consumption of needless goods and services, instead of feeling the loss, deprivation and gnawing sense of insecurity/emptiness we are supposed to experience, we might well feel an unexpected but spontaneously genuine relief and liberation that the burdens of constant consumption have been lifted from our sagging shoulders.

It won't be surprising that an analysis which refers so often to the "politics of experience" seeks to illuminate the darkest corner of the consumerist theology: that there is a politics of experience deep within an apparently superficial consumerism.

That is, we do not experience happiness or fulfillment in a vacuum; it is difficult to pursue happiness in a political structure of randomized violence, suppression of free expression, insecure private property rights (a.k.a. theft by other means) and centralized, ubiquitous propaganda that is dominated by an over-reaching State and its Plutocratic overlords.

Thus if we consider the Founding Fathers' phrase "pursuit of happiness" closely, we find not only that it implies a personal pathway of goals, progress, setbacks and discipline rather than a static end-state but also a political environment in which the individual pursuit of happiness is not just possible but encouraged rather than suppressed.

Perhaps the first step to such an understanding of an authentic "pursuit of happiness" is to recognize the consumerist theology of insatiable acquisition (which benefits the State and the Elites alike) as a perverse and destructive simulacrum of genuine happiness.

A Glaring Flaw in Economics Dogma Is Being Exposed

More than a century ago, John Muir theorized that ice-age glaciers carved out Yosemite valley into the beautiful rock formations that we see today. Geologists ridiculed him, because he was not trained as a geologist and thus his ideas were heresy. Muir was right, of course, and I doubt that the geologists apologized to him.

Similarly, John Michael Greer is looking at economics from a perspective untainted by economic dogma. He uses organic agriculture, in contrast to industrial agriculture, as his metaphor. He builds on the work of E.F. Schumacher to describe a "primary" economy that is ignored by most economists (which may explain why our economy is such a mess).

I've included some excerpts below in the hope that anyone concerned about future generations  might click on the link below and read the whole essay. And while you are there, read the comments. His audience has some great questions and insight, especially on the topic of  the value of land and organic farming.

Link: The Archdruid Report: The Wealth of Nature.

… a society that permits the advantages of ecological abuse to go to individuals, while the costs are shared by the whole society, is effectively subsidizing the destruction of its environment.

…fertile land suitable for growing crops does not simply happen. Like anything else of value, it must be made, and once made, it must be maintained; the only difference is that the laborers that make and maintain it do not happen to be human beings.

Soil suitable for crops, after all, is not simply rock dust. A large part of it – sometimes more than half – is organic matter, some living, some dead but not yet wholly decayed, some dissolved into organic colloids complex enough to give analytical chemists sleepless nights, and all of it is put there by the activity of living things over long periods of time. Energy and raw materials flow through soil, uniting bacteria, fungi, algae, worms, insects, and many other living things into one of the most intricate ecosystems on Earth. Plants participate in and depend on this bewilderingly complex world; they draw water and mineral nutrients from it, and cycle leaves and a wide range of chemical compounds back into it.

The farmer who wants to grow crops is attempting to extract wealth from the underground ecosystem of the soil. She can ignore that, and simply plant and harvest with no attention to the needs of the soil, but the soil will be depleted of nutrients in a few years and her crops will fail. Alternatively, she can replace nutrients with chemical fertilizers, predators with pesticides, and so on; if she does this she will have to use steadily larger doses of chemicals to get the same yields, and when the chemical feedstocks run out – as they eventually will – she will be left with soil too sterile and pest-ridden to grow much of anything. If she wants to fulfill Ricardo’s promise and hand the land on to her grandchildren in the same condition that it came from her grandparents, she will have to provide the things the soil needs for its long-term health. Put another way, she will have to barter with the soil, giving it the things it will accept in exchange for crops.

This is the premise of organic agriculture, of course. It’s a premise that has proven itself over millennia, in the Asian farming regions that inspired the organic pioneers of the early 20th century to devise a more general way of doing the same thing, and over decades, in the farms now using organic methods to get yields roughly comparable to those of chemical agriculture. The organic approach has many dimensions, but one may not have received the importance it deserves. To an organic farmer, land is not a commodity that can be owned but a community with which she interacts, and that community has its own economy on which the farmer’s own economy depends.

The same thing is true of every other form of economic activity, though the dependence on nature may be less obvious in some cases than in others. Behind the human activities that produce secondary goods lie nonhuman activities that produce primary goods – the biological cycles that yield soil fertility, crop pollination, and countless other things; the hydrological cycles that put fresh water into reservoirs and taps; the tectonic processes in the crust that put economically useful metals and minerals into veins in the rocks; and, of central importance just now, the extraordinarily complex interplay of biological and geological processes that stored away countless billions of tons of carbon under the earth’s surface in the form of fossil fuels.

Conventional economics assumes that these things get there by some materialist equivalent of divine fiat. This misstates the situation disastrously. Primary goods are produced by an exact analogue of the way that secondary goods are produced: raw materials are transformed, through labor, using existing capital and energy, to produce goods and services of value. The difference is simply that all this takes place in the nonhuman world. Human beings do not manage the production of primary goods, and the disastrous results of trying to do so suggest that we probably never will; on the other hand, in at least some cases – maltreated farmland is a good example – we can interfere with the production of primary goods, and suffer the consequences.

… The cycles of nature that produce goods needed by human beings constitute the primary economy, while the process by which human beings produce goods is the secondary economy. The secondary economy depends utterly on the primary in at least two ways. First, as discussed last week, something like three-quarters of all economic value in today’s world is produced by nature – that is, by the primary economy – and only around a quarter is produced by human labor. Second, even that quarter is made directly or indirectly from primary goods, and cannot be made at all if the necessary primary goods aren’t there. This is why the attempt to replace a depleted natural resource with something else always involves substitution costs: human labor must be brought in to replace some part of the work previously done by nature, and the costs of that part of the work thus end up having to be paid out of the secondary economy.

We have become so used to thinking of economics as a matter of human labor that it’s probably best to point out that what are sometimes called “primary industries” – farming, mining, and the like – belong to the secondary economy, not the primary one. The primary economy consists wholly of those nonhuman processes that yield economic goods to human beings. Thus a farm and the crops grown on it are part of the secondary economy, while the soil, water, sun, and genetic potential in the seed stock that make the farm and its crops possible are part of the primary economy. In the same way, a mine is part of the secondary economy, while the slow geological processes that put ore in the ground where it can be mined are part of the primary economy. If you examine any human economic activity, you’ll find behind it natural processes that make that activity possible; those processes are the inputs from the primary economy that make the secondary economy possible.

Thus Adam Smith’s dictum cited earlier badly needs reformulation. The product of the natural environment of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessities and conveniences of life; the annual human labor is simply the energy input required to turn some of that product into forms useful for human beings. The wealth of nations, it turns out, is ultimately the wealth of nature, and the sooner the value of natural cycles and primary goods is taken into account, the better chance our descendants will have of avoiding the self-defeating habits that are pushing modern industrial system down the long road to collapse. To do so, however, will require a clear sense of the difference between value and price, or to put matters another way, between wealth and money – the theme of next week’s post.

I recommend that you read the whole essay and comments at this link: The Wealth of Nature.

Is Sustainability Foolish?

I believe that modern post-industrial societies will run out of the natural resources that they depend on – especially fossil fuels – unless some drastic changes are made. In short, I feel that we are on an unsustainable trajectory.

Apparently I'm in a minority in the United States, where many of my friends feel that we can find a way (e.g., technology, invasions, government intervention, self-medication) to overcome the shortfalls caused our ever-growing consumption. Of course, many folks are oblivious to such concerns and are content as long as cheap fast food and cheap gasoline can be purchased close to home. I have some foolish beliefs is the eyes of these people.

John Micheal Greer communicates his views in essays that combine an understanding of ecology and a knowledge of history.  His grasp of the rise and fall of civilizations provides an objectivity and humility rarely found in the debates in the media today. His blog that has become essential reading for me when I want some insight into the cloudy future that is rapidly unfolding before us. Below is an excerpt from an essay on his blog addressing sustainability.

As a student of ecology, I’ve learned that environmental limits play a dominant role in shaping the destiny of every species, ours included; as a student of history, I’ve reviewed the fate of any number of civilizations that believed themselves to be destiny’s darlings, and proceeded to pave the road to collapse with their own ecological mistakes. From my perspective, the insistence that limits don’t apply to us is as good a case study as one might wish of that useful Greek word hubris, otherwise defined as the overweening pride of the doomed. Still, the fact that these things seem so self-evident to me makes it all the more intriguing that they are anything but self-evident to most people in the industrial world today.(John Michael Greer: A Struggle of Paradigms)

If Mr. Greer had been my history teacher, I would have learned a lot more in school!

Can We Learn from History?

John Michael Greer applies his knowledge of history and ecology to the current financial crisis. Civilizations that have collapsed often took for granted essential resources until it was too late to recover. Excerpts below.

Link: The Archdruid Report: The Unnoticed Technologies.

Like the inhabitants of Easter Island, we depend on the reckless exploitation of limited resources to sustain our way of life; like the civilizations of the Middle East whose fate was chronicled by ibn Khaldûn, our survival depends on fragile infrastructure systems that few of us understand and most of our leaders seem entirely willing to starve of necessary resources for the sake of short-term political advantage. The industrial system that supports us has been in place long enough that most of us seem to be unable to conceive of circumstances in which it might no longer be there.

One of the wrinkles of catabolic collapse – the process by which societies in decline cannibalize their own infrastructure to meet immediate needs, and so accelerate their own breakdown – is that it can trigger abrupt crises by wrecking some essential technology that is not recognized as such. We are already witnessing the early stages of exactly such a crisis. What large trees were to the Easter Islanders and irrigation canals were to the early medieval Middle East, the current form of money economy is to modern industrial society, and the speculative delusions that passed for financial innovation over the last few decades have played exactly the same role as the invading nomads of ibn Khaldûn’s history, by stripping a fragile system of resources in the pursuit of immediate gain. The result, just as in the 1930s, is that a nation still relatively rich in potential resources, and provided with a large and skilled labor force, is sliding into crushing poverty because the intricate social system we use to allocate labor and resources has broken down.

Other unwelcome surprises along the same lines are likely events in the future. Before we get there, however, those of us who are concerned about the possible downside of history might be well advised to pay more attention to the unnoticed technologies in our lives, and to start thinking about how to make do without them, or get some substitute in place in a hurry, if the unthinkable happens and one or more of them suddenly goes away.

John Michael Greer Interviewed

Janaia at Peak Moment Conversations interviews one of my favorite bloggers and thinkers, John Michael Greer. He's articulate and informed – be ready to learn and smile. You can read his essays at The Archdruid Report.

Link: Peak Moment Conversations » Blog Archive » 138 The Twilight of an Age.

In his book, The Long Descent, John Michael Greer observes that our culture has two primary stories: “Infinite Progress” or “Catastrophe”. On the contrary, he sees history as cyclic: civilizations rise and fall. Like others, ours is exhausting its resource base. Cheap energy is over. Decline is here, but the descent will be a long one. It’s too late to maintain the status quo by swapping energy sources. How to deal with this predicament? He lays out practical ideas, possibilities, and potentials, including reconnecting with natural and human capacities pushed aside by industrial life.

Adapting to the End of Cheap Energy

Astute observer of culture and history John Michael Greer articulates the broad implications of the end of cheap energy. Excerpts below.

Follow the link to read the whole essay.

Link: The Archdruid Report: The Age of Memory.

…The end of the age of cheap energy has many implications, but one of the most important – and most daunting – is that it marks the end of the road for nearly all the cultural trends that have guided the industrial world since the paired industrial and political revolutions of the eighteenth century. Those trends pursued greater size, greater speed, greater power; the replacement of human capacities with ever more intricate machines, demanding ever more abundant energy and resource inputs; an escape from the interdependence of living nature into an artificial world transparent to the human mind and obedient to the human will.

That way to the future is no longer open. The nations of the industrial world could pursue it as far as they did only because abundant reserves of fossil fuels and other natural resources were available to power Faustian culture along its trajectory. The waning of those reserves and, more broadly, the collision between the pursuit of unlimited economic growth and the hard limits of a finite planet, marks the end of those dreams. It may also mark the beginning of a time in which we can sort through the results of the last three centuries, discard the ones that worked poorly or demand conditions that no longer exist, and keep what still has value.

One useful way to talk about this process, it seems to me, is to borrow a common habit of talking about history and put it to work in a new way. Not that long ago it was common to describe the medieval period in the Western world as the Age of Faith, and to contrast it smugly with an Age of Reason that was held to have dawned with the first stirrings of the scientific revolution, and come into its own with the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. Oversimplified though these categories are, they point up certain important distinctions between the phases of our cultural trajectory that were primarily guided by religious thought and those guided by the expansive Enlightenment belief in the limitless power of human reason.

That latter belief is on its last legs just now, because the effort to direct human behavior solely according to reason simply didn’t live up to its advance billing; the inevitable reaction is following. Thus the faith that unchecked rationality is a ticket to Utopia, or the only hope of the human future, or whatever other set of religious ideas might be assigned to it, is wearing very thin these days, and the decline of today’s technological infrastructure in the wake of peak oil may just put paid to it. Reason will doubtless retain an active role in our collective life, just as faith has done, but other forces will likely take the lead in the decades and centuries ahead of us.

Thus it may not be inappropriate to suggest that in a very real sense, the Age of Reason is ending. If Spengler is right, what will follow it is an Age of Memory, where the collective imagination of the West turns back to contemplate its own past and extract the most useful elements from a thousand years of innovation. The cultural conserver concept, which I introduced in an earlier post here, represents one workable response to that possibility. I plan on discussing that in more detail, and in more practical terms, in the weeks and months ahead – subject to the usual interruptions, of course.