I am starting this thread to post links (and any commentary) to essays written by John Michael Greer over at the Archdruid Report. So much of his work is read by so many influential people. And I think his ideas are worth pondering.
I'll start with the most recent. Well worth reading...
Hope In A Cold Season (December 28, 2011)
"Let’s imagine, to put the same logic in a different context, the plight of an unemployed single mother in today’s America during the holidays. She has, we’ll assume, barely enough money to pay the most basic expenses for herself and her children, and the clock is ticking on her unemployment benefits, which will run out after 99 weeks. Her desperate efforts to land any job at all have gone nowhere—that’s common enough these days—and it’s become plain, as the holidays draw near, that if she’s going to be able to afford to keep her children fed and clothed and housed into the new year, there aren’t going to be any Christmas presents.
"What does she say to the children? According to the logic offered by my commenter, she presumably ought to insist to them that Santa Claus will show up on Christmas Eve with a big sack full of presents for all. It’s certainly true that this will fill the children with love, joy, hope, and a sense of inner well-being, for the moment. It might even seem like a good idea, as long as you don’t think about what’s going to happen on Christmas morning, when eyes that had been sparkling with delight the night before look up tearfully from the bare floor to their mother’s face.
"I think most people recognize that the right thing to do instead in a situation of that kind is to tell the truth, or as much of it as the children are old enough to grasp, and do it early enough in the season that they can get past the inevitable misery and go to work making the best of things. Talk to people who grew up during the last Great Depression and you’ll hear stories of this kind over and over again—the holiday decorations pieced together from wrappers and scraps, the depressingly plain meal livened up with a few little touches or sheer make-believe, the little doll handmade from rags and burlap sacking that’s still treasured three quarters of a century later, and so on. If love, joy, hope, and authentic inner well-being are to be had in such a difficult situation, they’re going to come that way, not by way of making gaudy promises that are never going to be fulfilled."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2011/12/hope-in-cold-season.html
Also, here's a link to a thread discussing his book, The Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age:http://www.peakprosperity.com/forum/long-descent-john-michael-greer/15991
He's a great guy and very well spoken. I feel he has a very good grasp on things to come and a practical way of rationalizing and preparing for them.
His lucid and calm pieces bring a tone to the discussion of 3E-related material that (outside of this place) is rare. Thanks for the reminder -- I haven't caught up w/his blog since October when I got busy with the move...
Viva -- Sager
Again another thoughtful, insightful essay about the inevitable and what to do about it.
Waking Up, Walking Away (January 18. 2012)
"One after another, nearly every economic sector has undergone drastic reorganizations that slashed jobs, pay, and benefits for everyone below the middle class, and a growing number of people in the lower end of the middle class itself. Now that everyone below them has been thrown under the bus, the middle classes are discovering that it’s their turn next, as the classes above them scramble to maintain their own access to the payoffs of privilege. Having nodded and smiled while those further down the pyramid got shafted, the middle classes are in no position to mount an effective resistance now that they’re the ones being made redundant. I can almost hear a former midlevel manager in an unemployment line saying: 'First they laid off the factory workers, but I said nothing, because I wasn’t a factory worker...'"
"Over the years to come, as the real economy of goods and services contracts in lockstep with the depletion of fossil fuels, the fight over what’s left of the benefits of a failing industrial system is likely to become far more brutal than it is today. In the long run, that’s a fight with no winners. The alternative is to walk away, now, while you still have the time and resources to do it at your own pace."
Here are two of his posts that really made resonated with me:
It would be fun to have a beer (or glass of red wine) with him and pick his brain. Maybe CM could get an interview with him.
I agree with you about resonation. I haven't had a chance to re-visit the first post you linked to, but the second, "What Peak Oil Looks Like" does resonate.
I don't think most of us back in 2000 would have predicted that oil - trading in the $20s - would rise to average $100 per barrel today. And yet here we are today, and for the most part, life goes on - just more expensively.
Did you ever think you would be subjected to the kind of crap the TSA pulls on airline passengers on a daily basis? And yet millions are still flying. Snooki and the Kardashians engross the attention of millions like Pamela Anderson and the cast of Friends engrossed people then. Mos of us are like the frogs who have grown accustomed to the temperature. It's not as comfortable as it once was, but it's not so bad that we would jump out and risk the fire.
Ten years from now, I suspect the stock market will still be functioning, there will be useless celebrities to gawk over on the television, oil will be $200 per barrel, and Amazon.com and UPS , FedEx, and USPS will be delivering groceries on contract for the Fed in lieu of food stamp debit cards... and most of us will still be here on PeakProsperity.com in between watching Chris on his daily cable network show, The Martenson Report, replacing a debunked Jim Cramer's time slot.
What Peak Oil Looks Like (December 7, 2011)
"A decade ago, those few of us who were paying attention to peak oil were pointing out that if the peak of global conventional petroleum production arrived before any meaningful steps were taken, the price of oil would rise to previously unimagined heights, crippling the global economy and pushing political systems across the industrial world into a rising spiral of dysfunction and internal conflict. With most grades of oil above $100 a barrel, economies around the world mired in a paper “recovery” worse than most recessions, and the United States and European Union both frozen in political stalemates between regional and cultural blocs with radically irreconcilable agendas, that prophecy has turned out to be pretty much square on the money, but you won’t hear many people mention that these days.
"The point that has to be grasped just now, it seems to me, is that this is what peak oil looks like. Get past the fantasies of sudden collapse on the one hand, and the fantasies of limitless progress on the other, and what you get is what we’re getting—a long ragged slope of rising energy prices, economic contraction, and political failure, punctuated with a crisis here, a local or regional catastrophe there, a war somewhere else—all against a backdrop of disintegrating infrastructure, declining living standards, decreasing access to health care and similar services, and the like, which of course has been happening here in the United States for some years already."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2011/12/what-peak-oil-looks-like.html
Another interesting one from John Michael Greer, his latest:
The Myth Of The Machine (January 25, 2012)
"[We] Americans by and large accept an extraordinary degree of dependence on a machine - the automobile - in order to invest that machine with the feelings and dreams that cluster around the concept of freedom. We accept an extraordinary degree of dependence on another machine - the television - in order to give that machine the emotional charge that other societies give to participation in collective meanings and activities. Sort through any of the narratives that play a central role in contemporary American culture, and you’ll find a machine at the center of each one. Thus it’s absolutely predictable that when Americans try to think about finding some way out from between the narrowing walls closing in on our future, nearly everything they come up has some kind of machine at its heart. A solar panel, a wind turbine, an electric car, a thorium reactor, a supercomputer, a flying saucer or a nuclear bomb, take your pick, but it’s got to be based on a machine."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/01/myth-of-machine.html
Speculative science fiction....
What would a post peak oil world look like in the year 2050, 2100, and 2150?
In a reply to someone's comment, he wrote: "I thought a lot of people were missing the point... The future we face isn't business as usual with a coat of green spraypaint, or a hitching post for utopian fantasies, or some satisfyingly dramatic catastrophe that punishes the people we like to blame for our problems. It's the decline and fall of a civilization the way this process actually happens: slow and messy, as real history always is.
"Mind you, I'm not silly enough to claim that this fictional narrative is what the future actually holds. My point is that this is the kind of future we can expect: a future in which the same sort of political, economic, and social crises we've experienced in the last two centuries keep happening, against the backdrop of contracting energy supplies and slow but massive climate change."
John Michael Greer takes his crystal ball and looks into the future. Warning: This future is very bleak.
Christmas Eve 2050 (November 15, 2006)
"Human beings make sense of their lives by telling stories, and the tools of narrative fiction have enormous value for putting facts in context - especially when the context is as unfamiliar as the aftermath of peak oil will be to most people in the industrial world. With this excuse, if any is needed, I’ve sketched out the first of three glimpses of what life might be like for an average American family in the deindustrial future. This one’s set in 2050, about 40 years postpeak, during a respite from one of the first waves of catabolic collapse."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2006/11/christmas-eve-2050.html
Solstice 2100 (November 29, 2006)
"My second attempt to use the tools of narrative fiction to explore the deindustrial future, this story is set half a century after 'Christmas Eve 2050.' Once again the subject is an American family’s experience in a world after peak oil. Between the two narratives, several more cycles of catabolic collapse, involving civil war, epidemic disease, and the onset of severe climate change, have transformed the physical and cultural landscape, with more changes in sight."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2006/11/solstice-2100.html
Nawida 2150 (December 13, 2006)
"This is my third and (for now) last exploration of a deindustrial future using the tools of narrative fiction. Fifty more years have passed since 'Solstice 2100.' Massive climate change, including the melting of the Antarctic ice cap, and the final stages of catabolic collapse have transformed the setting almost beyond recognition. In the aftermath of these changes, new cultural forms are evolving to replace the last fragments of industrial civilization."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2006/12/nawida-2150.html
Honestly, such a future timeline is a little scary. At the same time, there are a few glimmers of hope at the end.
And then Greer takes it a step further. He "interviews" the main character in each scene to get some backstory. The tone doesn't quite match the people, but then again, it's just fantasy:
Christmas Eve 2050: Q&A (November 22, 2006)
"I make N$250 an hour, like all the office staff. Flat tax is 30%, so for a fifty-hour week I take home N$8750. Joe’s on the factory floor so he makes less, even though he’s a foreman. The two of us make a bit over N$16,000 a week. That’s all in new dollars, of course, so figure $320,000,000 in old money."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2006/11/christmas-eve-2050-qa.html
Solstice 2100: Q & A (December 7, 2006)
"...Sophie Mendoza has a ten million old-dollar bill from back before the Persian war, Earth Mother bless her, but of course it’s not worth a penny now. I think some of the new governments printed bills back a few years, but nobody would take them. These days, people want money that has more than promises behind it."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2006/12/solstice-2100-qa.html
Nawida 2150: Q&A (December 20, 2006)
"Money? Very little; there’s not much of that in circulation these days. I have one student whose family pays me in money—they’re in trade, so it’s convenient for them. The rest pay in barter or rice chits - those are markers good for a fraction of next year’s rice crop. Most local trade uses one or the other. Still, you can’t buy foreign goods with them, and even if I sold everything I got I couldn’t keep myself in poppy resin for more than a little while."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2006/12/nawida-2150-qa.html
Yesterday's posting was another win from John Michael Greer.
The Structure Of Empires (February 22, 2012)
"Empires, as last week’s post noted, have been around for a long time. The evidence of history suggests that they show up fairly promptly once agriculture becomes stable and sophisticated enough to support urban centers, and go away only when urban life also breaks down. Anyone interested in tracking the rise and fall of empires thus has anything up to five thousand years of fairly detailed information from the Old World, and well over three thousand years from the New—plenty of data, one would think, for a coherent picture to emerge."
Makes me realize how fortunate I am to live in an empire, rather than in a subject nation or enemy nation.
So, what place would be an emerging new empire? Or, even better, some current, relatively prosperous ally that would be of no interest and too difficult for any current or emerging empire to bother with? Norway or Switzerland?
This will be a good series
You're right, Tycer. This is shaping up to be a good series.
And John Michael Greer writes in such an interesting way, it's like reading a serialized novel in a newspaper.
Here's this week's post:
The Trajectory of Empires (February 29, 2012)
"...The production of wealth in any society depends on a feedback loop in which a portion of each year’s production becomes part of the capital needed to produce wealth in future years, and another portion of each year’s production - a substantial one - goes to meet the maintenance costs of existing productive capital. In theory, an empire could keep its exactions at a level which would leave this feedback loop unimpaired. In practice, no empire ever does so, which is one of the two primary reasons why the subject nations of an empire become more impoverished over time. (Plain old-fashioned looting of subject nations by their imperial rulers is the other.) As the subject nation’s ability to produce and maintain productive capital decreases, so does its capacity to produce wealth, and that cuts into the ability of the empire to make its subject nations cover its own maintenance costs. A wealth pump is great, in other words, until it pumps the reservoir dry."
"Rome’s approach to pumping wealth out of subject nations was straightforward. Once a nation was conquered by Rome, it was systematically looted of movable wealth by the conquerors, while local elites were allowed to buy their survival by serving as collection agents for tribute; next, the land was confiscated a chunk at a time so it could be handed out as retirement bonuses to legionaries who had served their twenty years; then some pretext was found for exterminating the local elites and installing a Roman governor; thereafter, the heirs of the legionaries were forced out or bought out, and the land sold to investors in Rome, who turned it into vast corporate farms worked by slaves."
"Consider England’s rule over India, once the jewel in the crown of the British empire. In the last years of British India, it was a common complaint in the English media that India no longer "paid her own way." Until a few decades earlier, India had paid a great deal more than her own way; income to the British government from Queen Victoria’s Indian possessions had covered a sizable fraction of the costs of the entire British empire... It took the British Empire, all in all, less than two centuries to run India’s economy into the ground and turn what had been one of the world’s richest and most productive countries into one of its poorest."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/02/trajectory-of-empires.html
Can't wait til next week when Greer starts writing about the history of the American empire.
you don't have to wait ... from what I have seen, you have more vision than you give yourself credit for.
Thanks. But I doubt I have anywhere near as sweeping a grasp of history nor as elegant a hand at prose as John Michael Greer does...
Here's his eagerly awaited words on the United States...
America: Origins of an Empire (March 7, 2012)
"West of Chesapeake Bay lay the Potomac valley, one of the few easy routes into the mountains, and it’s likely that somewhere up that way - by the nature of the thing, nobody will ever know when or where - German and Scots-Irish traditions blended with scraps of a dozen other ethnic heritages to create the first draft of American frontier culture. Think log cabins and long rifles, homespun cloth and home-brewed liquor, a fierce habit of local independence and an equally fierce disdain for the cultures of the coast, and all the rest: that’s where it came from, and it spread westward along a wide front from the Great Lakes to the middle South."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/03/america-origins-of-empire.html
The next eagerly-awaited installment in John Michael Greer's great story arc on the American empire...
America: Modes of Expansion (March 14, 2012)
"The three settlement patterns that emerged in the American colonies in the century or so before independence - New England’s attempt to copy its namesake across the Atlantic, the Tidewater economy of plantations feeding cash crops to Old World markets, and the fusion of immigrant traditions that was giving birth to American frontier society - were anything but fixed. By the time they had finished taking shape, they were already blurring into one another at the edges, and responding in various ways to the new influences brought by further waves of immigration. Still, the patterns are worth watching, because they played a significant role in shaping the modes of expansion that would define its age of empire in a later century."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/03/america-modes-of-expansion.html
The third installment in John Michael Greer's story arc on the American empire...
America: Crossing the Line (March 21, 2012)
"Had the South kept the dominant position it originally held in American national politics, and arranged the nation’s trade policy to its own satisfaction... North’s newborn industrial system would have been flattened by competition from Britain’s far more lavishly capitalized factories and mercantile firms. The products of America’s farms, mines, and logging camps would have had to be traded for hard currency to pay for manufactured products from overseas. That would have locked the United States into the same state of economic dependency as the nations of Latin America..."
"Many of my readers, to begin with, will have heard pundits insist that economic crises happen because modern currencies aren’t based on a gold standard, or because central bankers always mismanage the economy, or both. That’s a popular belief just now, but it’s nonsense, and it only takes a glance at American economic history between the Civil War and the founding of the Federal Reserve in 1912 to prove once and for all that it’s nonsense. The Panic of 1873, the Long Depression, the Panic of 1893, the Depression of 1900-1904, the Panic of 1907, and several lesser economic disasters all happened in an era when the US dollar was on the strictest of gold standards and the United States didn’t have a central bank..."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/03/america-crossing-line.html
Certainly a different lens with which to view the sweep of American history... Would love to get your input!
"Many of my readers, to begin with, will have heard pundits insist that economic crises happen because modern currencies aren’t based on a gold standard, or because central bankers always mismanage the economy, or both. That’s a popular belief just now, but it’s nonsense, and it only takes a glance at American economic history between the Civil War and the founding of the Federal Reserve in 1912 to prove once and for all that it’s nonsense.
Yes, well the silence is deafening. The notion that the events of recent import and leading up to it, are caused by a failure of Capitalism rather then the scapegoat du juor (The Fed) is unthinkable in the current political context. Far easier to blame the Federal Reserve and government intervention in general than to be forced to take a hard look at history and have the facts of causality laid forth in the cold light of reality.
In my view, JMG is spot on with his comments, he’s right, and further, he has an almost soothing way of distributing the information that is decidedly non confrontational while still providing an accurate and unsettling explanation for why we are here, how we got here, and where it’s inevitably going to go.
Greer’s essay reveals a number of important perspectives, firstly, the tendency for current pundits to reference a parallel and alternate universe that starts in 1913, and attempts to reconstruct history of Capitalism as if the first signs of trouble were coincident with this date. Typically, this is then coupled with some gratuitous inductive reasoning to intersect points between 1913, the Great Depression, and the 2008 collapse, and then, voila, we have a thesis that all the worlds ails are the direct (and avoidable!) result of government intervention. The problem comes in- as Greer accurately points out- when some bright person asks why the Austrian/goldbug timeline starts at 1913, and dates previous are considered terra incognito.
But actually, before these dates, there was no income tax, no Federal Reserve, little regulation (until the Robber Baron era at the turn of the 20th century), and perhaps most importantly the US Government in the late 18th century and until the Civil War was not large enough to really do much at all in the way of regulating commerce and keeping a lid on the emerging financial industry, driven largely by the explosive intersection of the Industrial revolution with US Capitalism in the early and mid 19th century. Despite these facts, the referenced period has far more incidences of catastrophic crises of capitalism than the period after 1913- on average about every 7-10 years starting from the day the ink was dry on the US Constitution and continuing uninterrupted to 1913.
So the take away is that none of this squares with the notion that government intervention was (and is) responsible for the various crises of capitalism, of which the 2008 crash was but one more example- it is in fact a direct contradiction to the historical record- which Greer points out.
Another perspective that Greer introduces, again in the theme of historical record- is in the works of Karl Marx by way of describing the contradictions of Capitalism, which contrary to the Austrian view, are captured in a full spectrum explanation with no need to truncate the timeline to make the theory fit.
I’m not sure I would have chosen the topic of overproduction to demonstrate the explanation as Greer does, but nevertheless, it is valid. Other more meaningful topics of explanation might include the coercive laws of competition, the invalidation of Say’s Law (supply creates it’s own demand), the inexorable tendency for capital to push down labor wages to the point of labor extinction, then search out other sources for even cheaper labor, and perhaps most interestingly, the inherent contradictions in Locke’s view of property rights, the very basis of 19th century Manifest Destiny (and it’s modern day counterpart American Exceptionalism).
Lastly, his (Greer’s) association of imperialism with the struggle for capital to find new markets, and of course, the militarization of these expansionary efforts lays the groundwork for a vastly different explanation of events current and past. The message here is that a careful reading and awareness of our own countries’ history can provide the very best lessons as what theories and explanations really make sense.
I used to read his blog quite regularly, but lost interest a year or so ago when he started focusing on ‘70’s recycling methods and other related topics. Glad to see he’s back with more meaty and relevant subjects, and he appears unafraid to dive in to uncover some truth. I’ll be following closely.
Thanks for highlighting his work.
Thank you. Very nice summary of JMGs current work. I would welcome your perspective of his essay each week. I like your angle very much. Thanks again.
This is the fourth installment of John Michael Greer's fascinating story arc on the American empire...
America: The Two Empires (March 29, 2012)
"The dawn of American empire had impacts reaching well beyond the handful of territories the United States seized and held in McKinley’s day. The same Congress that declared war against Spain had passed a resolution forbidding the annexation of Cuba - this was partly to win support for the war from the anti-empire faction in Congress, partly a bit of pork-barrel protectionism for the American sugar and tobacco industries - and that limit forced the proponents of empire to take a hard look at other options. The system that resulted was one that remains standard throughout the American empire to this day. Cuba got a new constitution and an officially independent government, but the United States reserved the right to interfere in Cuban affairs at will, got a permanent lease on a naval base at Guantánamo Bay, and turned the Cuban economy into a wholly owned subsidiary of American commercial interests. The result fed the wealth pump of empire, but cost the United States much less than an ordinary colonial government would have done."
"What very few people noticed, because the intellectual tools needed to make sense of it hadn’t been developed yet, was that the United States was developing what amounted to a second empire, parallel to the one just described, during these same years. Where the imperial expansion we’ve just examined established an empire across space, this second empire was an empire across time. Like the move to global empire, this empire of time built on an earlier but more limited method of feeding the wealth pump, and turned a large but otherwise ordinary nation into a world power.
"This 'empire of time,' of course, consisted of the American fossil fuel industries. Where an empire extracts wealth from other countries for the benefit of an imperial nation, fossil fuel exploitation extracts wealth in the form of very cheap thermal energy from the distant past for the benefit of one or more nations in the present."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/03/america-two-empires.html
Food for thought. That the exploitation isn't just across space, but also across time... In both cases, the wealth pumps are fed, and fed well, for a long time. Until they aren't.
Greer’s blog is taking a most interesting story direction as he introduces the theme of petroleum in the context of an empire of time. It’s hard to read his work without marveling at how dense and satisfying his explanations are, and how these explanations are available to any who seek to ask what history can provide.
If only they taught this way in grade school, we’d have a very different society today. It is but one in 100 that understand the disastrous pending collision between empire and petroleum. What I find remarkable about his recounting is in reflecting as to how important education is toward understanding our predicament, and how what most are operating on is training- which is decidedly not the same thing.
The introduction of the role of fossil fuels as a participant in the pursuit of empire would seem to set the stage for some challenging pairings of causality, and hopefully he’ll introduce something describing the effects of overdetermination, from which can spring forth some truly exciting conclusions.
In a most interesting parallel story arc also expanding on causality, we can re-highlight some of his emphasis to look at labor, and specifically, labor shortages. A very important parallel perspective is to consider this period of American history to be defined by a massive, and continuing shortage of labor. The coincident occurrence of East/West geographic expansion spanning thousands of miles, with the logarithmic explosion of the Industrial Revolution meant one thing- not enough workers, and not enough laborers. The homesteading-fueled expansion West resulted primarily in the need for agrarian labor, usually satisfied by family members not subject to competitive labor forces. These efforts though did consume participants in the labor pool, and made them largely unavailable to the industrial capitalists who would consume armies of people necessary to quench the newfound discretization dictated by the emerging commoditization and division of labor theologies which the large factories demanded.
The blossoming population of America at the time was simply inadequate to satisfy these concentric, expansionary forces, which bode well for the worker in a simple demonstration of supply and demand. Enticing immigrants from the Old World meant promising higher salaries than available in the home country to provide recompense for the traumatic and daunting move across an ocean, which drove up domestic wages. This meant rising wages for most if not all, and this trend continued uninterrupted for more than 200 years, ending abruptly in the late 1970’s-1980’s with the advent of globalized labor-setting off a labor glut from which we still suffer today. A steady and measurable rise in the standard of living occurred during this period, excepting of course the requisite boom/bust cycles of capitalist endeavor.
In a course sense, the country was roughly bifurcated by agrarian labor (dominant until just after the Civil War) and industrial labor which was coming into its own as industry expanded West into the Great Lakes region and exploded into an area of dense industrial capitalism, later to become the ground zero of automotive production. But these two types of labor had very different characteristics, the agrarian construct relied on family members and strong collectivism for small scale farmers, and slavery for the large scale farm operations of the South (and later Midwest). The industrial component had no such luxuries, and further had the advent of labor unions to contend with, making fulfilling these challenges for a steady supply of labor particularly difficult. All of the methods describe means to manage and control labor during a period of chronic shortages, although they have very different ramifications.
It is interesting to note the collectivist approach of the small farmer, a subject Greer has spent some time describing in previous posts. These farmers tended towards smaller operations, a size that could be managed by a large family (and often the size of the family was deliberately scaled to match the land mass) and competed against larger operations by sharing equipment, pooling resources, and developing and maintaining collectives that aggregated knowledge, surplus labor resources for harvest, and perhaps most importantly, provided a system of elders that monitored closely the concerns of the community, and provided governance. These communities advanced people upward to hold higher office, whilst maintaining social ties to the goals of the communities from which they came. In this fashion, politics was managed, and captured very accurately the community needs.
The industrial capitalists had a very different set of priorities, starting with a feverish inability to abide by any type of collectivist activity for two reasons: 1.) This thinking was inclined to manifest as the dreaded organization of labor, and 2.) The capitalists knew that atomizing the populace was preferable as it widened their customer base, e.g. people who consume as individuals buy more stuff than communities that consume collectively. And this would not do.
In the 19th century agrarian world, a world of community barn raisings, close ties and cooperation between neighbors and farms, a farmer who bought a piece of equipment that could be used only during the two weeks per season of harvest was considered a fool, of course you would either pool money with other farms and share the necessary equipment, time phasing your crop needs with your neighbors, but with the capitalists, you would be encouraged to not only buy your own equipment (even at ludicrously low utilization rates) but in the 20th century, you would be encouraged to compete with your neighbors in accumulating consumerist excess.
I think we know who won this one, as the capitalists then had to simply convert money capital accumulated at the massive scale of the robber barons, to social power giving them access to legislature, the courts, the seats of governance, and regulatory bodies.
And the rest as they say, is history.
Next, the fifth installment of John Michael Greer's engrossing story arc on the American empire...
America: The Eagle and the Lion (April 4, 2012)
"To a great many Americans, in fact, Britain was almost by definition the national enemy. The American national anthem, remember, commemorates the defense of an American fort against a British invasion force; the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 played a much larger role in the nation’s collective imagination than they do today.... As late as the 1930s, in fact, the standard scenario for the US Army’s annual exercises each summer was defense against a British invasion from Canada."
"Wilson won reelection in 1916 under the slogan 'He Kept Us Out Of War,' but with Britain on the ropes, he did a 180° spin of a kind familiar to more recent observers of American politics. He got a declaration of war from Congress, sent the first of what would eventually be 1.2 million American soldiers into the meatgrinder of the Western Front, and backed up that force with a sharply accelerated program of financial and military aid for the remaining Allies. Those steps provided the edge that allowed the battered Allied armies to stand their ground against Germany’s final offensive, then turned the tide and ramped up the pressure until Germany was forced to sue for peace."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/04/america-eagle-and-lion.html
Darbikrash, I've enjoyed reading your commentaries. I would like to get your views on this most recent installment, particularly on Greer's description of this unique Anglo-American relationship, and on what Greer calls the tension between Anglophobe and Anglophiles, empire-adverse and pro-empire.
On a side note: I think it's safe to say that Presidential candidate Ron Paul's family heritage and the area he is from, reflect his anti-empire views. He's of German and Irish descent, born in Pittsburgh (northern part of the Appalachia). And of course he's a longtime Texas resident.
XrayMike has also posted some good summaries of Greer’s earlier work in the recent "Timeline's......." thread. In this week’s blog, Greer turns his attention to the British empire, comparing and contrasting their overreach to that of America in a similar time frame.
It is useful to look at not only other empires, but how long and difficult it can be to create them, and how their collapse occurs in a decidedly dissimilar fashion. And what lessons can be learned about our own predicament?
Perhaps the shriveling contraction of projected power in the British empire is analogous to what the American version will resemble when peak oil intersects the end stages of Capitalism. A figurehead "ruler" gesticulating with coy, partial movement hand waves from behind the bulletproof glass of a viewing window, while practitioners of the end of days strain of radical individualism clutch their "instructive" tomes with white knuckled grip- unwitting accessories to their own armed robbery.
But I think Greer has it about right, likely none of this will happen as fast as the doomsayers predict, as it is hard to overestimate the resourcefulness and unbridled adaptability of full throated Capitalism.
Leaving aside (for now) the race against time with respect to declining petroleum resources, one of the key theoretical impediments to this notion of catastrophic American collapse of empire is put forth in a most interesting recent book by David Graeber, "Debt- The First 5000 Years". Written by an anthropologist about matters of empire and things economic, this 500+ page piece of scholarship brings forth a heretical accounting of money, the history of debt, and the relationship of these factors to empire, specifically, the American empire.
This book has created a tsunami of accolades and criticism (in nearly equal measure) for putting forth some striking theses that rock the neo-liberal world. For starters, he posits that based on anthropological evidence, there never really was any meaningful adoption of the barter system on any persistent scale-throughout civilization. In fact, in his view, barter is largely a contrivance of the neoclassical economists, used to piece together their incomplete theories of money so they might sally forth into the more interesting domain of the political economy. In his accounting of anthropology, although there were of course instances of barter, (usually between adjacent but unrelated societies) on balance, the requirement of the double coincidence of needs enabling peer to peer exchange is too difficult to meet on any consistent basis, and therefore money must inevitably be created and used, and it was.
Which brings us back to empire.
Graeber spends much of the book recounting evidence to support this thesis, advances some 5000 years, and then goes on to drop the bombshell- that money is used as form of tribute in the maintenance of empire, specifically, the American empire.
In essence he is claiming that American imperialism is substantially directed to force foreign nations to adopt and use the US dollar, or else. And "or else" means military (or economic) action against any nation that refuses to adopt the US dollar for international transactions and debt settlement. Consider of course that as the worlds' reserve currency, the folks in charge of printing maintain a huge economic advantage over everyone else. Not unlike the mafia boss paying a visit to retail stores demanding protection money, in this case the mafioso are also actually creating the money.
Now his evidence of this is largely circumstantial, but he makes a convincing case, although as you might expect this conclusion is highly controversial and disputed vigorously- as near as I can tell mostly by the economists who are outraged that a anthropologist has stepped into their domain.
To those who might be interested in a lively academic debate with Graeber defending his assertions (sometimes unsuccessfully), you can read some of thIs here.
But if any of this is true, an empire that is able to augment a "wealth pump" with a military mandate to use the US dollar as described, in combination with current communications and weapons technology, would have an opportunity at a sustainable and long standing hegemony, and would likely be able to avoid much of the outcome of the British empire- or at least slow down the inevitability of collapse until other contravening effects (such as running out of oil).
So the take away here is that if there is any truth at all in Graeber's thesis, the trajectory of American empire may have advantages not present when the British tried their hand.
Being mindful to not take this thread off piste, I will comment on a veritable Easter egg of controversy in Graeber's book, it seems that in 500 plus pages, the most offensive claim has to do with a certain Apple computer comment that put forth the notion that Apple was founded and constructed by disgruntled Capitalists who not only wanted to unseat the dominant IBM, but wanted to rethink the way surplus value was distributed at the same time, which is to say equally among the workers. This is of course false, but in placing this paragraph in his book, he has unleashed a tirade of protestation that has strangely eclipsed the entire book. Economist Brad Delong, who I read regularly and generally admire, has come unglued at this assertion, probably because as a UC Berkeley professor, Silicone Valley is his bailiwick and such Althusserian suggestions that technology companies might structure themselves to benefit the workers and not the venture Capitalists must seem like blasphemy.
The genesis of this remark is traceable to another professor of economics, a Richard Wolff (University of Mass), who I hold in great regard. He has a remarkable outlook for (technology) businesses that is framed around distributing all of the surplus value to the workers, and none of it to bankers and other non participating elites.
But if there is a way out of empire, this might well be it.
Perhaps a better opportunity to expand these points is to wait for Greer to engage another empire of no less (historical) importance that those discussed to date, an empire nearly 500 years in the making that collapsed in 10 days.
This eagerly awaited sixth installment in John Michael Greer's story of the American empire does not disappoint. There is a lot of juicy meat to bite into - especially for military history enthusiasts.
America: The Gasoline War (April 11, 2012)
"Grant got the glory, and earned it fairly, but Sherman may have been the 19th century’s most innovative military thinker. When he came face to face with a Confederate army, whenever the strategic situation allowed, he evaded it, slipped past it, got behind it, and threatened its lines of communication and supply, forcing it to retreat in disarray. Long before anyone else, he grasped that it’s not necessary to fight a pitched battle to win a war, and that a force that can move fast, get behind its enemy, and target the vulnerable territory behind the lines can cripple the ability of the other side to wage war at all. Most of a century later, that approach to war came to be called “blitzkrieg;” today it’s the basis of the Airland Battle Doctrine, the core of American military strategy."
"The war that followed is usually called the Second World War, but it might more usefully be given a different name: the Gasoline War. That’s partly because the stunning initial victories of the two Axis powers that counted came from a grasp of what gasoline engines could do in war... Victory in that war went to those who were able to bring the most petroleum-based energy to bear on the battlefield. While Germany and Japan could manage that, they remained in the ascendant; once the United States and Soviet Union applied the same methods using their much more abundant oil supplies, the Axis was doomed."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/04/america-gasoline-war.html
The last four paragraphs - not quoted above - present an interesting way to think of what became of Britain's Empire. It may not appear to be so officially, but for all intensive purposes, it's true...
It was a brilliant essay,and I say this as a Brit who had to take the smackdown at the end of it! As I said in my posting of it on Facebook 'I knew there was a reason I hated Yank bases in Britain!'
HarryFlashman: Hey, at least you get to be our imperial ally! When we go to Iraq, you come along. When we go to Afghanistan, you come along. Our people love your royalty, and anytime we have some historical drama, we pick you Brits for the actors. It's almost like the Romans and the Greeks!
That said, here's the next (seventh) in the series of John Michael Greer's story of the American empire.
America: The Price of Supremacy (April 18, 2012)
"The mythology runs more or less like this: in the aftermath of the First World War, America withdrew from the international responsibilities it had briefly taken up during that war, refusing to join the League of Nations and distancing itself from global politics. In the vacuum thus formed, the coming of the Great Depression sent the conflicts that drove the world to war in 1914 spinning out of control again. As Japan invaded China and Germany prepared for war, the United States faced a sharp political conflict between isolationists, who more or less wanted to build a wall around the country and shut the rest of the world out, and those who recognized America’s responsibility to the rest of the world. That struggle only came to an end with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; thereafter the American people united to win the war. Once it was won, in turn, they refused to repeat the mistake of 1919, and took up the burden of global leadership that America retains to this day."
"Geopolitics is important here because its ideas seem to have had a major influence on the leaders who launched America along the final phase of its rise to empire, and still appear to govern the grand strategy of the American empire as it approaches its end. Over the weeks to come, we’ll be exploring the geopolitical side of American imperial strategy in a variety of ways, so a little attention to the paragraphs above may be useful. For now, though, what’s important is that the internationalists in American politics between the world wars saw geopolitics as a blueprint for world power,and wanted the structure raised on that blueprint to have “Made in America” written on it."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/04/america-price-of-supremacy.html
This one seems to be more of a "setting up" piece for next week.
This week's article is a departure from the story arc on the American empire.
Instead, a detour into interesting discussion on the methane plumes bubbling up from the Arctic Ocean as a sign of climate change.
Seascape With Methane Plumes (April 25, 2012)
"After yet another unseasonably warm Arctic winter, Russian scientists are busy studying the methane releases reported last fall, and initial reports – well, let’s understate things considerably and call them “rather troubling.” Areas of open water up to a kilometer across arefizzing with methane, a condition that one experienced Arctic researcher, Dr. Igor Semiletov, described as completely unprecedented."
"Until the end of the 1990s, climate change was simply one more captive issue in the internal politics of industrial nations. The political role of captive issues, and the captive constituencies that correspond to them, is too rarely discussed these days. In the United States, for example, environmental protection is one of the captive issues of the Democratic Party; that party mouths slogans about the environment, and even though those slogans are rarely if ever followed up by concrete policies, environmentalists are expected to vote Democratic, since the Republicans are supposed to be so much worse, and willingly play the part of bogeyman. The Republican party, in turn, works the same good cop-bad cop routine on its own captive constituencies, such as gun owners and Christian fundamentalists, and count on the Democrats to act out the bogeyman’s role in turn. It’s an ingenious system for neutralizing potential protest, and it plays a major role in maintaining business as usual in the world’s democratic societies."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/04/seascape-with-methane-plumes.html
Still, well worth reading.
My guess is it will be tied into the main theme.
Right, Tycer. The "Seascape With Methane Plumes" divergence ties in more to the "wider trajectory of industrial society’s decline and fall" but is still part of our nation's narratives.
However, this next tangent on democracy and governing cycles really ties in well to the story of the American empire... I'm just not sure when he'll come back around to it.
Democracy's Arc (May 2, 2012)
"...In every dictatorship, an inner circle of officials and generals emerges. This inner circle eventually takes advantage of weakness at the top to depose the dictator or, more often, simply waits until he dies and then distributes power so that no one figure has total control; thus a junta is formed. In every country run by a junta, in turn, a wider circle of officials, officers, and influential people emerges; this wider circle eventually takes advantage of weakness at the top to depose the junta, and when this happens, in ancient Greece and the modern world alike, the standard gambit is to install a democratic constitution to win popular support and outflank remaining allies of the deposed junta..."
"The example I have in mind is the United States of America, which has been around the cycle three times since its founding; the one difference, and it’s crucial, is that all three stages have taken place repeatedly under the same constitution."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/05/democracys-arc.html
I'm not so sure about George Washington being a dictator-type. What do you guys think?
I don't know if this is an official installment John Michael Greer's story arc of the American empire, but it could be considered one, as he circles back...
The Descent Into Stasis (May 9, 2012)
"The power exerted by each of these groups is by and large a veto power. They may not be able to get new policies through the jungle of competing interests in Washington, a task that is increasingly hard for anyone to manage at all, but they can prevent policies that are not in their interest from being enacted, and they can defend any policy already in place that benefits them or furthers their ability to loot the system. They have that veto power, in turn, because no one in contemporary America has the power to get anything done without assembling a temporary coalition of competing power centers, each of which has its own agenda and each of which constantly has its hand out for the biggest possible share of the take."
"How the endgame plays out is a matter of more than academic interest. In 1860 and 1932, a political system frozen in gridlock and incapable of anything like a constructive response to crisis finally hit a crisis that could not be evaded any longer, and the system shattered. In the chaos that resulted, a long-shot candidate with a radical following was able to pull together enough support from the remaining power centers and the people in general to win the White House and force through changes that redefined the political landscape for decades to come. That’s a possibility this time around, too, but a possibility is not a certainty, and nowhere is it written in stone that a crisis of the sort we’re discussing has to have a happy ending.
"The range and scale of the crises facing the United States as it finishes the third lap around the track of anacyclosis, to begin with, pose a far more substantial challenge than the ones that punctuated the cycle in those earlier years."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/05/descent-into-stasis.html
Again, the American empire of power built on military might that is not self-financing, and an "empire of time" that is running out of the stored energy of millions of years, these two factors are making this next crisis that we are currently in, that much more difficult and uncertain.
The process seems inevitable. Like nothing can be done. The moderates of both political parties are out. Compromisers are ridiculed for "caving in".
Another side trip worth thinking about. Why protests and the arguments of environmentalists about "sustainability" don't work.
And of course, coming back to the end-state of the fall of the American empire...
The Twilight Of Protest (May 16, 2012)
"Whoever ends up more or less in charge of what’s left of the United States of America when the flames die down and the rubble stops bouncing, though, will have to face a predicament far more difficult than the ones encountered by the winners in 1932, or 1860, or for that matter 1776. All three of these past crises happened when the United States was still a rising power, with vast and largely untapped natural resources, and social and economic systems not yet burdened with the aftermath of a failed empire; the winning side could safely assume that once the immediate crisis was resolved, the nation would return to relative prosperity, pay off its debts, and proceed from there.
"That won’t be happening this time around. When the crisis is over, whatever form it takes, the United States - or whatever assortment of successor nations end up dividing its territory between them—will be a shattered, bankrupt, resource-poor Third World failed state (or collection of failed states) that will likely have to struggle hard even to regain basic levels of political and economic stability. That struggle will be pursued in a world in which energy and other resources are getting scarcer each year..."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/05/twilight-of-protest.html
Grim portents indeed.
A look at self-fulfilling curses... the curse that will befall most of humanity. And the choice you must make early on to walk away.
Night Thoughts in Hagsgate (May 23, 2012)
"Back in the late 1990s, when the first peak oil researchers began to exchange data and forecasts, several leading figures in the newborn movement made very straightforward predictions about what was going to happen. They predicted that global production of crude oil would peak in the near future, and decline thereafter; they predicted that this would cause the price of oil and petroleum products to skyrocket, imposing severe costs on the global economy and triggering economic contraction; some, though this was controversial, predicted that attempts to replace petroleum with alternative energy sources would fail because of net energy and other noneconomic factors."
"It’s very easy to stay behind. Early on, when walking away is an easy thing, the threat of the curse is so far off that it’s seductive to think you can stay in Hagsgate for just a little while longer and still escape. Later on, you’ve come to enjoy the practical benefits that being a citizen of Hagsgate has to offer; you’ve got personal and financial ties to the place, and so you come up with ornate theories packed with dubious logic and cherrypicked data to convince yourself that the curse isn’t real or that it will only affect other people. As the curse begins to work, in turn, you start making excuses, insisting that you did everything you could reasonably be expected to do, and it’s all somebody else’s fault anyway. Finally, when the full reality of your fate stares you in the face and your last chance of escape is almost gone, comes the terrible temptation to treat the price you’re about to pay as a measure of the value of what you’ve gotten by staying in Hagsgate, and you cling to it ever more frantically as it drags you down."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/05/night-thoughts-in-hagsgate.html
Spirituality in relation to the decline that will come in a post peak-oil future. I think this is worth thinking about.
The Rumbling of Distant Thunder (May 30, 2012)
"...What can be expected to happen on the downside of Hubbert’s curve, and how individuals, families and communities might be able to respond to that..."
"...Peak oil events function as a gathering of the tribe, but it would be more precise to call it a gathering of several tribes - the peak oil investment tribe, the environmental activism tribe, the alternative energy tribe, and so on. It’s one of the oddities of the tribe to which I belong that it’s hard to give it a simple, straightforward name of that kind, just a clear sense of the trajectory our age is tracing out against the background of deep time, and it’s one of the less heavily represented tribes at most peak oil events. What set The Age of Limits apart is that it was specifically for this latter tribe..."
"...People in that tribe - and, I suspect, across a broader spectrum of society as well - are hungry for meaningful discussions of one of the taboo topics of our age, the relation of spirituality to the shape of our future... Carolyn Baker and Dmitry Orlov, wanted to address the same topic... I talked about the lessons that traditional spiritualities offer for understanding our predicament, Dmitry discussed religion as a mode of social organization that can sustain itself for millennia, and Carolyn explored collapse as an initiatory experience..."http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/05/rumbling-of-distant-thunder.html
Will there be a great revival or a new age of enlightenment? Or will we see religious conflicts come to the fore?
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