John Michael Greer: Archdruid Report Essays
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Greer was asked, what would be on his wish list if he were able to address an audience of scientists and engineers as to what kind of technological developments and inventions they should be focusing on, to help us on the transition down the steep slope of post-peak cheap oil…
A Wish List for Krampus (January 9, 2013)
"Whether or not computers will be viable in a future society, in other words, is not a question of whether it's technically possible to build them; it depends, first, on whetherall the things needed to build, power, maintain, and get useful work out of them can be provided; second, whether other, simpler technologies can provide the same services at a lower cost in energy, resources, and labor; and third, whether the sharply limited resources available to a future society would be better spent on some other project altogether."
"At the top of the list – well, let’s start by talking a bit about the most important legacy our civilization is going to leave to the future. No, it's not any of the things for which we like to preen ourselves; it’s the vast quantities of nuclear waste we’re heaping up for tomorrow to deal with. I don’t know words sufficiently forceful in any language to describe the sheer brutal selfishness of the attitude that insists that our supposed need to prop up our extravagant lifestyles a little longer justifies generating wastes that remain lethal for a quarter of a million years, while doing absolutely nothing to keep them away from the biosphere for more than the smallest fraction of that interval."
Also on his wishlist: a manual on ecology for ordinary people, and a means of turning sunlight into electricity that doesn't depend on silicon chip fabrication and doping…
Turning back to the decline of the American Empire, John Michael Greer has a "few" more words to say…
The Road Down from Empire (January 16, 2013)
"Most of what’s going on in Washington DC these days can be described very exactly in those terms. Despite popular rhetoric, America’s politicians these days are not unusually wicked or ignorant; they are, by and large, roughly as ethical as their constituents, and rather better educated—though admittedly neither of these is saying much. What distinguishes them from the statesmen of an earlier era, rather, is that they are face to face with an insoluble dilemma that their predecessors in office spent the last few decades trying to ignore. As the costs of empire rise, the profits of empire dwindle, the national economy circles the drain, the burden of deferred maintenance on the nation’s infrastructure grows, and the impact of the limits to growth on industrial civilization worldwide becomes ever harder to evade, they face the unenviable choice between massive trouble now and even more massive trouble later; being human, they repeatedly choose the latter, and console themselves with the empty hope that something might turn up."
"As America stumbles down from its imperial peak, in other words, the one growth industry this country will have left will consist of efforts to maintain the pretense that America doesn’t have an empire, that the empire isn’t falling, and that the fall doesn’t matter anyway. (Yes, those statements are mutually contradictory. Get used to it; you’ll be hearing plenty of statements in the years to come that are even more more incoherent.) As the decline accelerates, anyone who offers Americans a narrative that allows them to pretend they’ll get the shiny new future that our national mythology promises them will be able to count on a large and enthusiastic audience. The narratives being marketed for this purpose need not be convincing; they need not even be sane. So long as they make it possible for Americans to maintain the fiction of a brighter future in the teeth of the facts, they’ll be popular."
John Michael Greer's first essay of the new year, in which, amongst other things, he points us back to his earlier predictions for the year 2012, and his new predictions for the year 2013.
His predictions for 2012 were generally spot-on, mainly because he wasn't overly ambitious like many other pundits attempt to be.
Into an Unknown Country (January 2, 2013)
"As the year unfolds, I'd encourage my readers to watch the fracking bubble. Yes, it's a speculative bubble of the classic sort, one that has soaked up a vast amount of investment money over the last few years, and the glorious future of American energy independence being touted by the media has the same function, and the same relationship to reality, as the glorious future of endlessly rising house prices that got waved around with equal abandon in 2006 and 2007. I don't expect the bubble to pop this year—my best guess at this point is that that’ll happen in 2014 – but it's already losing air as the ferocious decline rates experienced by fracked oil and gas wells gnaw the bottom out of the fantasy. Expect the new year to bring more strident claims of the imminent arrival of a shiny new future of energy abundance, coupled with a steady drumbeat of bad financial news suggesting, in essence, that the major players in that end of the oil and gas industry are well and truly fracked."
The same can be said for 2013.
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Something worth discussing… The commons, and government's role in it.
Restoring the Commons (January 23, 2013)
"…When Hardin first published “The Tragedy of the Commons” in 1968, it went off like a bomb in the halls of academic economics. Since Adam Smith’s time, one of the most passionately held beliefs of capitalist economics has been the insistence that individuals pursuing their own economic interest without interference from government or anyone else will reliably produce the best outcome for everybody. You’ll still hear defenders of free market economics making that claim, as if nobody but the Communists ever brought it into question. That’s why very few people like to talk about Hardin’s tragedy of the commons these days; it makes it all but impossible to uphold a certain bit of popular, appealing, but dangerous nonsense."
"…The core purpose of government in the American tradition is the maintenance of the national commons. It exists to manage the various commons and commons-like phenomena that are inseparable from life in a civilized society, and thus has the power to impose such limits on people (and corporate pseudopeople) as will prevent their pursuit of personal advantage from leading to a tragedy of the commons in one way or another."
This week's post: wherein John Michael Greer makes a case for what amounts to "states' rights", not because it is perfect and not because it won't lead to abuse and injustice – but because localization of governance tailored to the needs and desires of the community or region may be more realistic and less costly in terms of maintenance and preservation of the commons.
We Don't Live In Neverland (January 30, 2013)
"One of the few things that might succeed in unsticking the gridlock, so that the federal government could get back to doing the job it’s supposed to do, would be to let the people in Massachusetts, South Carolina, and the other forty-eight states pursue the social policies they prefer on a state by state basis. Yes, that would mean that people in South Carolina would do things that outraged the people in Massachusetts, and people in Massachusetts would return the favor. Yes, it would also mean that abuses and injustices would take place. Of course abuses and injustices take place now, in both states and all the others as well, but the ones that would take place in the wake of a transfer of power over social issues back to the states would no doubt be at least a little different from the current ones."
"The more territory has to be governed from a single political center, all things considered, the more energy and resources will be absorbed in the process of governing. This is why, before the coming of the industrial age, nations on the scale of the present United States of America rarely existed, and when they did come into being, they generally didn’t last for more than a short time. In an age of declining energy availability and depleting resources, the maintenance costs of today’s sprawling, centralized United States government won’t be affordable for long. Devolving all nonessential functions of the central government to the individual states, as the US constitution mandates, might just cut costs to the point that some semblance of civil peace and democratic governance can hang on for the long term."
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In his first post of this month, John Michael Greer continues his argument for a decentralization of government and power, stating that it is inevitable, but also not a bad thing. Governance at the local level is more accountable and more capable of seeing the realities on the ground. He uses public education as an example.
The Center Cannot Hold (February 6, 2013)
"I’d like… to offer two unpopular predictions about the future of American government. The first is that the centralization of power in Washington DC has almost certainly reached its peak, and will be reversing in the decades ahead of us. The second is that, although there will inevitably be downsides to that reversal, it will turn out by and large to be an improvement over the system we have today. These predictions unfold from a common logic; both are consequences of the inevitable failure of overcentralized power."
"In a previous post, I encouraged readers to compare the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 to the debates in our latest presidential contest, and to remember that most of the people who listened attentively to Lincoln and Douglas had what then counted as an eighth-grade education. The comparison has plenty to say about the degeneration of political thinking in modern America, but it has even more to say about the extent to which the decline in public education has left voters unprepared to get past the soundbite level of thinking.
"Those of my readers who want an even more cogent example are encouraged to leaf through a high school textbook from before the Second World War. You’ll find that the reading comprehension, reasoning ability, and mathematical skill expected as a matter of course from ninth-graders in 1930 is hard to find among American college graduates today. If you have kids of high school age, spend half an hour comparing the old textbook with the one your children are using today."