John Michael Greer: Archdruid Report Essays
Is that yet another bubble bubbling up the bubble horizon? How do we tell? Morphological thinking, says Greer…
An Aside To My Readers (April 17, 2013)
"Try to tell the people who are about to get crushed by the current round of bubbles that that’s what’s happening, though, and you’ll get the same condescending pity and the same lecture about how you obviously don’t know the first thing about whatever asset is involved this time around. No matter how precise the parallels, they’ll insist that the painful lessons taught by every previous speculative bubble in history are irrelevant to their investment strategy this time around, and they’ll keep on saying that even when your predictions turn out to be correct and theirs end up costing them their shorts. What’s more, a decade from now, if they start talking about how they’re about to get rich by investing in thorium mining stocks or what have you, and you point out that they’re doing exactly the same thing that cost them their shorts the last time around, you’ll get exactly the same response.
"There are any number of factors feeding into this weird and self-defeating blindness to the most painful lessons of recent financial history. To begin with, of course, there’s the widening mismatch between the American dream of endlessly improving economic opportunity and the American reality of steadily declining standards of living for everyone outside a narrowing circle of the well-to-do. Our national mythology makes it impossible for most Americans to conceive of a future of accelerating contraction and impoverishment, and so any excuse to believe that happy days are here again will attract an instant and uncritical audience. Consider the extraordinary fog of misinformation surrounding the current fracking bubble…"
Moral progress, scientific and technical progress, economic progress – the three heads of the Church of Progress. Greer goes on to illustrate his points:
The God With Three Heads (April 24, 2013)
"You can see the faith in moral progress in action any time people insist that some proposed social change is an advance, a move forward, away from the ignorance and injustice of the benighted past. Even when this sort of talk is cheap manipulative rhetoric, as of course it so often is, it’s the faith in moral progress that gives the manipulation power and allows it to work."
"Those of my readers who have been in the peak oil scene for any length of time will have learned that the most common dismissal they’ll get, when they try to suggest to the rest of the world that betting the future on infinite resource extraction from a finite planet is not a bright idea, is some variation on “Oh, I’m sure they’ll come up with something.” The “they” in this overfamiliar sentence are of course scientists and engineers; the mere fact that “they” have been trying to come up with something in this particular case for well over a century, and success is still nowhere in sight, does nothing to dent the really rather touching faith that today’s popular culture places in their powers."
"Open the business section of any newspaper, turn the pages of any economics textbook, scan the minutes of any meeting of any business corporation in contemporary America or most of the modern world, and you’ll get to see a faith in economic progress as absolute and unthinking as any medieval peasant’s trust in the wonderworking bones of the local saint. In the mythic world portrayed by the prophets and visionaries of that faith, economic growth is always good, and comes as a reward to those who obey the commandments of the economists."
Progress is not a bad thing. But misplaced faith in its inevitable progress will be repaid unkindly.
How we view history, past-present-future, and time provides us with a narrative, a view, expectations, planning and action.
The Shape Of Time (May 1, 2013)
"By the time a society following a hunter-gatherer or village horticulture ecology has inhabited a given bioregion for a few thousand years, it’s a safe bet that the people in that culture will have tried all the available options, figured out which ones work and which ones don’t, and enshrined that hard-won knowledge in stories, customs, and taboos, the normal technologies for passing knowledge down through the generations in societies that don’t have writing.
"In such a context, innovation is rarely a good idea. The resource base that would be necessary to deal with subsistence failure or ecological instability simply isn’t available – the ability to store food over the long term doesn’t come in until the invention of grain agriculture, so nothing as substantial as Hesiod’s year of stockpiled grain stands between a hunter-gatherer or village horticultural society and starvation. The innovator who introduces the bow and arrow to a people used to hunting with spears thus might be dooming them to starve to death when the new technology proves too successful at killing game, and wipes out the herds. In that ecological setting, an understanding of time that wards off such potentially lethal possibilities is adaptive."
"The central theme of this blog, in turn, is that the same sort of transformation is happening in our own time, but in the other direction. The shape of time that governs nearly all contemporary thinking in the industrial world, the vision of perpetual progress, was adaptive back when ever more abundant energy supplies were being extracted out of mines and wells and poured into the project of limitless industrial expansion. The end of the age of cheap abundant energy, though, makes that shape of time hopelessly maladaptive, and a galaxy of assumptions and ideas founded on faith in progress are thus well past their pull date.
"Since most people in the modern industrial world aren’t even aware of the role that faith in progress plays in their thinking, their chances of adapting to the end of progress are not good…"
In this essay, John Michael Greer introduces Augustine of Hippo's De Civitate Dei and Joachim de Fiore's conception of time in Three Ages following the Trinity, and how their different concepts of time have influenced thought to this day.
The Song Remains the Same (May 8, 2013)
"1600 years after Augustine’s time, his vision of time remains official in most Christian churches. What’s more, it can be found in a great many places that would angrily reject any claim of intellectual influence from Christianity. Goodness at the beginning; a catastrophic fall brought about by a misguided human choice; a plunge into the history we know, which has no redeeming features whatsoever; a righteous remnant set apart from history who serve as an example of the blessed alternative; a redeeming doctrine that brings the promise of future joy to those few who embrace it; and sometime soon, the final cataclysm that will sweep away the fallen world and all its evils, so that the redeemed few can be restored to the goodness of the beginning: where else have we heard this story?
"Pick up any neoprimitivist book by Daniel Quinn, John Zerzan, Derrick Jensen, or their peers, to cite one example out of many, and you’ll find that the names have been changed but the story hasn’t. Eden is called the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the Fall is the invention of agriculture, the righteous remnant consists of surviving hunter-gatherer peoples, the redeeming doctrine is set forth in the book you’re reading, and Armageddon is the imminent collapse of industrial civilization, after which humanity will be restored to the hunter-gatherer paradise forever: it’s the same narrative, point for point. Look elsewhere in contemporary popular culture and you’ll find scores if not hundreds of ideologies that follow the same pattern; from radical feminists whose Eden consists of Goddess-worshipping Neolithic matriarchies straight through to Tea Party supporters whose Eden consists of pre-1960s America seen through intensely rose-colored glasses, the song remains the same.
"This is where morphological thinking becomes as necessary as it is difficult. Most people can quickly learn to spot the standard elements of Augustine’s narrative in any belief system they themselves don’t accept; add a six-pack or two of good beer and it can turn into a lively party game, in which characters, situations, and events out of The City of God can be spotted hiding in a dizzying assortment of contemporary ideologies. The fun stops abruptly, though, when one or more of the players realize that his or her own beliefs follow the same script."
Both Augustine and Joachim arrived at their ideas after having reviewed the events of history up to the time of their respective existences.
Ahh, the pleasures of knowing everything is going to collapse around you… Might as well just enjoy what you can, right? Not quite…
The Pleasures of Extinction (May 15, 2013)
"One consequence of America’s pervasive anti-intellectualism, with its frankly weird equation of manhood with chest-thumping brainlessness, is that many male American intellectuals end up burdened by doubts about their own masculinity, and some of them respond by trying to talk as tough as possible; intellectual women in this male-dominated culture find they often have to copy that same habit, sometimes to even greater extremes, in order to get taken seriously at all. This has been a major factor all through America’s recent history; the neoconservative movement, packed as it was with academic intellectuals whose obsession with proving their own virility on a global stage drove them into one foreign policy fiasco after another, makes as good a poster child as any.
"In the same way, we had a lot of apocalypse machismo in the early peak oil movement."
"Fantasies of imminent human extinction are one comforting if futile response to this ugly predicament. If you want a justification for living as though there’s no tomorrow, insisting that in fact, there’s no tomorrow is certainly one option. If I’m right, the pleasures of believing in near-term human extinction are likely to appeal to a very large and well-heeled audience in the years immediately ahead, and those of my readers interested in cashing in on the next 2012-style bonanza should probably take note."
Theories and movements develop as a response to the circumstances and views of the times.
The Politics of Time's Shape (May 22, 2013)
"Each of the three movements I sketched out in last week’s post started out as a contender – a movement that might have succeeded in accomplishing the changes it wanted to make to American society, and so in defining those changes as the next inevitable step in that same onward march of progress. The first surge of what would become today’s Christian fundamentalist movement spun off the youth movement of the 1960s, embracing the teachings of that bearded and sandaled hippie, Jesus Christ, as the next stage in the moral transformation of American society. The days of the Jesus People, Godspell, and the Good News Bible have been so thoroughly erased from our collective imagination that it can be hard, even for people who were there at the time, to think of fundamentalism as a radical movement, a social force that saw itself as moving forward toward a brighter future.
"The transformation of the New Age movement was even more drastic. In its early years, most of what provided the New Age scene with inspiration had at least some claim to be called scientific; quantum physics and a dozen or so avant-garde schools of psychology played a far larger role in the movement than, say, the mutterings of channeled entities. There was plenty of interest in extrasensory perception, to be sure, but parapsychology hadn’t yet been blackballed by the American scientific establishment, and significant figures in the sciences argued that the possibility of extrasensory knowledge ought to be taken seriously. Early New Age books such as Marilyn Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy raised the hope of a convergence of science and spirituality, in which scientific research would put a solid foundation of proven fact under such traditional practices as yoga and meditation."
"The environmental movement had much the same flavor in its first flowering.To many of us in the appropriate-tech scene, industrial society’s encounter with the hard reality of planetary limits was at least as much an opportunity as a threat, and the integration of technologically advanced societies with a thriving planetary biosphere – the goal of a great deal of enthusiastic thinking in those days – seemed to promise a future of almost unimaginable richness and possibility. The coming world of solar panels and geodesic domes, thriving organic farms and lively human-scale cities, in which Paolo Soleri’s arcologies would rise above newly reforested landscapes and dirigibles would move silently through unpolluted skies, set the stage for many soaring hopes and dreams."
Aftermath: "The New Age movement, despite the overblown hopes placed on it by some of its supporters, never had a shot at significant political or cultural power, and it soon found its way to the fringes, where it shed its links to science, mingled with the remains of older alternative spiritualities, and began to take the unwholesome interest in conspiracy theories and apocalyptic prophecies that eventually dominated the whole movement. Christian fundamentalism and the environmental movement had far more political clout even in their idealistic early phases, and so had to be bought off; in both cases this was done, as it’s usually done, by dangling the bait of money and influence…"
But there's a lot more, and it ends like this: "Peak oil… it’s shown an awkward capacity for appearing on schedule and causing exactly the sort of disruptions that have been predicted by peak oil researchers all along. It’s hard to threaten someone with a crisis that’s already arrived, and harder still to rouse enthusiasm for a great leap forward when every attempt to make it ends in a messy slide backward. Both the shapes of time our culture is willing to consider, in other words, have passed their pull dates – and the obvious alternative, though it's a better fit to the evidence and arguably more adaptive as well, is utterly unacceptable to most people in the industrial world today."
Greer takes us back to the Stoics and to Nietzsche to illustrate a point.
The Rock by Lake Silvaplana (May 29, 2013)
"Provisional living is among the most popular ways to engineer that avoidance. The pounds you can’t lose, the promotion you won’t get, the divorce papers you never quite get around to filing, or some other x factor becomes the villain you can blame for the failure of your choices to reflect your ideals and bring you the life you think you should have. Meanwhile the dreams that pile up on the other side of the change that never happens can get as gaudy as you like, since they never have to face the cold gray morning light of reality. Not all those dreams are happy ones; people are almost as likely to put fantasies about suffering and death on the far side of x as they are to stock the same imaginary space with wealth, power, and plenty of hot sex. It all depends on the personal factor.
Greer now presents Oswald Spengler and his book, The Decline Of The West: Form and Actuality (Der Untergang des Abendlandes: Gestalt und Wirklichkeit) in discussing a morphological view of history…
The Scheduled Death of God (June 5, 2013)
"The difficulty with a morphological approach to history is precisely that a sample size of more than one turns up patterns that next to nobody in the modern industrial world wants to think about. By placing past civilizations side by side with that of the modern industrial West, Spengler found that all the great historical changes that our society sees as uniquely its own have exact equivalents in older societies."
"Spengler argued that the creative potential of every culture is subject to the law of diminishing returns. Sooner or later, everything worth bothering with that can be done with Greek sculpture, Chinese porcelain, Western oil painting, or any other creative art has been done; sooner or later, the same exhaustion occurs in every other dimension of a culture’s life – its philosophies, its political forms, you name it. At that point, in the terms that Spengler used, a culture turns into a civilization, and its focus shifts from creating new forms to sorting through the products of its creative centuries, choosing a selection of political, intellectual, religious, artistic, and social patterns that will be sustainable over the long term, and repeating those thereafter in much the same way that a classical orchestra in the modern West picks and chooses out of the same repertoire of standard composers and works.
"As that last example suggests, furthermore, Spengler didn’t place the transition from Western culture to its subsequent civilization at some conveniently far point in the future. According to his chronology, that transition began in the nineteenth century and would be complete by 2100 or so. The traditional art forms of the Western world would reach the end of the line, devolving into empty formalism or staying on in mummified form, the way classical music is preserved today; political ideologies would turn into empty slogans providing an increasingly sparse wardrobe to cover the naked quest for power…"
In other words, our Western civilization is on its last legs…
Nota Bene: Shortly before his death in 1936, Spengler prophetically remarked in a letter that "the German Reich in ten years will probably no longer exist".
Has anyone informed God about this development? God will be amused. God is not a construct of the human mind. The human mind is a construct of God.
Sheesh. What an arrogant Ape.
Just a heads-up to anyone interested in Spengler, his book "Man and Technic" is a short summary of "Decline of the West." I still recommend Heidegger's book on technology, along with Mumford, Ellul (especially "Tech. Society"), and Vanderburg's "War on Ourselves." All good food for thought on technology. Thank you Poet for keeping this thread going.