As we often state here at Peak Prosperity, the narratives we hold are immensely important. The stories running our heads influence everything from our beliefs to our values to our actions.
Which is why it's so dangerous when a society clings onto a narrative that is no longer serving it well, a narrative divorced from reality.
This week, Chris and John Michael Greer address the global faith in inexorable technological advancement as a cure-all to every predicament we face. In many ways, it's become the dominant religion of the 21st century. Sadly, there are a growing number of threats for which 'improved' technologies actually exacerbate the risks (particularly in regards to depleting critical resources) — but society refuses to acknowledge this, as it runs counter to the tech-as-savoir meme so many are pinning their hopes on:
The problem comes when people have invested in a set of beliefs that work for a while, and then they stop working. That is the situation we are in now. From basically the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to the 1970s or maybe a little later, the narrative of progress worked. During all that time, there was a steady increase in the availability of energy per capita. By White’s Law, which is one of the basic principles of human ecology, economic development is function of energy per capita. As the energy curve rose and as we broke into one after another of the planet’s cookie jars and stole the fossil carbon there, progress actually did happen.
The problem is that we started running into the limits to resource extraction. The cost of resource extraction started rising. The cost of dealing with the downsides of burning all that carbon started to rise and everything else. All of a sudden, it does not work. But everybody is emotionally committed to the myth of progress. They are so great a target and it has such a religious quality to us, progress is that which will save us. Progress promises us this glorious Star Trek destiny metastasizing across the galaxy or what have you. To let that go, again it is trying to get a medieval peasant to look up and notice that Heaven with God, the saints, and angels is not up there anymore. People are wigging out. One of the most common ways to wig out in a situation like that is to cling to the dysfunctional belief system – the beliefs that do not work anymore – ever more tightly, even if they drag you down. That is what we have going on in the modern industrial world. People are going through the motions of a belief system that had stopped working, but they cannot let themselves admit that it stopped working. If that is the case, then God is dead.
I think people desperately want to stop thinking. If they think, they are going to notice what is going on. They are going to notice the gap between the reality that they are experiencing and the reality that they have convinced themselves that they should experience. Everyone needs this progress onward and upward, blah, blah, blah. Okay, for most people in the United States, standards of living have been contracting steadily since 1972. It's White’s Law: economic development is a function of energy per capita. As your energy production declines, so does your prosperity.
When I was young, a working class family with one income could buy a house, could own a car, could go on vacation every so often, could keep paid up on all their bills, and led a pretty good lifestyle. These days, a working class family with one income in many places cannot stay off the street. That is a huge transformation and everyone is pretending that it does not matter. Almost everyone is pretending that it does not matter and we are still on track.
The United States can no longer afford to maintain its road system. State and county road maintenance budgets have been cut so far that in a lot of western states now, entire sections of the road system are being allowed to return to gravel because nobody can afford to keep them up. Our national bridges are a disgrace. They are falling down. What happened? We could afford to maintain our bridges up until a certain point. What happened? Nobody wants to talk about that. America is in decline. It has been declining rapidly, ever more rapidly, for decades now. Nobody wants to admit it. We dress up our emperor in ever more elaborate imaginary clothing.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with John Michael Greer (64m:13s)
Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host Chris Martenson. The world is anything but a calm oasis of steadily rising stock prices. Despite what the central banks would love to have us all believe, everything that was a predicament in 2008 is an even larger predicament today. The biggest problem we face in my estimation is this: We are running the wrong stories in our heads. Sometimes they are laughably untethered from reality, such as the story that plucky American ingenuity has it on track to be the next Saudi Arabia. What makes that one so spectacularly wrong is that under no circumstances ever does even the most rabid proponent of that narrative believe that the US will ever again be any sort of net exporter of oil. Saudi Arabia, of course, exports eight million barrels a day. It is apples and pineapples. There is just no comparison between the two stories there. We need to back up and rather dispassionately take stock of where we are. Really know what reality has to tell us. I can think of nobody better to do that with than John Michael Greer, who we welcome back to the program today.
John is the proprietor of the website, of course, The Arch Druid Report. It is must reading. I read it all the time. He writes about environmental depletion and social dissent from a really non-traditional and very note-worthy perspective. He is also a man of varied and complex interests. He is an American author, independent scholar, historian of ideas, cultural critic, neo-druid leader, hermeticist, environmentalist, blogger, novelist, occultist, esotericist, you name it. He currently resides in Cumberland, Maryland. Who better than this man to help us discuss the belief systems that are likely going to lead us to empire failure, such as a widespread in blind faith that technology will swoop in and solve our ever growing energy in environmental imbalances. Welcome, John. I am really looking forward to this.
John: Thank you. It is a pleasure to be on again.
Chris Martenson: I have a lot of conversations with people. Among the alert people, they have this feeling that something is wrong. They say so even though they cannot quite put their finger on it. Are they right? Is something wrong?
John: Oh yeah. It would be hard to point—in the broad picture, various people have various good things going on in their lives of course just on individual terms. But in the broader social, political, economic, ecological sense it is hard to find anything that is going right just now.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, you know here is an anecdote around that. I read probably one of the more dispiriting articles I have read in a long time. It says that there is a class of investors in China who are buying rare animal parts, banking on the idea that those animals will go extinct. Then of course their investments will perform fantastically. I do not know how to do anything but be depressed by a story like that.
John: It is a depressing story. It is a very depressing story.
Chris Martenson: That is where we are in this narrative. It is not just the US, but in China. The idea is that if I can make money at this, it is a good thing so I will do that.
John: No matter what other consequences there are, if I make money— exactly.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, that is everything. Another I thought was a reasonably depressing story was in Oklahoma. They went from an average of two earthquakes a year to we are on track this year to have 865. This is mostly centered on where they are doing the fracking waste fluid injection wells.
Chris Martenson: The people whose houses are falling down are saying "we would like to be protected. You should have to buy insurance." The fracking companies’ argument is this: "If we had to buy insurance, we would not be able to afford to do what we do. Therefore, that is a non-starter. We are not going to do it. We cannot make money by preventing earthquakes."
John: Of course, they are right to make money at the expense of people’s houses falling down. It is somehow guaranteed. I really think if a bunch of aliens were to swoop in from a distant planet and say "we want to buy all the earth’s air, but we will pay you 100 quadrillion dollars for it," there would be people who would say "sure. I can learn to breathe something else."
Chris Martenson: You might be right. They might say "I am going to invest in scuba tanks. This will all work out."
John: There you go. It is really quite bizarre. The thing that I would point out is that all of this resembles nothing so much as—if you have ever met people who belonged to – I will use the usual pejorative term "cult" – some kind of strange religious system that was at about a 35 degree angle from reality. You try to talk to them about anything. Pretty soon you get this thousand mild stare and you get this series of thought-stopping clichés. "Our holy prophet is... It is Gu’s grace that this is happening." It does not matter what it is. It always comes back to the thought stoppers. People are doing the same thing now around everything that has to do with progress, with economic growth, and with technology. It is right back to the thought stoppers and the thousand mile stares. This is one of the reasons my latest book is arguing that belief in progress is a surrogate religion. Literally people put the same kind of faith in progress that medieval peasants put in the wonder working bones of St. Ethelthryth or what have you. They believe in it absolutely and implicitly. They cannot think outside that box.
It is leading them straight to destruction in this case. At least, revering the bones of St. Ethelthryth was not going to do you any particular harm. It might not ward off the Black Death, but these things happen. In this case, as you pointed out, we have a set of narratives that are completely detached from the real world. Yet everyone has convinced themselves this is the real world. If reality knocks on the door saying I am sorry, reality can go away. We know what is real. Progress is real. The great god progress will save us all.
Chris Martenson: It seems so obvious to me that any technology has a pro and has a con. You get something and you lose something. Whether you lose that languorous sense of space and time because we can cram every minute of our day with these beautiful little smart phone planner devices, or whether it is the loss of social interaction that you get when you have to deal with a human face to face, or the wonderful miracle of food technology that quite obviously is poisoning the bejesus out of our population.
John: Yeah, there we go. Or it is having a stable climate or having a breathable atmosphere. There are little things like houses that do not fall down. They are little things like that.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, now whether it was the wandering bones of the saint or it is our myth of progress, is it just that humans are predisposed towards believing in things that are fundamentally, obviously, demonstrably not true? Is that a fate that we are going to have to contend with forever?
John: Certainly human beings under certain circumstances will convince themselves of things that are not true. We know that. The bones of the saint, by the way, given the power of the placebo effect – who knows, maybe the saint was actually blessing a few people now and again. That was actually functional in some ways, although again that would not keep off the Black Death. The problem comes when people have invested in a set of beliefs that work for a while, and then they stop working. That is the situation we are in now. From basically the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to the 1970s or maybe a little later, the narrative of progress worked. During all that time, there was a steady increase in the availability of energy per capita. By White’s Law, which is one of the basic principles of human ecology, economic development is a function of energy per capita. As the energy curve rose and as we broke into one after another of the planet’s cookie jars and stole the fossil carbon there, progress actually did happen.
The problem is that we started running into the limits to resource extraction. The cost of resource extraction started rising. The cost of dealing with the downsides of burning all that carbon started to rise and everything else. All of a sudden, it does not work. But everybody is emotionally committed to the myth of progress. They are so great a target and it has such a religious quality to us, progress is that which will save us. Progress promises us this glorious Star Trek destiny metastasizing across the galaxy or what have you. To let that go, again it is trying to get a medieval peasant to look up and notice that Heaven with God, the saints, and angels is not up there anymore. So people are wigging out. One of the most common ways to wig out in a situation like that is to cling to the dysfunctional belief system – the beliefs that do not work anymore – ever more tightly, even if they drag you down. That is what we have going on in the modern industrial world. People are going through the motions of a belief system that had stopped working, but they cannot let themselves admit that it stopped working. If that is the case, then God is dead. Niche is standing there saying "hahaha."
Chris Martenson: Do you know how I know I am dealing with a belief system? It is when I question it, I get an emotional response.
John: Bingo, yes.
Chris Martenson: I get this all the time. Adam and I call it the iPhone moment. We will do our whole song and dance. We will put up all this data. We will say look, oil discovery peaked 50 years ago. That is just reality. Guess what is going to happen sometime after a peak in discovery? There will be a peak in output. People will inevitably one, but several more times, will literally hold up their phone and go I think you are forgetting about these. It is their little progress talisman. How can you deny that we are making leaps and bounds? The minute I say that is fascinating. Technology can help us use energy more effectively and efficiently. But what it cannot do is it cannot create energy. I am talking about an energy source. You are talking about how we use it. Those are fundamental. I have lost them by the first time I started talking.
John: Of course.
Chris Martenson: I lost them minutes ago in that diatribe.
John: Yeah, and that is just the thing. "What about these iPhones?" Okay, what about them? We have this complicated little toy. It is a more complex toy than the last generation. So what? This is what I mean when I call these things thought stoppers. They are ways to stop thinking. I think people desperately want to stop thinking. If they think, they are going to notice what is going on. They are going to notice the gap between the reality that they are experiencing and the reality that they have convinced themselves that they should experience. Everyone needs this progress onward and upward, blah, blah, blah. Okay, for most people in the United States, standards of living have been contracting steadily since 1972. This is for most Americans.
Chris Martenson: By the way, this is coincidentally when energy per capita peaked in this country.
John: Coincidentally, yeah sure.
Chris Martenson: I just want to point that out. I do not know if it is coincidence, but I gather them.
John: Again, it is White’s Law. Economic development is a function of energy per capita. As your energy production declines, so does your prosperity. When I was young, your dinosaur did not quite walk the earth in those days although it feels that way sometimes. When I was young, a working class family with one income could buy a house, could own a car, could go on vacation every so often, could keep paid up on all their bills, and led a pretty good lifestyle. These days, a working class family with one income in many places cannot stay off the street. That is a huge transformation and everyone is pretending that it does not matter. Almost everyone is pretending that it does not matter and we are still on track.
The United States can no longer afford to maintain its road system. State and county road maintenance budgets have been cut so far that in a lot of western states now, entire sections of the road system are being allowed to return to gravel because nobody can afford to keep them up. Our national bridges are a disgrace. They are falling down. What happened? We could afford to maintain our bridges up until a certain point. What happened? Nobody wants to talk about that. America is in decline. It has been declining rapidly, ever more rapidly, for decades now. Nobody wants to admit it. We dress up our emperor in ever more elaborate imaginary clothing. Most people again use the thought stoppers, so they do not notice what is actually going on.
Chris Martenson: It is emotionally painful to have to notice these things. Deconstructing a belief system is an emotionally painful process for people who were trained that those are to be avoided. I am of a maturity level now that I understand that. There is no such thing as avoiding emotional pain. You can stuff it, and then it comes out in the most awkward ways. Later on when you least expect it or want it, it comes out sideways. Shadows are like that. More importantly, to really face and master our emotional responses is actually an incredibly exciting and worthy challenge. As I go back and look through all different cultures and generations in times past, people got that. But we really in this country in the United States in particular, we say "are you having an emotional response? If it is too much, we are going to have to drug you for that." It is either way. Are you too manic? Are you too depressive? You are too high or you are too low. We have drugs for both.
John: No matter what, everything benefits the pharmaceutical industry at this point. The Onion, which at this point has to run full speed to stay ahead of reality, it's satirical—The Onion had a piece a little while back announcing that a study had proved that drugs and therapy were equally effective at monetizing depression.
Chris Martenson: Every so often I will read a headline, and I have to check to make sure it is not The Onion.
John: I know! I know.
Chris Martenson: They are having a hard time keeping up.
John: It impresses me that they are still able to keep on writing satire.
Chris Martenson: Let us burst this tech bubble in a very concrete way. Let us talk about the shale revolution.
John: Oh, you mean the fracking bubble. Yes, go ahead.
Chris Martenson: It is the fracking bubble. This drives me nuts because I read about it in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and Bloomberg. Except Bloomberg has one or two sides. I believe they are contract journalists who were actually nipping at the edges of this thing. Generally, their center mass follows the main narrative, which is...
John: Of course it does.
Chris Martenson: ...shale oil flooded the world and this is a permanent revolution.
John: That is going to become louder and louder for exactly the same reason. You will remember this very well. In the final days of the housing bubble, the rhetoric around the endlessly rising real estate prices just got louder. Do you remember that?
Chris Martenson: I do.
John: Do you remember in 2007 and 2008 just how frantic it got just before the bottom dropped out? We are in that Wile E Coyote moment right now with the fracking bubble.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, and let us be clear. The reason it gets frantic is because there are people who have product they want to move.
John: They have to move it, yeah.
Chris Martenson: They have to dump it into some unwary portfolios.
John: Got it in one. At this point right now, the banks are stuck with tens of millions of dollars of fracking loans that they have packaged that they are having trouble selling. That was in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago. People are backing away from these smoking craters soon to appear here. They are backing away from the fracking thing. Dozens of fracking firms have either declared bankruptcy or are consulting with the reorganization specialists and things like that. It is shaping up to be a world-class speculative crash, but everyone in the mainstream media is doing their best not to say that. Who wants to start the run?
Chris Martenson: I know. Here is how simple it is to get your arms around this. I was looking at Whiting Petroleum – one of the largest operators producing 180,000 barrels a day out of the Bakken. They made a really unfortunately timed purchased a year and a half ago with Kodiak, so they have a lot of debt. They have $5.3 billion on the books. This took me five minutes in a spreadsheet. I said okay, 186,000 barrels a day. Okay, it declines at 85% over three years. There is some vintage aging, so I will dial that back a little bit. Let us say that that is going to decline 70% over the next three years. Here is the average price of oil. Hey, they cannot even pay back the $5.3 billion if they stop drilling.
John: Yeah, exactly. Even if they stop all operations and just sell, there is no way they can ever pay it back. I forget—company after company. I am trying to remember one that I saw. They reported they had negative cash flow every single year since they entered the whole fracking thing. They have been spending billions of dollars and getting millions back. They are making up the difference with loans. Again, it is the housing bubble. It is the tech stock bubble. I mean this is Pets.com all over again.
Chris Martenson: Yeah and here is how you know that you are late in the game. It is when they start changing the measurement stick.
John: Oh yeah.
Chris Martenson: About a year and a half ago the EIA started saying "look at per rig productivity." Who cares how productive a rig is? It is the wells. People confused it. I have people saying "my God, we are getting 300% more out of the wells than we used to." I am like no we are not, no. We are getting exactly the same amount out of each well that we used to get. There is no change in that. That is with longer multilateral drillings, more frack stages, and more use of prop. We are dumping more and more down the holes, and we are getting just about the same amount out. That is geology fighting technology. They fought themselves to a standstill for the moment. That is the reality.
John: That is the reality.
Chris Martenson: But again, the eyes glaze over.
John: Exactly, but again you will remember in the days of the housing bubble. I lived in Ashland, Oregon when the housing bubble was at full roar. It is kind of a yuppie enclave. There are a lot of people with a fair amount of more dollars than sense, as my grandparents used to say. There were a lot of people who were deeply into the sort of bottom feeding new age stuff like The Secret—convince yourself that you are destined to be rich and money will seek you out. It is that kind of thinking. The number of people I knew who were just literally clinically irrational about real estate prices, that they had to go up. You tried telling them. Look at these... No, the eyes glaze over instantly. You get the thousand mile stare and the mantras come out. To some extent, it is simply the usual reaction of suckers who have been hooked by their own greed.
A book that I recommend to everybody who is trying to stay sane in these times is John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Great Crash, 1929. It is to start with the most rip-roaringly hilarious book of serious economic history you will ever read. The thing that Galbraith does is he walks you through all the rhetoric of the bubble—the new economic era that has dawned. How many new economic eras have we had so far? It is always the same thing. He literally walks through all of the rhetoric and all of the ways that people suckered themselves into believing that stocks in 1929 could rise forever. Once you follow that, you will see the same rhetoric appearing again and again and again. It has been all over the fracking bubble. It is all over the fracking bubble. "It is a new era for the American energy industry." "The old rules do not apply," blah, blah, blah. It is complete to the proclamations that US oil production is reaching a permanently high plateau.
Chris Martenson: It is that famous geologist, Irving Fisher.
John: Yeah, exactly. But it is always the same thing. The only variation is what the subject is for the bubble. In this case, it happens to be fracking. I mean the fracking thing is not about energy. It is not about petroleum. It is about selling worthless paper to chumps. An awful lot of paper has been sold to an awful lot of chumps.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, that is absolutely true. Here is the thing. I just read this piece this morning by this Stanford professor who said it looks like oil prices are going to stay down for 20 years. He cited the fracking revolution. I am like, he is a Stanford professor. He should know that even the EIA says the shale revolution is over in 2020 when we run out of drill spots and it goes into terminal perpetual decline. That is only five years from now. I am wondering where his calculations for the next 15 years came from.
John: He is a Stanford professor of what? Do you remember?
Chris Martenson: I believe it is some form of economics, but I do not know.
John: Oh, that explains it. That explains it. Do you know what you call an economist who makes a prediction?
Chris Martenson: Wrong?
John: Wrong, yeah. [laughter] It is by definition. If an economist says the sky is blue, I am going to go look.
Chris Martenson: Here is the thing though. You can look at this. The data is there. You take the world’s oil output, X the US, and X Canada. It has been going down slightly since 2005. This is with three and a half trillion dollars poured into making sure it went up and geology is winning again. I look at that. Then I wander over and I look at the people who bought Spanish 50-year bonds for 3.8%. I just go, what is the story you have to tell yourself to say, you know I like these at 3.8%? I am going to buy a fistful of these Spanish bonds here. [laughter] It is 50 years. That is the year 2065 that they mature. Come on people. Think this through.
John: No, we cannot think this through. If we think this through, we realize just how deep up to our eyeballs in alligators we are at this point. That is one of the temptations that makes just going through the motions and pretending that nothing has changed so tempting. You do not have to deal with the stress. As you say, sooner or later you can repress something that will come back out. It is just that people are very good at saying "I just do not want to deal with it now." Unfortunately, they are going to deal with it in a much harder form down the road.
The thing that I find really interesting is that you mentioned the production X the tar sands and shale oil bubbles. Production has been trending down since 2005. As I recall from shortly after that, I think it was 2006, consumption has been trending not drastically down. But it is certainly in some areas quite steadily down. I think it was US gasoline consumption for example that has been ratcheting unevenly downwards since then. A range of other energy measurements have. This is crucial because one of the things that is central to the “discredited” peak oil theory is that if you have to put more and more resources and more and more real wealth into energy production – into energy extraction, let us use the correct term here – you do not have those resources available for other economic activities. The dreaded phrase "zero sum game" comes to mind here.
As we throw more and more of our total available real wealth into the process of extracting tar from tar sands, oil from shale, oil from super deep wells in the Gulf of Mexico, or what have you; the fact that this stuff is really expensive to product is a good proxy for the fact that it takes immense resource inputs. Those inputs are not available for other economic uses. It is very much as though – to put it in microeconomic terms – you have your product that you are selling, but your cost of getting the product is ratcheting upward. Your profit margins are being squeezed so your lifestyle is being squeezed. To my mind, that is the big story right now. It is the fact that as I noted earlier, the US cannot afford its road system anymore.
Chris Martenson: There you have it. We are putting all this extra energy, effort, and capital or however you want to measure it. We are pouring it into these innumerable shafts into the ground in North Dakota and other places. The next thing we know we turn around and are like "why did that bridge fall down?"
John: Why did the bridge fall down? Exactly.
Chris Martenson: "That seems so unrelated."
John: As long as you do not think in whole systems you can go on with the pretense. Thinking in whole systems is practically taboo these days.
Chris Martenson: It is because it is challenging. It is really challenging. Here is the thing, John. I know more and more people who have both had thousand yard stares, but they got a little of the deer in the headlights thing too. They are scared. There is just this general discomfort right now that is palpable. I know it because I recently gave talks in Peru and in Mexico City. In Latin America, there are very different sorts of discussions. They know things going pear shaped.
John: Oh yeah.
Chris Martenson: That is why you go to Peru. There is the Nuevo sol to replace the old sol, which replaced the one before that. They have been through a bunch of currency and complete flame out disasters. There is no convincing. You know sometimes leaders overdo it and your currency goes wonky on you. You have to start over. They get that.
John: They get that, right. They get that, exactly. They do not stick to the pretense.
Chris Martenson: No, so it is a very different discussion to have. I found it very liberating and freeing. When I come back to the United States in particular, it is like we have some thought bubble that has been clamped down over things. It is very clear that there are subjects that are off limits because they make people uncomfortable. It happens all the time.
John: The one thing that I will say though is you mentioned the sense of freedom, of liberation. I have talked to so many people here in America who have gotten to the point where they actually are saying "hold it. Something is really wrong. This is not working." They talk about it. They find in the community people to talk about it. All of a sudden this immense weight has gone off them. The country is still careening down the slopes into history’s compost bin. All of the aspects of our predicament are still there, but they do not have the burden of pretense anymore. It is an immense liberation.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, we hold a few seminars. We have one coming up at Rowe in three weeks now. Adam, my wife Becca, and I present. Honestly, we could go to sleep for the whole weekend and people would just have a grand old time meeting in an intimate setting, a natural and beautiful intimate setting where they get to just talk about these things.
John: Yeah, it is where nobody is going to shut you down for saying "it is going pear shaped, guys."
Chris Martenson: Exactly, that is so relieving. I agree with you. More and more people are getting this. I just did a presentation for a class at Berkeley via Skype. I did one down in Charleston, South Carolina. The 20-year-olds are like "dude, do not even bother telling me about how messed up it is. We know this stuff." They know this, so I am going to narrow this down. I think that the class of people who are most heavily blinkered are basically the boomers.
John: Oh yeah.
Chris Martenson: They are the ones that have the most to lose if this does go pear shaped. They are the ones who seem rigid and incapable of understanding the dimensions of this. I think younger people, in my estimate they just grew up with it. Oh yeah, that is the world we live in.
John: The teens and twenty-somethings that I have talked to are totally on. Either they are totally on top of it or they are totally oblivious.
Chris Martenson: That is correct.
John: It is one or the other. They are either glued to their iBrain – their surrogate minds, and are just slurping at the media tit. They have no clue. Or they know completely what is going on. They have no illusions about the situation.
Chris Martenson: Right.
John: The boomers, I think it is partly that they have the most to lose. But there is of course the other factor that I have written about. It is that the boomer generation was the generation that was really coming into public life at the time that America turned its back on the prospect of transitioning to a sustainable future. An awful lot of boomers sold out. I mean the hippie generation, the people who were saying we will never put on business suits; we are going to do peace, love, and community. It is solar panels, windmills, geodesic domes in the countryside. Now all of a sudden they are going to work for Fortunte500 corporations with a nice short haircut and a tie. The boomers, generally speaking, were one of the most idealistic generations in American history. They were also one of the most privileged and one of the most convinced of their own entitlement. They faced over and over again the confrontation between their ideals and their privilege.
Over and over again with certain noble exceptions, over and over again most of them chose the privilege and spent the next ten years insisting at the top of their lungs that they have not cashed in their ideals. You have situations now where people who were vocal environmentalists in the 1970s are now out there pimping for the nuclear industry. They cannot possibly—we have to have a future with enough power and electricity to power our iPhones. If that means loading the planet with waste that remain lethally dangerous for a quarter of a million years, hey that is fine. We have our iPhones. That kind of betrayal of ideals, that kind of copping out, and of selling out leaves immense psychological scars. I really think that modern American history cannot be understood unless you remember just how many people are now either the boomer generation or they are in positions of power. They are largely running the country at this point. These are the people who sold out at the end of the sixties and again with the coming of the Raegan era.
Chris Martenson: I am not sure that the millennials would have done any better if we put them back 30 or 40 years.
John: Quite possibly not. Quite possibly not, but they did not go through that transformation. I am not saying the boomers are uniquely evil. I am saying they were the ones who were put in this situation or put themselves into that situation and they are dealing with the psychological scar tissue. By the time the millennials or whoever came along, or the so-called greatest generation – there have been many great generations. It happened to land on the boomers to make that choice one way or the other. We know what choice they made. I think that the psychological scarring that resulted from that is an immense although almost unmentionable factor at this point.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, I mean we might call it guilt. But for me, that selling out is easy in the short-term but the loss of integrity over the long-term is a real blow.
John: It is huge. Especially in the situations that we have seen over the last 40 to 50 years, they have had to double down over and over again. It was never enough. They could give up the long hair and the headbands. Okay, that is one thing. Okay, now Raegan is running for office. Are you going to give up on the sustainable energy? Are you going to give up on green lifestyles? Yeah, because we want our middle class jobs. Then it is another thing. Then it is another thing. Then it is another thing. If at any point you just say "no I am not going to do that," it casts all of your previous choices into question. If you just keep on doubling down on it until now you are out there with Stuart Brand trying to sell GMOs and nuclear power, it is not just the one betrayal. It is the whole sequence heading down that road paved with good intentions leading you know where. Yeah, that is an immense factor in our collective psychology right now.
Chris Martenson: This is a perfect place. This is where I see. I see us locked into a narrative that is failing us. All you have to do is open the newspaper and be marginally curious. You can see all the ways it is failing us. This is whether it is soil loss, droughts where there did not used to be, lack of snow to run your dogsled races on, or record breaking snows in other places. It is just getting weird and wonky environmentally. The world has tacked on an additional $56 trillion of debt since the crisis began. Presumably that would be lovely if that could be paid back. All of that is predicated on this idea of endless growth. Then of course there is maybe not the energy to grow endlessly. Maybe it is even not that much longer. We put all that into a spot and we have this collective denial, which I understand at heart. I get that. I can even have compassion for it if I really remove myself and look at it. Where does that take us in your mind? You have done a great job of prognosticating about how this plays out. What is the kind of future you think we can actually expect out of all of this?
John: Prognosticating—Yogi Berra commented that prediction is really difficult, especially about the future. My model all along, and I have not seen any recent change, is that of a sort of fractal collapse. Instead of either one big lump – we all wake up in the ashes, those of us who wake up at all – or the smooth slope of decline. It is a matter of just the total number of crises, of catastrophes, of natural and unnatural disasters, of economic downturns, of economic contraction, of political failure, and of war. All of these just keep on ramping steadily upwards. When exactly your number comes up to take part in the general process of decline in any given way, it is going to vary by factors that are very difficult to predict. They are happening right now to many people. I mean right now if you live in Greece, you have collapsed. Your standard of living has dropped to the floor. Right now if you live in California, you are facing the transformation of what was one of America’s wealthiest states into the combination dust bowl and rust belt of the twenty-first century.
People who lose their job and do not ever get a new one is increasingly common in America these days. The total number of people we do not report as unemployed because they are permanently unemployed just keeps on ratcheting upwards. So you have this bizarre situation where people can pretend that everything is fine. It is business as usual. We are on our way to the stars. This is until something happens to them. Then they are kind of edited out of the picture. That said, I expect some fairly large jolts in the near future. When the fracking bubble implodes, I think we have a pretty fair likelihood of at least a massive crisis here in America. It is probably a massive financial crisis worldwide. I have seen figures—I do not know how well documented and what the kind of documentation is beneath them—that the total amount of dubious credit that has been manufactured in the course of funding the fracking bubble is about twice what was produced to fund the housing bubble. That is going to leave some gaping holes in a lot of balance sheets as that goes pear shaped.
We are looking at a major economic crisis in the United States, and possibly more broadly, in the very near future. We are looking at the likelihood of major wars. If the situation in Yemen right now spins much further out of control, we probably have World War III in the Middle East between the Sunni and the Shia. It could become a complete blood bath. That is the one thing I could think of that could make fracking profitable again. If the Persian Gulf is aflame with war and people are blowing up each other's oil installations, there is going to be a shortage of oil and prices will go back up. We may actually have a chance to continue fracking out until 2020. That is something for your listeners to keep an eye on. If that does not happen, it is complicated.
We are looking at a situation where the international order that has been in place since the second World War is cracking. It is going to break completely as the United States falls out of its position as superpower. Exactly who will replace it is an interesting question. The Chinese are certainly trying to position themselves. It will be interesting to see how they deal with their own looming economic crisis, their huge overhang of unpayable debt, and so on. What I am seeing for the future and what I have been seeing all this time is one crisis after another, one catastrophe after another, one war after another and one recession and depression. Okay, let us use the D-word. There is one depression after another. There is ratcheting downwards as the energy supply decreases. Again, it is White’s Law. Economic development is a function of energy per capita. As energy per capita declines, economic development goes into reverse. That is one of the things you cannot say in public.
Chris Martenson: No. I have one of these things called an iPhone. I think you should know about it.
John: Yeah, and that iPhone is going to produce limitless amounts of energy.
Chris Martenson: Yes [laughter]. I agree with your backdrop that what I see are just steadily increasing pressures, which are going to call on either our best efforts or will bring our worst efforts and reap what we sow in that regard. This is a little bit like reading Guns of August about the buildup to World War I. There were just a lot of pressures, some failed empires, some inbred leadership literally in some cases, and all these sorts of things that just basically became a tinder pile. I am looking at the world as having a lot of pressures on it at this point in time. I am mystified to this day by what the United States is up to in the Ukraine.
John: That is just mad.
Chris Martenson: We are poking the bear. This was one of my – is this an Onion moment? It turned out it is not. ABC reported that the United States is sending in a bunch of paratroopers to train with the “National Guard” in the Ukraine. We are sending them in to train with the Azov battalion, which is one of the privately funded battalions that is famous for having the Waffen SS insignia and doing all of that.
John: Yeah, exactly.
Chris Martenson: We are doing all that. We are sending them in on April 20th. A little Googling revealed to me it is Hitler’s birthday.
John: It is his birthday, yes.
Chris Martenson: Is anybody thinking this through in the Pentagon? If they are, was that on purpose? I cannot make sense of how you could either be that tone deaf or that obvious. I do not know which of those two things to be more outraged about.
John: This is unless they are hoping to elicit a violent response from Russia. That is the one. The thing is United States foreign policy has been stark staring nuts. Drooling idiocy barely covers it. Strategy 101 is in the aftermath of the collapse of Soviet Union, the US had one absolute top strategic requirement, which was to make sure that Russia and China remained on opposite sides of some kind of line of hostility. This was to drive them apart. The most sensible thing would have been to basically do something like a Marshall Plan for Russia. Establish a US-Russian alliance and use that to counter the rising power of China. That would have been a brilliant move. It would have been a very smart—it might have saved the US Empire for another century.
We could alternatively have gone and done an alliance with China. We could have followed up on Nixon’s original idea. That is very clearly what Nixon was trying to do. It was to try to drive the largest possible wedge between the two big communist powers. At that time he succeeded brilliantly. Instead, what do we do? We have gone out of our way to take the two other large nuclear powers in the world and drive them into alliance. To create a Eurasian power block that has more resources, more people, more weapons, and at this point better technology than we do. We have created our own nemesis. We are adding to it day by day. I have no idea what is going through the heads of the people who think they are running US foreign policy. For 20 years, we have been pursuing an utterly self-defeating and utterly self-destructing agenda. I am convinced it is going to lead to disaster for the United States.
Chris Martenson: I think it will. One of the things I have been talking about is that a lot of it is perception. Perception rules a lot in life. In the United States, people say the United States is the world’s reserve currency. Of course, it is backed by having the most powerful military in the world. That is the perception.
John: That is the perception.
Chris Martenson: That is true if and only if you can project that power. How do we do that? We do that with this thing called a blue water Navy. We have all these ships out there. One of the things I keep telling people is you have to go onto Live Leak. You have to look at these anti-ship missiles – the Acon800 and other similar things, and the Sunburns the Russians have. They completely teach you that a Navy is no longer a useful thing. We still have the perception that it is.
I do not know if you caught this, but I love this incident. The USS Donald Cook sailed into the Black Sea last April to show the Russians a lesson. This is one of our—this is an Aegis Class Destroyer. It is packed with the most brilliant electronics in the whole world. This thing has 50 anti-aircraft missiles. It is like its own little island of death. The Russians sent one SU-24 Sukhoi jet, flew it over this thing, and jammed every electronic thing on board—just shut it down with some technology that they have. Then they proceeded to fly back and forth in mock bombing runs. They would have just taken the ship out. This is our most advanced ship in the world. It was taken out by a single jet and just shut down. To me, that was a huge warning sign. I would have thought that our response to that would have been something like maybe we do not really want to poke that bear. If we lose the perception of having this indomitable military, we lose a lot, possibly including reserve currency status.
John: Among other things. My most recent novel – I have three novels out. My most recent one is a near future novel called Twilight’s Last Gleaming. It actually focuses on the consequences of the United States getting itself into a situation where it actually suffers a serious military defeat. Yes, the effective destruction of a carrier task force is a central part of that.
Did you catch the story? I think it was last year. The Chinese had a submarine come up in the middle of a US military naval exercise.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, they came up and they waved.
John: They came up. They waved. They went down. Nobody had detected them. They could have carried out torpedo runs against the carrier and everything else in sight. The Chinese are turning out one after another—they are turning out these first rate very silent subs. They are turning out these light catamaran missile boats, which I think are probably going to be the prototype of the navies in the age of the cruise missile. They are small. They are disposable. They are very fast. Their basic purpose is to get within range to launch cruise missiles at something. But we are still fixated on our aircraft carriers.
The thing is this happens. You mentioned 1914. In the run up toward 1914, everybody was convinced in Britain that Britain’s survival depends on battleships. They put an immense amount of money into building and upgrading their battleship fleet. The battleships did absolutely nothing during the war. There was a Battle of Jutland, which was completely inconclusive. After this, everybody’s fleets just went home and sat out the war. Then in the run up to World War II, the British did exactly the same thing. They put all their money into battleships when smart money was going into aircraft carriers. Among other things, that is why Britain had most of its holdings in Southeast Asia and Indonesia scooped by the Japanese. The British had battleships and cruisers down there, and the Japanese simply bombed them into oblivion from the air. We are facing exactly the same situation with our aircraft carriers. At some point soon, I do not know what soon amounts to here, but at some point the US is going to send a carrier group into some situation. There is going to be a flurry of missiles from the shore. And the age of the aircraft carrier is going to end. The reputation for invincibility that the United States has is going to end too. The consequences of that are immense. Those are things that I was trying to sketch out in this novel of mine, Twilight’s Last Gleaming.
Chris Martenson: I cannot wait to read that. I love thinking things through from that. I think we have to think through the scenarios. But it has been completely obvious to me ever since an aging A4 aircraft using a French exocet missile sank the HMS Sheffield in the Falklands War. When was that – 1983 or something?
Chris Martenson: I mean that taught me a couple decades ago. Oh yeah, ships are done. Still there is this perception that the United States has this very powerful military. It is true. But it is true only because we have not gone up against somebody who knows how to sink ships yet. We beat up on Noriega. We did a little Grenada action. We did a little Saddam action. It is really like an NFL team that has gone up against three pee-wee leagues and has decided it cannot be beat.
John: Yeah, that is exactly it. I mean we sent our bombers against the Serbs and the Serbs shot down one of our stealth planes. Do you remember that one?
Chris Martenson: Oh that is right, they did. They did.
John: The remains of the plane were then quickly shipped off to Russia. All of a sudden, they have first rate stealth fighters and we are stuck with the F35. We could have a long conversation about that dog.
Chris Martenson: That is just a trillion dollar program that does nothing.
John: No, it has performed brilliantly at its mission which is to completely destroy the US Treasury [laughter]. It has been enormously successful as a money sink.
Chris Martenson: It has bombed the Treasury successfully. The hit rate is 100%.
John: Exactly, it has a hit rate of 100%. It just does not do anything else well. Then nobody else thinks that there is ever going to be a hot war where the United States actually has to scramble serious planes. If that ever happens, we are in up to our eyeballs in alligators as I said.
Chris Martenson: This is what is mysterious to me. I see this mostly being driven by the State Department and a bunch of neocons. You look at Victoria Nuland and understand that her husband is one of the signatories on the project for a New American Century, which is that document that just magically managed to predict another Pearl Harbor striking the United States in a couple of years that would galvanize our Mid-East response. She is really in bed literally and figuratively with the neocons. These people frighten me because I do not think they are grounded in reality at all. I am wondering, where is the military on this? They have to be aware of these issues. They are very level-headed on these things.
John: It depends. It depends on who you talk to. The US military is huge. There are vast numbers of people. Many of the people in the upper echelons, especially in things like purchasing, they are looking at their seven figure civilian contracts that they are going to get as soon as they finish their 20 years. The thing is there is a lot of corruption in the US military. There is a lot of corruption. I do not know if you follow the War Nerd.
Chris Martenson: No.
John: He is a columnist. I forget the guy’s actual name, but he writes under the War Nerd. He is highly worth reading. He is extremely well-informed. He did a piece on the F35 where he argues that this shows the US Air Force has now won the prize as the most corrupt branch of the US military. Everybody is kind of playing along and insisting that the F35 really is this marvelous new plane, even though it cannot fly faithfully and the software that will enable it to actually hit a target has not been finished yet.
Chris Martenson: It does not even put oxygen in the masks of the pilots sometimes. It has a few things going on.
John: Yeah. I think one of the problems here is that with that kind of money and that kind of culture of "it does not really matter," the people I know in the military who are out there on the cutting edge, the people who are actually going to be flying the planes, who are actually in harm’s way are great people. I know a fair number of them. I respect them deeply. There was a term in the 'nam years, REMF – real ecolon – I will let you figure out yourself what MF stood for in soldier slang. That was because you get people who will never see combat. They are sitting behind LSD – large sealed desk commanders. A lot of money flows through their hands. There is a lot of opportunity for graft, and some people have taken them.
You have a situation where we have on paper the most powerful military in the world. We certainly have the most expensive military in the world. We have a military that is unfortunately riddled with graft, that is riddled with technology that does not work, and strategies and vast strategic doctrines that have been generated to justify preferred technologies rather than because they will actually be of any use. The centrality of the aircraft carrier to current American – the air-sea battle. I think they have changed the name again. Current American strategic doctrine still relies on aircraft carriers. It is not because carriers are useful, but it is because we have this huge investment in them. It is because it is very prestigious to be a carrier commander. All the people who have a personal financial or emotional investment in the carriers are coming up with all these scenarios where carriers are the salvation. It is just as their equivalents in Britain in the 1920s came up with all these scenarios where battleships were going to save Britain.
Chris Martenson: It is fascinating with this level of delusion that exists out there. It has happened at every major turning point and for different sets of reasons. This one is really interesting to me. There are times I bemoan our current state. There are other times I go, you know, this is honestly one of the most fascinating times to be alive ever.
Chris Martenson: It is for all sorts of reasons, but not least of which is this is when I think—a guy that I trained under to learn how to do trading helped me spot what a bubble really is. He said bubbles always have a final blow off parabolic spike. That is the last act. You get to recognize when you are getting towards the end of something. I think we are having that last gasp parabolic blow off spike in denial. It is just reaching of fever pitch.
John: Peak denial! Oh I hope.
Chris Martenson: The gap between the stories we are telling ourselves and what reality is trying to inform us on is really profound. I do not know how people live with the cognitive dissonance, so they do not. They check out in a variety of ways. They drink too much.
Chris Martenson: They watch too much Kardashians, this or that. They spend too much time worrying about sports scores, trivia, or whatever the preferred thing is.
John: Exactly. Have you noticed? I do not know if this is true where you live. Everywhere I have been of late just over the last few years, the restaurants and the bars have gone from having one or two screens to having five or six televisions. There is literally not a wall that does not have a television talking at you.
Chris Martenson: Yeah.
John: That, I think, is the best measurement. Oh my God, help me stop thinking. Help me not notice. Help me drown out reality with a chorus of media babble so that I do not have to notice just how much cognitive dissonance I am facing.
Chris Martenson: Sometimes they are tuned to different stations.
John: Yeah, they are all tuned to different stations. They are all chattering constantly. It is that or look around. It is that or that long silent moment before everyone starts talking loudly.
Chris Martenson: You know it was interesting when I was down in Peru. It took me two trips to two restaurants to figure out there were no screens anywhere.
John: There were no screens, yeah.
Chris Martenson: For them, that would be a cultural faux pas of the grandest order to somehow interrupt your moment to be with people and have a real conversation and meal.
John: In the United States not that long ago, that was also the case. I see this as evidence of just how stressed we are.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. If I can give any young parent any piece of advice, it is this: Do not have a TV in your house. They are extremely sophisticated devices for shaping thought and desires. They operate—they use the latest in neural linguistic programming, the latest in understanding of psychological things, colors, tones, textures, the way things are put in, subliminal, you name it. It is really sophisticated what they do to distract and shape opinion.
John: I am going to say that more generally. I think that the most useful thing that all of our listeners can do, whether they are young parents or not, is get rid of your TV. Just ditch it. You do not need to spend four to six hours a night with drool puddling in your lap being programmed. People constantly ask me. How do you find time to write so many books, play music, take long walks, do this, do that, and do the other? My answer is very simple. I do not own a television. I have not owned one in my adult life. I actually have time to do things.
Chris Martenson: Yeah.
John: It really is that simple. Ditch your TV. You will have all the time in the world.
Chris Martenson: It is amazing. It was the best thing I ever did. We have not had one in over a decade.
John: I am delighted to hear that.
Chris Martenson: It has been great. We have great kids to show for it too.
John: There you go, yeah.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. I watch this level of sophistication in how memes, ideas, and other things get planted and put out there. Then people regurgitate them to me. They say no, it was technology that unlocked the shale. No, it was price and price is about to lock it back up again. You will see.
John: Yeah, it was price on the one hand and speculative delusion on the other. It is very straightforward.
Chris Martenson: It is straightforward.
John: The fact is that so many of the big fracking firms have never made a quarterly profit at all ever in the course of the bubble.
Chris Martenson: Maybe if they just drilled faster –
John: No doubt [laughter].
Chris Martenson: They are going to make it down on volume. The faster we drill, the more we lose. Obviously we need to drill more. I do not know how else to put that.
Chris Martenson: This has been a fascinating conversation. Really, I could trawl through the data but the data is irrelevant at this point for the most part. It is really down to psychological issues. It is around denial. It is around our inability to face facts. It is around wanting to cling to a narrative that is not working, but it is so much easier than having to come up with one on our own. By the way, there has been a bunch of programming in this country to convince people that it is not appropriate to talk about things unless they have been pre-approved by the State, as it were.
John: Of course.
Chris Martenson: It is still not appropriate to this day to mention anything really about what might have happened to Kennedy, seeing as how he was shot from the front right there on film. That is still somehow considered a little edgy for people. I am like, dude it was 50 years ago and it was on film. What do you want me to do? He was shot from the front. I cannot help it. I am a scientist. Force equals mass times acceleration. Still it is not okay to talk about that.
John: The thing is it is very much as though—this first struck me with the changes in the media since the Berlin Wall went down. I came to the conclusion at that point or some point thereafter, all those guys who used to come up with propaganda for Pravda and various communist organs all went to work for the US media. If you watch whether it is Faux news or one of the pseudo news on the other side of the spectrum, it is so propagandistic. There are so many ways in which our American society increasingly resembles a non-democratic state and an autocratic society in which you have to be careful what you say. We do not talk about that. It is one of those things.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, we can talk forever on that. I mean there are so many topics that need to be opened up and discussed. We are going to have to save that for another time because I have taken up plenty of your time. I do not want this to run too long for our listeners. I really want to continue this conversation because we still have to talk about the black box voting situation. We still have to talk—there is so much out there.
John: There is a lot to talk about. It is a target rich environment.
Chris Martenson: It certainly is. And I think it is about to become very interesting. That is my personal prediction. It is that 2015-16 or somewhere in there, we take another one of those fractal jumps down to the next level.
John: I expect it. I would be really surprised to get through the end of this year without massive economic crisis. It could happen, but I would be very surprised.
Chris Martenson: I am somewhere in the zone here. They have surprised me with their printing efforts so far and what they have been able to accomplish. I agree. We are just one small spark away from a conflagration on this tinder pile.
Chris Martenson: With that, your website is thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.
John: That is correct.
Chris Martenson: Your book is Twilight’s Last Gleaming.
John: It is Twilight’s Last Gleaming.
Chris Martenson: How do people get that?
John: You can get it—it is available everywhere. You can get it from your local full service bookstore or from your preferred online source. It is readily available. The other book I mentioned was the non-fiction one, After Progress: Reason and Religion at the End of the Industrial Age. We can talk about that at some point.
Chris Martenson: That is fascinating. Reason and Religion at the End of the Industrial Age. As long as people do not get that thousand yard stare –
John: Oh, they will. They will.
Chris Martenson: We will have you back on and we will talk about that one. Twilight’s Last Gleaming I think is a great place to start. Listen, the chance of some sort of hot contest is not small. It is a high chance. I think people should be aware of how that might unfold. It sounds like your book would be a good way to explore that. Thanks for that.
John: You are welcome.
Chris Martenson: All right, thank you so much for your time. We will do this again soon I hope.
John: Thank you very much for having me on.