I am both pessimist and optimist about our future. I expect our civilization, that of the West, to end entirely, and soon. Yet at the same time, I believe we can have an intensely bright future thereafter—not a return, certainly, but something wholly new, informed by the wisdom and knowledge of the past. Moreover, I think that technology, rightly ordered and used, will be a pillar of that future, if we reach it. John Michael Greer, a man hard to categorize politically, agrees with my pessimism, but not with my optimism, especially as regards the future use of technology. Today we will explore whether I should amend my beliefs, through the prism of Greer’s Dark Age America.
This book outlines what Greer expects to happen in the next five hundred years, in the lands that are now America. Most of his focus is the next one hundred years, and relates to collapse—after that, he sketches the expected future only in broad outline. Greer, whose fiction future history Retrotopia I discussed last year, has for years written prolifically on civilizational failure and related topics. Apparently this 2016 book is mostly stitched-together posts from Greer’s former blog, The Archdruid Report, where he blogged until 2017 (he now blogs at Ecosophia, which you will note combines the prefix for ecology with the Greek word for wisdom), but the book hangs together well, and seems to give a good overview of Greer’s thought. If you check out his sites, you will get a flavor of Greer’s areas of interest, which are heavily environmentally tinged, somewhat occult (he presents himself as a druid), and always interesting.
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The author’s reason for writing this book is to shake people out of their complacence, such that they take necessary actions now to alleviate their personal difficulties that are likely to arise in the immediate future. It is not to encourage broader political action to change our civilizational future; that future is set, and it’s downhill for us, on rocket skis. Greer is perfectly well aware that most people, even people reading his book, will ignore him, because it is human nature to not make hard choices and not to do hard work if either can be delayed. This tendency has been greatly exacerbated by the ideology of endless upward progress, a core part of modernity, which Greer traces to the Industrial Revolution, what he calls our “age of extravagance.” And our collapse will have a single ultimate cause—“the impossibility of infinite growth on a finite planet.” (In some ways, this book echoes Theodore Kaczynski, who castigated “industrial society” and is sometimes ironically called “Uncle Ted” by catastrophists, though he is not mentioned here.)
But all civilizations collapse. The bigger they come, the harder they fall, and we have been so very, very big. If there is a muse to Greer’s book, it is Arnold Toynbee, mid-century historian of civilizational cycles, someone not fashionable today, but who only a few decades ago was regarded as one of the great thinkers of the world. Just as Justin Timberlake brought sexy back, Greer is bringing Toynbee back. Joseph Tainter, who more recently wrote how complexity collapsed societies, also gets considerable play, as do the less recent Romans. In general, Greer bases much of his analysis on history, without viewing the past as deterministic. His knowledge of history is one reason why Greer’s analyses are far superior to those of lesser men such as Scott Alexander and Curtis Yarvin, who occasionally find a nut, like a blind squirrel, but whose ideas about our future are hobbled by their appalling ignorance of history. True, I think some of Greer’s history is not entirely accurate (the French and Russian revolutions were not caused by the middle classes disposing of a ruling class they regarded as inessential, for example). And “The industrial plant was abandoned in an orgy of offshoring motivated by short-term profit-seeking” not in the “Reagan era,” but in the Clinton era. (The real Decade of Greed was the 1990s; we are just told it was the 1980s because the people who dictate our cultural tropes are all Left, and hated Reagan. What the 1980s were was the last decade of uncynical American hope.) But you cannot predict the future without knowing a great deal about the past, and overall Greer passes this test.
Greer’s core point is that our apparent prosperity, of our industrial society, is a mirage, built on a small portion of mankind burning through half a billion years of stored sunlight. When a society relies on nonrenewable resources, as those disappear, the society must retrench by dropping maintenance costs. It is inevitable, but doesn’t fix the problem; it’s a spiral all the way down until equilibrium can be reached, as both Toynbee and Tainter discussed, analyzing many past civilizations. Greer calls this process “catabolic collapse.” Energy failure will be both the immediate trigger for our downward spiral and the reason the equilibrium reached will be a very much lower energy state. Along the way, and contributing, we will face environmental unravelling, political unravelling, and economic unravelling. There is no possible fallback position short of total reset; any safety net that used to be provided by science, technology, or culture, has long since rotted away. Nuclear power is not the answer; “it never pays for itself,” and is extremely dangerous, both in normal conditions and even more so as things fall apart. Renewable energy is “long on enthusiasm and cooked numbers and short on meaningful assessment.” No magic is coming to save us.
It may seem that we have reserves of fossil fuels for quite a few more decades, but Greer says we will have to stop burning fossil fuels soon, when extracting them takes more energy than the energy gained by extracting them, which is no doubt true (though he never mentions that we still have a huge amount of relatively easy-to-extract coal, which seems to cut against his analysis). He also makes the subtler point that as energy becomes more expensive to extract, even if it can be done at a net gain, more and more of society’s resources become devoted to extraction, “leaving less and less for all other uses.” This alone means apogee is past and we are heading downward. Energy failure will fully expose the fakeness of our economy. Most of so-called GDP really consists of worthless financialization and other forms of intermediations, all made possible by cheap energy. Real GDP is declining, as energy costs rise and ignored externalities come home to roost. More and more, we have to use more energy to obtain resources from lower quality raw materials, tightening the screw.
What will the lower-energy future look like? It’ll have to deal with the aftereffects of our blowing through the Earth’s fossil fuels, notably global warming. Now, as I’ve said before, I’m sympathetic to the idea it’s a bad choice to pump billions of tons of industrial byproducts into that atmosphere. It seems it’s likely to have deleterious effects. On the other hand, I am now living in my third decade of falsified predictions with respect to global warming, and even a moron can see that a huge percentage of the focus on global warming is a grift, a way for worthless people to obtain money and power, and to achieve their ideological ends. But Greer, no moron, can see some of this, and not other parts of it. He complains about money corrupting those opposed to global warming alarmism, without seeing that thousands of times more money flows to those who push global warming alarmism. He acknowledges that science is entirely corrupt, but he seems to think science is wholly reliable in the case of global warming, despite all the reasons he adduces for corruption in science being found there to a greater degree than anywhere else.
In any case, it doesn’t really matter. Greer is nothing but a realist, and he doesn’t think we’re going to stop burning fossil fuels and adding to global warming. He’s not adding his voice to those calling for action. He no doubt hates Greta Thunberg, who we can all agree is an annoying little toad. Global warming will fix itself, because we are running out of energy, so we will stop causing global warming, whether we want to or not. Greer’s point is rather that eventually global warming will radically reshape the physical landscape of what was the United States (this book is about America, not Europe or some other place), and our descendants will have to deal with the resulting problems, because we won’t be able to use cheap energy to stave off the inevitable damage. We will therefore revert to large areas of North America being desert or grassland, unable to support any large populations. Most of the coasts will be flooded. Moreover, other areas will be poisoned by chemical and nuclear wastes, made unproductive by topsoil loss, and otherwise damaged, until hundreds or thousands of years later, they recover.
Sooner or later, the result of this decline will be a sparsely populated North America. Greer is fine with this, not because he’s anti-human (quite the contrary), but because, he says, the globe simply lacks the resources to support billions of people in the style they desire. He doesn’t press to limit population artificially; he merely points out it will be limited, like it or not, when the energy subsidy of fossil fuels disappears, and food production craters. (He explicitly endorses 1972’s The Limits to Growth as an accurate analysis.) We’ll get, and already are getting, a population bust. But, interestingly, he points out that massive population decline does not necessarily mean mountains of famine-caused corpses. If the annual death rate increases a mere one percent, and the birth rate doesn’t change, a population drops by ninety-five percent in three centuries—and if it’s a three percent increase, it’s one century. (I do note these numbers don’t seem entirely right. If the birth rate is high enough, relative to the death rate, it would seem population would keep growing.) This is depressing, but Greer manages to add some levity (this book is often funny), while pointing out that population drops will probably be more sudden than this smooth decline. “[P]opulation declines are rarely anything like so even as [this] thought experiment suggests. [The] other three horsemen, in particular, tend to get bored of their poker game at intervals and go riding out to give the guy with the scythe some help with the harvest.”
But the people who are alive won’t care that much. Greer appears to agree with James C. Scott that most people are often better off in a society that drops from a more complex to a less complex level. After all, “In terms of the distribution of labor, capital, and production, the latest offerings of today’s job market are indistinguishable from the arrangements of an ancient Egyptian landowner and the peasants who planted and harvested his fields.” Our elites (not just the government, but the entire complex of the professional-managerial elite) have created a self-perpetuating system that selects for stability and not rocking the boat; that type of system fares very poorly in crises. Our rotten ruling classes will, if history is any guide, not take any necessary action, and mostly die.
The downward slide will be further greased with political collapse, as it always is with failing civilizations. Greer, like me, sees that what is claimed to be a rock-solid system, with an “illusion of invincibility,” is in fact extremely fragile, which means not that it will collapse of its own weight, but will collapse when it faces the least real crisis. The elites are completely disconnected from the internal proletariat, in Toynbee’s term. “Once the crisis hits, the unraveling of the institutional structures of authority can happen with blinding speed, and the former ruling elite is rarely in a position to do anything about it.” As with all late-stage societies, sclerosis is the order of the day, and vast portions of our resources are “consumed by institutions that no longer have any real function beyond perpetuating their own existence and the salaries and prestige of their upper-level functionaries.” (While Greer doesn’t mention it, this is a manifestation of Peter Turchin’s analysis of elite over-production.) We will get disintermediation—which will destroy the ruling class, after it destroys the upper-middle layer of parasites. We may get it slow; we may get it fast. The skills now in demand in the elite will be shown to be worthless in the new world order. We will see new, more decentralized, political systems, all the way down to warlordism.
Which makes me think. I sometimes believe that I am fated to become a warlord myself, by which I do not mean some kind of predator, but rather the head of an armed patronage network. The key function of a warlord is the short- and long-term protection, military and otherwise, of those who recognize his authority and act, in part, at his behest. The classic example is early medieval feudalism, although naturally there are many variations throughout history and different cultures. A warlord doesn’t need to be raiding his neighbors all the time (though that’s possible, for example, the Vikings); he just has to prevent his neighbors from successfully raiding him and his people, because that’s the number one rule of patronage—make sure those who recognize you as patron feel secure.
We should also remember that Road Warrior-type societies don’t exist, and never have, in the West at least. People will do almost anything to avoid anarchy. Thus, if society falls completely apart, it will rebuild itself immediately, though starting at the lowest level. This is where I come in. At this moment I preside over what amounts to a extended, quite sizeable, compound, which when complete I like to say, accurately, will be impervious to anything but direct organized military attack. Yet it requires a group of men to make it work; the fantasy that one family can garrison a large area, or any area, and be left alone, is just that. You have to sleep sometime, and as a friend of mine once, many years ago, stated my view on the world, “Bad people are everywhere, and they must be put down.” Thus, I need what I call “shooters”—say fifteen able-bodied, and adequately trained, men. Together, such a group can operate my compound, both defensively and administratively. And I have the personality, and skills, to lead such a group. I am nothing if not decisive, the core competency of a leader in any field, and I am adequately charismatic.
Once you take on such men, however, whether extended family or friends, you are responsible for them and their families. You are their patron. You are the source of authority, and you must deliver the goods. From there, in any societal collapse or fracture, there is only one way forward—taking responsibility for more people, because of the gravitational force exerted by any successful mini-society. Shrinking your patronage is probably fatal; it’s certainly dangerous. All the incentives are to build your patronage network. Moreover, trade of many types develops naturally, and a patron is incentivized to work with other patrons to benefit everyone involved, by encouraging and protecting beneficial trade, further expanding patronage. Of such ferment are warlords born—not just to protect their people, but to ensure they are fed, to administer justice, and to provide relaxation, entertainment, social intercourse, and all the benefits people crave, especially in uncertain times. A good warlord makes it so his people can sleep soundly at night. Someone has to do it, and I’m logically positioned, both materially and psychologically, to do it in my little area of the world.
This isn’t like the movies. I don’t think a warlord, in most cases, will have to spend a lot of time fighting. In most of America, in a total governmental collapse, organized predation isn’t nearly as likely as some think. As I like to point out, if you are a bad man who decides to live by predation, you may collect a hundred hard men and go around rolling up suburban homes, for the food and women. But in a place such as where I live, suburban Indiana, and in most of America, for every Pulte home you take down, you will probably lose five or ten men, because the amount of weapons held by the average citizen is considerable, and attacking fixed defenses is always a crapshoot. Even in a best case scenario for him, the leader of a predatory warband is going to have a short shelf life. And that’s ignoring that for some targets, such as my compound, and others you might not expect, you’ll lose a lot more men than ten percent—closer to a hundred percent, and then I will impale survivors out front as a warning to others.
Do I like this future for myself? Not really. I like relaxing, keeping my bees, and watching the sun rise and set in peace. I do not really want Christ, at my judgment, to opine on whether it was acceptable that I impaled bad men. But if social collapse happens, nobody is going to ask me if I like it; it will happen organically, because all other choices are worse. And if Greer is right, some variation on this is likely to be how I spend the later decades of my life. You can take to calling me Baron Haywood now, if you’d like.
Anyway, in the here and now, Greer says that science, and more broadly technology, isn’t going to save us. Even if there were scientific solutions, we are in the civilizational phase where rising costs and enormous parasitism mean declining returns to scientific inputs. I think we actually have negative returns, for the most part. I call this the Yas Kween Shaniqua problem—for example, it took us twenty years to make the James Webb space telescope, with far more expenditure of time and money that it should have taken, but we could never create such an instrument again, or anything like it, because the ideological demands to give both money and honors to those who contribute nothing, or rather who are enormously destructive of accomplishment, would mean it would never advance beyond the vague planning stages, but still absorb enormous resources.
“Science” continuously engages in overt falsifications of past truth and current reality. Science isn’t trusted for good reason—because, in most areas, it no longer has net value for society. Examples of fake and destructive science are many—nearly 100% of the “scientific” response to the Wuhan Plague; the replication crisis; or that it now appears that that the entire supposed scientific basis of anti-depression drugs is likely false. And if you want another example, consider the ongoing attempt to make monkeypox, a disease spread purely by homosexual orgies and homosexual pedophiles abusing children, into a supposed health crisis for all of us (but without any restrictions on orgies being suggested). Greer predicts our future society will look with a jaundiced eye at science and complex technology, especially given that most real benefits today accrue to the ruling classes, while the other classes get screwed. Scientists are losing, and soon will lose entirely, the prestige they, in a departure from the historical norm, have had for the past several decades.
And to round it out, our culture is crapping out too. The modern world, through technology, has stripped us of meaning, most of all by inserting technology between people and activities. Machines, or the Machine (shades of Paul Kingsnorth) absorb us, and worse, guide and direct us, mostly to use other machines, in an endless regress. “[M]ost people in the industrial world flood their nervous systems with torrents of electronic noise. . . . [M]uch of this is quite openly intended to manipulate their thoughts and feelings by economic and political interests.” Happiness is in very short supply, and we are kept in a fugue state by advertising and the internet, which give us “distorted imitations of immediate experience, intended to get you to think about the world in ways that immediate experience won’t justify” (something that Matthew B. Crawford also has much to say about). The internal proletariat can no longer look to the dominant minority, a competent ruling class, for guidance; it must make its own path forward, and that path is going to be rocky.
There is nothing to be done to reverse that “industrial civilization [is heading] out through history’s exit turnstile.” We just need to do what we can, given that fact. We should get used to using less energy, having less stuff, and receiving less stimulation (the last an unalloyed good). Anyone who proposes anything else is not serious—yet most people flail around seeking for “answers that will allow them to keep enjoying the absurd extravagance that passed, not too long ago, for an ordinary lifestyle among the industrial world’s privileged classes.” The chaos is coming; make ready. Each of us is best served by getting ahead of this process, decomplexifying our lives, and making ourselves productive, if perhaps less wealthy by today’s ephemeral standards. We will get something like the feudal system—Greer offers a fascinating, and historically accurate, narration of the life of a typical medieval peasant, which wasn’t bad at all, and explicitly claims that although medieval society was caste-bound and often unjust, in neither case was it more so than our society today, “and it’s worth noting that the average medieval peasant worked fewer hours and had more days off than you do.”
Greer thinks we probably won’t live in the actual Dark Age in our lifetimes; collapse is often a slow process. I’m not so sure; collapse is often a step function. Regardless, for an individual, Greer correctly says that the most important thing is to be able to create actual value. (And we should get as many physical books as possible, and perhaps maintain the ability to print more. I’m at 9,000 volumes, heading toward 20,000 volumes, so I am on the right track.) But we can console ourselves we are just the latest civilization to go through this process, and we can leave valuable lessons for our successors. No need to weep.
Do I agree with all this? Yes, up to a point. I have noted before that our social problems are caused not by modern technology, nor by the Industrial Revolution, but by the completely-unrelated so-called Enlightenment. But that is beside the point; for Greer, social problems are ancillary to physical constraints. It is true I am a techno-optimist, yet it is also true that every one of the problems Greer identifies is very real, and that not a single one can be solved without finding a new cheap source of energy—and that would only be the start of a necessary remaking of our society.
I have criticized the Prophet mindset, of doom and gloom, in the words used by Charles Mann in The Wizard and the Prophet. I favor the Wizard mindset, of technological solutions to looming problems, which has always proved right, just as Prophets have always been proved wrong. After all, The Limits to Growth made specific predictions about the imminent catastrophe of global starvation in the 1970s that were completely falsified, something Greer skips over to claim that it was still predictive. But, as with global warming, it erodes credibility when a specific predicted catastrophe does not arrive on schedule.
Nonetheless, it is certainly accurate that all my techno-optimism is dependent on cheap energy, and Greer is correct that fossil fuels will run out, and that renewables will in no way substitute. There are those who say that nuclear fission is the way out, and that Greer is simply wrong that it is a dead end. Maybe it is, but after seventy years, you’d think some country would have run with that ball if it really was as enticing as its proponents claim. That leaves new sources of energy, of which only one has any possibility of coming to fruition—fusion. And I have been told for forty years that fusion is right around the corner, and it is always lies. Moreover, because Yass Kween Shaniqua, and a variety of other reasons for technological plateauing, it’s not coming anytime soon. Which suggests that my optimism is misplaced.
I’m not sure what to do with that. One step in front of the other is all we can do. For now, increasing individual resilience is most definitely what we should do. Forming networks of like-minded others, on whom we can rely for mutual assistance, and with whom we can create new local societies, is likewise crucial. Maybe once the stupidity is squeezed out, there will still be enough resources and focus to make necessary breakthroughs. What matters is culture and capabilities. China has more than a billion people and still has accomplished little of note or worth. Israel has nine million people, and is in many ways incredibly sclerotic, bureaucratic, and socialistic. Yet it punches far, far above its weight, not only in technology, but also in bearing children and other evidence of a healthy society. If one had to pick the more important country for the future, it would be Israel, hands down. Perhaps this is evidence that a small, unified group, probably mostly made up of our grandchildren or even further descendants, can bring back our future. I hope so. Greer would maintain that a static society is adequate for human flourishing, but I don’t think that’s true. I think a society that is not advancing is falling back. We just need to do what we can to make future advancement possible.
I have often said that the feudal serfs had more property rights than most people in the united states these days. I don’t think most the rest of the world would put up with zoning and all the petty regulations we do here, and most here even beg to be regulated in a million different ways, just for the privilege of keeping all the property within sight looking like a park so that their delicate sensibilities aren’t offended.
At least when the serfs got done with their obligations, they were free to run their affairs on their properties as they seen fit and use those properties to provide further for themselves, which is the whole point of having property and why people came to the new world, and particularly the usA, to get away from the petty tyrants and REALLY own property. And most don’t even realize they have asked to be worse off than serfs.
Now the local lords want the rent on property you supposedly own, and they tell you what you can and can’t do with it, mainly being can’t, and how you are to take care of it the way the petty lords (which are mainly your neighbors) wish you too. Even renters have more rights than supposed owners, at least then the “owners” have to up keep the property for their gains.
Greer is an interesting fatalist, but like all fatalist he has absolutely no imagination. For example, let’s imagine the federal government decides to mandate that all manufactured goods sold in America be made entirely of raw materials mined in America and manufactured within 500 miles of where they are sold. Let’s also imagine that the government “invests” in doubling sour crude oil refinery capacity and makes a matching amount of sweet crude refinery capacity. How cheap would oil-based energy be under these circumstances?
To an extent, the large demand for oil is driven by the globalization of industrialization. Localizing production would reduce the need for energy, and is likely anyway.
But if it’s possible to create a more localized and decentralized system of production and distribution, reducing fuel needs, we can begin to consider ethanol as an alternative fuel. The two biggest knocks on ethanol is that there isn’t enough arable farmland to generate enough corn to replace all our fuel with ethanol and that ethanol isn’t as efficient as gasoline. Essentially, we couldn’t make as many gallons of ethanol as gasoline, and if we could it wouldn’t be enough. However, ethanol can be made from virtually any plant, even the waste parts, and there are several arable plants that have higher ethanol yields than corn. Also, engines that are optimized for ethanol fuel have comparable fuel economy to engines optimized for gas, mostly due to more efficient burning (i.e. less waste heat). Moreover, if industrial production localizes and decentralizes, less fuel of any sort would be needed anyway.
This isn’t to say that ethanol is a magic bullet, but that it is a fuel that can power a variety of equipment and can be made with common and renewable inputs, offering a way to preserve some, not all, of modern mechanical conveniences used in production, particularly agricultural production. That Greer doesn’t see this is indicative of a failure of imagination, so while his criticism of modern industrialism is probably correct, his prognostications are idiotic. Prior to WWII, farmers would distill their own fuel on-site from field waste and there’s absolutely no reason we couldn’t resurrect this practice aside if we needed to. That would give us an early-twentieth century standard of living which is quite a bit better than a medieval standard of living, and is very possible to achieve to boot.
This is saying nothing of building smaller scale hydroelectric generators or windmills. Air and water have powered plenty of gears and motors before electricity was harnessed and transmitted on demand. Just because they can’t provide a reliable baseline doesn’t mean they should be scraped altogether, or that will. Greer’s pessimism is misplaced, and while he’s probably correct about the future of oil, he’s undoubtedly wrong about the future of man.
“This is saying nothing of building smaller scale hydroelectric generators or windmills. Air and water have powered plenty of gears and motors before electricity was harnessed and transmitted on demand. Just because they can’t provide a reliable baseline doesn’t mean they should be scraped altogether, or that will. Greer’s pessimism is misplaced, and while he’s probably correct about the future of oil, he’s undoubtedly wrong about the future of man.”
The solutions are almost endless and I have pointed out the ones you suggest as well many more in the past, as have certainly many others.
What is funny is the triggered response that some on the supposed right reacted when alcohol production was mentioned, assuming that I was advoaction some sort of national policy (besides getting that tick and others ticks off our backs so we can be productive) rather than one means of local independence. The supposed right can be just as triggered as the supposed left.
Getting the ticks off our backs is it seems the only insurmountable or biggest problem that will cause a new dark age or worse, in my considered estimation.
The problem with Greer’s predictions is that all it would take to falsify them is the discovery or refinement of one – just one – new source of moderately cheap energy, and there are lots of candidates out there, as noted above and below, and this doesn’t even touch on more speculative forms of energy such as solar power satellites (championed by the late Jerry Pournelle) new forms of low-temperature fusion, and suchlike. I wouldn’t bet on any one of these technologies to save us, but when considered in the aggregate, things look much more promising. The odds of one of them coming through are pretty good.
Greer is a really interesting guy, cultured, measured and humane, and he has lots of useful insights. In many ways, he is what a real counter-cultural figure would have looked like, as opposed to the astroturfed KGB/CIA dirty hippies, who almost instantly sold out any beliefs they allegedly had for a taste of bureaucratic power and/or corporate wealth. But I’d be willing to bet that he’s wrong about the future of industrial society. The danger of civilizational collapse is a very real one, but the challenge is social and political, not technological.
“Greer is an interesting fatalist, but like all fatalist he has absolutely no imagination.”
This is a very insightful judgment of the case of Greer as would-be realist. However, ironically, he has considerable *artistic* imagination. He is an elegiac artist by talent and temperament. His imaginative forays appeal to me, but his prognostications are heavily infected by wish fulfillment fantasies and confirmation biases.
Israel only is where it is because of the US. When the US collapses, so does Israel unless it finds another viable sponsor
Totally correct. Charles Haywood reveals himself to be not only a dork fool, but a Zionist Israel-first jewish supremacist. The talmud and torah are supremacist manuals for a hate cult, just like Islam. Parasite blood-sucking Israel needs to go, and so does dork bitch, lying Charles Haywood.
Bwawhahahahahahaha! Holy crap. The trolls are coming thick and fast. Good luck with that. (I’ve never been called “bitch” before, because I’m so alpha, but I suppose every day brings some new thing.)
Weird… I just discovered this guy last week and have been reading his blog more or less continuously. I also just stumbled upon the substack of Paul Kingsworth, so weird to also see him mentioned here.
I think Greer’s points on climate change are valid – the world is not going to end, humans will still be able to survive on the planet, but we also have a fairly good idea of what the planet looked like back when all the carbon in fossil fuels was still in the atmosphere. Earth was essentially a jungle planet with the hottest areas being deserts, and no ice caps on either pole. He says in various places on his blog that more CO2 means primarily that the temperature difference between the equator and the poles will shrink – the poles will get hotter, the equator will stay more or less the same.
Clearly no one in modern society has any intention of voluntarily accepting a lower standard of living. The people screeching loudest about global apocalypse are the ones most married to the high-energy way of life. I.e., flying in a private jet to attend a climate conference, or blaming corporations for the problem while ceaselessly buying whatever crap Apple releases to market. So clearly the fossil fuel will continue to burn. Personally I don’t mind. I lived in Texas for four years and fell in love with the subtropical climate. I’m now in Ohio and winter sucks.
I was one of those people who thought nuclear would save modernity and allow us all to continue our lifestyle unabated. I’ve been looking into it recently and apparently nuclear power plants almost never become profitable, and are usually net energy consumers. The construction of various plants in the US during the 70s ended up being a financial disaster, with some of the plants having their construction costs more than double vs what was initially planned. And even then, the plants are essentially being subsidized by fossil fuels, since the extraction and processing of the materials used to build the plants (and the construction itself) were almost certainly powered by fossil fuel power, not nuclear power.
The serious nuclear people seem to be hoping that switching from fission power to fusion power will get us out of the mess, but I read an article stating that this isn’t likely to be even remotely feasible for the next half century, and may in fact never work (see The Quest for Fusion Energy by Daniel Jassby).
As for your warlord scenario, I remember finding the writings of a wargamer on one of the chans a while back. He said that in wargame scenarios for the breakdown of the United States, warlords would pop up in the heartland quite frequently. Here if you want to read it (and start laying your plans):
Jassby makes a cogent case for being skeptical about near to medium term fusion power prospects. There is a recent book with a similar take called “The Fairy Tale of Nuclear Fusion” by Reinders. He somewhat overstates the case for pessimism, in my view, but fusion is likely at least decades away from viability–if it ever becomes viable.
You are mistaken to think that fission power is a net energy consumer. I’ve never heard this claim, even by the anti-nuclear nuts on the Left. It is not close to the truth. Profitability is another matter. For various reasons profitability has been a challenge for decades. One of the reasons for this is that renewables are subsidized and take market share. Another reason, going back to the Three Mile Island incident, is that NPPs are hugely over-regulated. Another: no returns to scale–yet. But, innovation is happening in this field. NuScale Power is presently building in the United States a prototype of what should be a cheaper reactor design.
My bad – I assumed non-profitability meant fission plants didn’t produce enough energy to replace what’s spent on building/maintaining them.
I would really like to see a panel discussion with you, Greer, Anton, and Malcolm (tinkzorg). Guaranteed it would be excellent. I would pay for it.
Greer’s point that US society is built on and structured around plentiful and cheap energy (aka oil) is unassailable. There is no substitute, however, there will likely be less plentiful and more expensive energy still available. So-called “renewables” are not going to work due to their cost and complexity. That leaves passive energy efficiency and human labor to fill the gap.
Passive energy efficiency will mean that our car-centric city design will need to go back to human scale. Almost certainly involuntarily.
I do agree with you that the decline is not simply about energy. Cultural decline is just as much a problem, if not more so. My view on the cause of the decline is simple: same as it always has been and always will be.
“Avarice and luxury, those evils which have been the ruin of every great state.” Livy
“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Timothy 6:10
When you say “I think a society that is not advancing is falling back.”, what do you see that goal or end which society is supposed to be advancing towards?
The Myth of “Natural” Resources
April 29, 2010 by Shannon Love
“There is no such thing as ‘natural’ resources. When we debate over how to manage our “natural” resources, we’re engaging in a debate as delusional as heated arguments over the management of our unicorn ranches.
“Here’s the important truth: Since human action creates all resources, we never run out of resources as long as we remain free to create. If we really need something, we just make it.”
The idea that human action creates oil is self-evidently false. That technology will save us and we can keep the party going indefinitely is a myth. As Charles and numerous actual experts in various fields have been pointing out, technology is already stagnating. Your faith in technical progress is misplaced.
In some ways, Greer reminds me of Gordon Chang, the author who has predicted the collapse of the Communist Chinese economy for the last thirty years; he has some good points, and his conclusions may merely be premature, but he would be a lot more convincing and accurate if he did not obviously want his conclusions to be true. Greer is a very perceptive observer and a good social critic, but like Chang, his dislike of what he is critiquing skews his perception of its viability. We all suffer from this to some extent, and Greer is better than most, but it’s still true that a guy who calls himself a Druid and his blog “Ecological Wisdom” is possibly not the most objective observer of industrial society. That said, he has a lot onnthe ball, and I read his blog regularly.
Always great to hear nods to Toynbee! I picked up The Crucible of Christianity at a yard sale and felt like I had stumbled onto a secret, just as everyone started thinking on civilizational terms again.
Claim: Collapse will not be evenly distributed geographically on the basis that governments with the least sustainable forms of producing energy (or worse, importing it) will be the first to experience major operational issues & rationing, grinding infrastructure to a halt.
I wonder, then, if the safest way to become collapse-proof and prolong the current way of life before even building the homestead is to live in states/provinces which have the best and most sustainable energy grids (I’m biased towards QC and its hydro-only energy grid). Not that building the compound is no longer necessary, but it would be wise move to live in the shadow of a state that isn’t decades away from rabid energy-withdrawal symptoms and the kinds of desperate decisions they would entail.
Considering that, if internet traffic aggregators are to be believed, of the 225k visitors to your site this month, about 75,000 of them are men from ages 18-44, you may have more than just 15 “shooters”. Should we consider this an advertisement?
No. Don’t call us; we’ll call you!
“I wonder, then, if the safest way to become collapse-proof and prolong the current way of life before even building the homestead is to live in states/provinces which have the best and most sustainable energy grids (I’m biased towards QC and its hydro-only energy grid). Not that building the compound is no longer necessary, but it would be wise move to live in the shadow of a state that isn’t decades away from rabid energy-withdrawal symptoms and the kinds of desperate decisions they would entail.”
That is why I loved our family property in WV. It had many gas and oil wells on the property (as well all around), including one well that we owned and one that we had free gas off of. Unfortunately, going into the dark ages the other family members that owned shares thought that it was better to have digits in the the bank than to have real resource rich property. Tried as I might I could not get them to reconsider. At least we got paid fairly well and we will (hopefully quite good ones from what I can tell about the ones we just closed. which might go a long way towards making up for it, though we would have got them anyways) and do get royalties, but at that it was a poor bargain in my estimation for what we had.
I did however when I bought this new property, though it missed several things I had wanted in a property (like more land and a small stream. I almost bought a property that was on a stream that by act of congress was designated a mill stream, which would have been very nice for hydro. less flat, which is also good for producing off hydro. and a little further out, though we are technically in the country now, but population is coming this way fast I fear and not a lot of timber, though we are surrounded by ag) I did manage to get my own gas well (oil too would have been nice. not that hard to crack crude), one of the things that was also on the checklist, and it fell to us without even knowing, is that it had a gas well on it after we first looked at it. What is funny is we had thought someone else was going to buy it, but they couldn’t come up with the cash for the cash sale, and when we went to look at it with the realtor, the realtor actually mentioned it had a gas well just in passing when she was showing it. Though I’m sure that passing was also part of covering their bases for full disclosure (there was I found out some concern that the state frowned on such well and required at the owner’s expense to cap them, but that turned out to not be true in our situation). Also has a water well and huge cistern among other things.
I certainly plan on keeping this resource, but I’m also still looking for property that checks more of the boxes, including the oil and gas well one. Preferably in the same area in WV that we had the other property, which is booming with fracking (though that is also one of the reasons the others wanted to sell) anywhere they can get the leases straightened out.
Meanwhile this is a good staging property, though it probably wouldn’t be too bad to ride out the dark ages.
Gonna start calling you “Humungous Haywood ” from now on…( Road Warrior reference..)
Some fun end-of-the-world fantasy fiction for you ..Read the “Dies the Fire- The Change ” books by S.M.Stirling.. Shows how folks organically form bands then communities then mini city-states for self preservation …Escapist but realistic ..
I have a copy, but haven’t read it. But you are right–it seems applicable here.
Energy expended on growth which leads to interstellar conquest is NOT a waste. The stars are our destiny.
Energy expended on monkey-pox spreading Shaniqua purple drink pronouns childless harpy HR departments is a waste.
We’ve discussed this before, Charles, in an e-mail if I’m not mistaken.
I currently live in Israel and I’m not sunny about its prospects of evading collapse. Israel’s culture is broken up generally on religious grounds.
The largest group is the “hilonim,” meaning the “non-religious.” They make up about 80% of the population. This group itself breaks up into two groups – the secular and the “traditional” (“masorati”). The “traditional” is “traditional” in that they have some basic belief in God and Judaism, but do not see the actual Jewish Law as binding or particularly important.
The larger group is the “masorati,” but the secular has a stranglehold on all institutions, from the media to the courts and generally the judicial system (govt prosecutors, “legal advisors” who de facto decide what may and may not be done legally, etc) and the govt. bureaucracy. Only elected officials reflect the actual population, and they are completely ineffectual and mostly populistic figureheads.
This group – the whole 80%, led by the secular, is mostly completely taken over by LGBT Empire. Tel Aviv is know as being more friendly to gays than San Fran. Even the “traditional” are generally accepting of all sorts of sexual degeneracy, though because of the trans crap people are waking up to just how crazy things are. I, however, think that this group in general reflects to a large extent the US population. Some vaguely religious people along with some militant secularists who hold the reins of power. The “traditional” almost always leak “left” into the hands of the secular. The children of the traditional will not be traditional.
The other 20% of the Jewish population is 10% “religious Zionist” and 10% “Ultra-Orthodox.” These groups have various sub-divisions and I won’t get into all of them but I will point out the relevant. The Ultra-Orthodox as a whole have completely inverted all traditional social roles and have become almost entirely parasitical. Something like 75% of the women work and only about 55% of the men do. The others sit in “kollel” – meaning they learn Torah all day to the exclusion of any sort of productive work. On the one hand, they completely reject any sort of Western consumerism and the sexual degneracy, but on the other hand they do not have a viable society without a large public sector supporting them.
The “religious zionist” camp breaks up into two main groups (with some extremes) – the “liberal” religious group and the more traditional group. The more traditional group may, in fact, be a solid societal base. However, they are nationalist in the 19th century sense. Which, I suppose, is better than globalist liberals. However, they believe in the centralized state and its bureaucracy – it is holy in their eyes to an extent. When they were literally being dragged from their homes (expulsion from Gaza in 2005) literally no streets were blocked with burning cars.
The liberal group moves more and more to the left each passing year. Half of the participants in the Empire (pride) Parade in Jerusalem are “religious” youth. Outside of the traditional “religious zionist” group, there is a deep inferiority complex in relation to the “educated” – i.e. the beliefs of the liberal and leftist elite.
I know I went through a long sociological breakdown here – but I don’t see hope in Israel as it is. The government here makes the Federal govt in the states look like a libertarian heaven. It is deeply involved in all processes of production, all aspects of city planning and architecture, all elements of the economy – from the transportation of honey (it is illegal to transport more than 6 kilo of honey in your car here) to anything you can imagine. And almost all of this is done through alphabet agencies and fiat decisions by the courts. There will be no rolling this back slowly.
The positive markers you see in terms of birth rates, for instance, are almost entirely of the religious communities. The average “hiloni” birth rate is 1.96 – still high for the west, but that includes the “masorati.” The actual secular birthrate is the same as others. “Religious Zionist” women average over 3.9 and ultra-orthodox 6.6. These numbers have been dropping steadily for years.
As an observant Jew, I believe that our messiah’s state will be a monarchy built upon the ruins of modern Israel. Our society has been terribly weakened by the same liberalism of the modern West that all others have been. Hopefully, our religious strength will be enough to pull us through the inevitable downturn – and hopefully so will that of the states. Once people realize that liberalism and modern western govt lead inevitably to collapse they may open their eyes.
Here’s to hoping.
Given the witches brew of Mideast geopolitics: the resurgence of Iran in league with Russia, the Saudi’s moving away from Biden and the West, the Turks possibly going to war with the Kurds, the Assad government in Syria more or less winning.. and especially given Hizbollah and to a lesser extent the Gaza gangsters.. the long range prognosis for Israel is not good. My sources (Pepe Escobar, The Duran) say that the US may be kicked out of the Mideast as a chaotic force. Then what Israel?
If Israel were socio-politically whole that might mitigate the threats. But after a recent 3 month visit to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and other parts, I saw clearly that Israel is NOT cohesive. I was shocked at the poverty and filth in the religious sections of Tel Aviv where I had to go for a covid test. And if only 55% of the Haradim men are working and 75% of the women, who are also running the homes, raising huge broods of children, etc.. well, not good.
You’re right about the LGBTQ ideology. At a bus stop in Tel Aviv I was sad to see ads reminiscent of the worst of the USA gay-lifestyle-affirming crap. Yuck. I also had the strange happenstance to be at a deserted bus stop in Jerusalem where a homeless junkie was shooting up. Then, insult to injury, in Haifa I was the first on the scene to find a woman junkie who’d just been stabbed in the back and was bleeding profusely in the street from a knife would. Go figure!
The long term survival of Israel may hang on a thin thread, an intervention from on high. And I’m not betting on that.
I’ve been reading JMG for over a decade and largely agree with your take on this book. One of the things I think you’d find useful in understanding our energy future is the recent developments in geothermal energy. It seems we may be able to run our civilization using ambient heat from the Earth’s core as a battery: https://elidourado.com/blog/geothermal/
Aspiring warlords with expendable resources might consider securing their energy future this decade.
I will look into this!
In this long (as usual) and dense (as usual) “book review,” Haywood finally goes off the rails. Here is a direct quote:
This is where I come in. At this moment I preside over what amounts to a extended, quite sizeable, compound, which when complete I like to say, accurately, will be impervious to anything but direct organized military attack. Yet it requires a group of men to make it work; the fantasy that one family can garrison a large area, or any area, and be left alone, is just that. You have to sleep sometime, and as a friend of mine once, many years ago, stated my view on the world, “Bad people are everywhere, and they must be put down.” Thus, I need what I call “shooters”—say fifteen able-bodied, and adequately trained, men. Together, such a group can operate my compound, both defensively and administratively. And I have the personality, and skills, to lead such a group. I am nothing if not decisive, the core competency of a leader in any field, and I am adequately charismatic.
I thought so! I’ve followed Haywood for a couple years, and this warlord power fantasy was always lurking. But he is NOT charismatic enough to be a warlord, as he defines the term. He’s got a screechy voice and pedantic style on vid and podcasts. He’s long winded, boring, and dry.
Perhaps if he is the owner of a large piece of land, he can find “15 shooters” who will take orders because they’re not as bright as he is and have no leadership skills of their own. But he will not have equals, a court of nobles so to speak, or anyone who might challenge him. Without equals, his territory will remain tiny.
As the owner, he will have the psychological power of ownership, the power to say yes or no to the supplicants at the gates of his mini fortress. But he will be capable of nothing more than the usual power trips and might even let it to his head and create a fairly standard little cult around his somewhat pretentious, threadbare philosophy of “Foundationalism.”
Haywood’s fantasy is ultimately absurd. And his pessimism about energy can be challenged on many fronts. In the coming collapse, warlords will be ubiquitous, and 90% will be armed gangsters and killers. If there are 10% “good warlords” on the Haywood model, they will soon be corrupted by the power they wield. And we’re soon back to the same old BS. Deranged elites lording over the little people.
“And we’re soon back to the same old BS. Deranged elites lording over the little people.”
Yep, as I’ve pointed out many times in regard to the anarchist fantasy, that does seem to be the historic norm, REGARDLESS of polity.
In the West, this is a myth, a historical fantasy, created by Enlightenment propagandists. To support it, you’d need broad, comprehensive examples, and I can’t think of any such.
Really? I should think it pretty self evident that most the west is already fast approaching, if not already there, the corrupt totalitarian stage.
Your original claim was that this was “the historic norm.” This is false (in the West). On the other hand, you are right, that “Deranged elites lording over the little people” is precisely the stage we are presently at in the West.
Yeah, you left out the “And we’re soon back to the same old BS” part. Though I would indeed say that that is what history does seem to indicate, if there is ever an enlightened period in the civilization to begin with, such as Rome and Greece as 2 examples that somewhat did. A good deal of times these societies just start out under some “deranged” elites through conquest and rule through absolute power.
On the other hand, in the interest of commerce and taxes, that absolute rule could soften to facilitate, which does extend the life of the polity.
Normally, personal insults, much less personal insults of the illustrious Maximum Leader, are not allowed. But this is too funny not to leave up. I disagree, and my ability to lead men in the past (the result of certain key personality characteristics) has been soundly proven. But you are not invited!
Geothermal may be the energy source that will power the future, if we can get it going before the collapse. The fusion heat at the earths core is basically infinite. And there are many novel methods of tapping it. We need a Manhattan Project for geothermal.
Currently, we have a very few mostly deep geothermal plants using standard high pressure steam turbines in use. However, there is a growing movement for shallow geothermal where fracking is used to crack the rock and bring lower temps to the surface where Carnot cycle engines run at low pressures, and low deltas between the heat source and cooling source. This tech has some proof of concept, but is lacking serious investment.
And then there IS both fission and fusion, which isn’t off the table despite Haywood and Greer’s silly, non-scientific and non-technical dismissal. Haywood needs to get of his pessimistic hobby horse and do some research. The collapse is coming.. I agree on that.. but future energy poverty is not necessarily in the cards.
We all ready have Greta the “annoying little toad.” We don’t need Haywood as a Cassandra.
Outstanding. So glad to have found this site. I’ve been browsing through some older posts. Very hard to find others who are on a similar wave-length in our culture which is drowning in noise an nonsense. Good that you have cultivated a little corner of the internet here for those who see what is coming. Please keep us posted once the “warlord” phase arrives on how we can join your patronage network :)!