The ends of the Earth

How far will we go to secure energy? Clearly, to the ends of the Earth. And perhaps even to the end of the (living) world.

Judging from their actions, most people I know are more to committed maintaining their imperial lifestyles than in maintaining the lives of their children. Take a look around and tell me that isn’t how we managed to find ourselves in this dire array of interconnected predicaments. Empathy is so rare we treat it as a treasure. Which it is.

We’re willing to risk extinction by nuclear meltdown to keep the lights on. And not merely the extinction of other species, which we’ve been risking for generations. This time, we’re willing to take Homo sapiens into the abyss in exchange for hot pizza and cold beer. Meanwhile, governments of the world continue to cover up disasters as they occur. And we, the people, are willing to let them because we can’t handle the truth.

As if ongoing events in Japan aren’t enough to convince you that nuclear power plants aren’t a good idea — and apparently those events have failed to convince Barack Obama, who refuses to step down from his pro-nuclear stance — what about drilling for oil at depths we know are profoundly unsafe? That pesky Gulf of Mexico has sprung another leak, this time near yet another deepwater oil rig. Of course, this event isn’t deemed newsworthy, even as cleanup efforts have been under way for days. Increasingly desperate for crude oil, the International Energy Agency is begging Norway to ratchet up production. Sorry, no dice from post-peak countries.

And then there’s Libya, which currently supplies oil to industrialized countries at almost exactly the same rate as the so-called “spare” capacity. Take out Libyan oil, and the trip to $150 oil comes next week instead of later this year. Fortunately for lovers of American-style capitalism, BP has started drilling even as the bombs are flying. The ever-declining supply of Alaskan oil constrains options of the U.S. and its military allies to the approaches I’ve come to know and hate: abundant military action after generating an enemy Americans can hate (aka foreign policy) and printing money (aka domestic policy). Britain’s former Member of Parliament George Galloway understands our actions in Libya are all about the oil, and he’s even willing to talk about it (U.S. Congressional Representative Ed Markey agrees, as shown here).

Libya isn’t the only ongoing crisis in the Middle East and northern Africa. The whole region is aflame, and we can add Yemen to the list of crises threatening the Saudi Arabian underbelly (thus, the world’s supply of crude oil).

Among the prices we pay, apparently all too willingly: Ice is melting from Greenland and Antarctica at a rate surprisingly rapid, even to the global-change scientists studying the issue. This is merely one more notch in the miles-long belt of industry, yet another minor insult on an overheating planet. Tack on the couple hundred species we drive to extinction each day, along with utter destruction of every other aspect of Earth’s environment, and you start to get the idea our efforts aren’t entirely positive.

Adverse impacts of industrialization are not restricted to the environmental realm. They extend to the sociopolitical arena, too. Feudalism has arrived to the United States, along with fascism (wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross, as predicted by Sinclair Lewis). Here at home, the cost of living continues to increase while Republicans try to make it illegal for poor people to carry money. Continuing the long-term theme of U.S. foreign policy, we’ll gladly kill anybody and everybody who interferes with our access to crude oil. Then our beloved military will continue to disgrace us by posing with the tortured bodies of civilians they killed. If you try to interfere with foreign policy, you get an all-expense-paid trip to Gitmo Bay, where you get to reside for the rest of your days, courtesy of our very own torturer in chief.

Fortunately, western civilization and its latest, worst, manifestation — the industrial economy — near their end. We can add four more people to a large and growing group that foresees the end of empire within months: Gordon T. Long predicts end of fiat currency by the end of 2012 (also see Long’s essay about shadow banking here), Clyde Prestowitz anticipates an “economic earthquake or tsunami that will reset globalization,” Jim Willie has jumped on the hyperinflation bandwagon, and John Lohman indicates the Keynesian endgame has nearly run its course.

Seems I’m not the only optimistic in these parts.

The industrial economy was imploding before an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. The world oil peak passed us by in 2005, as did the world peak in grain production (not coincidentally). But Japan is yet another straw on the back of the severely stressed camel known as the world’s industrial economy. Events in Japan are shaking the U.S. Treasury bond market and otherwise hastening the demise of the world’s industrial economy.

Not one single member of the corporate-owned mainstream media is willing to connect these seemingly disparate events. But, as should be obvious to anybody paying the slightest attention, each event is a stitch in a worldwide quilt. Each event indicates systemic collapse of the world’s industrial economy. If you’re waiting for the mainstream media to tell you when to launch your lifeboat, you’ll wait until it’s too late.

When is the correct time to flee an empire in decline? If you’re unconcerned about the morality of how you live and also about resistance against the dominant paradigm, then you probably have a few more months to suck at the teat of empire. If you’re concerned only about extending your own life, then you probably need not quit sucking until this summer, especially if your doomstead is field-tested and ready to go. If you’re concerned about whether and how you live, the time to leave is now. Or, judging from my own example and the difficulty of making preparations for a new world, a few years ago.


This essay is permalinked at Island Breath and Plan B Economics.

Comments 184

  • Ironically enough, Kathy, there seems to be some belief among right-wingers that we somehow “wish for death,” that our problem isn’t a fear of death but that too many people “want to die.”

    That certainly seems to have made its way into the Japanese popular media, with all its pleas for its citizens to not wish for death, that life is wonderful no matter how much you’re suffering.

    It does not seem to occur to these people that there is no such “faulty wiring” in our brains, that for most of our history since ancient Greece humans were TERRIFIED of death.

    It does not occur to these people to ask, if so many are wishing to die, doesn’t that mean something is drastically wrong with modern life?

    Instead, they tend to call everyone else cowards and weaklings. They also scream “selfish” at the top of their lungs when they hear that someone’s shot himself for example, rather than asking what someone would have to suffer that it would override his natural desire to preserve his own life.

    I dunno, I realize I’ve made this point before, but I’m using the example of “terror of death” vs. “wish for death” to illustrate that most people today operate on a bizarro-world, opposite-world version of what reality really is.

    That’s also part of our mistakes that we should avoid repeating in the future.

  • I think Librarian you are on to something. It seems that if one predicts dire events that others assume they must want them, and want to shut them up as if their words make those events more likely. This of course is magical thinking. Since magic doesn’t exist, it is invalid.

    My personal theory is that we are wired to look for cause and effect but it is sort of haphazard. Thus when we see events close together such as someone saying they wish someone else were dead and then that person dies fairly soon after it comes to be believed that those words caused the death.

    This is of course what science attempts to tame by carefully constructed experiments with controls and set up to remove bias.

    Of course sometimes words and thoughts do have effects on our own body which is known as the placebo effect. I wish this was studied more so we could tap into whatever chemicals and signals our brain sends out when we believe some healing action is happening. But in fact it occurs without witchdoctors or prayers. Perhaps this too leads us to believe our thoughts control events as well as our own healing potential.

    In the book The Illusion of Conscious Will, Wegner tells of being in a store and picking up a mouse on a computer that had a game on it. As he moved the mouse the game began and he believed he was in control. After a bit he realized that the game wasn’t always doing what he was trying to make it do and that in fact it was a sample game that started to run whenever anyone moved the mouse.

    People are terrified of death, even when they assert they believe they are going to heaven. Only when they reach the limits of pain, physical or mental, do some people wish for death as release. But that threatens others and so they make the elderly or cancer patients suffer on. I have even heard of death row prisoners getting mad if a fellow prisoner gives up his appeal because he is tired and ready for death.

    I perhaps somewhat unusual as am not terrified of becoming dead for I know that I love the mini death of sleep and enjoyed not being alive during the dark ages, the inquistion, the plague years etc., but have some really strong fears about dying. My lack of terror about death made me capable of being a Hospice Volunteer – others would say oh I can’t do that. But because of that lack of fear I have seen how awful dying can be. I have no love of losing my lifestyle, of possible anarchy, of lack of medical care, starving. I don’t want to see anyone not live out a normal lifespan. But we all end up dead and we all get there by dying.

    I have quoted it before but I will again
    “Faith in immortality was born of the greed of unsatisfied people who make unwise use of the time that nature has allotted us. But the wise man finds his life span sufficient to complete the full circle of attainable pleasures, and when the time of death comes, he will leave the table, satisfied, freeing a place for other guests. For the wise man one human life is sufficient, and a stupid man will not know what to do with eternity.” Epicurus.

    I do so wish we could avoid our mistakes on a societal level but the evidence seems to be that we cannot. Hard enough on an individual level.

  • So there is an article on HuffPo that talks about the twin elephants in the room. Unfortunatly, it seems like it is about 30 years too late.

  • I’m unbelievably late in commenting, as usual.

    Regarding immutable human nature vs. evolving beyond ourselves, one might consider Dual Inheritance Theory (DIT), also known as gene-culture coevolution. Genetic/biological evolution is slow, slow, slow; cultural evolution is fast, fast, fast. I suspect those saying we can change are thinking of the latter, those saying we can’t change are thinking of the former. The answer does not necessarily lie in the middle.

    I tend to fall on the extreme “can’t change” side because our basic physical needs are immutable, yet we easily convince ourselves that we’ve moved beyond those needs in times of plenty when we’re really only addressing nonphysical needs. Very few of us face true survival pressure at present, but when we do, our barbaric, animal nature will reassert itself.

    It could be argued that since civilization is a cultural expression, the way our current civilization is consuming the planet and destroying itself is a response to obvious threats to its own survival. I’m not fond of anthropomorphizing institutions or collective behaviors, but it’s an idea worth considering.

    Next, education is not a panacea, nor is reason. Raising these two things as idols has led many astray. I’m not suggesting that we remain ignorant and irrational from birth. That way has been tried, too. Nor do I have a solution. In fact, solutions elude us because we lack the wisdom, feeling, sensibility, and restraint to recognize what needs to be done. It’s a balance of many things, which we can’t process because we’re more prone to tunnel vision.

    Last, I have stumbled several times upon the Ben Franklin quote and the tendency of early American settlers to “rewild.” It’s a telling and evocative bit of history. An rather imperfect representation of the Native American mind was attempted by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, where the Savage possessed an intrinsic sense of meaning that regular citizens lacked. Cinematic depictions of the same mindset include Terrence Malick’s The New World and Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout. Tragically, they all end with the destruction of the savage at the hands of the civilized, but most of us can sense the savage life provides something deeply fulfilling and meaningful that is sorely lacking in civilized life.

  • A lot of the evils of civilization you folks are talking about are evils of *Christian* civilization. In the post-Christian civilization we’re entering, there don’t have to be the same kinds of value judgments about the sinfulness of certain lifestyles, etc. I don’t pass judgment on people who want to live as hunter-gatherers, but I just don’t see it as a smart choice in a universe that wants to destroy you and against which your only defenses are your intelligence, knowledge and technology. Maybe this makes me afraid of nature, but what I hear from people here is fear of the part of nature created by humans, which makes no sense because that’s the part we have the most control over.

    Humans inhabit a very small range of scales of experience, and anything outside of that seems unnatural to us. But according to our deepest understanding of nature, the world is probabilistic, quantum mechanical, quite possibly a multiverse and utterly bizarre to our common sense. So we need to throw away most of our ancestral stories and ways of thinking because we now know they’re incorrect. What I hear is a lot of fantasizing about a return to Eden, to the Olduvai, to some imaginary world that existed before we ate from the tree of knowledge and learned how strange the universe truly is. But you can’t put the genie back in the bottle; history is not reversible! To quote Arthur C. Clarke: “there is no way back into the past. The choice is the universe or nothing”, and Terrence McKenna: “we can never go back to the game-dotted plains of archaic Africa, that’s gone — it’s all gone. The only way out is forward.”

    Every experience that human beings have ever had or ever can have exists in our minds, and will be available in the Matrix. You will soon be able to live in a simulated world of Neolithic hunter-gatherers if that is your choice, but you will also have the option of living on Mars! Civilization prevails because it provides greater choice and novelty than any primitive lifestyle, and those choices are increasing exponentially. I believe there is something cosmic at work that is increasing life and intelligence in the universe, and if you try to swim against that flow and go backwards you’re just going to make yourself miserable!

  • Cosmist,

    Where is the plan? Just a lot of hand waving.

    Try here:

    Bughouse Square. I lived a block away as a child.

  • Cosmist, quotes from famous people (or less than famous)do not necessarily add substance to any argument. They are often “nice words” So what if Arthur C. Clarke said that — what proof or explanation does he offer?

    “And it shall rain a bounty of sea salt chocolate caramels on those that believe in Rainbow Ponies”
    –Marianne the Librarian

  • Marianne,

    Finally, my kind of sacrament. How do I sign up?

  • Brutus, late in the thread but well put.

    Cosmist, Hunter-Gatherers 200,000 years and some are still hanging on despite civilizations’ horrific attempts to wipe them out. Roman civilization, gone, Greek civilization gone, Mesopotamian civilization gone, Industrial civilization RIP

    The Matrix is one of the stupidest films I have ever seen. Whoever wrote it didn’t understand a thing about energy. Batteries, human or not, are energy storage devises, not energy sources.

  • The Cosmist,

    Thank you. Finally you have assented to presenting your own ideas about the future. Also I thank you for your clarity. (I have to admit when I was reading through {wiki} some of David Deutsch’s ideas on ‘many worlds’ in an effort to figure out what you were talking about, I had a reaction similar to Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein, essentially WTF?). This comment was much plainer and suited for my peasant mentality.

    If I may, let me paraphrase your ideas.

    *We will soon live an existence similar-to/the-same-as what is depicted in the science fiction movie “The Matrix”.

    *That future will be better than the present because we will be able to experience vicariously any other life we can dream up similar to the science fiction movie “Total Recall”.

    *You also postulate there is a cosmic force in the universe that is increasing life and intelligence similar to “The Force” as presented in the science fiction movie series titled “Star Wars”.

    *You warn us that if we oppose “The Force” we will be punished similar to admonitions in the bible.

    *Your sources include Terence McKenna (psychedelic drug writer), Arthur C. Clark (science fiction writer), and “The Matrix” (a science fiction movie).

    Have I fairly represented your ideas? If not, enlighten me further (small words please).

    I do appreciate your candor and your willingness to brave some level of criticism here at NBL.

    Michael Irving

  • Kathy,

    Easy there. You are talking to an articulate 13 year old, who has seen too many sci-fi movies and may be on drugs.

    Yes, I considered the Matrix unwatchable. Five minutes and I was gone. Definitely for drug damaged kids.

  • This is the kind of nonsense that turns me away from Greer:

    “The reason I mention batch heaters here at all is that, as the simplest and cheapest solar water heating system, they’re probably the one that will be standard a century or two from now, when the end of the age of fossil fuels has broken our descendants of the bad habit of thinking that they have a right to expect energy when, where, and how they want it.”

    Then, later in the same essay:

    “That points up the third and, to my mind, conclusive reason to ignore the promoters of nuclear vaporware: we don’t have the time to spare. Peak oil is already here, peak coal and natural gas are a good deal closer than the cornucopian assumptions of previous decades liked to admit, and peak fissionable uranium – the fuel for our existing reactors – is not far off either.”

    Never mind that we passed the world uranium peak 30 years ago. You simply cannot argue we’ll be using fossil fuels in two centuries and then claim we don’t have time to develop nuclear technology. WTF?

  • Greer can see problems with others’ irrationality, but not his own.

  • Reading about the circumstances in Japan has helped me hear more clearly the voices that have urged preparedness for collapse. I don’t like having extra stuff around – kind of a minimalists so it goes against my nature to collect things even for ‘what if’ scenarios.

    Tokyo has run out of bottled water.

    ‘what if’ looking more like when
    and feeling real and personal

  • Marianne, I have a question.

    Since you’re employed as a librarian, do you have any ideas on how we can prevent all our public libraries from being closed?

    I have a job waiting for me at a university library, so I don’t have this problem yet, but if you read the Library Journal or American Library magazine, you’ll see lots of articles about public libraries being CLOSED.

    This is one of the things that could actually cause a permanent loss of memory, if we can’t stop the tide.

    So how do you do it, Marianne? What measures do you take to make sure we don’t become a culture devoid of reading and the inner life? What measures do you take to make sure that the idiotic voters do not erase libraries by closing them, and erase learning along with them?

    Please tell me, because I would like to take the same measures.

  • Sarah “‘what if’ looking more like when and feeling real and personal”

    Yes. You can look at this for years. You can prepare for years, but then you see a taste of the future and realize the future is nigh and whamo it hits you… sometime has become soon and about to become now….

  • Librarian have you read Canticle for Leibowitz –

    Perhaps you should. It won’t happen that way – this civilization will be the last (IMHO), but perhaps after reading it you would be less sure you wanted to save the libraries.

  • Thanks Kathy, I was about to clarify my earlier post because I don’t see collapse as a ‘what if’ scenario.

    Leaving the environment aside for the moment, we are truly sucking wind on the energy and financial fronts. With the MENA unrest and Japan’s disaster in triplicate we have been catapulted right across the finish line. We could throw in the new reports of oil leaking in the gulf but that would be a segue into the environmental front …

  • By referring to my belief rather than to sensory data, my brain can “know” something about the world with which I have no immediate sensory contact.

    Beliefs are projections into either a future (+Δt) or a past (-Δt) possible datasets based upon a known historical dataset, processed through perceived system constraints, as discussed by Dr. Tom Campbell. All incoming datastreams are similarly processed: hence beliefs can be so tenacious.

    the brain often refuses to surrender its weapon even though the data say it should.

    The data does not “say” anything. The datastream has to be processed through the perceived system constraints in the context of the perceived historical dataset: the results of this processing may yield widely varying results with different recipients. A concept may be unintelligible or misperceived, an issue addressed by Dr. Tom Campbell.

    Attempts to change beliefs have to take into account both the reciepient’s historical dataset and the recipient’s perception of system constraints, for the creation of an appropriate datastream.

    educating people who do not want to learn is a daunting challenge,

    One has to first modify the recipient’s historical dataset and perceived system constraints – this will require a different datastream; when the modification has been achieved, only then might the intended datastream be appropriately processed. All content of the historical database and all perceived system constraints are the result of prior datastreams, and are susceptible to modification by new datastreams. But for the same reason, the later the datastream, the less direct its access to the results of earliest datastreams and the harder those results are to modify.

    The Cosmist’s prior incoming datastreams have not sufficiently structured his perceived historical dataset and perceived systemic constraints to block the NBL datastream from having a deep effect.

    we are wired to look for cause and effect

    When we “look”, even with reference to the past, it is into a future possible dataset: being in the future, it can be modified, giving rise to the phenomena such as of reverse causality and also manifesting intentionality (as distinct from intention).

    I tend to fall on the extreme “can’t change” side because our basic physical needs are immutable,

    The “physical needs” are yet another datastream, albeit a primordial one.

    Next, education is not a panacea, nor is reason.

    They are datastreams labeled on the basis of content.

    Humans inhabit a very small range of scales of experience,

    That is a concept that requires perception of the existence of the very largest box: only then can one realize that reality does not end at the inner walls of that box. Most people are limited to within smaller boxes: so far within that they do not perceive the existence of even that box.

    and anything outside of that seems unnatural to us.

    Not unnatural, but nonexistent.

    Every experience that human beings have ever had or ever can have exists in our minds, and will be available in the Matrix.

    I am not familiar with the “Matrix” but i deduce that in refers to some kind of a computer simulation. Well, Dr. Tom Campbell shows how our present reality is fully equivalent to a computer simulation; one does not have to venture into the realms of fiction or future technology for such a paradigm. I had posted a link to Dr. Campbell’s lecture on one of the “Cosmist”‘s many blogs, but it does not seem that it has had much effect: either not watched or an inappropriate datastream.

    I believe there is something cosmic at work that is increasing life and intelligence in the universe,

    That is fully compatible with Dr. Campbell’s work.

    the end of the age of fossil fuels has broken our descendants of the bad habit of thinking that they have a right to expect energy when, where, and how they want it

    Those “descendants” would be living a century or two after the end of fossil fuel usage: that century or two without fossil fuels should have broken even the historical context of fossil fuel usage; batch heaters do not use fossil fuels in their operation (but might need them for the construction – from metal or metal ores, although charcoal might also be used). Or perhaps I am missing something in this line of reasoning.

    how we can prevent all our public libraries from being closed

    The way is to privatize the libraries, All public facilities are sustained on the threat of violence, through assets confiscated by the threat of the initiation of force. It would seem no different in principle from the Mafia coming around and collecting money at gunpoint for a library. Although this is a very radical point of view, the non-initiation of force as a universal principle seems to inescapably lead to anarchy – a society based on voluntarism and the absence of coercion. Is there a way to have a government while universally rejecting the choice to initiate the use of force?

    Thomas Campbell – The Monroe Institute Lecture

  • anarchy – a society based on voluntarism and the absence of coercion.

    I don’t think you understand anarchy. Examples: Emma Goldman, anarchist, plotted assassinations. Johnny Rotten, Sex Pistols, anarchist, had questionable standards regarding non-initiation of force (“Turn the other cheek too often and you get a razor through it.”). Self-proclaimed anarchists during the “Battle in Seattle” initiated violence against property and police. Luigi Galleani, anarchist, was involved in bombings and assassination attempts. And so on. To use the ideas of academics to describe something as desirable while ignoring the actions of the people who embrace those ideas seems myopic.

    Michael Irving

  • Public Libraries will go first. Public education will go. All public services are now at risk – police, fire, waste management, etc. Some will go before others, but all will go.

  • Michael

    Perhaps you don’t see peaceful anarchists because they don’t attract the attention of violent “anarchists” – BTW, I have never been entirely convinced that many violent anarchists are really anarchists at all…some I have met really don’t know what to say when you ask them what an anarchist is.

  • Guy

    In all fairness to Greer, was that what he was trying to say – that we would be still using fossil fuels a couple centuries later? Seems to me he was saying that well AFTER the age of fossil fuels we would be using the simple solar heater. He could have been clearer here.

  • Perhaps I am missing the right data, but Collapse does not seem imminent to me at this point.

  • Anarchy is (from The Free Dictionary Online):
    1. Absence of any form of political authority.
    Other ideas that (wrongly) pass for anarchy include:
    2. Political disorder and confusion.
    3. Absence of any cohesive principle, such as a common standard or purpose.
    Resorting to force does not constitute anarchy. It is an attempt to impose an oligarchy by the perpetrators.

    The meaning of the word, from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

    1530s, from Fr. anarchie or directly from M.L. anarchia, from Gk. anarkhia “lack of a leader, the state of people without a government” (in Athens, used of the Year of Thirty Tyrants, 404 B.C., when there was no archon), noun of state from anarkhos “rulerless,” from an- “without” (see an- (1)) + arkhos “leader” (see archon).

    To acquanit oneself with how anarchy would work in a modern society:

    Practical Anarchy

  • i don’t think u understand the difference between surreal world behavior and idealism, michael irving. just because some who are attracted to anarchy’s ideals of freedom and peaceful co-existence resort to violence against oppression doesn’t mean their ideas are no good, imo. indeed, the hunter-gatherer cultures generally admired here are essentially anarchic, compared to civilization.

    some who wish to live by anarchy may get their wish, if collapse comes sudden and swift, and they manage to survive. others, like past generations of slaves, may be comforted by the notion that future generations shall be free, or extinct.

    reading the book on authoritarianism linked to in one of the first comments above, reminds me of many illuminating memoirs i’ve read by people who have been harmed by too-close encounters with dogmatic puritanical patriarchal religion. here’s a short list of the best:

    INFIDEL by ayaan hirsi ali
    FLEEING FUNDAMENTALISM by carleen cross
    all provide excellent reasons for discarding dogma.

    i’ll try to clarify what i meant previously by expressing hope that human nature may improve post-collapse in an absence of ‘authority’. basically, human intelligence is affected by genetics and environment, or culture. civilized culture, as robin datta has pointed out, domesticates people for the purpose of making us more docile and malleable to those in positions of ‘authority’. this necessarily involves a process of ‘dumbing us down’, limiting how and what we think, from an early age. in the absence of ‘authority’ and these limits, people should become less dogmatic, more reasonable.

    victor, i loved what u wrote yesterday about our shared culpability as civilized sheople, and being weak and fearful. i completely relate.

  • Librarian,

    I am an academic librarian, so I don’t hold out much hope for the public libraries — the academics have their own battles to fight.

    That said, let me frame my other comments in this context. I feel like I am operating in at least 3 different “realities”. In the first, superficially, I operate in what the majority of people accept as the current situation. I shake my head and cluck at the loss of union power to collectively bargain, the hatred and anger I see from the Republicans and the Tea Party, I argue for the continued support of libraries and NPR. I often post on non-consumer/simplicity blogs about the need to support your libraries in vocal and tangible ways. THis is socially acceptable. I congratulate many friends and family members on the birth of their new babies, I nod supportively at my in-laws big plans for a comfortable retirement. I don’t have the cojones to tell any of them that the future isn’t so rosy. And I should note that I don’t have children, and I believe that truth-telling here would be seen as sour grapes.

    The second reality is where I hope that Guy is (somewhat) wrong. (Although I am starting to shift my thoughts on that, too — more later). In this reality I am very worried that we are looking at a painful descent into a non-electric, non-technical future where we will survive but struggle to provide for basic necessities. I valiantly believe that academic libraries should provide some record for future generations, but also house the practical knowledge that teaches them to grow and store their own food. However, we (academic libraries) have been making the shift from print to electronic resources, even disposing of much of the print. We are working collectively to winnow down communal holdings so that we have 1 or 2 places that will hold the print copy of “last resort”. What I try to explain to people is that is short sighted. If the grid goes down, or some other cataclysmic event happens, and we need that content we *can’t* go to the electronic version. What are we going to do — ride a horse to the next big university and hand-copy the content? (Perhaps JHK’s next work of fiction…). I am not very popular during our strategic planning, and I am probably earning my tin foil hat from them. But in the end, obviously, I see a future that is worth planning for.

    The third reality (which I share with few others) is what Guy discusses. Some where deep down, I think he may very well be right. And I know that if that is the case, I am not one of the people that will be carving out my life boat. That’s ok, too, with me. It is what it is. But should I fight for the second reality? That part seems hard wired into me, yet that part of me is shifting. Shifting so much I can hear the creaking and cracking as it comes loose.

  • Robin, Victor,

    Thank you for making my point. The difference between the vision and the reality of a world without controls is palpable. Collapse will give us the kinds of anarchy better described as running amok.

    I find it confusing that you, Robin, would seek to keep others from enjoying the use of books. Clearly you have been able to attend private institutions for your education and have adopted the attitude that if poor people want libraries they should buy their own. By extension, if they want sewer systems they should buy their own. The idea that a body of people agreeing to tax themselves for the greater good is equivalent to the Mafia extorting tribute is garbage. The same reasoning would hold that Free Love is great but forcing people to pay to correct the consequences is wrong, i.e., HIV-negative people in Africa should not be coerced into paying for AIDS mitigation. If I remember correctly you extracted no little amount of money sucking at the communal teat. Or is that different?

    Sure, sure, Victor, there is a difference between the ivory tower vision of anarchy and the actions of the people that profess to be anarchists, just as there are patriots and patriots. Just as clearly the USSR was not a communist state and neither is China. The anarchists, self professed, running around throwing rocks and breaking windows are the reality. They have self-defined anarchy to be the absence of external control. The academic ideal defines a completely different animal, one that does not exist in the real world and may never have existed for more than 30 seconds.

    Yes, public libraries will be some of the first things to go. In fact as Librarian and Marianne note it is already happening. If Robin had his way it could not happen too soon. We have a bunch of red-neck Tea Party types here who are in complete agreement with Robin. They also want to do away with public education, holding instead for home schooling. They go to the public library to get the resources (books, computers, Internet access) they need to educate their children, but don’t seem to find any hypocrisy in that.

    Michael Irving

  • Marianne.
    Extremely well said. Most of us are or have been on that developmental path.

  • On NPR yesterday
    Climate Change In The Deep Future

    Curt Stager and Bill McKibben discuss our near-term and long-long-term future…

    Curt says, “many of the paleoecologists I know balance their concerns about modern climate change with “yes, but it could also be a lot worse.”

    Tom Ashbrook, the program’s host, repeatedly points out that Curt’s new book makes the case for climate change-deniers: “The climate is always changing, people are happy with the world they are born into…”

    Bill McGibbon tries to spin the story but comes across rather weak, Curt fails to save face ???

    “Concensus and change… ??? too many cultures, not enough time” says The Mother.

  • “Ego before truth”

  • Re violence supposedly by anarchists in Seattle, maybe yes, maybe no.
    by Portland student/reporter Jim Desyllas
    Called-in from a pay phone outside Seattle.

    Wed., 7:30 pm Pacific time. (Posted at 12-2-99. Feel free to distribute in full including this note.)

    I just spent 4 days in Seattle. The “information” people are getting from the mass media is false. This was not, as Pres. Clinton claims, a peaceful protest marred by the actions of violent protesters. This was a massive, strong but peaceful demonstration which was attacked repeatedly by the police with the express purpose of provoking a violent response to provide photo opportunities for the Western media. I know because I watched it happening. I’ll tell you how they did it.

    We have heard in the “prank” call to the Gov. of Wisconsin that the person posing as Koch said something about staging some violence to blame on the protesters. Gov. Walker said yes we thought about that but decided not to do it.

    Now we learn “An Indiana prosecutor has resigned after acknowledging he advised Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin to stage a physical attack on himself and blame it on protesters. In an email to Walker, the prosecutor, Carlos Lam, wrote: “If you could employ an associate who pretends to be sympathetic to the unions’ cause to physically attack you (or even use a firearm against you), you could discredit the public unions.” Lam has been active in the Republican Party in Indiana. He initially denied authoring the email on Thursday before admitting to it and submitting his resignation.”

    These things are often considered and although Gov. Walker has apparently not followed through, we know that instigating crimes and false flag attacks are used, and to blame any act of violence on a particular anarchist group would require serious investigation before it should be assumed to be true.

  • Excellent program today on Democracy now on the anniversary of the Shirtwaist Fire – another piece of history along with the labor struggles of those women that did not make my history books. for 3/25

    If you don’t have an hour for the excellent history lesson I suggest the last segment which discusses a similar recent fire in Bangladesh where the workers who made GAP clothes died in very similar fire and for less wages (adjusted for inflation) than the women of the Shirtwaist Factory fire. SLAVERY HAS NOT ENDED. THE WORLD IS NOT A BETTER PLACE.

  • Of the fire without further comment
    “As I looked up I saw a love affair in the midst of all the horror. A young man helped a girl to the window sill. Then he held her out, deliberately away from the building and let her drop. He seemed cool and calculating. He held out a second girl the same way and let her drop. Then he held out a third girl who did not resist. I noticed that. They were as unresisting as if he were helping them onto a streetcar instead of into eternity. Undoubtedly he saw that a terrible death awaited them in the flames, and his was only a terrible chivalry.
    Then came the love amid the flames. He brought another girl to the window. Those of us who were looking saw her put her arms about him and kiss him. Then he held her out into space and dropped her. But quick as a flash he was on the window sill himself. His coat fluttered upward—the air filled his trouser legs. I could see that he wore tan shoes and hose. His hat remained on his head.

    Thud—dead, thud—dead—together they went into eternity. I saw his face before they covered it. You could see in it that he was a real man. He had done his best.

    We found out later that, in the room in which he stood, many girls were being burned to death by the flames and were screaming in an inferno of flame and heat. He chose the easiest way and was brave enough to even help the girl he loved to a quicker death, after she had given him a goodbye kiss. He leaped with an energy as if to arrive first in that mysterious land of eternity, but her thud—dead came first.”

  • Kathy,

    I only have my friends as sources and they did say the tear gas made it really hard to see clearly. So you’re right, it was probably only propaganda like the McKinley incident.

    Michael Irving

  • Michael, I wasn’t there so I can’t say, I can only ask the question. Many groups have been infiltrated and encouraged to violence, and if they respond I guess they are responsible but perhaps they would never have gone to violence if some mole from the feds hadn’t stirred them up.

  • The idea that a body of people agreeing to tax themselves for the greater good is equivalent to the Mafia extorting tribute is garbage

    Quite correct. However, the rarity of agreement in such bodies imposes the need to coerce the dissenters with Mafia-like tactics. Pointing out that the poor and needy will suffer is a standard ploy to distract attention from the willingness to initiate force against non-violent dissenters. The presumption that a few with a skill set at manipulating the many will be able to determine the “greater good” is a presumption that is implicit, but ouerlooked.

  • i’m still plowing through THE AUTHORITARIANS. just finished chapter 5, about social dominators, particularly the minority of them who also display high dogmatism/religiosity. quite an interesting book, redreamer.

  • It is to be remembered that a disaster situation is an enforced anarchy constrained in time and space. The best of humanity is brought out in anarchies. This is not to be confused with attempts at imposing oligarchies limited in time and space – which is what the violent attempt to do, even if they claim to be anarchists.

  • Librarian, thank you for your most recent post. I can relate to your thoughts about the three realities.

    As to your question about the fate of libraries, I feel confident that all the public libraries will close – just as all government services will cease. Non-essential services will go first, as we’re seeing already. But private libraries will persist as long as people have the means to preserve them. I myself have a large library (I use the Library of Congress classification system, btw). I have some of almost every category. My library would be larger today except that a decade ago I decided that the internet was so much more efficient that I began to donate my books to various public and private libraries.

    Today, I know differently. I’m hoarding my books and acquire all that I can lay my hands on that might serve some purpose or provide some crucial information in the future. I’m currently looking to buy a set of Worldbook Encyclopedias. I know they will be 20 years out of date, but when Wikipedia goes down, I’ll still have something. Lest you think I’m only keeping “useful” books, I also have fiction. In fact, I have enough of it that if I read one book of fiction a week it would take more than 20 years to finish them all.

    I’ve always loved books and I can’t imagine a world without them. I’m doing my best to preserve as many as possible. Both for practical reasons and esoteric ones.

  • Of all the benefits of civilisation I would miss most and of which I hold in highest regard, it would be the tremendous loss of knowledge in all forms. It is truly ironic to me that libraries might prove to be among the first wave of losses, and that digitised info among the last to pass beyond recapture. It is also ironic that paper will likely survive digital information – so hold onto those books all!

    And when your local library closes its doors for the last time, make certain, whatever dire straights you might be in at the time, to raid that building and remove as many books as possible for preservation.

  • I also love books of all sorts, fiction and non-fiction. But if one is accumulating books now the MOST important ones are the ones that impart the knowledge of how to survive in a world without electricity or gasoline. I suggest books on identifying wild edible plants for instance. Tanning leather, making fires, cleaning game, etc would also likely become the books you most value.

    But we have also come to worship at the feet of our “knowledge” which is book knowledge. There are other sorts of knowledge that don’t come from books. I know what seedlings go with what plants or weeds and I could never put that down on paper. I just know it. Always frustrating when someone asks me. I know when it feels like a storm coming – if I don’t the dog knows it. I can know that without Google weather or a barometer. I can smell if a rat has been around but I can’t tell you how it smells much less put rat smell data into a book (although I am sure a scientist with an odor measuring machine can).

    What I am saying is that once we get our heads out of our books and out into the real world we can begin to experience and learn from experience. This knowledge is often set in multiple senses of our bodies. I don’t think this is magic, or spiritual, it is just what we gave up when we first sat down in kindergarten and stayed at desks for much of the rest of our lives. I think it is not at all the case that we have more knowledge than a hunter-gatherer, just different knowledge. And if the collapse weren’t to be so chaotic we could find great pleasure in re-learning the knowledge that comes from full engagement of our senses rather than just eyes and brain. For me, seeing the first chickweed seedlings pop up in the garden and identifying them from all the others is just as exciting as a new piece of information gleaned from a book. I enjoy both. But since I believe that once this civilization is gone we return to hunter-gatherers or go extinct and without oil a global civilization will never return, and on a resource depleted planet perhaps no civilization will ever return, world history becomes irrelevant. OTOH if we maintain some level of civilization those books will matter – if we go back to the book burning stage we hold might damn us, but I have decided to let the thought police do what they will – my copy of The God Delusion by Dawkins stays on the shelf ;)

  • Kathy

    Quite right – practical knowledge should be preserved first priority. I meant that but I also meant that it will be an absolute tragedy when knowledge so hard gained over the millennia should disappear. History, the Arts, Music, scientific, and so on. A tragedy. If I were an alien (and some think I am) looking down over such a loss, I would think these creatures absolutely insane for throwing all this away.

  • Here’s a story in our local newspaper talking about the increase in people growing their own gardens. They mention rising oil prices as being the root cause. Not quite talking about peak oil, but they’re getting there. :-)

  • Victor, part of me says you are right, but then their is the knowledge that shouldn’t be saved, how to make pesticides, nuclear bombs, even dynamite. And then their is the knowledge that solved one problem and created another, such as antibiotics creating antibiotic resistant super bugs, or cleanliness and antimicrobial handwashes etc. preventing disease and probably now the cause of all the increase in autoimmune disorders.

    I am fascinated to learn of all the life in a teaspoon of soil, but when I hold a bit of rich soil in my hand, I don’t need that knowledge to feel that it is alive. The knowledge tells me that my senses are right, but my sense of the soil in my hand, the smell of that soil may give me less “knowledge” but more pleasure.

    I fear that the head knowledge collected in all our books has perhaps reduced our joy in living for it disconnects us from sensing in other ways. I have to remind myself when I go outside to key into my ears, my mind is so busy thinking about stuff. This is not something a hunter-gatherer would have to do. When I disconnect my overactive brain the world comes alive with sound, sight, smell, and feel.

  • the virgin terry,

    I think you are misrepresenting my comments. I was not saying that the ideal of anarchy is a bad thing. Wouldn’t it indeed be wonderful if the words of the Beetles song “Imagine” were to suddenly become the way of the world. The point I was trying to make, and obviously did it poorly, is that in a collapse situation a significant part of the population, your neighbors, are likely to think that their survival is more important than yours. Wishing for a world of peace and brotherhood, post collapse, is no different that “the Cosmist’s” dream of a multi-world space confederation peopled by cyberbeings. It’s magical thinking.

    Michael Irving

  • More on Fukushima and Chernobyl

    …distinguished nuclear expert Helen Caldicott called Fukushima an unprecedented “absolute disaster,” multiples worse than Chernobyl. “The situation is very grim and not just for the Japanese people. If both reactors blow then the whole of the northern hemisphere may be affected. Only one (Chernobyl) reactor blew, and it was only three months old with relatively little radiation. (Fukushima’s) have been operating for 40 years, and would hold about 30 times more radiation than Chernobyl.” It killed nearly one million people and counting, according to the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS). Yet the official IAEA figure was 4,000. NYAS’ report said:
    “This is a collection of papers translated from the Russian with some revised and updated contributions. Written by leading authorities from Eastern Europe, the volume outlines the history of the health and environmental consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. According to the authors, official discussions from the (IAEA) and associated (UN) agencies (e.g. the Chernobyl reports) have largely downplayed or ignored many of the findingins reported in the Eastern European scientific literature and consequently have erred by not including these assessments.”

    Full story at

    Note the NY Academy of Science figure for Chernobyl is close to the figures I quoted from Rosalie Bertel. Also a surprise to me that Chernobyl had been operating only 3 mos and therefore had far less fuel on site than at Fukushima.

  • Robbin Datta,

    You said: “The best of humanity is brought out in anarchies.”

    Explain the genocide in Rwanda.

    Michael Irving

  • Rwanda was one group imposing its will on another. after a military defeat: at no time during that episode was there an absence of political authority.

  • Robbin Datta,

    I have been reviewing your statements comparing the vileness of government to the beauty of anarchy. In every case you are comparing the ideal of anarchy against the imperfections of the real world. I was noting in my remarks that often the real face of anarchy is very different from the ideal you hold up as the example. Explain to me how a group agrees on a communal action (to go south to hunt rather than north) if not through a pure form of democracy, one man/one vote. Are you suggesting people always agreed to everything? Are you thinking the boss decides what to do? Do they just go out willy-nilly and do whatever pleases them without any form of cooperation?

    Michael Irving

  • Our House of Cards:

    We will expire because of multiple “accidents” that cannot be avoided,because of the impossibly fragile state of our existence.
    We have layered stories of fragility,one upon another as in a house of cards.

    The first layer of fragility,and the beginning of the end,as Guy has
    pointed out here before is agriculture.For the first time humans delegated their sustanance to others.It was taken for granted that
    there would always be someone to grow our food for us.Fast forward to
    todays insanity of Guy’s 3,000 mile Caesar Salad.Put it into Google,and
    read what we said about that.

    The second story of fragility was civilization,which is highly unnatural
    and artificial.The real purpose of the Ten Commandments,was to teach people how to live in proximity to those of a differnt tribe,without stealing from,killing,or raping the wife of the differnt one.These are all natural human tendencies that had to be countered,but which today pose insurmountable problems for the human species.

    The third layer of fragility is capitalism,which is based on vanity,envy,and greed.Anyone who doubts that this is a fragile arrangement,has no understanding of human nature and history.

    The fourth, and possibly the most deadly layer of all is,is technology.
    It is always,and in many differnt ways self-defeating.Look to the nuclear accident in Japan for just one example.But instant information,
    combined with all the rest,is the most deadly of all.All of the turmoil
    in the Middle East,started with one fed up,self immolating Tunisian.Modern information technology allowed his death to reach the
    world instantly,with devastating results that are just beginning to unfold.Did I mention Peak Oil?

    The human house of cards,is so high,and so unstable that accidents are unavoidable.Industrial civilization cannot long survive.

    Double D

  • The preservation of books of all kinds should be pretty high up on the to-do list of most of us here, I think. Problems will be encountered in such preservation as months without temperature and humidity regulation turn into years, and will have devastating effects on pages and bindings. Much will be lost to water damage as structures decay and books are exposed to the elements. Rodents will gnaw at bindings they can get to. Then there is the matter of wear and tear from heavy use, whith particular titles like those Kathy mentioned being most severely exposed to. Desire for the latter may lead to some titles becoming worthy of theft, especially in decades to come, as more and more titles go out of print, never to see re-publication. Caretakers of such books may end up having to protect their charges through violent means, as they would their gardens and livestock and food stores.

    I am afraid many beautiful tomes will be lost forever as artistic appreciation gives way to practicality and the inevitable creeping ignorance.

    I suspect the problem of long-term storage and preservation will become apparent all too soon to those of us who choose to be such stewards.

    Best wishes to all here.


  • Frank,

    Good points. Nice to see you back.

  • Frank, excellent.

    Christopher and all who want to save books do save one book, Canticle for Leibowitz in which “Isaac Edward Leibowitz had been a Jewish electrical engineer working for the United States military. Surviving the (nuclear) war, he converted to Roman Catholicism and founded a monastic order, the “Albertian Order of Leibowitz”, dedicated to preserving knowledge by hiding books, smuggling them to safety (booklegging), memorizing, and copying them. ” Fast forward a thousand plus years and those books led to re-establishing civilization and once again being on the verge of nuclear war.

    This knowledge that we have in our books is not something our species has ever shown that they could use for good. Oh I know the Declaration of Independence (written by a slave owner and adulterer), and the Bill of Rights (in a country that only landowners could exercise the vote) and the end of slavery (out of sight out of mind) and the end of disease (not quite, disease may still end us) and the rise of education (in a country that still falls prey to the propaganda of the church and state – evolution false, global warming a hoax). We can with our great knowledge wipe out a whole city with one bomb. With our great knowledge we defeated smallpox – wiped it off the face of the planet, but kept some just in case in our secure labs.

    As I argue the point I am becoming more convinced that we need to have a book burning. You see what Liebowitz was saving the books from was not mold or dust but rather the people, who enraged at what knowledge and technology had done, wanted to prevent the world from ever going that route by destroying all the books. Liebowitz loved knowledge and thought it would be good to save it and that knowledge led in the book to history repeating itself. Only a novel, and with Peak Oil we won’t have to worry about mankind ever reaching that level of technology again, but the knowledge has turned out in the end to be dangerous to human existence and irrelevant to hunter-gatherers.

    “In 1962, Russell took another stab at integrating words and pictures with The History of the World in Epitome: for use in Martian infant schools. Russell was even more fed up with the human race by then; the book makes its point in just 11 pages. Here is the text in its entirety: “Since Adam and Eve ate the apple, man has never refrained from any folly of which he was capable.” The last picture in the book is of a mushroom cloud.”

  • Robbin Datta,

    I apologize for being so dense. I clearly do not understand what anarchy is. When I read the definition in Webster’s (“1. General disorder from lack of government.”) I jumped to the conclusion that it meant in some situations where there is a lack of government there might be general disorder and that would be called anarchy. I went further to assume that if the government is exerting no control then there could be anarchy. Clearly I did not understand that anarchy is political only and has nothing to do with the actions of individuals. It has nothing to do with running amok.

    Michael Irving

  • Victor,

    The non-event continues:

    “The French radiation protection authority, Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire (IRSN), estimates the radioactive releases of iodine-131 in Japan had reached about 2.4 million curies by March 22, 2011. That is about 160,000 times the best estimate of the amount released during the TMI accident in Pennsylvania (15 curies) and about 140,000 times the maximum estimate of 17 curies. It is about 10 percent of the estimated amount released during the Chernobyl accident, according to the IRSN.”

    Michael Irving

  • As noted before by Guy “We’re Toast”

    “Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced yesterday an enormous expansion in coal mining that threatens to increase U.S. climate pollution by an amount equivalent to more than half of what the United States currently emits in a year. A statement from Wild Earth Guardians, Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife put the announcement in perspective:
    When burned, the coal threatens to release more than 3.9 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, equal to the annual emissions from 300 coal-fired power plants, further cementing the United States as a leading contributor to climate disruption … Salazar’s announcement is a stark contrast to his call for clean energy. Interior, for example, touted that in 2010, 4,000 megawatts of renewable energy development were authorized. And in today’s press conference, Secretary Salazar announced Interior’s intent to authorize more than 12,000 megawatts of renewable energy by the end of next year … Yet in opening the door for 2.35 billion tons of coal mining, Salazar’s announcement effectively enables more than 300,000 megawatts of coal-fired energy — 30 times more dirty energy development than renewable energy.”

  • Kathy,

    Am I to understand that you would keep your copy of The God Delusion safe during these book-burnings? Or would you exempt it, that future generations might be spared the ravages of organized religion? (I have my own treasured copy, by the way.)


  • “We’re toast”,ProfEmGuy.

    The ultimate pun.

    Double D

  • Christopher, I will keep The God Delusion even if it takes me down. I am a stubborn woman. I have not noticed however that it has any impact at all in changing the god delusion of this country with supposed universal education. Nor have I noticed that anyone is mourning the loss of habeas corpus much less knowing what that means. The good books won’t help us and the dangerous knowledge we are probably better off without.

    Do you know anyone who gave up religion because they read Dawkins?

    I will keep my books as long as I can. I do treasure them. I understand the urge to save libraries, but I really think it best if humans go back to what they were meant to be, people who read the signs of nature not lines on a page. Maybe they had and will have again god’s that cause a bit of trouble for them, but Jehovah the ravisher of minds will bite the dust when civilization falls.

  • During WWII twelve scientists, starved rather than eat the seeds in the Leningrad seed bank. That seed bank is now under siege by those who want to develop the land

    They died for a base of “knowledge” that in the future, if it is saved will be far more important than most books (assuming a return to a largely agricultural life rather than a return to H-G). However agriculture is what made civilization possible and civilization led to such things as WWII….

    Oh what the heck, Marianne and Librarian, go for it, work to save some libraries, some books. You may well die in the effort, but we all die anyway. Please don’t put much hope however in the books you value, with the values you prize, ever making much of an impact on humanity. We read with one brain, we act mostly from programs buried deep in our ancient reptilian brain. All we can do is remember the dream of Camelot :)

  • Kathy, there’s more to knowledge than how to make bombs.

    There’s poetry too, for example. And great stories, like Daphnis and Chloe, a rather obscure love novel written by the poet Longus but one of my favorites. You may want to look up that story.

    So Kathy, will you be as happy to see poetry go as you are to see bombs?

  • Speaking of Camelot, recently I watched the movies “Bobby” and “Shut Up and Sing.”

    I had forgotten RFK’s speech the day after MLK was killed. In part he said:
    “But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.”

    Then the Dixie Chicks reminded me that here in America most of us have just thrown any idea of a shared brotherhood on the trash heap.

    Michael Irving

  • imperfections of the real world.

    If someone is oppossed to a milicary conflict that the state undertakes, or opposed to a policy that the state promotes (such as “pro-choice” or “pro-life” and therefore refuses to contribute to the revenues of the state, the state will initiate force to take what the state considers its due. If the person resists, that person may be incarcerated or even killed. It is not just an imperfection: it is wilful malevolence.

    the real face of anarchy is very different from the ideal you hold up as the example


    The Free Dictionary Online:
    Absence of any form of political authority.
    a state of society without government or law.

    Attempts to impose an oligarchy, however limited in time and space, cannot posoibly be construed “the real face of anarchy”. There is a distinction between anarchy and oligarchy.

    Explain to me how a group agrees on a communal action (to go south to hunt rather than north) if not through a pure form of democracy, one man/one vote. Are you suggesting people always agreed to everything? Are you thinking the boss decides what to do? Do they just go out willy-nilly and do whatever pleases them without any form of cooperation?

    Here is a very detailed explanation:
    Practical Anarchy

    To initiate force to compel compliance with an agreed communal action is a rejection of the universality of the non-initiation of force. it does not matter whether it is one man one vote, or a boss deciding what to do. If the non-initiation of force is not universal, it is not morally mandatory on anyone.

    It is the rote repetition from the same perception that anarchy is chaos, that leads to the presumption that people “just go willy-nilly and do whatever pleases them without any form of cooperation”. Anarchy does not imply chaos.

    One man one vote is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner.

    One of the great advantages to farm human livestock is that unlike animal livestock, once trained, the livestock will self-police: if any member of the herd suggests that the farm is unethical at its moral roots and should be dismantled, other members of the herd will promptly launch a censure of those ideas. This enormously helps the human livestock farmer by reducing the resources needod to control the herd. It takes a lot to undo the indoctrination: it may even take millennia!

  • As I argue the point I am becoming more convinced that we need to have a book burning.

    The next item for consideration is, who decides which books to burn?

    It reminds one of the Library of Alexandria at the time of the (Muslim) conquest of Egypt: the Caliph was told that there was a rare and extensive collection of books relating to the wisdom and knowledge of the ancients. The Caliph remarked that the books whose content was consonant with the Quran were superfluous, and the books that were at variance with the Quran were heretical: in either case, they could and should be disposed of. On the basis of that ruling, the Library of Alexandria was consigned to the fireplaces used to heat water for the “hamams” (public baths).

  • Robin Datta, you hit the nail on the head: “…who decides which books to burn?”

    Books likely contain much practical knowledge from long-gone indigenous peoples that would be of great use during and post-Collapse, especially regarding native plants. A good deal of useful folklore, like that in the Foxfire series, can be brought to bear to mitigate the transition through the bottleneck, and to shape a balanced life beyond.

    To throw out all “book-learnin'” because some of it (a good chunk, admittedly) contributed to the evils of civilization may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

  • I can’t really believe we are having this discussion on books. The writings of great men and women over the ages is priceless. Practicality of the written word is one thing as Kathy has suggested, but so to are those writings that lift the soul, feed the spirit, challenge the intellect, remind us of what we are capable of, what we should be. How could one even consider throwing away, or allowing to pass into oblivion the works of Shakespeare or Keats, Shelley, TS Elliot, the great poets, Augustine, Homer, the great philosophers, the great scientists?

    Certainly we need books to teach us how to live post-Collapse, but there is so, so much more to human life than surviving day to day. The investment in thought and the wide exploration of life and its meaning over the years by so many is a wealth that simply cannot be valued.

    This will be a tragedy of unfathomable proportions. For the sake of fossil fuels and the thoughtless search for ever-increasing technology, we as a species have sold our inheritance for a pittance, bankrupted our future, scraped our souls clean of a truly meaningful life, destroyed the accumulated knowledge of the ages – often purchased in blood – and taken with us a good portion of the natural world with it all.

    Indeed, one might rightly ask – do such creatures deserve to survive?

  • No knowledge gained from books has ever harmed a person – only its use in the hands of a wicked person. We always have the choice of what to do with knowledge gained. Such thought is tantamount to anti-science and anti-intellectualism. Even as a H-G I would hope that men will continue to observe the world about them and suppose its processes and capture its knowledge. I would hope that H-G would encourage intellectual endeavour to promote the well-being of their society.

  • The non-event continues


    Your sarcasm is withering… ;-)

    Recent developments are, of course, of highest concern. But I still stand on what I said – much of what is being reported in scaremongering, plain and simple. And the longer this event carries on, the more convinced I am that it is being brought under control and that, hopefully, no one will die from it. But even if some do die, not many will, mostly the hero workers on site. The source of the most serious radioactive leak will be found and fixed – one way or the other, even if they have to bury the entire site as was the case with Chernobyl. But do we have another Chernobyl here? Not by any means – not even close.

    We do, however, have an “economic Chernobyl” here. Japan might never recover from this. They have lost power that they might never be able to replace, and as a result, they might never be able to rebuild their economy. The impact upon their country and upon the global economy might indeed be far-reaching and dangerous to us all.

  • Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced yesterday an enormous expansion in coal mining that threatens to increase U.S. climate pollution by an amount equivalent to more than half of what the United States currently emits in a year.


    This is truly a disappointing announcement – we get what we deserve.

  • Librarian, as long as I am alive I can make new poems. If we totally destroy the planet so it is uninhabitable for human life, which seems ever more likely, no more poems will ever be made, and any saved books with poems will no longer be read.

    My problem is not with how much you love your books, I just fear that you don’t see how tenuous a hold the our species has on its continued existence.

    If to save the humans species, all books, all art, all music had to be destroyed would you agree that it was better for them to go than for the human species to become extinct? Do you think that all that is beautiful and good is in those books? If we lose them can we humans never think those thoughts again? I have seen wisdom, courage, and love in people with very little education.

  • BTW I have seen Van Gogh’s sunflowers and his starry nights. They are beautiful and evocative paintings. They are pale imitations of real sunflowers and real starry nights. I have listened to Bach, and Beethoven, and Mozart, and loved them although I must admit that it is Vilvaldi that stirs my soul. But I have also listened to the music that the Bayaka pygmy hunter gatherers make (as Recorded by Louis Sarno who married into the tribe), without any training, music for mushroom gathering, music for preparing for the hunt, music for all the daily activities of they lives. It stirs me on an even deeper level. If that music were all the human music left on the planet it would be more than enough. To make it no humans were taxed to pay the lord who supported those musicians, and no castratos were made of young boys to sing it.

    Our music, our books, our art, depend on the edifice of civilization to support them and that edifice is creaking. Yes I am willing to see all those go for civilization to crash, if need be, because otherwise no human ever makes a song or a drawing or tells a tale to others.

    If I had to choose, all the great works of music for the salvation of these people who make their music every day, I would choose these people

    Guess you can all be glad I am not the one choosing, but frankly those who are choosing are going to bring it all down and likely leave neither your books or any of us or the baka people. I think the question is very quickly becoming academic as we move ever closer to the last war

  • Wow! Oil is at the levels of 2008 again! 105 $/barrel again.

    I’m going to sharpen my knife! :-)

  • Yes, Kathy

    The truth of it al;l is that it will all be lost. I bemoan that personally. But I also understand your point and agree. We will not be left without music. We will not be left without poetry (poetry does not have to be written down!). We will not be left without storytelling – H-G’s have a long and “storied” history of that. Life will go on. The evidence of these things will pass away in time as will their memory. But I still think it a great tragedy.

  • Hi Michael,

    You asked several days ago:

    “Explain to me how a group agrees on a communal action (to go south to hunt rather than north) if not through a pure form of democracy, one man/one vote. Are you suggesting people always agreed to everything? Are you thinking the boss decides what to do? Do they just go out willy-nilly and do whatever pleases them without any form of cooperation?”

    I’ll preface my answer my noting that I’m not an expert, just interested enough in primitive and hunter-gatherer societies to have read a dozen or more anthropological books, mostly written for laypersons. I’ve also read through almost everything at The Anthropik Network at Good material there for understanding primitive societies.

    Now I’ll try to explain my understanding of how anarchistic, egalitarian communities approach decision making. Crucially, in such societies, no one coerces anyone else to do anything against his or her will (in many societies, adults don’t even coerce children.) For broad, community-wide, important decisions, it can take weeks or months of casual talking things out in one-on-one conversations to achieve consensus on a decision. Some groups have more formalized methods of reaching consensus with a shorter intense discussion, though that still involves at least hours if not days of talking. Success depends on the strong shared goals inherent to the tribe; everyone focuses on figuring out what’s best for the group and they all have a pretty similar idea of what that means…just not always the same ideas of how to get there.

    I haven’t read of any primitive tribes using one man one vote to decide things, nor of a boss telling others what to do. That doesn’t mean that elders or people with strong skills in a certain area don’t have disproportionate influence on a decision. If the successful tracker and hunter who’s paid attention to animal migration patterns for decades says that the tribe will have the best chance of finding deer to the south, then that’ll carry a lot of weight as the group makes their decision. If someone wants to do something requiring cooperation (a group hunt, for example) he or she will put the idea out there and whoever wants to join in, does so.

    We civilized humans have grown up our entire life molded into fairly uniform cogs-in-the-wheel by the tight set of rules around what we can and can not do. I think we have a *lot* of trouble understanding the freedom, flexibility, and individuality of hunter-gatherers. Certainly tribal people learn ethics around interpersonal and inter-ecological relationships, to guide how they work with the others around them. But beyond that, people don’t have many “rules”. People set their own schedules of work and play and rest. If someone wants to do something, they can usually do it without needing to run it by anyone or get approval from the group. People don’t have to act in a uniform manner or coordinate all that much with each other. In fact, tribes routinely split up for weeks or months at a time, due to resource scarcity, or wanting to harvest and utilize different resources in different places, or interpersonal squabbles driving people to seek their own space miles away for a while.

    So my final, simplified answer to your question of how a group decides to go south rather than north: the group talks it out. If everyone agrees on the best strategy, they all go south. If some people think they’ll find better hunting to the north, they split up for a while. Eventually they’ll connect up again, share their experiences, and everyone will have a bit more knowledge to make the best decision for him or herself the next time around.

    I hope that helps explain anarchy in practice. To me, anarchy means self-empowerment and freedom to make decisions for oneself. Of course to work well, that has to be embedded within a culture of everyone acting for the greater good of the group. Our upbringing in a capitalistic, every man for himself, greed is good culture (reinforced by the focus on competitive “survival of the fittest” aspects of nature while ignoring the equally important “survival of the communities who work best together”) can make it really difficult to understand how a group could function if everyone can just “go out willy-nilly and do whatever pleases them.”


  • Thanks for your information and thoughtful post. The guiding light for H-G’s would seem to be find what works for the survival of the tribe and do it. No “isms” to distract anyone. Sounds pretty much like what evolution does.

  • The Curmudgeon Report

    We will do anything and everything to maintain our present personal level of energy use and the comfort it affords us. We will do anything and everything to the earth, to other people and even to ourselves to continue on this path. And if we don’t have the energy level we see others have, we will do anything and everything to the earth, to other people and even to ourselves to attain that level. The proof of this assertion is simple; we are doing it.

  • I like the speed of online roulette ! No standing in qeues, waiting for gamblers to finish with a machine.