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Waiting For The Fall

Waiting For The Fall

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, hasn’t it? A Pfizer executive admitted under oath that all those claims that the Covid vaccine would protect you from catching Covid had no data at all backing them.  Inevitably, corporate media flacks are now insisting at the top of their lungs, in the teeth of ample evidence, that nobody ever made the claims in question. Ukrainian agents used a truck bomb to damage the bridge that links Crimea to Russia; Russia, which has supposedly been running out of missiles since about a week since their forces invaded Ukraine, responded by sending a flurry of the missiles they aren’t supposed to have any more to blow up another round of Ukrainian targets, focusing on the energy and transport facilities the Ukrainians are going to need to face the massive winter offensive Russia is all too clearly preparing..

The rate of inflation here in the US has reached levels not seen since Jimmy Carter’s day, while the economy in the US and globally is reeling in ways that normally signal a serious recession on the way.  The mix of inflation and recession is called “stagflation,” for those of you who don’t remember the Seventies, and it’s no fun. The prices of fossil fuels are swinging all over the place, up because supplies are dwindling, down because a failing economy means that fewer people will be able to afford to burn them.  Oh, and Greta Thunberg has come out in favor of nuclear power, because it’s less ecologically damaging than burning coal.  (As you’d expect from a child of privilege, the one thing she can’t possibly imagine is getting by with a lot less.)

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Futures That Work

Futures That Work

Among the most curious features of the current predicament of industrial society is that so much of it was set out in great detail so many decades ago. Just at the moment I’m not thinking of the extensive literature on resource depletion that started appearing in the 1950s, which set out in painstaking detail the mess we’re in right now. I’m thinking of those writers who explored the decline and fall of past civilizations, in the vain hope that ours might manage to avoid making all the usual mistakes.  In particular, I’m thinking of Arnold Toynbee.

Toynbee’s all but forgotten these days, but three quarters of a century ago his was a name to conjure with. His gargantuan 12-volume work A Study of History set out to trace the histories of all known civilizations and, from that data set, determine the factors that drove the rise and fall of human societies. One- and two-volume abridgements leaving out most of the supporting data were widely available back in the day—my parents, who were not exactly highbrow East Coast intellectuals, had a copy on a bookshelf in the family room when my age was still in single digits. Plenty of academic historians denounced Toynbee, but a great many people read his work and saw the value in it.

Those days are of course long past, but there’s an interesting twist to the disappearance of his ideas from the collective dialogue of our time. Those ideas weren’t rejected because they turned out to be wrong. They were rejected because Toynbee was right.

To summarize an immense body of erudite historical analysis far too briefly, Toynbee argued that new human societies emerge when a human society is faced with a challenge it can’t meet using its previous habits of thought and action…

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Before Winter Comes

Before Winter Comes

I didn’t think it would be necessary for me to start talking about energy issues quite so soon. Granted, industrial civilization remains hopelessly dependent for its very survival on dwindling supplies of fossil fuels, which are being used up at breakneck paces to prop up the absurdly extravagant lifestyles of a handful of rich nations.  Granted, the “green energy revolution” that soaked up so much investment money in recent decades turned out to be yet another gargantuan giveaway to corporations, while plenty of more modest investments that might have done some good got deep-sixed because they didn’t make the kleptocratic rich even richer. Granted, our governments have wasted decades we didn’t have to spare and squandered resources that might have enabled us to cushion the descent into the deindustrial future ahead of us.

Even so, I thought we had a little longer before the remorseless mathematics of depletion tipped us over from rising prices to actual shortages. Of course I didn’t expect the Russo-Ukrainian War to break out, or for Europe to respond with a flurry of shrill denunciations and ineffective sanctions while still demanding that Russia keep supplying it with oil and natural gas.  Russia’s angry riposte hasn’t just driven energy bills across Europe to unprecedented heights. It’s also shown just how brittle global energy markets have become—and that in turn offers fair warning of how little spare capacity the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves have left.

Those of my readers who remember the energy crises of the 1970s, as I do, may be forgiven a certain sense of déjà vu.  Back then it was a war between Israel and an alliance of Arab nations that caused a major fossil fuel supplier to yank their product from the market, sending prices skyrocketing…

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The Great Rehash, Part Three: Unsafe and Ineffective

The Great Rehash, Part Three: Unsafe and Ineffective

In the first two parts of this sequence of posts (12), I’ve outlined the background of the Great Reset, Klaus Schwab’s dreary rehash of the last half century or so of fix-the-world schemes, and used the creation and destruction of the Georgia Guidestones as a lens through which to see how those schemes have so reliably run face first into the brick wall of reality.  In this third part of the sequence I want to put those phenomena in a broader context.

My regular readers will not be surprised to hear that there are historical parallels for the situation we’re in, in which a complex society is managed by a caste of privileged intellectuals convinced that their mastery of abstract notions makes them uniquely qualified to run the world. That’s a common state of affairs at a certain point in the history of civilizations.  My regular readers won’t be surprised, either, to learn that quite often the point in question is roughly where the first half of the time-honored phrase “decline and fall” gives way to the second half.

Something of the sort happens tolerably often when a clerisy ends up in control of a society.  A clerisy?  Why, yes. For those of my readers who aren’t familiar with the further shores of English vocabulary, a clerisy is a group of people whose claim to privilege is that they’re better educated and therefore, at least in theory, smarter than the rest of us.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was a better poet than philosopher and a better philosopher than political theorist, coined the word in 1818. He believed that in order to flourish, humanity needed the guidance of a secular organization of well-educated people to tell the rabble what to think…

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The Great Rehash, Part One: The Best and the Brightest

The Great Rehash, Part One: The Best and the Brightest

July seems to be a good time for explosions, and not just in Fourth of July fireworks displays in the US.  Already this month, a bomb blew up a controversial monument in rural Georgia, while on the other side of the world in Sri Lanka an angry mob stormed the presidential palace and drove the president into exile.  These two events have more in common than a first glance might suggest.  A dull book in a dull blue cover sitting on the endtable next to my sofa will help explain the link between them.

The book is Covid-19: The Great Reset by Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret. It was published in 2020 by the house press of Schwab’s pet organization, the World Economic Forum (WEF), and got the usual praise from the usual pundits in the allegedly serious end of the corporate media. Somewhat less usually, it also attracted a great deal of attention from conspiracy theorists around the world, who made the same kind of hay out of it that their equivalents did two decades ago from George Bush’s offhand remark about a “new world order.” Mention the Great Reset in a good many circles these days and you can count on the sort of reaction you’d expect from talking about the Ku Klux Klan in your local African-American neighborhood.

There are valid reasons for that reaction, though they’re not among the points your common or garden variety conspiracy theorist is likely to mention first in conversation. Those reasons also benefit from a little explanation.  To understand why so bland and inconsequential a volume as Covid-19: The Great Reset has gotten the reputation of a latter-day Mein Kampf, it’s helpful to start from a different point:  the simple fact that the book is stunningly unoriginal.

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Running On Empty

Running On Empty

Well, we definitely seem to have passed a threshold of sorts. For most of the sixteen years since I started blogging, one of the things I had to point out constantly to my readers was the slow pace of historical change.  Whenever I posted an essay on the twilight of industrial society, I could count on fielding at least one comment from a reader who expected the entire modern world to crash and burn in the next few months.  I’d have to patiently remind them that Rome wasn’t sacked in a day—that it takes years of breathtakingly moronic decisions motivated by mindless greed, vicious partisan hatred, blind ideological dogmatism, and a total unwillingness to think about the long-term consequences of short-term decisions, to bring a civilization down.

Now of course all through the years while I was telling people this, decisions of the kind I’ve just described, guided by motives of the sort I’ve just characterized, were standard operating procedure throughout the industrial world.  Those proceeded to have their usual effect. I still don’t expect modern civilization to crash to ruin in the next few months, but it’s reached the point that I no longer have to tell people that the Long Descent won’t show up as soon as they think. No, at this point it’s my ironic duty to suggest that they make whatever preparations they have in mind sooner rather than later, because the world shows no signs of waiting for them.

As I write this, the most obvious set of problems has to do with the economies of the United States and its client states. Those of my readers who follow financial media already know that signs of economic trouble are elbowing one another out of the way to get to the front pages…

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Whispers of the Fall

Whispers of the Fall

It’s been sixteen years now since I first started posting these weekly essays to the internet. Though I didn’t originally intend them to focus on the crisis of industrial society, that theme was impossible for me to evade, and I soon gave up trying; there was too much that had to be said about the future of our age, and too few people were saying it.  Over the years that followed, I watched (and joined in) the peak oil movement as it rose and fell, watched (and kept my distance from) the parallel movement of climate change activism as it rose and fell, watched (and dealt in my own life with some of the consequences of) the slow twilight of America’s global empire and the vaster twilight of Western civilization as a whole—and all of those got discussed in blog posts.

I sometimes get asked by readers what happened to all the fuss about peak oil, and now and again someone brings up one of the other topics I’ve talked about over the years and wonders what’s up with those. A glance back over those four themes thus seems appropriate just now. Partly, a retrospective look is a useful thing from time to time, and partly—well, we’ll get to that.

We can start with peak oil.  Starting in the middle years of the twentieth century, a handful of petroleum geologists began to point out that building a civilization on the breakneck extraction and consumption of nonrenewable fossil fuels would have an awkward downside once the fuels began to run short. Their concerns were brushed aside by almost everyone else.  When the United States—the first nation on earth to start extracting oil commercially…

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The Revolt of the Imagination, Part Three: Co-Creating the Future

The Revolt of the Imagination, Part Three: Co-Creating the Future

As I write these words, the Russo-Ukrainian war has raged for a week.  To a great many people, crises like these make the theme of my recent posts here—the potential of the human imagination—seem wholly irrelevant.  That’s a common mistake, but it’s still a mistake. To begin with, let’s please remember that wars and the political and economic crises that drive them are normal parts of human experience.  Granted, for the last three quarters of a century there’s been very little open warfare in the industrial world, but in the nonindustrial world—which is after all where most human beings live—insurgencies, civil wars, and wars between nations have been very nearly as common as ever.

The industrial nations have been relatively peaceful because they’ve been subject to the global hegemony of the United States.  That hegemony is cracking around us, and the Ukraine war puts the decline in American power into high relief. As something like 225,000 Russian troops drive deep into Ukraine, supported on the ground by tanks and artillery and from the air by waves of fighter-bombers and cruise missiles, and Ukranian military units and civilian irregulars confront them on battlefields scattered across Europe’s second largest country, the US response consists of moving a few token forces to countries well out of the line of fire, and imposing yet another round of financial sanctions aimed at Russian politicians—you know, the sort of meaningless gestures that have reliably failed to accomplish anything when used against other hostile nations for decades now.  It’s a good question why this response remains so rigidly glued in place, despite its abject failures…

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The Revolt of the Imagination, Part Two: No More Secondhand Futures

The Revolt of the Imagination, Part Two: No More Secondhand Futures

In a post here two weeks ago I discussed the disastrous failure of imagination on the part of the industrial world’s governing classes. Since then—well, let’s just say that for connoisseurs of elite cluelessness, it’s a target-rich environment out there.

We’ll choose one such target more or less at random.  Last week’s news was briefly illuminated, if that’s the word, by yet another claim that fusion power is racing to the rescue of the industrial world, bearing “near-limitless clean power” to  solve the climate crisis and bail out the otherwise unsustainable lifestyles of our society’s privileged classes. The handwaving this time emanated from the Joint European Torus (JET) in Culham, England, where scientists managed to sustain a fusion reaction for a little more than twice as long as any previous fusion device. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?  The excitement may flag a bit if you read the fine print and discover that the new record was around five seconds.

The scientists boasted that during that five seconds, the reaction produced enough energy to power one house for a day. If this seems impressive to you—I have to say it doesn’t do much for me—keep in mind also that the energy they’re talking about is raw heat.  They didn’t factor in the inevitable losses that come in when you take that heat, convert it into electricity via steam turbines or the like, and send it out into the grid. Nor did they subtract from their machine’s output the very considerable inputs of energy that had to go into making the reaction happen—fusion only happens at extremely high temperatures, and a tokamak-style reactor like the one in Culham also requires fantastically strong magnetic fields to confine the hot plasma…

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The Revolt of the Imagination, Part One: Notes on Belbury Syndrome

The Revolt of the Imagination, Part One: Notes on Belbury Syndrome

Maybe it’s true that life really does imitate literature. Over the last week or so, certainly, a detail from one of my favorite works of imaginative fiction played out at least twice in the real world, with microphones live and cameras rolling. I’m thinking here first of German Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach, who promoted vaccine mandates with this bit of fascinating logic:  “No one will be vaccinated against their will; the vaccine mandates will simply lead people, ultimately, to accept voluntary vaccination.”  See if you can find a way to parse those words that makes sense of them. I can tell you already that it doesn’t help to read them in the original German.

Then there’s Jen Psaki, spokesflack-in-chief for poor bumbling Joe Biden. She was asked by a reporter at a recent presser about the people, and of course there are a great many of them, who are increasingly worried about the future of the United States under Biden’s inept leadership.  Her response? “My advice to everyone out there who’s frustrated, sad, angry, pissed off, feel those emotions, go to a kickboxing class, have a margarita.” For sheer crazed detachment from the world the rest of us inhabit, that’s hard to beat, especially when you recall that her boss campaigned saying he would, you know, fix the country’s problems. Maybe her words make more sense in German, or for that matter in pig Latin, but I doubt it.

What all this brings to mind, of course, is the climactic scene in C.S. Lewis’s tremendous fantasy That Hideous Strength. The villains of the piece, a collection of arrogant technocrats among whom Psaki and Lauterbach would fit in seamlessly, are gathered at their headquarters at Belbury for a banquet…

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Tomorrowland Has Fallen!

Tomorrowland Has Fallen!

Has anyone else noticed just how odd it is that so many people on the progressive end of our cultural landscape are frantically trying to convince everyone that the Omicron variant, the latest mutation of the Covid-19 cold virus, really is the end of the world? I freely grant that a lot of people are ill just now—that’s what usually happens in the temperate zone’s winter, you know, when the latest respiratory viruses make their rounds.  I grant just as freely that hospitals are scrambling to keep up—many of them have laid off up to half their staff as a result of vaccine mandates, after all, and they’re being besieged by mobs of people who have been convinced by the media that ordinary cold symptoms mean they’re about to die.

The result is a collective frenzy being eagerly fed by a great many people. Of course it’s not surprising that the corporate media would push scare stories at full volume. Whoring out the news to sell advertising space is their stock in trade, and “if it bleeds, it leads” has taken precedence over responsible journalism since before there was responsible journalism.  Still, this isn’t limited to the media.  A great many people seem remarkably eager to insist that the pandemic can’t be winding down. In that eagerness I sense the approach of convulsive change.

Granted, a case can be made that there are practical if unmentionable reasons for this habit of sedulously cultivated panic. To begin with, as Freddie deBoer has pointed out in a trenchant post, being terrified of the Covid virus has become a venue for status competition among members of the privileged classes.  It’s an old story, at least as old as that fine fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.”…

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On Domed Cities and Doomed Dreams

On Domed Cities and Doomed Dreams

Recently I’ve been reading the writings of the American philosopher William James. You won’t  see much discussion of his work among philosophers nowadays, and that’s not just because he happened to be white and male.  He had the bad luck to reach maturity as Western philosophy was in its death throes, and he added to that misfortune by having a mind clear and honest enough that he drew certain necessary conclusions from the intellectual struggles of his day.

He hasn’t yet been forgiven for those conclusions. There are reasons for that—understandable reasons, though not good ones.  The conclusions, and the reasons they’ve been ignored, have lost none of their relevance since his time.  Quite the contrary, the harsh conditions tightening their grip on our industrial civilization just now can’t really be understood without listening to what James and others like him were trying to say, and what those who denounced him were trying even harder not to hear. Thus we’re going to have to talk a little about the history of philosophy.

Yes, I know perfectly well that most people think of that subject, on the rare occasions that they think of it at all, as the dullest sort of useless academic trivia. They’re wrong, but there’s a lesson in the mistake. The next time Neil deGrasse Tyson throws one of his public hissy fits insisting that philosophy is just plain wrongety-wrong-wrong-wrong, I hope none of my readers are so slow on the uptake as to think this shows that philosophy doesn’t matter…

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The Next European War

The Next European War

The notion that history has nothing to teach us is one of the most pervasive beliefs in modern industrial society.  It’s also one of the most misguided. Sure, we’ve got all these shiny new technological trinkets, and we love to insist to ourselves that this means we’re constantly breaking new ground and going where no previous society has ever gone before. Clinging to that fond delusion, we keep on making mistakes that were already old when bronze swords were high tech, and flailing helplessly when the usual consequences yet again land on top of us.

The shambolic end of the US occupation of Afghanistan earlier this autumn is a case in point. The self-satisfied gooberocracy that runs the United States these days talked itself into believing that the hard-earned lessons of the Vietnam war didn’t matter any more, and sent American soldiers blundering into a country that earned the name “the graveyard of empires” long before the United States was a twinkle in Ben Franklin’s eye.  It wasn’t just Vietnam that the slackjawed warlords of Washington ignored, of course.  The Russians had their own messy experiences in Aghanistan, so did the British, so did half a dozen great Asian empires, and so did Alexander the Great. None of that made any difference, because the political class in the US had convinced itself that the past didn’t matter.

Back when the invasion first happened, wags suggested that “Kabul” is how you pronounce “Saigon” in Pashto, and of course they were quite right.  Having refused to learn from their history, four US administrations duly repeated it, right down to the humiliating final scenes of helicopters on rooftops and victorious insurgents parading with captured US military hardware…

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The End of the Dream

The End of the Dream

There are times when the winds that shape the future blow strong enough to be heard over the jabber of everyday life, and this is one of those times. For a while now I’ve been mulling over a handful of often-repeated comments on this blog, and I find that if I look through them, into the landscape of ideas that structure them, it’s possible to glimpse some of the driving forces behind the history of our era.

The comment that set off this most recent period of reflection came a couple of weeks ago. The person who wrote it complained that he’d tried to follow the advice I’ve offered for some time now—“collapse now and avoid the rush”—by trying to organize an intentional community up in the Italian mountains.  His project fell flat when nobody else wanted to join.  Having related this story, he proposed that other readers of this blog join with him to create “a meaningful, synergistic community.”

I’m embarrassed to say that I lost my temper and yelled at him. In my defense, I’d note that all through my blogging career I’ve been pointing out that the notion of heading off to the countryside to found an intentional community is not a viable response to the crisis of our age.  I proposed “collapse now and avoid the rush” as an alternative to that fantasy, not an excuse for it.  Thus it was annoying to see my suggestion plopped onto the Procrustean bed of collective chatter and turned into yet another excuse to chase the same overfamiliar mirage.  It was particularly annoying because that sort of reflexive flight from unfamiliar ideas happens astonishingly often these days.

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That Untraversed Land

That Untraversed Land

It’s been just over a month since I started talking about how the predictions set out in 1972 by The Limits to Growth were coming true in our time. Since then the situation has become steadily worse. As I write this, rolling blackouts are leaving millions of people in China to huddle in the dark and shutting down yet another round of factories on which the West’s consumer economies depend, while China’s real estate market lurches and shudders with bond defaults.  In Europe, natural gas supplies have run short, sending prices to record levels, while in Britain, the fuel they call petrol and we call gasoline is running short as well.  Here in the United States, visit a store—any store, anywhere in the country—and odds are you’ll find plenty of bare shelves.

Insofar as the corporate media is discussing these shortages at all, they’re blaming it on the shutdowns last year and on a lack of truck drivers to haul goods to market. They’re not wholly mistaken. During last year’s virus panic, many firms closed their doors or laid off employees, and production of energy resources, raw materials, and finished goods fell accordingly.  Now that most countries have opened up again, the energy resources, raw materials, and finished goods needed for ordinary economic life aren’t available, because the habit of just-in-time ordering that pervades the modern global economy leaves no margin for error.

The shortage of truck drivers is another product of the same set of policies.  During the shutdown period, many people—truck drivers among them—got thrown out of work. Because of the same  regulations that deprived them of work, they couldn’t look for other jobs, and the assistance programs meant to help people deal with the impact of the shutdowns weren’t noticeably more effective than such programs ever are…

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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