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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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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 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…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

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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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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The Negative-Sum Economy

The Negative-Sum Economy

There are tides and seasons in the comments I field for posts here on my blog, certain questions that get asked at regular intervals, certain saliva-flecked tirades I can count on getting whenever  certain things appear in my writings or happen in the world.  One of the more frequent of the questions is how to preserve wealth in the face of a difficult future.  This question pops up reliably when an economic crisis is on its way, as it happens, and I’ve started fielding it again in recent weeks; my readers may want to brace themselves.

Like so many of the common questions here, it’s an important question, and it has no simple answer. The combination of those features isn’t accidental. It’s an important question because it can’t be answered in any meaningful way without grappling with what wealth actually is, and it’s because wealth is not what most people think it is that the question has no simple answer.

We can start our exploration  with a lump of stone and metal  whizzing through the lethal radiation-soaked vacuum of interplanetary space between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.  Its name is Psyche, and it’s about the size of Greece.  It’s been splashed over the news in recent years because it’s got more metal in it than most other asteroids, and scientists have speculated that the metallic portions of Psyche might include a great deal of gold. Of course the mass media jumped on that instantly and started insisting that if only it could be dragged into our part of the solar system it would make everyone on Earth a billionaire.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Prayer for Nonbelievers

A Prayer for Nonbelievers

I was ten years old when The Limits to Growth first saw print.  I have a dim memory of seeing a  newspaper article or two about it, but I had other things on my mind in 1972—my parents got divorced that year, and an already difficult childhood promptly got much worse—and several years passed before I found time to read it.  Its portrayal of a future of hard limits made immediate sense to me.  Somehow I never managed to absorb the widespread American conviction that there will always be more so long as you whine for it loudly enough, and so the book became one of the volumes that shaped my youthful sense of where the future was headed.

In the 1970s you could talk about such things. The public library in Burien, Washington where I got most of my reading fodder then was well stocked with books on energy and the environment. If I couldn’t find what I wanted there I could catch the Route 130 bus to the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library, not yet replaced by the monument to architectural incompetence that now squats on its site, and bring home a double armload of volumes on similar topics. By that time, too, I had read enough to follow the logic of The Limits to Growth in detail.

It was not, as the corporate media insisted it was, a prophecy of doom.  That’s one of the details that got swept under the rug by the mainstream back in the 1970s and still gets swept under the rug by the project’s critics today.  The point of The Limits to Growth was that we as a species, and as a community of nations, had a choice…

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Potemkin Nation

Potemkin Nation

There are advantages to learning about history. One of the big ones is that patterns repeat themselves across historical time, and if you know what happened just before other societies went through the important inflection points in their life cycle, you can tolerably often figure out when one of those is about to happen in the place and time where you happen to be living. I was reminded of this last week when news dispatches from Afghanistan started showing up in the news aggregator sites I watch.

Afghanistan, in case any of my readers spent the last twenty years living under a rock, was invaded and mostly conquered by the United States in late 2001. Officially, this was in retaliation for the terrorist attacks that year; in the world of unmentionable facts, it was one of two beachheads established as part of the Bush II administration’s monumentally stupid attempt to conquer and pacify the Middle East—the other was of course Iraq.  A puppet Afghani government was duly installed and propped up by a steadily increasing expenditure of American dollars, munitions, and lives, while the US military went through the usual pantomime of nation-building and the corporate media took turns alternating between fawning over the latest imperial project and pretending to disapprove of it.

By 2016, however, the great majority of Americans were sick of this and other “forever wars” pursued by our elite classes.  Revulsion against Hillary Clinton’s enthusiastic cheerleading for a new war in Syria was thus one of the factors that gave Donald Trump his narrow win in that year’s election. I predicted in early 2021, once it became clear that Joe Biden had scraped out an equally narrow win in the 2020 election, that his administration would quietly copy as many of Trump’s policies as Biden’s handlers thought they could get away with…

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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