John Michael Greer’s weekly blog, The Archdruid Report always strikes deeply into the heart of industrial society. I’ve read a number of Greer’s non-fictional musings on the de-industrial future, including Not the Future We Ordered, The Ecotechnic Future, The Long Descent, and The Wealth of Nature (an obvious corrective to Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, and desperately needed gravity boots for “free-market” moonwalkers). If the spiraling crises of our time were a hurricane, then Greer’s projections might well form the central tendency of the cone of probability for landfall. His latest work titled Star’s Reach is a fictional account that imagines humanity’s next phase of de-industrial living.
Star’s Reach takes place several hundred years in the aftermath of global industrial collapse. The former continental United States has since broken apart into smaller regional states and allegiances by several bloody civil wars. In the current regional quasi-stability, the reader encounters both the post-industrial wreckage and recovery of civilization through the eyes of a senior apprentice of the ruinmen’s guild that scrapes out a hazardous living salvaging pre-extracted and refined materials conveniently left in ruins on the Earth’s surface by the industrial past. Because these resources were previously extracted to the energetic limits of industrial society, the ruins essentially represent the last resources of their kind to be extracted. In this low energy future, industrial complexity and the excesses of fossil-fueled growth have been severely pruned back, and life has re-proliferated more modestly along more pre-industrial, somewhat Medieval/Mercantilish arrangements.
Chastened by a mass die-off, a renewed, conservative reverence for Mother Nature has supplanted the heedless zealotry of the Myth of Infinite Progress, which left a wake of environmental destruction in the forms of catastrophic climate change, plague, uncontrolled nuclear meltdowns, and a toxic legacy of developmental and DNA derangements, resulting in high mortality rates and widespread hermaphroditism. A reversion to matrilineal primacy is further evident in the politically powerful and tightly controlled sorority exclusive to women able to give viable, normal birth; as well as in the guild of Priestesses that lay down the law on activity Ma’m Gaia permits and what she forbids, such as the unapproved burning of fossil fuels (punishable by death); not to mention the female President of Meriga who has kept further civil wars at bay for the past 40 years.
De-industrial life, trimmed back and ordered at lower complexity, having more conservative cultural sensibilities, and simpler pleasures, remains harder and less plentiful than before TEOTWAWKI. And it may not be improving. As with all finite resource problems, even the ruinmen, and thus society at large, face diminishing returns after having picked the low hanging fruit of industrial salvage. Further, vast amounts of valuable knowledge had been lost during the centuries of cascading, catabolic collapse, so one of the (typically illiterate) ruinman’s skills includes rescuing disintegrating written materials, the value of which is initially ascertained by freelance “failed scholars” hired by ruinman guilds before being sent to remnant universities for transcription, cataloging, preservation, interpretation, and any selective diffusion.
The story itself begins when our half-literate ruinman apprentice nearly becomes “reborn” into Ma’m Gaia’s embrace upon unearthing his masterwork, a tangible written clue to the existence of a legendary industrial project known as Star’s Reach, a clue he can use to either lay claim to the site as his own dig, if it actually exists and he can find it, or which he can surely sell for substantial lifestyle changes. In taking the gamble, our newly-minted Mister takes on his own apprentice (full of surprises, that kid!), and embarks on a Hobbity adventure that attracts a socially cross-sectional cast of characters whose unfolding motivations collectively reveal an underlying societal tension between post-collapse cultural humility and the human urges for progress and power. In addition to touring post-collapse American landscapes and customs (we still drink, cuss and privately stuff fuzzy little rabbits in one another’s ears in the future) THERE ARE IMPORTANT MESSAGES OUT THERE WAITING FOR YOU. There may also be a guild or two you haven’t heard of. Now that’s a darn good tale!
P.S. If you’re looking for some despairing, forlorn, gritty and hopeless post-apocalyptic, graphic nightmare of a yarn, Star’s Reach is definitely not that book. It is a far cry from The Road.
Way back when I read Jane Goodall’s books, I came across a picture of a chimp leaning back on a tree, like a migrant worker at lunch, staring into the distant trees. It was captioned something like, “Evered in the forest.” At the time, I mistakenly read “evered” as an adverb, e.g., as “perpetually,” a chimp contemplating the forest until the end of time. I loved that caption, and still do. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that Evered is an actual name, like Burt or Ernie, that she applied.
Anywho, I just noticed Goodall on the Colbert Report (the greatest television presence ever?), and she killed on the topics of forests and chimps. It’s rare to see someone wittier than Colbert (even though he often boxes with kid gloves to midwife his points via his character. In that respect, his talents are wildly exceptional. She was more than up to the task, and his kid gloves got smoked, to his appreciative surprise.).
Both the chimps (our nearest relatives) and forests are going away, which doesn’t sound good for us. What? Are we gonna write an app that makes it all okay? No, Sir. No, Ma’am. At that point we’re cooked.
I’ve got a buddy at Tufts who teaches AI (and co-teaches with Daniel Dennett, prolly the world’s most famous living philosopher). They are dreaming of post-organic evolution, but entire sabbaticals get wasted on starting page-one of their books. True story.
They are about the smartest people available, and I’ve been in flagship institutions.
Back in high school, I did a very ugly and atypical thing, chucking the backwash of my slurpee in the direction of Joey, who was a fine medium distance runner, even though mentally retarded. It was midday on the quad, lunchtime. At about 300 milliseconds afterwards, approximately the time of nerve conduction, I took a hard sock in the head from Nadine Ramirez, one of the huskier babes on the track team, a shot-putter who could throw a punch, but a flat-out babe nonetheless. She probably did it thinking to punish me for my cruelty. And that’s more than good enough reasoning for me. My theory is different, however. She did it to make me switch tracks, think about something else other than my experimental hormones, immediately. Like, NOW. Evidence? She never held it against me (and I never her) afterwards. Like I said, it was totally unlike me, and we both knew it, but she was the smarter of us then. Prolly still now. Smooches, babe.
“Ecosystem Services” is the brilliant phrase dreamed up by greenies who have bought capitalism hook, line, and sinker and aim to appeal to the biological ignorance of genius accountants and magical entrepreneurs. The idea is that the oysters that once existed in Chesapeake Bay provided “billions of dollars in water filtration services” before they were wiped off the planet. As if capitalists cared who moved their cheese. They constantly move to new cheese, without a second’s thought. And as if Nature gave a fuck about these impresarios of doom. She doesn’t.
I’ve been driving myself like a slave putting raised beds in the garden, because last year’s garden was going very well until the gophers arrived. So, I’ve been building 6′ x 3′ boxes from redwood fencing and hanging gopher-wire baskets beneath them. I’ve gone Caddyshack. It’s not just gophers, but deer, also, which I will drive from the land amidst their mothers’ lamentations. I’ve put in thousands of feet of deer fence, and that job is nearly done. Fuck the fucking deer, ‘tho’ I love them dearly, and hate driving them from their ever-dwindling home ranges. I killed about a zillion worms in the garden violently excavating for the boxes. Hate that, too, but they’ll be back in hordes once the super-kick-ass compost goes in on top of last years super-kick-ass. The super-kick-ass consists of redwood sawdust, local organic compost, and chicken manure. That’s on top of my personal composting over the past few years, wherein I literally sieved-out the forking California adobe clay, added a shite-load of red cedar pine needles for friability, then two years of kitchen waste and grass clippings. The sheer yardage of soil moved by hand is mind-boggling. This soil is pure kick-ass and the garden is going to explode this year.
I knocked myself out yesterday. When the afternoon breeze finally arrived, my sweat-soaked gratitude was the pure exaltation of nature herself. Why do I work like a nineteen-year-old at my age? At precisely 4:58 pm, the gin tonics started flowing as I finished up the eighth of 32 forthcoming boxes. Per my sister-in-law’s instructions, it will be a pleasure to work in that productive garden when I’m done. I may not have the balls of a nineteen-year-old, but with age I have gotten a lot better at listening to people.
Today, I looked at yesterday’s achievements and said, “Wait a sec. Rather than mindlessly driving deeper into Egypt with your tanks, Rommel, how about a milkshake today instead?” I can’t remember the last time I had a milkshake. I took the long way from Rancho Corralitos, through Pleasant Valley, Day Valley, Valencia Valley, a beauty-flecked drive of redwoods and apple orchards through the central coast that sneaks up on to a local coffee shop where the golden-skinned barista goddess makes the “chocolate dream” shake that includes bananas and peanut butter. It was so good I could barely hold my lane on the drive home. Today, I merely managed to throw a little straw around the boxes and water the rapidly germinating seeds, but otherwise just tonked around on the piano and played with the dog. But I did score that milkshake.
Natalie Merchant was on my mind much of the day. This song, for all Dharma Bums:
Her voice has a laid back and luscious register. Hey, Jack, now for the tricky part…
I love the sustained chords and melody, as only she can do it.
Progressives should vote for Clinton because she will in no way be viewed as a progressive/liberal, therefore she cannot suck the oxygen out of the progressives’ air in the way Obama did (for eight precious years), while betraying those he pretended to represent. Thusly, by voting for Hillary “We Came, We Saw, He Died” Clinton in 2016, an obvious anti-progressive war monger, progressives can freely grow like shadowed mushrooms on the rotting log of neoliberal wealth-pumping via wars and debt-disciplined austerity for the peripheral poors, including vast regions of the United States.
That’s what I read.
Fourteen years plus after the Event Horizon I (Bush v. Gore), and nearly six years after Event Horizon II (Lehman), never mind the multiple event horizon markers along the way, Armando is still imagining “long-term strategies” for progressives. Awesome. In its blank stupidity, imho, given the fact that if the economy doesn’t get you (global debt now 40% above 2008 levels), climate will (CO2 levels at 143% of Pleistocene, and rapidly climbing into positive feedback territory).
Obviously, you could look back in time to re-define Event Horizon I, such as, US peak oil in 1971, or “human agriculture” 12,000 yonks past. But turning Hillary into a pro-progressive argument is something only a bone-headed lawyer or academic could do at this late date.
Am I surprised by this level of argument? Huh. I s’pose not really after everything I’ve seen. However, my disdain for people routinely ignoring reality is solid as a rock. It’s like they should make a new place on the periodic table for pure, solid, elemental disdain. It would be amongst the metals, I think. I’d have to ask Translator Doc to be sure.
When the fruit and nut trees wake up from winter, they first let their dazzling flowering sexual organs hang out for a few weeks of rampaging intermingling before slowly getting dressed in leaves to fuel their pregnancies with sunlight. Nothing wrong with that! Calling in the flying insects to do half the yeoman’s work of dating and mating is a little kinky, but there’s nothing wrong with that, either. Nature is the most creative and hardest-working sexual machine on the planet. Adam & Eve dressed in fig leaves were stone dullards by comparison.
I can tell you that the oak trees here on Gullyvornya’s central coast breathed a sigh of relief after the recent rainstorms. They looked like dead ducks after another “mild winter,” which more resembled a protracted Indian summer, but now they look refreshed for the time being. We’re sadly looking at blue skies for the foreseeable future. It’s getting so you can’t even have polite conversation about the weather with the cash register clerks. Great weather we’re having! No, not really.
“What digby said” about the drought, but let me add that it ain’t just the water that’s a problem. My understanding is that in autumn the fruit and nut trees synthesize a growth inhibiting hormone that lays them dormant through winter, and cold weather slowly breaks down this growth inhibitor in anticipation of the open-orgy when Spring is sprung. The trees require a certain number of hours of chill-time (say 300-1500 h below 45 degrees F) in order to properly set their fruit, depending on the species.
In general, drought + short chill-times is not a good combo for happy, proliferative sex between our brothers, sisters, and selfers (Geschwister) in the Kingdom of Humanly Edible Green Things, not to mention their kinky little flying match-makers in our own Less-Sessile Kingdom.
Since the financial collapse of 2008, due entirely to the shoddy debt of wall street-tattoed wingnut financialization fucking Icelandic hookers like money and the weekend were going out of style, when the operating system of industrial civilization blue-screened, the world has understandably added something like 40% more debt. Central bankers let their bazookas rip in order to throw good money after bad, to prop-up Ponzi schemes for one more day. In practice that meant austerity for the poor, bail-outs for the rich, just like any other war. That emerging markets would save the infinite growth model was a non sequitur, from the git go. Have you looked at emerging markets lately?
In the meantime, more resource wars. If it’s Tuesday, we must be fucking Crimea. Wednesday’s child is full of woe. US foreign policy is like daylight savings time: Spring forward, Fall back. I must have been in the boy’s room when Dr. Fukuyama lectured on The End of History, because I honestly cannot ascertain what that well-funded Johns Hopkins douchebonnet was talking about. Apparently, his douchebonnet was riddled with holes.
Does anyone really want to talk about fracking’s savior? I’ll gladly put fracking on a cross. Big energy did. That is to say, investment in exploration is no longer worth it.
Also, much faster climate change than anticipated. I’m absolutely certain we will geo-engineer our way out of that mass extinction event. The good news is that this would be approximately the Sixth Mass Extinction (90% < kaput), perhaps surpassing that inconceivable Permian event. Life clung by hook, crook, and fingernail. This is great news for all the weird little Eu- and Pro-karyotes.
Amidst all of this, I had forgotten about the space junk with which we have polluted our very planetary aura. Orbits tend to go one way or another. Flying out, or crashing in. One collision space junk, and shards go flying unpredictably into other space junk, which we call “technology.” You don’t even need Chinese mace (their well-known ability to ‘splode satellites from the the ground) to blind the US military. Junk orbital decay or exuberance will do nicely. It’s not like we have Roomba vacuums up there that will clean up our messes. It’s just one big cosmic vacuum out there, so thanks, Gawd.
Bless my stupid little heart for forgetting Providence.
I hear the dogs pointlessly barking across the valley at night. Give a dog a fence and it will bark even louder still. That’s my entire essay.
I do not discount the opinions of Arthur Silber & Chris Floyd in the least with respect to the fact that the billionaire P. Omidyar is funding the new investigative journalism venture at First Look. My basic understanding of Arthur’s objection is that Snowden, Greenwald et al have no right to declare themselves gate-keepers of information.
That criticism is unassailable in a true democracy. I let it stand, pretending that we live in one.
At the same time, should Greenwald’s, Scahill’s, Wheeler’s, Poitras’s and Taibbi’s integrity hit rock bottom simultaneously, as a result of being funded by a billionaire patron, as Bob Woodward’s certainly did, I will be publicly kissing many asses on the courthouse lawn.
Arthur, if you’re right (and I’m not certain he isn’t), I will kiss your ass on the courthouse lawn and consider it a privilege.
A number of major liberal bloggers are under assault for aligning with the billionaire Omidyar at First Look, and I suppose there are billions and billions of reasons to be skeptical of those who join ranks with interested billionaires. However, the past histories of the journalists in question are exemplary concerning basic intelligence and Modern Liberalism, whatever you think of that idea. I’m presently & personally an idiot liberal, whether that flows from reality or not.
Driftglass has incessantly condemned Greenwald based on his totally unfounded belief that Greenwald’s stories are “always about Saint Greenwald” (i.e., only self-interested), and not about the manifest Surveillance State that Greenwald actually writes about) I told DG long ago that I thought he was fucking the pooch on that hypothesis, and I’ll stand by that statement until proven wrong.
Nevertheless, other perennial favorites of mine, Arthur Silber and Chris Floyd, both of whom have my tremendous respect, have both also jumped into the debate, and now my challenge stands like a large, public tumescence: If Greenwald, Scahill, & Wheeler prove to be neo-liberal operatives, I will be sucking dicks I did not want to suck. Even La Diggs, has said at one time or another, “Whatever you think of Greenwald…,” which is frankly fucking bullshit until Greenwald produces actual bullshit.
I personally take Silber and Floyd quite seriously, and yet I have no interest in blowing them.
Arthur & Chris, I think my owing you a public rimjob is less than 40%, but let’s wait and see. Point being, warnings are fine, but condemnation is totally premature. Give these journalists, of whom there are fewer than fuck in our world, a friggin’ chance to get rolling before premature condemnation ensues.
The alternative is to begin killing all billionaires (using machetes!), which is also something to think about, but radical, in many senses of the word.
Arthur, Chris: be human, hold fast. It’s a rollicking ride.