Archive for February, 2011

John Michael Greer: Climbing Down The Ladder

In Swedish / på svenska.

This is a repost of John Michael Greer’s Climbing Down The Ladder from The Archdruid Report on October 10, 2007. It’s a follow-up to the last post, Toward an Ecotechnic Society, with Greer delving deeper into the details of the process surrounding the fall of industrial society and the emergence of the ecotechnic society.

Last week’s Archdruid Report post raised the possibility that future societies might be able to maintain a relatively high level of technology without falling into the trap of relying on extravagant use of nonrenewable resources, the basis of our present industrial society. The dream of building a civilization of this sort – an ecotechnic society, to use the term I coined in that post – has been cherished by a good many people in alternative circles for years now, and not without reason.

Behind that dream lies a canny bit of philosophical strategy. Central to the rhetoric used to justify today’s social arrangements in the industrial world is a forced dichotomy between the alleged goodness of enlightened, technologically advanced industrial societies and the alleged squalor of primitive preindustrial life. Many of today’s critics of industrialism fall into the trap of accepting the dichotomy and simply reversing the value judgments, as though it’s possible to break out of a dualistic way of thinking by standing the dualism on its head.

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John Michael Greer: Toward An Ecotechnic Society

In Swedish / på svenska.

This is a repost of John Michael Greer’s Toward An Ecotechnic Society from his blog The Archdruid Report on October 4, 2007. It paints a panorama image of a possible future and also demonstrates several cornerstones of Greer’s work: the ecological perspective, the historical perspective and a keen understanding that facts aren’t everything – concepts matter too.

A few paragraphs into the text Greer refers to “last week’s post”. This post is Civilization and Succession, which describes the process of ecological succession and draws some parallels to the evolution of human societies.

One of the consequences of taking ecological models seriously, in trying to understand the predicament of industrial society, is that many of the common assumptions of contemporary culture stand in need of being stood on their heads. Plenty of people aware of the peak oil issue nowadays, for example, think of it in terms of finding some new energy source so that we can maintain industrial society in something like its current form. From an ecological standpoint, this approach nearly defines the term “counterproductive,” because it’s precisely the current form of industrial society that makes our predicament inescapable.

As it exists today, the industrial economy can best be described in ecological terms as a scheme for turning resources into pollution at the highest possible rate. Thus resource exhaustion and pollution problems aren’t accidental outcomes of industrialism, they’re hardwired into the industrial system: the faster resources turn into pollution, the more the industrial economy prospers, and vice versa. That forms the heart of our predicament. Peak oil is simply one symptom of a wider crisis – the radical unsustainability of a system that has evolved to maximize resource consumption on a finite planet – and trying to respond to it without dealing with the larger picture simply guarantees that other symptoms will surface elsewhere and take its place.

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Author presentation: John Michael Greer

In Swedish / på svenska.

The first author to be featured on the blog is John Michael Greer, an American who’s written several books on our near (and not-so-near) future. I’ve read two of these, The Long Descent and The Ecotechnic Future. They describe Greer’s view of the problems we’re facing, such as peak oil, climate change, ecosystems in crisis and more, but Greer has a nearly unique historical perspective. He draws on the fate of previous human civilisations for lessons relevant to our own future. I recommend both these books. They aren’t available in Swedish and can’t be found in brick-and-mortar book shops (at least in Gothenburg) but most Internet book stores carry them. The publisher used to sell them but no longer ships outside the US and Canada.

Greer also has a blog, The Archdruid Report, which I also recommend. He’s been writing for a few years and has covered a huge range of subjects (or perhaps one and the same subject from a great many different perspectives). A few months ago he set a new focus and is now developing what he calls a “Green Wizard” curriculum in his posts, intended as a practical, individual response to the myriad of inter-connected problems we’re facing.

Glancing at Greer’s other books quickly leads to the “alternative” section of the book store, with subjects such as magic, UFO:s and old pagan religions. The further discovery that he calls himself, in full seriousness, Archdruid, heads the Ancient Order of Druids in America and appears on photo with a long beard at Stonehenge, might lead to some raised eyebrows. What sort of weirdo is this? I can’t comment on his other books, since I haven’t read them, but from his blog I know Greer takes a great many things seriously that most Westerners dismiss out of hand. This, to me, is part of what makes his writings so important, since he has a very different perspective. He’s also a very capable writer with an impressive ability to synthesize different perspectives.

This breadth does however make it tricky to present his writings in a good way. I’ve chosen a three-fold path:

Track A, the larger picture: where are we heading? I will here translate 8 texts that paint an outline of Greer’s view of our current situation and the future.

Track B, practical aspects: how to think about future challenges? Here I will translate 9 texts that deal with common objections as well as practical ways of responding to the view presented in part A.

Track C, stories, religion and culture: as mentioned above Greer comes from a very different direction than most who discuss these subjects and I have chosen 14 texts that I will translate.

Taken together, I hope this will provide a decent overview of Greer’s views of the future. I’m aware he’s not wholly unknown in Sweden but he deserves more attention.

I will start with the larger picture and I’ve chosen a text which in ecological terms paints one possible image of the future.

Setting the stage

In Swedish / på svenska.

Before launching into speculation on the future I want to give some background to the upcoming posts. From my point of view, there’s no doubt that we’re facing plenty of environmental problems, from dying oceans, problems with our energy supply, creeping climate change, not to mention all the economical and political problems around the world.

There are already plenty of people paying attention to this. In Sweden we have several blogs, such as Flute-tankar, Cornucopia?, Livet efter oljan, Aleklett’s Energy Mix and Effektbloggen among others. There are also those with an opposing viewpoint, especially regarding climate change, for example The Climate Scam or the Stockholm Initiative.

What we don’t have so many of, in Sweden or abroad, are those who try to combine all these various problems into some sort of whole view. The result, despite so much engagement and publicity, is mostly paralysis and fragmentation – we sort our trash (although most of it will be incinerated to provide municipal heating), maybe buy a diesel car with the favourable “environmental” tax rate and discount, but we still fly to Thailand for a few weeks. A lot of what we do is certainly good, such as paying for tree plantings as climate compensation for the Thailand flight, buying a more fuel-efficient car, recycling various containers and so on. Still, there’s not much evidence that it’s enough. Rather the opposite, in fact.

We seem to be heading into a new world, where few of our current assumptions seem useful any more. Already, during and after the financial crisis, many assumptions in economics have turned out to be less useful after the markets were changed by the massive state intervention.

What we need most of all is some way to gather all the sprawling problems into some sort of unity. Perhaps we can’t fashion one single neat image, but having several larger-scale views to compare to reality is better than having none. That’s what this blog will focus on for a while.

Welcome to The Concept Blog!

In Swedish / på svenska.

This is a blog about the future. The future, which isn’t what it used to be.

It’s easy to become somewhat depressed when following current events, and even easier when studying where others think we’re heading:

China is growing at a phenomenal rate and “Chindia” is poised to grab all economic power from Europe and the US; they’ve already started by purchasing companies like Sweden’s Volvo Cars. Europe is about to turn into an Islamic caliphate, unless the apocalypse arrives first due to peak oil or the machinations of the Bilderberg group. The Russians keep increasing their military spending and are planning to occupy the Swedish island of Gotland in order to protect their gas pipeline. They won’t want the rest anyway, after our housing bubble pops and everything becomes worthless. Finally, the ocean will rise, drowning all coastal cities. Woe is me!

At the same time, many are quite cheerful: we’re getting a steady stream of new iPhones and iPads, the OECD calls Sweden a tiger economy, the UK invites Nordic countries to tell their secrets of prosperity, fuel economy for new cars is rising fast and old moss-covered dictatorships across the Arab world tremble before the people’s anger. Hooray!

There’s quite a profusion of visions!

I intend to supply a few others, inspired by some American and English writers who are less well known in Sweden. On this blog I will repost (or link to) some texts that I’ve found useful and which provide a somewhat different perspective, along with my own comments and reflections to the texts and to events.

There is a Swedish version of the blog, Begreppsbloggen. There, I will publish Swedish translations of the texts I present here and of course my commentary in Swedish.

Comments are welcome, as are guest posts! Comments need not, but certainly may, be bilingual (posted on both blogs)! I will translate particularly interesting comments, unless the comment author objects.

About me: my name is Johan. I’m around 30 years old, have an M.Sc. in Engineering Physics, work in IT and live in Gothenburg on Sweden’s west coast. Contact me via email at begreppsbloggen@gmail.com.

The blog’s name comes from my deep belief in the importance of our concepts. Those are what we use to make sense of what happens around us and to imagine the present and the future. At the end of the day, our concepts are what shapes the future and enable us to make it better.