Archive for the ‘Ecotechnic Society’ Category

John Michael Greer: A Deindustrial Reading List

In Swedish / på svenska.

The blog’s been inactive for slightly longer than planned, but here’s the last John Michael Greer text for a while. It’s a translation of “A Deindustrial Reading List” from The Archdruid Report on February 2, 2009. As the title suggests, it’s a reading list for those who want to understand where Greer’s coming from and want to follow him deeper in among these ideas.

Greer won’t be disappearing from the blog, but I’ll start discussing some (in my view) fundamental concepts. Greer’s posts will appear as illustrations of some of those ideas.

Over the last few months a number of people have asked me what books I think they ought to read to help them prepare for the slow unraveling of industrial civilization now getting started around us. This is frankly the kind of question I try my best to dodge. Premature consensus is arguably one of the most severe risks we face just now, and any image of the future – very much including the one I’ve sketched out here – is at best a scattershot sampling of the divergent possibilities facing us as the industrial age comes to its end.

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John Michael Greer: On Catabolic Collapse

In Swedish / på svenska.

The following is a repost of John Michael Greer’s “On Catabolic Collapse” from The Archdruid Report on May 31, 2006. The text describes Greer’s central concept of “catabolic collapse” – a model for the fall of civilisations. The other concepts I’ve presented – the succession model and the short-term descent – fit into this overall pattern, but in different places. I plan to write reviews/recaps of “The Long Descent” and “The Ecotechnic Future” to provide a better picture of this pattern.

Those who’ve read “The Limits to Growth” – the 1972 report by the Club of Rome – or Joseph Tainter’s “The Collapse of Complex Societies” will recognise the basic idea behind catabolic collapse. “The Limits to Growth”, especially, is clearly a source of inspiration.

Those who haven’t read these two books but who may have read Oswald Spengler’s “The Decline of the West” or Arnold Toynbee’s “A Study of History” – I salute everyone who’s worked their way through the full ten volumes of the latter! – will find echoes of both. It’s interesting to compare these various descriptions and theories and contemplate how the spirit of the age is reflected in the model. Spengler in particular writes in a completely different mode, but he did after all write in interwar Germany.

This is another text from 2006 so the timings may seem off, but there’s nothing wrong with the argument itself. The sections dealing with house ownership are based on American realities and aren’t exactly applicable to Sweden, although the main idea is.

A couple of years ago I wrote an article titled “How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse” — quite the cheerful topic, granted, but it’s relevant nowadays in more than an academic sense. I’ve never been able to find much common ground with the neoprimitivist types who insist that civilization is an awful idea and we all ought to go back to hunting and gathering, but there isn’t much encouragement to be had from the cheerleaders of perpetual progress, either. In ecological terms, civilization is quite a new thing, not much more than 10,000 years old at most, and like most new evolutionary gambits, it’s had its share of drastic ups and downs. Visit cities in Italy, China, or elsewhere that have been continuously inhabited for 2500 years and it’s clear that, in the right environmental conditions, the civilized way of life can sustain itself over the long term; visit the ruins of Ur of the Chaldees or the Mayan metropolis of Tikal and it’s equally clear that when environmental conditions don’t support it, civilization is a mayfly phenomenon that flits past and vanishes in a blink of ecological time.

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John Michael Greer: Briefing for the Descent

In Swedish / på svenska.

Since the blog’s currently considering “scenarios of doom” and imminent misery this text might fit in well…

When considering the succession model it’s possible to get the idea that Greer’s future is fairly comfortable, with one form of society emerging from another in an orderly fashion. The model is too broad to be of much use in the shorter perspective but Greer has, not unexpectedly, spent some time thinking about that too. What follows is a repost of Briefing for the Descent from The Archdruid Report on September 7, 2006. This text is several years old but it’s hasn’t aged too badly. Greer’s developed the theme in various directions, for example the Green Wizard scheme, but he still adheres to the basic principles expressed here.

This text wasn’t written in direct conjunction with the four previously published, but it can be viewed as an outline of the start of the transition from industrial society to scarcity industrialism, and as a suggestion of what life might be like in the world of scarcity industrialism.

As evidence piles up for the reality of peak oil, and more and more people start to grapple with an issue that challenges almost every assumption our society makes about the future, the issue of what to do about it becomes harder to avoid. Predictably, survivalists are popping up again with their one-size-fits-all answer. That answer first surfaced in the 1920s, when the Evangelical Christian belief in imminent apocalypse fused with traditional American rhetoric contrasting the rich, crowded, and wicked city with the poor, isolated, and allegedly more virtuous back country to create the first survivalist ideologies. Since then, survivalists have insisted that the only response to any crisis you care to imagine – epidemic disease, nuclear holocaust, race war, the advent of Antichrist, the meltdown of the world’s computer systems on January 1, 2000, and the list goes on – is to hole up in the woods with plenty of food and firearms, and live the frontier life while urban America crashes down in flames.

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The succession model

In Swedish / på svenska.

I claimed that this would be a blog on concepts and on the future. So it’s been, but so far, “The Translation Blog” might have been a better name. In any event, now some of John Michael Greer’s texts are available in Swedish (with more coming) and it might be time to think about their contents.

The main point is succession and especially the step-wise character of succession. To summarise the steps we’re heading for according to this model:

  • Industrial society: here’s where we are today. Huge use of energy and resources; the most profitable strategies are based on this (globalisation is one example); those strategies lead to depletion of the energy and resource base
  • Scarcity industrialism: the next step, when less wasteful strategies become important; efficient use of resources and energy becomes ever more profitable; access to resources becomes a matter of survival and the state increasingly takes over from the market
  • The age of salvage societies: finally, so little resources are left (= they’re so expensive to produce) that even a minimal industrial society can’t be maintained. What remains is to live off the remains (of industrial society). This will likely feel like a very primitive society in comparison to today’s
  • Further steps: the remains of industrial society are running out and other social forms emerge. We’re probably quite a bit into the future and I can understand if Greer doesn’t want to guess here
  • Ecotechnic society: this is an imagined “climax state” for technic societies, when humanity has found a long-term sustainable way of life while still maintaining relatively advanced technology

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John Michael Greer: The Age of Salvage Societies

In Swedish / på svenska.

This is a repost of John Michael Greer’s blog post The Age of Salvage Societies, from The Archdruid Report on October 24, 2007. It’s the final part of a series where Greer discusses how “the decline and fall of industrial civilisation” might play out if considered as an ecological process.

The preceding post, The Age of Scarcity Industrialism, dealt with the first step of the process, following our own society, and this post outlines the second step.

It’s a common bad habit of thinking these days to assume that social and economic changes are entirely a product of human decision and effort. That’s the thinking behind all the conspiracy theories that provide so popular a way to ignore ecological realities, of course, but it also pops up in plenty of other contexts, not least the enthusiastic claims from various points on the political spectrum that we can all have the better future we want if we just buckle down and get to work on it.

There are any number of problems with this easy assumption, but the one I’d like to point out just now is that, like so much of contemporary thinking, it leaves nature out of the equation. We may attempt to build any future we happen to like, but unless the earth’s remaining stock of natural resources provides the raw material that the future in question requires, we’ll find sooner or later that we’re out of luck. Furthermore, even if the future we have in mind can be made to work within the hard limits of ecological reality, the future we want will once again turn out to be a pipe dream if another form of society or economy does the same thing more effectively.

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John Michael Greer: The Age of Scarcity Industrialism

In Swedish / på svenska.

This is a repost of John Michael Greer’s blog post The Age of Scarcity Industrialism from The Archdruid Report on October 17, 2007. He continues to develop the theme from earlier posts. In Toward an Ecotechnic Society he described our present-day Western civilisation as an energy-intensive technic society (i.e. a society powered for the most part by non-food energy) and suggested that we live in an early, inefficient form of technic society. He also suggested similarities with ecological succession, in which different “seres” of plants and animals succeed each other och loosely outlined a future “ecotechnic” society – with efficient use of energy, sustainable and still maintaining a relatively high level of technology.

The next post, Climbing down the ladder, deals with the common attitude that “we must build a sustainable society – now!” Greer develops the succession parallel and argues that it’s impossible to go from pioneer weeds – the first weeds to sprout on a bare, abandoned lot – to mature forest in one step, and similarly it’s impossible to go from our early stage of technic society to a mature, sustainable ecotechnic society in one step. It will take time and require many intermediate steps, as well as plenty of experimentation.

In this post he describes his view of the first of these intermediate steps, which he calls scarcity industrialism. In the first part of the post he also discusses Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ five-step process of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, and how those steps have been visible in the US during the last decades.

It’s been suggested several times, on this blog and elsewhere, that the process of coming to terms with the reality of peak oil has more than a little in common with the process of dealing with the imminence of death. The five stages of getting ready to die outlined by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in a series of bestselling books back in the 1970s – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – show up tolerably often in today’s peak oil controversies. There’s good reason for the parallel, because the end of the age of cheap abundant energy marks the terminus of many of today’s most cherished assumptions and ways of looking at the world, and it also means that a great many people alive today will die sooner than they otherwise would.

More than twenty years have gone by since I tended the dying in nursing homes, in one of a flurry of low-paying jobs I held after leaving college. Getting to know the guy with the scythe while the people around you are heading through life’s exit turnstile teaches lessons that don’t fade easily, though, and from that perspective I’m not at all sure the parallels have been taken far enough. In particular, it’s interesting to note that the same five stages – or at least the first three of them – also characterize our collective response so far to the predicament of industrial society.

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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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