Published on Cassandra's Legacy on March 26, 2017
Discuss this article at the History Table inside the Diner
There was a time, long ago, when the Bardis of Florence were rich and powerful, but that branch of the family disappeared with the end of the Renaissance. The most remote ancestors of mine that I can track were living during the early 19th century and they were all poor, probably very poor. But their life, just as the life of everyone in Italy and in the rest of the world, was to change with the great fossil revolution that had started in England in the 18th century. The consequences were to spill over to Italy in the centuries that followed.
My great-great grandfather Ferdinando (born in 1822) lived in an age when coal was just starting to become common and people would still use whale oil to light up their homes. He was a soldier in the infantry of the Grand-Duke of Tuscany and then of the King of Italy, when Tuscany merged into the newly formed Kingdom of Italy, in 1861. The family lore says that Ferdinando fought with Garibaldi in Southern Italy, but there is no trace of him in the records as a volunteer of Garibaldi's army. He may have fought there with the regular army, though. In his portrait, we can see the medals that he gained. Today, I still have the ribbons, the medals were lost during the 2nd world war when they were given to "the country" to support the war effort.
Despite the medals, however, there is little doubt that Ferdinando was poor; his condition is described as "dire poverty" in some documents we still have. But things were changing and the conditions of the Bardi family would change, too. The coal revolution had made Northern Europe rich. England had built a World Empire using coal, France had its revolution and Napoleon, and the industrial age had started. Of course, Italy had no significant coal resources but, already in those times, coal started being imported from England and that changed many things. Tuscany was slowly building up a certain degree of prosperity based on a rapidly developing industry and on a flow of tourism from Northern Europe that, already at that time, had made of Florence a favorite destination.
That had consequences on the life of Florentines. Antonio Bardi (1862 – 1924), Ferdinando's son and my great-grandfather, seems to have started his life as a street urchin. But that changed when he was befriended by a "gentleman in the service of the Emperor of Brazil," then visiting Florence. It may have happened in 1877 and some of the newspapers of that time report the story of how this gentleman, whose name was "Pedro Americo," paid for the studies of this boy in whom he had somehow noticed a special artistic talent. The papers of that time don't seem to have considered the implications (obvious for us, today) involved in the story of a mature and rich gentleman befriending a poor boy, but those were different times. In any case, Antonio started a career as a painter.
That such a career was possible for Antonio was due to tourism becoming more and more common in Florence. Tourism had not just brought there the Emperor of Brazil, but a continuous flow of foreign tourists interested in ancient paintings and works of art. Color photography didn't exist at that time and this led to a brisk market of hand-made reproduction of ancient masterpieces. These reproductions were especially prized if they were made by Florentine artists, in some ways supposed to maintain the genetic imprint of the people who had created the originals. So, the main art galleries of Florence would allow local artists to set up their easels in their rooms and they would later provide them with a stamp on their canvases guaranteeing that it was "painted from the original". It seems to have been a rather diffuse occupation and, already at that time, Florentines were adapting to the opportunities that the world changes were offering to them.
Some of the paintings of Antonio Bardi are still kept by his descendants and, for what I can say, he seems to have been a skilled painter with a special ability with portraits. But he never was very successful in this career and, in his later life, he moved to a job as a guardsman. Still, he had escaped the poverty trap that had affected his ancestors. Many other Florentines of that time were doing the same, although in different ways. From our viewpoint, Tuscany in the 19th century was still a desperately poor place, but its economy was rapidly growing as a result of the ongoing coal age. That opened up opportunities that had never existed before.
My grandfather, Raffaello Bardi, was born in 1892. His instruction was limited, but he could read and write and perhaps he attended a professional school. When he was drafted for the Great War, he had a hard time with the defeat of the Italian Army at Caporetto, in 1917, but he managed to get back home, all in one piece. There, he married a seamstress, my grandmother Rita and he found a job in a Swiss company that had established a branch in Florence and that manufactured straw hats, exporting them all over the world.
There were reasons for that company to exist and to be located in Florence. One was that the manufacturing of straw hats was a traditional activity in Tuscany, having been started already during the 18th century. Another was that the Italian economy in the 20th century had gone through a rapid growth. Many Italian regions were playing the role that today is played by Eastern European countries or South-Asian ones. They were being colonized by North European companies as sources of cheap labor. Tuscany had a well developed hydroelectric energy system and could offer a skilled workforce. Swiss, German, and British companies were flocking there to establish profitable branches for their businesses.
That was the opportunity that my grandfather exploited. He was only a modest employee in the company where he worked, but he could afford a lifestyle that his ancestors couldn't even have dreamed of. In 1922, he bought a nice home for his family in the suburbs; very much in the style of the "American Dream" (although without a car in the garage). It had a garden, three bedrooms, a modern bathroom, and it could comfortably lodge my grandparents, their four children, and the additional son they had adopted: a nephew who had been orphaned when his parents had died because of the Spanish flu, in 1919. Raffaello could also afford to take his family on a vacation at the seaside for about one month every summer. He could send his sons to college, although not his daughters; women were still not supposed to study in those times.
There came the Fascist government, the great crash of 1929, and the 2nd world war. Hard times for everyone but this branch of the Bardi family suffered no casualties nor great disasters. Raffaello's home also survived the allied bombing raids, even though a few steel splinters hit the outer walls. With the end of the war, the Italian economy experienced a period of growth so rapid that it was termed the "economic miracle". It was no miracle but the consequence of crude oil being cheap and easily available. The Italian industry boomed, and with it tourism.
During this period, the Italian labor was not anymore so cheap as it had been in earlier times. The activity of manufacturing straw hats was taken over nearly completely by Chinese firms and the Swiss company in which my grandfather had worked closed down. Still, there was a brisk business in importing Chinese-made hats in Florence, adding to them some hand-made decoration and selling the result as "Florentine hats." One of my aunts, Renza, continued to manage a cottage industry that did exactly that. My other aunt, Anna, tried to follow the footprints of her grandfather, Antonio, and to work as a painter, but she was not very successful. Tourism was booming, but people were not anymore interested in hand-made reproductions of ancient masterpieces.
For my father, Giuliano, and my uncle, Antonio, both graduated in architecture, the booming Italian economy offered good opportunities. The period from the 1950s to the early 1970s was probably the richest period enjoyed by Italy in modern times and the moment of highest prosperity for the Bardi family. All my relatives of that generation were rather well-off as employees or professionals. Their families were mostly organized according to the breadwinner/housewife model, but even a single salary was sufficient for a comfortable life (my mother was an exception, like my father she had graduated in architecture and worked as a high-school teacher). Most of them could afford to own their homes and, in most cases, also a vacation home in the mountains or on the seaside (also here, my family was somewhat an exception, preferring a large cottage on the hills). They also owned at least one car, often two when their wives learned how to drive. On the average, the education level had progressed: even the women often attended college. Few of the people of that generation could speak any language but Italian and very few had traveled outside Italy, even though some of my uncles had fought in North Africa.
Then, there came the crisis of the 1970s. In Italy, it was normally defined as the "congiuntura economica" a term that indicated that it was just something temporary, a hiccup that was soon to be forgotten as growth were to restart. It never did. It was the start of the great oil crisis that had started with the peaking of the US oil production. The consequences were reverberating all over the world. It was in this condition that my generation came of age.
Our generation was perhaps the most well-educated one in the history of Italy. Many of us had acceded to high university education; we traveled abroad, we all studied English, even though we were not necessarily proficient in it. But, when we tried to sell our skills in the labor market, it was a tough time. We were clearly overskilled for the kind of jobs that were available and many of us had to use again the strategy of our ancestors of old, emigrating toward foreign countries. It was the start of what we call today the "brain drain".
I emigrated for a while to the US. I could have stayed there, but I found a decent position with the University of Florence and I came back. Maybe I did well, maybe not, it is hard to say. Some people of my age followed the same path. Some moved to foreign countries and stayed there, others came back to Italy. Some worked as employees, set up their own companies, opened up shops, they tried what they could with various degrees of success. One thing was sure: our life was way more difficult than it had been for our fathers and grandfathers. Of course, we were not as poor as our ancestors had been in the early 19th century, but supporting a family on a single salary had become nearly unthinkable. None of us could have afforded to own a home, hadn't we inherited the homes of our parents. Fortunately, families were now much smaller and we didn't have to divide these properties among too many heirs.
There came the end of the 20th century and of the 2nd millennium as well. Another generation came of age and they faced difficult times again. They were badly overskilled, as we had been, perhaps even more internationalized than we were; perfect candidates for the brain drain trend. My son followed my example, moving to a foreign country to work; maybe he'll come back as I did, maybe not. It will have to be seen. My daughter still has to find a decent job. The oil crisis faded, then returned. The global peak of oil production ("peak oil") was closer and closer. The Italian economy went up and down but, on the average, down. It was a system that could grow only with low oil prices and the period of high prices that started in the early 2000s was a hard blow for Italy, causing the start of a de-industrialization trend that's still ongoing.
Only agriculture and tourism are still doing well in Italy. That's especially true for Florence, a town that went through along-termm cycle that transformed it from sleepy provincial town into a sort of giant food court. Tourists are still flocking to Florence in ever-increasing numbers. They don't seem to be so much interested in art anymore, but rather in food. It is for this reason that, today, almost everyone I know who is under 30 is either unemployed or working in restaurants, bars, or hotels.
People in Italy keep adapting to changing times as they have always done, everywhere in the world. It is hard to say what the future will bring to us, but one thing is certain: the great cycle of the fossil fuels is waning. The hard times are coming back.
Published on Peak Surfer on February 26, 2017
Discuss this article at the Psychology Table inside the Diner
- All things start from small beginnings.
- Nature abhors a vacuum.
- No one wishes pain, but occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure some greater good.
- ’Tis an excess of pleasure not to feel a trifle uneasy.
If increasing average national happiness is the goal of advanced capitalist societies and economies, then something seems to have gone awry. Whilst high income economies may have largely failed to date to decouple their economic growth from the most important measures of ecological footprint and impact, they have had more unwitting success in decoupling it from increasing the happiness of their populations. Various studies using both cross-national and within-country longitudinal data indicate that the correlation between happiness and per capita income or GDP seems to become weak or even disappear, at a level past about US $10,000 per year.
Cicero agreed with Aristotle that humans are a kind of moral diety, and fulfillment in life comes from meeting the ends “whereunto he is born, (through) observation and action, as a horse to racing, or an ox to ploughing….” (translation by Jeremy Collier)
Eleven years ago, in The Post-Petroleum Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times, we began our now-seemingly relentless theme:
The principal challenge of the Great Change is not physical but mental (as it is in any survival situation). Collectively, societies that are heavily addicted to consumer goods and the pattern of waste that a consumer culture creates will have to struggle to adjust to a new normal. It will not be optional and neither money nor social position will allow you to escape.
The easy path is to downsize expectations and simplify your lifestyle. This path requires giving up certain ways of looking at the world in order to embrace other, more survival-oriented ways. The hard path is to try not to make this change, to somehow cling to the old ways as long as possible, which will entail huge — I would say cruel — efforts for diminishing yields.
- Walking instead of driving
- Giving children more free time
- Reading instead of watching television
- Eating home-cooked meals with family and friends
- Taking up relaxing hobbies such as painting, gardening, or knitting
- Practicing yoga, tai chi, or meditation
- Unplugging from technology
- Indulging in leisurely love-making
- Simply resisting the urge to hurry unnecessarily
The presence of the clock gave birth to the notion that time lies outside our bodies — that it can be tracked by a machine, and that we can sit and watch it “fly” by, tick-tock, as though it is something linear, containable, and separate from the organic, flowing process of life.
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on March 21st, 2017
Fanfare Ciocărlia's lead vocalists (and trumpet
players) Radulescu Lazar and Costică "Cimai"
Trifan, as well as the late Ioan Ivancea
Back before I'd discovered Fanfare Ciocărlia and was (almost contently) listening to nothing but Taraf de Haïdouks, Kočani Orkestar, and their Band of Gypsies combo act, I spent some time doing a bit of research on them all (if bouncing around the Internet counts as research) and came across a Romanian event called the Balkanik Festival which the Band of Gypsies was headlining the following month. As the festival's website stated, "Both bands will join their instruments and forces in a never-before-heard repertoire". I took that to mean an upcoming Band of Gypsies 3 album and tour, and although I was rather intrigued about such a possibility there was of course no way I was going to fly all the way to Europe to catch a sneak peek (I'll catch them in Australia if they return here).
But on top of that it was also stated that the Band of Gypsies' new music was "meant to demolish all prejudice, walls between people, countries, ethnicities and continents." That I couldn't help but roll my eyes at a bit, what with it essentially being the musical equivalent of the rather flaky lament of "I understand it now – all we have to do is love one another!" As if that weren't enough, having discovered Fanfare Ciocărlia a few months later I was quite surprised to find out that the Band of Gypsies weren't the only band of Gypsies associated with bringing peace and harmony to the world.
Turns out that not only was the European Union awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, but that the day after the EU received its award Fanfare Ciocărlia played the Nobel Peace Prize concert as the invited musical representatives of Eastern Europe. (I'd embed the audio clip of the performance, or provide a link to it, but all I could find was a dual audio-video feed. And since FF2F doesn't embed or even link to video feeds that means you'll have to seek it out yourself if interested.) As stated on the EU's website, "In 2012 the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize for advancing the causes of peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe." It also points out that "When awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said its decision was based on the stabilising role the EU has played in transforming most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace." Which is, to a certain degree, rather misleading.
I can't vouch for many of the Nobel Peace Prize recipients (I tend to prefer those awarded the
"Alternate Nobel Prize" – the Right Livelihood Award), but at least they've got an impeccable taste in music
To explain why this is I'll address a question posed by Fanfare Ciocărlia's late patriarch, Ioan Ivancea, conveyed by Garth Cartwright in his book Princes Amongst Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians:
[Ivancea:] On tour I was watching a programme about the Third World, countries much poorer than Romania, and it gets me thinking why this fucking Bush and – what's that asshole's name?
[Unidentified person:] Blair?
[Ivancea:] Da. Blair. Bush and Blair, why are they invading Iraq and creating terror rather than helping the world's poor?
While it's arguable whether those such as "Bush and Blair" really care about the world's poor as much as they care about good optics, it shouldn't be arguable that not only were "Bush and Blair" invading Iraq in order to secure its crude in those precursor years to peaking oil supplies, but as William George Clark explains in his excellent book Petrodollar Warfare: Oil, Iraq and the Future of the Dollar, they were also doing so in order to stop Saddam Hussein from selling Iraq's oil in euros and thus threatening the free ride the United States enjoys thanks to its status as the bearer of the world's reserve currency.
In regards to the current situation in Europe, what it's now beginning to face due to peaking domestic and worldwide energy supplies (along with climate change and other resource shortages) is certainly not the blooming of democracy. As Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed explains in his latest book, Failing States, Collapsing Systems: Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence (which I reviewed a month ago),
[I]t is difficult to avoid the conclusion as we near 2045, the European and American projects will face escalating internal challenges to their international territorial integrity, increasing the risk of systemic state-failure.
On top of that is the rather uncomfortable fact that although democracy (which the EU was lauded for advancing via its Nobel Peace Prize) isn't strictly dependent on fossil fuels, our 21st century iterations of it certainly are. Put a bit differently, although Rome enjoyed a democracy long before the introduction of fossil fuels, this was democracy for the privileged few who had ample spare time for comfortable debate thanks to the "freedoms" that the harnessed energy of slaves allowed for, all of which was effectively a much smaller-scaled version of the "freedoms" that a much larger set of privileged are presently able to enjoy thanks to the harnessed energy of fossil fuels. Although the underlying implications of fossil fuels aren't generally recognized, what they've allowed for are such things as industrial agriculture, something that in itself has meant that no longer are many of us required to spend our time working in the fields to cultivate our sustenance, and so can instead spend endless hours with inconsequential political banter and/or playing video games (or possibly even playing political-bantering video games if such things exist – "Congratulations! You've fired everybody, you win!").
To think then that music can "demolish all prejudice, walls between people, countries, ethnicities and continents" is akin to adding insult to injury. Because the unfortunate fact is that peace isn't so much a state of mind or a state of shaking your booty so much as it's about access to resources and not having to fight over them. And it just so happens that there's never been anything in the history of humanity that could provide such a bounty for so many, and allow for so much "peace", as fossil fuels. (However, that "peace" can be quickly rescinded if you're inconveniently living on top of the deserts where "our" fossil fuels need liberating from.)
In other words, yes, a free kegger (fossil fuels are the closest we'll ever get to "free energy") can certainly bring people together for the time being and "advance the causes of peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights", but once those taps start to go dry the festive moods can turn sour and scapegoats can start to be sought after (no matter how good the musicians are), particularly if the underlying problems aren't understood and – supposing they even can be – dealt with. As it so happens, the spigots are starting to go dry (or rather, are peaking), violence/terrorism is on the rise, and very little understanding exists in regards to what's going on.
That all being the case, what's required of us – as simply a starting point – is to come to grips with the realities of peak oil, declining EROEI levels and the fact that there won't be a replacement for fossil fuels, which in toto requires us to accept the onset of the collapse of industrial civilization. Coming to grips with all this often implies having to go through the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – something that Fanfare Ciocărlia can in fact assist us with. Or at least, its hijacked Twitter feed can (hit reload if you don't see all six Tweets, along with the seventh which should appear a few paragraphs after the photograph of Ioan Ivancea):
"Collapse of industrial civilization? Who are you kidding? This is paradise!"
We got easily adapt to the new climate zone. Looking forward to rock WOMAD New Zealand on Saturday!!! pic.twitter.com/DUc6NiMTeZ
— Fanfare Ciocarlia (@FCiocarlia) March 12, 2015
"Hold on a second. First communism collapsed, and now you say that the entirety of industrial civilization is going to collapse as well? That makes me so angry I could blow my top!"
The Australien climate turns everything upside down. See all of you tomorrow the right way round at WOMADelaide. pic.twitter.com/TfVLHrLGzZ
— Fanfare Ciocarlia (@FCiocarlia) March 5, 2015
"Okay, okay. How about we trade a bottle of wine – Fanfare Ciocărlia wine! – for a barrel of oil? Two bottles? A case? Please?"
— Fanfare Ciocarlia (@FCiocarlia) September 13, 2014
Reality starts to sink in for a few initial members of Fanfare Ciocărlia…
Goodbye Medellin – Farewell Colombia! Hope to see you all again in 2016! pic.twitter.com/b2lYM7MryJ
— Fanfare Ciocarlia (@FCiocarlia) November 17, 2015
…eventually spreading to the entire fanfare.
It's done! We finish our latest tour around the world and say with watering eyes GOODBYE to all our fans! pic.twitter.com/EtRVnww20O
— Fanfare Ciocarlia (@FCiocarlia) April 15, 2015
"Okay, fine. So it's back to the prajini and playing music for local weddings again. We can live with that. Sayonara!"
Flying back home from Japan! pic.twitter.com/ZwQeiRB1Sj
— Fanfare Ciocarlia (@FCiocarlia) July 29, 2014
Attempts at humour aside, the collapse of industrial civilization by no means implies a ho-hum return "back to the prajini and playing music for local weddings again". Nonetheless, what some musicians (such as Fanfare Ciocărlia) can perhaps do is help us understand the celebratory nature of traditional forms of music, something that most of Western civilization generally isn't familiar with.
Because what Fanfare Ciocărlia's home-village of Zece Prajini (which translates to "Ten Fields") managed to maintain all the way up to the end of the 20th century, and against all the odds, was not only a people (tenuously) rooted in the land, but a people who also simultaneously participated in the cultural passage of a community's musical traditions from one generation down to the next. Case in point, Ioan Ivancea was found playing his father's clarinet at the age of five and began to learn from his elders forthwith, Costică Trifan began learning the trumpet from his grandfather at the age of six or seven, to go along with the fact that many members of Fanfare Ciocărlia had played together as a brass gang since childhood, often disappearing after school into the hills around Zece Prajini where they would try to emulate the sounds they heard their fathers and uncles playing in their yards and at various festivities.
So while we have in-situ seed-saving whereby seeds are kept alive by actively replanting them year after year – a process that keeps the seeds continually relevant by maintaining their contact with the changing conditions of the soil and the climate at large – what Zece Prajini may very well have accomplished is the equivalent of in-situ music-saving, a situation in which cultural music traditions were kept alive via passage from one generation to the next, all the while remaining relevant ("modern", if you will) thanks to a not-too-excessive exposure to the outside world.
(photo © Arne Reinhardt)
However, like what has occurred to many Eastern European countries, cities, towns and villages after the fall of communism, Zece Prajini and its inhabitants became exposed to the greater world to a much larger degree that before, and by no means just musically. This can be a problem, as pointed out by Helena Norberg-Hodge in her book Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalizing World, in which she conveys what happened to the people of Ladakh and their music traditions once they were progressively opened up to the outside world.
The cultural centralization that occurs through the media is also contributing to a growing insecurity as well as passivity. Traditionally, there was lots of dancing, singing, and theater. People of all ages joined in. In a group sitting around the fire, even toddlers would dance, with the help of older siblings or friends. Everyone knew how to sing, to act, to play music. Now that the radio has come to Ladakh, you do not need to sing your own songs or tell your own stories. You can sit and listen to the best singer, the best storyteller. But the result is that people become inhibited and self-conscious. You are no longer comparing yourself to neighbors and friends, who are real people – some better than you at singing, but perhaps less good at dancing – and you are never as good as the stars on the radio. Community ties are also broken when people sit passively listening to the very best rather than making music or dancing together.
Yes, Fanfare Ciocărlia could very well count as "the stars on the radio", although they most certainly haven't abandoned the traditional Romanian music they grew up with, nor have they abandoned their traditional Gypsy flair in the slightest. Moreover, the fact of the matter is that if Fanfare Ciocărlia hadn't gone off sharing their talents to the world (talents which were no longer in demand in their homeland) then not only would their music have withered away as countless other forms have as well, but their village of Zece Prajini would likely have been devoured by the insatiable maw of industrialism and turned into yet another (proverbial) parking lot. As put by Maria Ivancea, Ioan's wife, "Where would we be without Henry [Ernst]? Without him this village would be dead." (Henry Ernst being the German who "discovered" the musicians in 1996 and who has been Fanfare Ciocărlia's manager ever since, as described in part 3.)
Colombia – here we are! First show tomorrow in Medellin… pic.twitter.com/0h5IAoslDM
— Fanfare Ciocarlia (@FCiocarlia) November 13, 2015
The music lives on: The twelve members of the fanfare, plus the thirteenth Ciocărlia?
But although the village of Zece Prajini may not be dead, its finely cultivated music may in fact be dying.
Before I get to that though (in part 5), I've done some searching, and while it's been nice to find various musicians around the world trying to play the music of Fanfare Ciocărlia – in places like Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, Berlin, Switzerland, and more – not only does it generally lack Fanfare Ciocărlia's "very special gypsy touch, i.e. more warmth, more colour, and more shine" as Ioan Ivancea described the fanfare, but while at best being alright (and certainly not as fast nor as tight as Fanfare Ciocărlia), at worst it can sound like silly circus music or, at the other extreme, academic.
It's certainly not my intention though to discourage people from trying to play the music of Fanfare Ciocărlia (or whomever else), but having not had the cultural incubation that Zece Prajini provided its inhabitants, said music can't help but inherently lack that "in the blood" sort of "magic" that the members of Fanfare Ciocărlia enjoy thanks to the binding ties of their community and their upbringing. (And by "community" I mean community in its nitty-gritty sense of having to suffer those you live amongst, not its modern substitution for the word "club".)
Nonetheless, perhaps we can call those musicians playing the music of Fanfare Ciocărlia the attempt of finding said music some fertile ground in foreign lands in which new roots can be established, a situation in which music emerges not directly from a people's culture and its contact with the soil, but one in which it is making the attempt to adapt itself to conditions it's not "acclimatized" to. In other words, yes, the imitators may sound a bit… contrived… but what about the children of those musicians? And their children's children?
Again, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that a peaceful and equitable (re)localization of our cultures is not going to be an automatic result of the collapse of industrial civilization. With resource shortages having only just started to kick in, and whose effects are so far only being felt in the peripheries (unless you want to count the centres that are only just starting to receive an influx of fleeing migrants, vainly searching for a safe haven from the triaged peripheries), with very little realization currently existing as to what's going on there's not much indication that things are going to get any better before they get a whole lot worse.
Nonetheless, we should certainly do what we can manage to (re)localize our cultures in all the ways we can, of which should include not simply the preservation of locally adapted seeds and livestock, building methods, decentralized power systems, local currencies, and so forth. Because as important as those things are, man does not live from sustainability alone. In other words, with Fanfare Ciocărlia being the equivalent of the masterly cultivated heirloom seeds facing the threat of extinction, rather than simply stocking up our preps with iPhones or vinyls or whatever it be in order to retain some recorded music, an even better idea would be if through all the emerging commotion our villages could somehow manage to cultivate their prajini and sow the seeds of Fanfare Ciocărlia and other forms of traditional and folk music (such as Taraf de Haïdouks). Because if we managed to do so, then it would certainly be possible that our post-collapse world could truly become a beautiful place.
And so, by being seeds of music, that's how bands of Gypsies can help bring harmony and light to the world, particularly in what appears to be the coming years of darkness.
Published on The Doomstead Diner on March 26, 2017
Discuss this article at the Psychology Table inside the Diner
A couple of weeks ago while surfing on r/collapse, I ran into another one of those comments that really bugs me in the collapse blogosphere, that we (as in all Homo Saps) deserve to die because we are all responsible for destroying the ecosystem. I also got in a dispute with one of the mods who had deleted one of my comments because I included in it the tag line from the Church of Euthanasia, "Save the Planet. Kill Yourself.". Over on Nature Bats Last when I participated in that commentariat there was another misanthrope Pat who used this tag line to close all his posts, until Dr. McStinktion finally told him to stop because it made it look like he encouraged suicide. At this time he also put up a bunch of suicide hotlines on the sidebar as well, because of course his message tends to attract depressed and suicidal people.
Anyhow, I decided to put up a Selfie Post titled The Church of Euthanasia on r/collapse to address this topic, and below you will find the OP as well as a selection from the comment stream; If you want to read all the comments, follow the link to the thread on Reddit r/collapse.
Following the excerpt from the comment stream, I'll look at another misanthropic group out there, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.
OP by RE
One of the things that bugs me most on collapse websites is the rampant misanthropy you find in some people, who will often spout off on how Homo Sap DESERVES to die and they can't wait for it to happen. According to this logic, "we" as in everybody living on the planet are all equally and collectively responsible, so it would be better if we all were dead, the sooner the better.
I'm sorry, I'm not taking responsibility for the collective mistakes of mankind and giving myself the Death Penalty for this.
However, there actually was a CHURCH OF EUTHANASIA which sported the tagline, "Save the Planet. Kill Yourself."
On September 13, 1993, motorists driving on the Massachusetts Turnpike witnessed an unusual sight: A highway billboard for the Museum of Science in Boston had been covered by a ten-foot-by-ten-foot black banner with the words "Save the Planet—Kill Yourself" painted in white.
Taken to it's logical conclusion, this is where misanthropy leads to. Hating all people because you think they are all collectively responsible for the state of the planet and all should be dead as soon as possible is what gets this type of behavior going. It's just plain wrong.
You haven't really explained what's wrong about it other than you don't like it. I don't hold those views that you describe, my utopia is an earth that lives within its means, not one littered with corpses.
However, it's hard not to feel a little misanthropy when observing the incredible damage we are doing to the planet in the name of vanity. Every skyscraper is a middle finger to the ecosystem that made us possible. With that in mind, I can see the appeal of removing humans from earth.
But I wouldn't kill myself because a poster told me to. Unless there were boobs on it.
If you need an explanation of why it is wrong, you already are off the deep end. Get real. Advocating self-extinction either by killing yourself or not procreating exhibits an ungodly amount of self-hatred for your own species. If you are that deep down the Rabbit Hole, you are beyond salvation.
I will publish a full article on this Rabbit Hole next week on the Diner.
Apparently you do not see any options other than "to help extinction" or to "try to survive the Zero Point".
I don't even understand what "survive the Zero Point" means, but I do understand that virtually no dichotomy can withstand close scrutiny despite my extensive experience in using vegetative dichotomous keys for identifying plant species.
I would suggest that maybe there is a bit more to this issue that what you have distilled it down to. For example, it is not necessarily misanthropic to believe that humans in possession of virtually unlimited energy occupy the niche of parasite of the Earth's biosphere which opens up a whole set of complexities to the issue that you have not addressed.
It appears to me that you are focusing on one small subset of all possible cognitive positions regarding this issue in order to draw an overarching, broad brush conclusion.
I don't know. It just seems like there is a lot more that could be said before arriving at "It's just plain wrong." Perhaps, you could start at the beginning and credibly establish what you describe as "rampant misanthropy" and corroborate and quantify your assertion that people "often spout off" about how "Homo Sap DESERVES to die".
Well, it's rather obvious, I suppose, that I don't see what you see and apparently I am not alone.
I will offer one last thought before shutting my yappy rambling face. While I agree with the abstract notion that it is not logical for anyone to accept responsibility for the collective mistakes of humanity, I don't find it threatening. The one thing among humanity that I find threatening is the act of declaring oneself to be in possession of truth or the inability to conclude a discourse with an admission of the possibility of being wrong. "The illusion of knowledge is at the root of all conflict." [a self-quote]
And, yes, I could be, and most likely am, wrong.
I don't even understand what "survive the Zero Point" means
It refers to the discontinuity of a mathematical function. Right now we are experiencing exponential growth. At some point this function will break and there will be a population crash. The goal here is to survive this crash to begin the process of rebuilding the planet.
In terms of what my focus is, it's to keep on living (not myself, the species). That is the opposite of people who think the human race deserves to go extinct. What is so difficult to understand about that?
Finally, I don't find anything "threatening" about the idea of accepting collective responsibility, I merely said I wouldn't be a part of it. If you want accept collective responsibility for destroying the planet, feel free, be my guest. It makes no sense to me, but apparently it does to you.
According to this logic, "we" as in everybody living on the planet are all equally and collectively responsible […]
This is an excellent point. The world's richest 10% of the population emit 50% of all carbon, while the poorer half is responsible for just 10%. I'm not spelling out the conclusions to euthanasia, but killing yourself definitely doesn't make much sense in light of this data.
If you want to talk gross generalizations, you can't go further than this. Blame the ENTIRE SPECIES! "We're ALL ROTTEN! There are NO good people who deserve to live!"
It's just ridiculous. The self-hatred involved here is just astounding.
This also extends to the anti-breeding sentiment around here. Not reproducing is a form of collective suicide.
And I don't hate myself enough to play that game. I'm making an active effort to keep my carbon footprint below the limits of sustainability. So I'll have one child (below replacement, and within the carrying capacity of my own land) and refuse to feel guilty about that.
In terms of not breeding, that is actually the technique that the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement promotes, not killing yourself. That one belongs to the Church of Euthanasia, I attributed that tag line incorrectly originally.
However, they do amount to the same thing in the end, which is to extinguish the species purposefully because you think "we" are all so horrible. We're all Cockroaches in need of Extermination, etc.
No, we're not all bad people, there are good people. Unfortunately, we do have a lot of bad people running the show, because the system selects for that. We need to eliminate the system and eliminate the bad people, the cockroaches that infest our collective kitchen.
Bring on the Orkin Man!
To be fair, many of us would probably be dead for a long time if euthanasia was legal. The uncertainty of suicide, the prospect of suffering, and the pain and lack of comprehension from one's social circles, can weigh more than the hatred for our species. If death was guaranteed with a single, painless injection, and without any of the stigmas related to suicide, the story would be different, and an unprecedented number of humans would no longer walk the earth.
Personally, if euthanasia was legal, I would decide to die even if we weren't collapsing; I find my biological urges too tiresome and the prospect of an ever deteriorating body is too taxing on my psyche.
Well, if there was a Youth in Asia clinic on every street corner along with Ads promoting it on TV and Tweets regularly hitting your cell phone promoting it, I'm sure it would be quite popular.
Text to Mom:
Hey Mom! Won't be home for Dinner tonight! I have an appointment at the Youth in Asia clinic after Soccer practice. You can give my steak to Fido.
Now, compared to the Church of Euthanasia, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement looks positively benign. They don't ask for people currently walking the Earth to commit Seppuku, just don't reproduce. Which means for the most part people stop fucking, although the VEHM has Sodomy as one of their basic principles for getting this extinction job done. What do you think the likelihood is that all 7.3B people currently ambulatory will choose to stop having children? What is the likelihood you could forcibly sterilize all of them? What is the likelihood you could pass out enough free condoms which never fail to everybody? Your chances of winning the LOTTO twice in a row are better than this. It's just ludicrous and it's not gonna happen.
In reality of course, anti-natalism is just as misanthropic as euthanasia is, the only difference here is you put off the final extinguishing of the human race into the next generation, and YOU get to live out your life, at least until you descend into a Children of Men scenario.
At least in that dystopian scenario, the lack of fertility arrived spontaneously and mysteriously, but the outcome of trying to do this purposefully likely would not be much different. The HOPELESSNESS involved here gives people very little reason to stick to any kind of social norms, so you just end up with a big conflagration.
Now, this is not to say I am not in favor of limiting reproduction somewhat if possible, clearly if we want to achieve some kind of sustainable situation for Homo Sap, I certainly am in full support of this idea. Exponential Growth on a Finite Planet just is not possible. However, you can't achieve this by sterilizing everyone and nobody procreating anymore. If you could somehow do it, that amounts to a Species Wide Seppuku, and is no different than the Church of Euthanasia, just it delays it out of your lifetime.
The general belief system in both the case of the Church of Euthanasia and the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement is that Homo Saps are BAD SPECIES, and EVERYBODY who is a member of this species should DIE! At least the CoE people are a bit more ehtical in this and put this extinction into your own lifetime rather than your unborn children, but they both are nihilistic concepts and approaches. They also demonstrate an astounding level of self-hatred and self-contempt.
So what DO we need to do to reduce the population in a manner consistent with survival of the species? NOTHING! The problem takes care of itself through the 4 Horsmen of the Apocalypse! Famine, Pestilence, War & Death will reduce the population of Homo Sap without any direction from anyone.
In general, when the 4 Horsemen come a-calling, the weakest in the population are culled first, the elderly and infrim and infants who cannot be supported by the population or are most susceptible to disease.. The poorest are used for Cannon Fodder in the Wars as well, and then the Richest are strung up by their Gonads or filled full of lead in a Ruskie Basement like Nicholas & Alexandra Romanoff in the Bolshevik Revolution.
We all gotta go sometime.
The thing is, unlike everyone commitng mass suicide a-la Jonestown, some people are left alive here, and they are mostly of healthy breeding age, so you get a reboot after the culling is done with.
Sadly, because of the depth of the Overshoot and the degree of degradation to the environment, this particular culling event is likely to be the largest ever in gross numbers for Homo Saps.
Just because MANY people will die though doesn't mean EVERYBODY will die, at least not in the near term anyhow. So the objective for the individual who wishes to live and see his or her children live also is to position yourself as best as possible for the coflagrations to come. That is no EZ task of course, and besides planning will take a good deal of LUCK as well. Percentage aren't good here, particularly not for residents of the Big Shities.So if there is any way you can do it, the time to GTFO of Dodge is NOW. Better a Day Early than a Minute too Late.
Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on February 27, 2017
Discuss this article at the Psychology Table inside the Diner
Have you noticed how many people are losing their minds recently? Ever since people here in the UK democratically voted to leave the European Union and, more recently, voters in the USA decided they'd rather have a businessman as the president instead of a career politician, people have been, to put it politely, going batshit crazy. People who, before these votes took place, appeared to be well balanced and generally happy in life, might now spend their every waking moment hammering away on keyboards with the caps lock on, spitting out an endless slew of invective against people they don't know. The slightest thing can trigger them off into an epic meltdown and one can only imagine their red rheumy eyes scanning their computer screens as they scroll continuously looking for another perceived slight that can be blown up into a full-on fight to the death.
If this were the Middle Ages these people would be called "possessed".
Here's an interesting thought experiment, imagine if we wound back the clock by a couple of years and approached these keyboard warriors with a simple question. If they were British we might ask them "On a scale of 1 – 10 how interested are you in the political and trading arrangements between the UK and the European Union?" Most people, I suspect, would reply that they were either rather uninterested or utterly uninterested. Many would just grunt and look puzzled and say "Eh?" They would then ask you what you thought of the latest series of Game of Thrones.
Now, these same people might say that the arrangements between the UK and the EU are practically the most important thing in the history of things. They might then claim they have always thought that way — that all those years when they ventured no comment on politics or economics or anything serious at all were merely an act — and that anyone who even dares to question the importance of such a thing is a closet fascist and an ignorant sub-human who deserves to be put out of his misery with a cricket bat.
The same goes for America. Ask a person in 2014 whether the country should be run efficiently and like a business and most people would probably agree that it sounds like a good idea. Roll forward to 2017 and there's a president who's a businessman who's trying to run the country like a business and half the population are claiming that he's a satanic Hitler who uses kitten heads as golf balls and lets Vladimir Putin urinate on him as he's wrapped in the American flag.
What's going on?
Clearly, social media and digital legacy media have played a part in the great insanitising of the West. People have retreated inside their own echo chamber silos where the only views they get to hear accord 100% with their own views, meaning the moment they encounter someone with a slightly different viewpoint (which, to them, will also appear 100% logical and correct) they react as if they just opened their wardrobe to find a tentacled Chthonic abomination trying on their shoes as it lazily devours their firstborn child.*
But anyway, what is it exactly that is causing so many people to go crackers over what, to many of the people who read this kind of blog regard as of the lesser order of magnitude of the Bad Things That Can Happen scale? For a long time we've been saying that our civilisation depends on cheap and abundant energy, and that the supply of our most accessible form of that energy — oil — is faltering and that there's nothing out there to replace it, in any meaningful sense. And that as it falters we'll follow the time-honoured trajectory of civilisations in decline which will feature the more powerful actors attempting to secure energy and materials (as represented by monetary wealth), an inevitable kickback by the left-behind majority whose survival instinct will lead them to choose leaders and reject the ideology foisted upon them by the establishment, who will in turn then fight back etc. — in a rinse and repeat cycle that continues until a new equilibrium is established, albeit at much lower levels of available energy, materials and — yes — population.
We entered into this part of our dance of death some decades ago and it's testament to the power of politics and marketing that the illusion of things getting better (How? For whom? At what cost?) has persisted for so long. When this mass illusion began to fracture in the early part of the 21st century most people doubled down on the denial presented to them by the corporate media. We had somehow convinced ourselves that we were a 'special case' and that the normal rules of entropy and dissolution did not apply to us. Boy, was that a bad mistake, but surely someone must be to blame?
Have you ever heard of the term 'gaslighting'? I encountered it for the first time when I read Thomas Sheridan's book on psychopaths and mind control Puzzling People: The Labyrinth of the Psychopath — but have heard it used increasingly ever since.
The 1940 British film Gaslight is about a married couple who move into a vacant house in a fashionably wealthy London square. An old woman had been murdered in the house some years before and the property had stood vacant ever since. At first everything seems normal and the couple are happy. But then something odd happens; the woman keeps mislaying things around the house and forgetting where they are, and the husband begins to accuse her of stealing them. He disappears for long periods of time to the top floor of the house—somewhere his wife never ventures—and every time he does so the lights in the house dim. His wife notes this but he dismisses it, implies that she is losing her marbles.
Gaslight — which you can watch for free on YouTube — is a classic illustration of a how a psychopath controls their unsuspecting victim. The person being controlled does not realise they are being manipulated in such a way as they see every 'failing' as a personal one and they will do anything to protect the person who has captured their mind and soul. This is the precise manner in which cults are able to convince people to commit suicide en masse, and anyone who manages to escape from the cult will be able to tell you how terrifying it is for someone to have such complete control over you without you even realising it. They will sink to any depth to defend against anyone who is attacking their beloved leader, to whom they have unconditionally surrendered their mental and emotional faculties.
Which begs the question: have millions of people in the West fallen victim to mind control and gaslighting? In my view the answer is almost certainly yes. Are they irrational and impervious to any argument that doesn't conform with the one they have drilled into their own head? Are they united against some kind of common enemy or demon who is so evil as to justify any form of protest or violence against them? Are they willing to lay down their lives for their dear leader — just like the members of the Heaven's Gate cult, whom Marshall Applewhite managed to convince to commit suicide in order to hitch a ride on a passing alien space craft? When Hillary Clinton released a video yesterday calling for 'resistance' to Donald Trump, the hive mind of social media immediately responded with the following image:
Generations of cultural and social programming has resulted in a mass of people who are mentally vulnerable and easily manipulated. Some of it has been deliberate and some of it may not have been. In Dmitry Orlov's recent book Shrinking the Technosphere: Getting a grip on Technologies that Limit our Autonomy, Self Sufficiency and Freedom (New Society Publishers), he makes a convincing case for the existence of a "Technosphere", which is an emergent system that has evolved the characteristic of intelligence and now seeks to dominate the human mind and spirit. It takes human beings with rich histories and cultures, as well as great intrinsic worth, and processes them into almost homogenous units of consumption and production as a means of expanding its own power. People, willingly and unwillingly, submit to being fed into its gaping maw and one of the software programs this Technosphere machine runs on is neoliberal economic orthodoxy, as personified by Hillary Clinton or any other globalist politician.
The Irish writer and artist Thomas Sheridan, likewise, identifies the same phenomenon but from a different angle. Working on Wall Street he once handled a report for a large bank financing a dam being built in Central America. He asked a senior staff member what the miscellaneous costs item was at the bottom of a row of figures and was told off-handedly that this is the money put aside to pay the local mafia to murder all the people opposed to the project. That was an epiphanic moment for Sheridan and he went on to investigate how such seemingly evil machinations can be passed off as merely the cost of doing business, coining the term "Psychopathic Control Grid", which to all intents and purposes is the same as Orlov's Technosphere in that it assigns value to humans and nature only in as much as it can use them for its own ends. In this regard we have somehow created the ultimate death machine, and its modus operandi is neoliberal corporate capitalism.
For people to willingly submit to having their cultures assimilated, their economies ground into the dust, their sense of sexual identity made incoherent and to endure a lifetime of debt servitude in hock to a priestly class of bankers, academics and pseudo mystics (Zuckerberg, Bezos, Musk et al.) they must be offered something as recompense. And that something is no less than a vision of perfect enlightenment or Nirvana. The true believers, who usually identify themselves as atheists, are even willing to be sacrificed to the gods of progress — just look at how many applied for a one way ticket to Mars and the reasons they gave for willingly giving up their (usually young) lives. This Nirvana, of course, won't be attained by the faithful any time soon, but remains far off in a fuzzy Star Trek future i.e. after they are dead. In effect, 'progressive' neoliberalism is a death cult.
On the other end of what appears to many to be a spectrum, we have Donald Trump, Brexit, nationalism and conservatism all lumped uneasily together. For neoliberal progressives this can also appear cult-like. Who knows, perhaps there are people out there who worship Donald Trump as a living messiah and hang his tweets on their bedroom walls in gilt frames, and certainly there are those who maintain that concepts such as the "free market" (a mythic entity with no earthly presence) are worthy of unquestioning worshipful obedience — but in reality they are a different kettle of fish. Most people who chose to vote for Brexit or Donald Trump didn't do so on idealogical terms, they did so on down-to-earth practical ones. Unable to see the greater glory of a neoliberal progressive future they turned instead to look at their own run-down communities, their empty wallets and their ever-dimishing freedoms and they decided to vote against the assorted lawyer-politicos and unelected bureaucrats who they identified as the cause of their malaise.
So, if you got caught up in this and lost your mind, then I'm afraid to say you may have fallen at the first hurdle of our increasingly challenging future. If you spend hours of every day sitting on Facebook writing snarky passive-aggressive comments to your "friends" and trying to debunk them by posting links to your own favoured highly-manipulated information source, then you've been bitten just as bad. Claiming that anyone who doesn't agree with you is "Hitler" is not the way to regain your mental balance, and neither is calling anyone who doesn't agree with you a "Snowflake Pussy" from the other team. Bear in mind that, as Frank Zappa once said, politics is merely the entertainment arm of the military industrial complex, so try to concentrate on the things that are more immediately relevant to your life, such as your friends and family.
To that end, i you value your sanity and think it wiser to direct your energy towards making your little bit of the world a better place during your limited time here then it's probably best to steer clear of political death cults altogether, and instead take a more Stoical view of life. If you've got the time and inclination, take off for a hike alone in a region not too infested by the Technosphere. Pick somewhere you won't encounter many people (or, better still, any) and pack a copy of the meditations of Marcus Aurelius (as I did in the account of my Swedish forest journey The Path to Odin's Lake) and something by Carl Jung. To ensure you are out of the reach of the Psychopathic Control Grid, leave your phone at home and say 'Hi' to your shadow side as you contemplate your own inevitable demise and the demise of everyone and everything you hold dear — because plumbing the depths of your psyche builds perspective and makes you a more balanced individual. Spend time in nature, notice the animals and the trees and the way rain drips off leaves and how sun light is dappled on the ground, and then meditate on deep time and what it means to be a human being alive at this point in the turning of the Earth. If you do this you'll find it to be a useful first step in building up some protection against gaslighting and mind control and you'll feel a greater sense of autonomy and personal resilience. When you get back, if you've truly embraced the challenge you'll be quite unable to hate anyone on the basis of their ideology, cultural or religious identity or whatever — and that will be a useful mental state to be in as we continue on our hike down the far side of Hubbert's curve.
Of course, if this is too difficult and, like a moth circling a candle you simply must throw yourself into the flames, then by all means be my guest. You won't lack for company as you self-immolate and after you've been reborn you can visit a past life regression hypnotist who'll inform you that you died a martyr to some cause that will seem completely incomprehensible to the future you. But there will be more food and stuff to go round for the rest of us, so take your pick.
* [You will either have laughed at my flippant comments above or you will have stared at the screen shaking your head and closing the tab because you’ve no time for people who joke around when things are so serious. But please take note: gallows humour is another way of avoiding insanity.]
Published on R/COLLAPSE on March 21, 2017
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The collapse of civilization quite frankly isn't half as interesting to me as the dysfunction of civilization is. The main elephant in the room is that this drastic increase in our standard of living might have led to material wealth, but it has merely lead to an epidemic of miserable dysfunctional people, kept alive by a government that's expected to use technology to fill the gaps created by a society that has started to fall apart. I think rather than staring ourselves blind at oil decline rates and sea ice statistics, we have to consider the possibility that civilization may fall apart simply because it manages to make people so miserable that they refuse to participate.
You can look at the suicide and drug overdose rates to see that our society is not functioning well. The terrorism and mass shooting epidemics we face are simply subsets of the suicide epidemic, expressed in a different cultural framework. In some subcultures you post on 4chan before you go out and kill yourself, in some you write a manifesto, in others you imagine yourself to act out on a religious obligation.
It used to be the case that when you got sick, you got better again, or you died. Today people get sick and spend the rest of their life in a state of impairment. They might have missing organs, they might be stuck in a wheelchair or they might be in chronic pain. A cynic might say that the solution we found to the technological unemployment crisis was to make people so sick that they can't work, thereby creating jobs for the rest of us who need to take care of them.
In the old days, you found a boyfriend or a girlfriend, someone got pregnant, a shotgun wedding resulted and you spent the next sixty or seventy years together. That's how my grandparents were married, the marriage might not have been perfect, but I can't say that I'm under the impression they were worse off as a result. If the relationship really wasn't satisfying, you'd keep it up for the outside world and you'd secretly agree to have an extramarital affair.
If you had some very unfortunate health condition you might spend the rest of your life alone, but most people managed to get their shit together. Even my grandfather who lost his leg as a kid in an accident simply managed to get married, had a bunch of shitty jobs that required zero education and could afford a nice house with a garden where he raised three children and lived out the last sixty-five years or so of his life. Try doing that now.
Look at today's society and you'll see young people have sex with the same person for a few months, anxiously making sure that no pregnancy results with state of the art contraceptive methods, move on to the next partner because the previous one didn't work out, then eventually find themselves unable to genuinely fall in love again and spend their days alone. Others are for whatever reason unable to enter a relationship. Many grow up staring at smartphones and other screens and as a result never learn to interact with others.
If you read Michel Houellebecq's book "Whatever", you'll notice his thesis that our society is saturated with sex because we're secretly tired of it. I'm friends with good looking girls in their twenties who spend their weekends poledancing. You'd imagine these would be loose girls perhaps, but nope, I had one of them admit recently that she's never even had a relationship and fills that gaping hole in her heart with this girl-power clique of superficial hypersexuality. I'd love to say this is a joke, but it's not. Go to Japan and you'll find record numbers of people in their thirties who have simply resigned themselves to lifelong celibacy. These are people who would have been married with children fifty years ago.
We think of pole-dancers and girls in thongs, covered in tattoos and piercings as hypersexual beings, but they're the opposite. People puff up their emptiness. Even if they still have sex, they separated sex from the consequences and unequal power dynamics imposed upon us by nature and as a result it can no longer be called sex, it becomes something entirely different. It has as much to do with sex as a plastic Christmas tree has to do with photosynthesis. The new image of hypersexuality is not Miley Cyrus, it's Michelle Duggar. Women like her live lives drenched in a kind of sexuality that permeates throughout their lives rather than being confined to the bedroom, whereas the women I date are forced to dress like men due to hygiene requirements in their workplace.
Birth rates are falling because young people today are completely unable to enter functional relationships with each other and develop a sense of financial stability. In the world of upper-middle class young white people, you spend until your late twenties "studying", with a year or two in between where you travel around the world or visit Africa to help out the orphans there because you need something on your resume. Then eventually, you just dedicate yourself to your career. Children? You get a Chihuahua to fill that vacuum and you tell yourself some convenient story you read on some hip online magazine about how children are bad for the environment.
The future was supposed to be exciting, but I can't reach any other conclusion than that most people I see are thoroughly bored with the world they live in. They tell themselves that they're "busy", whereas in reality they spend five or six hours a day watching TV/Netflix/some other screen because they're emotionally exhausted from profoundly boring jobs. Your grandparents had to keep themselves entertained through social activities. They might visit the local pub, they would go fishing, they would play card games with each other, they didn't have a TV to keep themselves entertained with. In the 90's young people still went to clubs, but most discotheques in my country are now struggling to survive.
You remember your grandparents with the aura of respectability they had when they were old, but they lived wild lives when they were young too. Wilder than yours, I'm willing to guess. That's another thing worth noting. In every aspect, Millennials like me seem extremely well-behaved compared to generation X and the Babyboomers. Teenage pregnancies are at record lows, alcohol use by teens has gone down, crimes committed by young teenagers have gone down tremendously too.
How did that happen? Well, in reality, we just had the life spirit drained from us. That primal will to live and thrive that leads us to violate social conventions is gone. The friends I talk to are depressed and will claim that they don't want relationships with others, that they're happier single than they ever were in a relationship. The girls I talk to are frightened by the prospect of going out to a club to dance, because they envision the girls there will be better looking than them. They'd rather sit at home and stare at cat-pictures on the Internet than act like young people.
Generation Y is doing pretty terrible, but generation Z seems to have hit rock bottom. You can read the news about eating disorders, self-mutilation and all these other problems, but I'd like for people in their sixties or seventies today to simply tell me if this is how young people were back when you were young. These problems are not a normal part of youth, they're new. The studies we have show that mental disorders like anxiety and depression are far more common than they were in the thirties to fifties, when we still had a functional civilization. Look at teenagers today and you'll see how they seem to think it's hilarious to send me_irl memes back and forth about how they think of themselves as pathetic losers who would rather be dead. Again, that's not normal.
Today's young people spend until their mid-twenties jumping through hoops, with the message in the back of their head that if they miss any of them, they're fucked. Bad grade in high school? You're fucked. Dropped out of high school? You're fucked. No extracurricular activities to put on your CV? You're fucked. It continues all the way as they try to get into the most prestigious unpaid internship. Meritocracy has turned your life into a never-ending rat race. Regular normal children today suffer more anxiety than psychiatric patients did in the 1950's. If you think it's bad now, wait until the next step follows, where we start genetically testing children to figure out where their skills lie, like they do in China.
In the old days, you could accept that you're born as white trash and that you'll live an average existence similar to that of your parents. If you were born wealthy, nepotism would ensure you wouldn't be publicly humiliated if you failed to get your shit together, you'd have an uncle in management somewhere or your father would know someone who can set you up with something. Today everyone can theoretically accomplish anything and as a result nobody can ever be content with anything. In the words of Sylvia Plath: "Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing."
Published on The Doomstead Diner March 23, 2017
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Losing her beloved husband of 20 years was rough for Kellie. Watching as the man she loved so much descend into depression and alcoholism after losing his job as a middle manager for a tool and die factory where he worked his way up in the ranks over the years of their marriage was incredibaly depressing. The factory was moved to Mexico, and all the local workers were laid off. To make ends meet, Kellie had to go to work as a low paid cashier at Walmart, and their son Kenny himself not yet out of High School contributed as well, doing work cutting lawns. Her dearly departed husband Max had secured a job as a night manager at the same Walmart, but his unhappiness in the position and his fate was evident every day, as he drank himself into a stupor and chain smoked Camel Straights. They did make ends meet though, until he died from a massive coronary while in an argument with the day shift Supervising Manager.
When Max died, Kellie could no longer meet the payments on the mortgage to their McHovel, but fortunately there was still some decent equity in it and she was able to unload it and take around $60,000 out of it after the Banksters took their cut of the pie and the tax man took his. She gave half to Kenny, and dropped the other half in her own Credit Union account as a buffer against ending up Homeless and Freezing to Death on the Streets of Missoula, MT.
Kellie was also fortunate her older brother Kyle had become a successful Dentist in Spokane, and not only offered her free rent in his Guest House on his McMansion property, but also a job as Receptionist and Records Clerk in his Dental Office, located in a strip mall in a lower middle class suburb of Spokane. Kyle's 3 grown children were sprinkled all over the FSoA pursuing a variety of careers, and besides his main work as a Dentist Kyle pursued a variety of hobbies, Beekeeping, Gardening and running a grid tied Solar PV 36V system for his McMansion and to charge up his Tesla Model X EV that he used to commute to work at the Dental Office from the Gated community where his McMansion was located. Kyle's wife Alicia worked as the Office Manager and Bookkeeper, so all 3 travelled together to work in the Tesla, making for an efficient commute for 3 people, relatively speaking next to all the solo drivers in ICE vehicles they had to combat in traffic every day anyhow.
Kyle also loved dogs, and had as companions a huge Labrador Retriever named Scooby Doo as well as a Siberian Husky named Balto, and his wife Alicia's dog Blood, who was a West Highland White Terrier.. All the dogs were purebred Males, and periodically Kyle would rent them out for breeding purposes with other owners of females of the same pedigree, pocketing the stud fee. It was one of the many small biznesses he ran besides his Dental office although it wasn't too profitable, mainly a labor of love and a way to keep the dogs from going nuts unless he had them castrated, which he could not bring himself to do.
Kyle's wife Alicia and sister Kellie had become even closer friends once she moved to Spokane than they had been over the years, and often they would all have dinner together at the McMansion, or Kyle would spring for a dinner out at one of the fine restaraunts or music bars in downtown Spokane, where he would generally vent on the load of taxation which was driving him out of bizness.
"It's fucking INSANE! The goddamn Corporations and Billionaires pay NO TAXES, and meanwhile the fucking Goobermint is soaking me for every dime of profit we make drilling teeth! Dental insurance is a fucking joke, and the patients can't afford the Root Canals and Caps, and now they're all flying to Mexico to get it done cheaper there! They get a Mexican Beach Vacation in the process, and it's STILL cheaper there! I can't even sell the fucking bizness to a young Dentist, because they are too broke from the student loans they took out to get a Dental license from the ADA! I gotta buy a new fucking Xray machine every 5 years because new and zippier models come out and I gotta compete with the Dr. Joneses in the next strip mall over! Before I even have the last Xray machine paid off! "
"Calm down,sweety." Alicia advised, patting his hand gently. "You're going to get a heart attack if you keep this up. Why don't you order a nice bottle of Pinot Noir and mellow out a little here?"
"Yea Kyle, mom and dad always were telling you to put a lid on it when you started ranting, I remember that when you were in High School and I was in kindergarten.", Kellie added.
Kyle sighed. "Yea, OK. I gotta get my mind off this shit."
Kyle flagged down the wine steward and ordered a bottle of 2007 Willakenzie Estate Pinot Noir Terres Basses from the Willamette Valley in Oregon for $120, which was a good deal more than the $50/bottle he paid for it by the case to store in his Wine Cellar. However, for a fine dining extablishment like the Wild Sage Bistro, the markup on the wine wasn't too bad. "Anybody got anything else to talk about?"
Kellie decided it was a good time to bring up a concern and desire she had for some time since leaving Missoula. "Well, I was wondering if you guys might want to take a long weekend trip with me over to Missoula to visit Kenny? I haven't seen him in over a year, and even though we talk on the phone every so often and exchange emails, I would like to see how he is doing. He's still living his TEOTWAWKI Collapse Prepper obsession and living out of his Stealth Van. He says he bought some land by Lolo National Forest and is building on it, but I still worry about that lifestyle and what he is doing. It's just so odd. Nothing I could ever say would get him to go to college, even though he could have had a full scholarship anywhere. He got a perfect score on his SAT's you know and had a 4.0 GPA in High School.", Kellie said proudly.
"Kenny was always a really bright kid." Kyle recalled. "He sure did grow some amazing Ganga with his hydroponics setup! That was some of the best shit I ever took a Bong Hit off of!", Kyle laughed. "He does need some Bizness lessons though, I would have paid him double what he charged me for that shit!"
"So how about we take a trip there next month for maybe 4-5 days or so? We can add some hours during the week so we don't sacrifice too much income from being away from the Dental Office.", Kellie suggested.
"That's a good idea Kellie.", Alicia replied. "We could go to 7PM instead of 5PM and make up the hours and not reduce the income. I would like to see Kenny too and how he is living. That business of living out of his van really seems extreme. I thought you said he was making good money in his landscaping bizness?"
"Well, he was doing pretty good with it when I left, so I think he probably still is, but it's not really a money problem for Kenny. He probably could afford to rent an apartment or even buy a small house on a mortgage, but he's a "kollapsnik" as he calls himself. He's been that way ever since Junior High. He's convinced Industrial Civilization will collapse in the near future and is obsessed with preparing for that. So he spends his money on what he calls 'preps' instead of on living a normal life."
"Oh that's just nonsense!" Alicia exclaimed. "We just have some economic problems right now, it's a business cycle problem. Elon Musk is developing new batteries and soon he will have a colony on Mars as well! All this talk about civilization collapse is just ridiculous.", Alicia said in a huff, rolling her eyes.
"Well, I'm not so sure Kenny is wrong, sweetie.", Kyle replied to his wife. "It's not just the economic situation, as bad as it is. There are a lot of Climate and Environmental problems ongoing as well. I haven't had any problem with my Honeybees so far, but some of my friends in the Beekeeper community have lost their hives. Without the pollinators working full blast, we'll have a lot of problems keeping enough food growing for the 7.3B People currently walking the earth. The weather around here is getting really erratic also, first we had drought and now we are getting inundated by atmospheric rivers in the atmosphere full of moisture dropping buckets of rain down all the time. Makes growing my raised beds in the back yard very difficult! Your own sister is still cleaning up from the last flood in Seattle too!"
"Floods happen all the time!", Alicia retorted. "That's why you buy Flood Insurance! President Trump and many others say that we do not have a climate change problem!"
The difference of opinion over climate change problems and environmental issues was a sore spot that Kyle and Alicia had argued about on quite a few occassions, along with having some differing political views and voting for different candidates, but mostly they were able to get over these differences because their love for each other was so strong. Still, it did get difficult periodically.
Kellie interjected to stop this arguement between her Brother and Sister-in-Law from getting out of control.
"Well, whether climate is the problem or the economy is the problem,I still think it would be nice to go visit with Kenny and see how he is doing! Last time I talked to him he said he made a new friend near where he bought his land, and he has a new girlfriend too! I would like to meet her for sure!"
Alicia relaxed and let go of the Climate Change debate, which always bugged her. Even though subconsciously she was aware it was ongoing, it was something she just couldn't allow herself to believe. She enjoyed her life too much as a former chauffer for her 3 kids, playing bridge twice a week with the other upper class moms she had known for 20 years and shopping regularly at Nordstrom.
"Yea, it would be a good change of pace from the usual vacation to Hawaii in any case." Alicia responded. "We could do it over Memorial Day Weekend and add a couple of days to that on either side."
"Yea, that sounds like a good time.", Kyle agreed, sipping some more Pinot Noir while he munched out on the Rack of Lamb with Cabernet Sauce, Asparagus Hollandaise and Garlic Mashed Potatoes he had ordered for dinner.
"Great! It's a plan, as long as it will work for Kenny anyhow." Kellie replied happily, munching out herself on the Lobster and Clam stuffed Fillet of Sole, Spinach Souffle and Loaded Baked Potato she had ordered for dinner. I'll send Kenny an email tonight and see if we can get it finalized.
After finishing dinner with some Ecuadorian Espresso and Chocolate Mousse, the 3 headed back out into the parking lot and jumped in the Tesla for the drive back to the McMansion. By the time dinner was finished, the traffic had abated and they made it home in half the time it took during the morning rush hour commute. Kyle plugged the Tesla into his fast charger for an overnight top off of juice, then went inside with Alicia to throw a DVD on the 70" Samsung OLED Big Screen TV before bed time. It was Alicia's turn to pick the movie, and she picked one of her favorite Chick Flicks, "When Harry Met Sally".
Kellie headed for the guest house and settled down in front of her laptop to fire off an email to Kenny.
"Hey Kenny! How's it going? Haven't heard from you in over a week!
Listen, I was talking with Kyle and Alicia, and we were thinking of coming for a visit over the Memorial Day Weekend. Would this be a good time for you?
What kind of gear do we need to bring? Do we need Tents and Sleeping Bags?"
Kenny's Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone buzzed in the bottom pocket of his cargo shorts just as he was pulling in to one of his favorite Stealth Parking spots in Missoula, a lot for Joe's Auto Body Shop whose owner Joe he cut grass for and who gave him permission to park there at night, as long as he was out before the shop opened at 7AM. Joe had even given him keys to the shop so he could use the bathroom at night if he needed to. As good as this arrangement was, he still didn't use it every night, because the Gestapo would catch on too easily. Staying under the Gestapo radar and moving around between spots was an important aspect of Stealth Van living.
Reading the email on the smart phone, Kenny elected to get parked and settled in for the night, then fire up his All-in-One Dell Desktop unit to write a response to his mom. Keyboarding on the Dell which he had accessorized with a state of the art Razer Gaming Keyboard was much quicker than working the virtual thumboard on the Galaxy Mega screen, which was better than the tiny ones on IPhones but still not very good. It was even better than the voice to text recognition program on the Samsung, which often got words wrong and he had to go back and fix them manually, slowing things down considerably in SMS Text communication.
Once he got the van parked in an open spot between a Hummer with a crunched front quarter panel and a Mercedes that had been rear ended, Kenny sat down at his desk behind the driver cockpit in the comfortable Italian Leather Executive Office Chair his father had picked up at the final auction when his Tool & Die factory was moved to Mexico. His father had sat in that chair before him for nearly a decade once he moved from the factory floor into management. By the time he got it, the upholstery and leather were pretty shot, but Kenny bought all new foam and new leather and reupholstered it himself, so it was pretty much as good as new. He made some adaptations to the base so it would stay locked in place while he was driving around, but could be quickly released once parked to be able to slide on the casters and swivel around.
Kenny's desk and the rest of the interior of the Stealth Van were constructed mostly from Bamboo, which he got in Barter trade from an old Japanese Bamboo Master working outside of Missoula, in return for interning with him and assisting in the harvesting of the Bamboo. Kenny was also learning to play the Shakuhachi Flute, which was a relaxing way to spend many evenings by himself in the van.
"Hey Mom! Sorry for not getting in touch this week. Things have been really bizzy here with a lot of changes going on for me. I am working together with my new friend Karl and his daughter Karen and my friend from High School Kirsten to get our properties ready for SHTF Day and setting up a SUN Community here.
You and Kyle and Alicia are more than welcome to come for a visit! You don't need to bring tents, we have plenty of them and I will set up my F-Dome for all of us also, and we can also spend a lot of time at Karl's place, which is a PALACE for Kollapsniks like us. You might want to bring your own sleeping bags and pads though, and backpacks if you want to go hiking with us into the National Park.
I'll let Karl know we are having a Convocation over the Memorial Day weekend and that you guys will be coming in. Email me when you have a firm date for arrival. I know you haven't figured out how to use GPG4USB encryption yet, so I will meet you in Missoula and we can drive to the Doomstead together.
Can't wait to see you! I miss you a lot.
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on March 15th, 2017
When I finally made the first steps to end my abstention after more than ten years in the "musical wilderness" – where I of course overheard music on many occasions but didn't actually own any myself nor even so much as turn on a radio – there really wasn't any doubt as to which was the only group of musicians I'd heard in the past that I had any interest in listening to again: Taraf de Haïdouks. And in particular, their (2001) album Band of Gypsies.
The album isn't a play on Jimi Hendrix's ensemble but reflects the fact that Taraf de Haïdouks are in fact a bunch of Gypsies, from the Romanian village of Clejani. Consisting of several violins, accordions, cimbalom, double drum, upright bass, flute and clarinet, what made Band of Gypsies a bit different from Taraf de Haïdouks' other (excellent) albums was that three of the fourteen songs – three standout songs – had an additional brass accompaniment. As I belatedly found out upon re-listening to the album in 2016, this brass portion was not performed by Taraf de Haïdouks members but rather by a group of guest musicians, that being the Macedonian brass band Kočani Orkestar (from the town of Kočani), also a band of Gypsies and hence the album's title.
Abhorring the "music scene" and not quite willing to venture out from my "safe space", I spent three or so months in mid-2016 listening to nothing but that single album until I happened to find out that a Band of Gypsies 2 album had been released during my abstention (2011), one in which Kočani Orkestar play the album's entirety. I of course instantly snatched it up, and as I prefer the music I listen to to be rather overwhelming I wasn't disappointed.
After two months or so of then listening to nothing but Band of Gypsies 1 and 2 I was finally willing to venture out a bit further, and after finding three of Kočani Orkestar's albums to be rather good (and a few others, well, not so good), it was upon hearing their album Neat Veliov i Kočani Orkestar (Veliov being the lead trumpet player) that I was so blown away that I couldn't help but get the impression that all that American brass I'd heard over the years was little more than a confidence scheme (and that brass without a Turkish marching band percussion could never be adequate again). Getting the impression from the latter album that there was something rather extraordinary to this… Balkan Brass?… Gypsy Brass?… I finally decided to venture out even further to see if there was possibly something lurking out there waiting – needing – to be discovered. My search (yes, on YouTube) was more miss than hit, until, and therefore pretty much directly following my ten-plus years of musical abstinence, I somehow managed to go straight to hitting the mother lode.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. What in the world is THIS?
This, as I found out, was what happened to be yet another Gypsy band from Romania, this one by the name of Fanfare Ciocărlia, and they were apparently covering – no, owning – what I later found out to be a song by Duke Ellington. Not sure if these guys were just a one-hit wonder I listened to the album the song was from (their fourth), resulting in me hastily purchasing said album later that day, quickly followed by their third, then their second, and then after also purchasing their first album by the end of the week I could then say with confidence that I understood what it was like to be a (sleep deprived) pig in shit.
If you've never heard Fanfare Ciocărlia before then perhaps you shouldn't, because once you do there's a good chance that brass music – possibly even music itself – won't ever be able to sound the same again. Never mind that their ability to play their trumpets, horns, tubas, clarinets and percussion with such speed – yet deft precision – will make your jaw drop in complete disbelief at the seeming impossibility of it all, but the amount of joy and humour that explodes from their music – a veritable wall of sound – is so uncanny that it could very well be the elixir to cure Guy McPherson and his gang of nihilists. Not to describe Fanfare Ciocărlia's music too much just yet (I'll get to that later, with some samples), but how music can sound like this without being hokey or contrived or coming off like silly circus music is a wonder in itself.
To make a long story short, the members of Fanfare Ciocărlia all (except for one) hail from such a remote village in Romania's north-eastern province of Moldova that until recently it didn't even appear on any map, requiring those going to and fro by the train that didn't stop at the village to either jump on or off as it slowed down going around a bend. Several Gypsy families lived in the area for centuries, and in 1864 when slavery was outlawed the Gypsy serfs, freed from their feudal conditions, approached the Boyar for some land to farm and live upon. Being a kind man the Boyar did in fact give them ten fields down in the valley from which they could make their living, their village thus becoming known as Zece Prajini, which translates to Ten Fields.
Being hardworking peasant farmers they developed strong lung capacity but also hands that were inevitably too calloused for the intricacy required by the more traditional Gypsy instruments (such as violins), forcing them to gravitate towards the more amenable brass instruments. As the decades went by Zece Prajini became known amongst locals as the place to find the finest musicians, its farmers thus able to supplement their income as hired musicians by both Roma (Gypsies) and Romanians to play at their weddings, baptisms and other festivities – Gypsy weddings that could last for days and Romanian weddings where you'd better know the traditional songs as well as the latest hits, or else.
As the 20th century progressed atrocities such as communism (which collectivized Zece Prajini's farm land) and the Ceaușescu regime reared their ugly heads, although the men of Zece Prajini now also supplemented their subsistence farming with work at the local steel mill. It was here that Ioan Ivancea, who was to become the patriarch of what came to be known as Fanfare Ciocărlia, led the factory brass band who provided the service of being the ad hoc group of musicians on call for festivities of all sorts.
With the collapse of communism in 1989 came the return of Zece Prajini's collectivized land but also the closure of the steel mill, resulting in not only the villagers being out of their factory jobs but also in a declining demand for their musicianship since the out-of-work people in the area could generally no longer afford musicians that "extravagant" weddings called for. Making things even worse was the introduction of cheap (by all meanings of the word) DJs and keyboard samplers who increasingly took whatever meagre jobs for weddings and other festivities remained. Ivancea and his friends had little other recourse but to eke out a living with their farming.
The musicianship of Zece Prajini continued to fall into disarray until a fortuitous day in 1996 when a 26-year-old German trained in sound engineering, making his way through Romania, was tipped off by a local farmer about a village of talented musicians. The German, Henry Ernst, found his way to the village that didn't exist on any map, and upon pulling into a house looking for directions found himself at the home of Ioan Ivancea. Within minutes the village's inhabitants – all 400 of them, including 80 musicians – were out front to see the blue-eyed, long-blond-haired German, who upon hearing that he was searching for brass music ended up performing such a brass blast for him that he ended up staying not just a few hours but three months.
Determined to bring their unique sound to Germany Ernst convinced the musicians that such a thing was possible, even though he had no experience whatsoever with managing a band or organizing a tour. He returned to Germany and sold everything he had in order to raise the necessary funds, then returned to Zece Prajini to get the required visas and passports (of which none of them had, seeing how they weren't used to being even a few kilometres away from their village). Stunned that the crazy German was back and not kidding about it all, a dozen musicians were assembled and the name Fanfare Ciocărlia was forged – fanfare being a French term for brass band that had passed into Romanian, and ciocărlia being Romanian for a lark's song.
Fanfare Ciocărlia may not be going to Mars, but they certainly do belt out the greatest sounds this side of the universe
since… well, if you believe in those things since the sound of the Big Bang (circa 1997, photographer unknown)
The band played ten shows over fourty nights, and although the music was a resounding success and everybody got paid, Ernst was left with wonderful memories but massive debts. It was an amazing run, but the show was over.
A couple of months later Ernst got a phone call from a radio station that wanted Fanfare Ciocărlia for a world music festival, but Ernst had no choice but to say that they were no longer available since there was no money left to pay for transportation, hotels, visas, food, etc. He was asked how much it would cost, and so out of courtesy put together some numbers. To his disbelief they accepted, and that very day Ernst and a friend created Asphalt Tango to promote the band. And as they say, the rest is history.
That history includes the unfortunate fact that in October of 2006, and after criss-crossing the globe several times over, Fanfare Ciocărlia's patriarch Ioan Ivancea passed away at home, clutching his cherished clarinet. Ivancea apparently wasn't your run-of-the-mill musician, and I'm not merely referring to some kind of extraordinary musical talent but the fact that he was also a farmer. And by "farmer" I don't mean to imply a multi-million dollar musician who got featured in glossy metrosexual magazines where he could rant on about his adherence to the latest faddish diet and about his garden tucked away in his multi-million dollar estate that allowed him to "get away from it all". No, Ivancea worked an actual farm where he grew maize, potatoes, beetroot, wheat, and more, to go along with "a cow, a horse, five sheep, lots of chickens and turkeys". When touring with Fanfare Ciocărlia he hired men to work his fields.
Nor was Ivancea someone to let international notoriety get to his head (pun intended), as explained by a passage in the chapter on Fanfare Ciocărlia in Garth Cartwright's 2005 book Princes Amongst Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians (where I've gleaned a fair amount of information about Fanfare Ciocărlia from, although an entire book could [should!] be written about these guys):
Henry offers a wan smile and suggests we visit Șulo, the tenor horn player. Șulo's from one of the village's poorest families and to make up for this he's proved adept at spending money: his house was Zece Prajini's first to have a bathroom and indoor toilet, something which had the whole village gawping and raised Ioan's ire: who needs a sit-down indoor toilet when you've squatted outside your whole life?
(Having read the preceding, Dr. Pooper [of the Dr. Pooper papers] asks me to relay the message that "a man who knows where to shit is a man after my heart", and that while he's now a huge fan of Ioan's he's not so sure about that Șulo fellow [the guy holding the single vinyl in part 1].)
Ioan Ivancea, his cow… and his shitter in the background? (photo © Arne Reinhardt)
It was with all that in mind that upon then hearing what I deemed to be the somewhat lacklustre post-Ioan Ivancea album Balkan Brass Battle (which I'll elaborate on in part 6) that I got the impression that Fanfare Ciocărlia had unfortunately lost their "magic" following their patriarch's passing. Making things even worse was my discovery that their latest album (released just a few months earlier) was titled Onwards to Mars!, which if you read my not-exactly-scientific post from three weeks back you'll know I think that this colonization of Mars thing is a crock of Dr. Pooper. Giving the album a quick skim-through I somehow got the impression (thanks to my prejudices against the Red Planet?) that Fanfare Ciocărlia was now putting out pop-like commercial schlock like many other Balkan brass bands I'd come across during my initial search (I won't name any names), and was feeling thoroughly disappointed that I'd missed out on Fanfare Ciocărlia's heyday.
While a Turkish friend and I chatted about how many bands lose it after the demise of their leader and should have disbanded rather than dragging things on, I did nonetheless find it hard to comprehend how one member could exert that much "magic" upon eleven others. So out of deference to their outstanding first four albums I eventually acquiesced and purchased Onwards to Mars!, subsequently giving it a few courtesy listens.
"Okay, I suppose it's not exactly horrible."
A couple of more listens.
"In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's not too bad."
A couple of more listens.
"Actually, I'd almost even say it's as good as their first four."
A couple of more listens and, as I soon thereafter stated in a super-secret text to my aforementioned friend via the Edward Snowden-endorsed app Signal (as opposed to Facebook's Whatsapp),
"What kind of crack was I smoking? Onwards to Mars! is frikin' amazing!!"
If I had to guess I'd say that Ioan Ivancea isn't quite on Mars but is nonetheless enjoying Onwards to Mars! with a big
smile on his face (photo of Ioan Ivancea © Arne Reinhardt and adapted with permission of Asphalt Tango Records)
Yes, Onwards to Mars! does indeed at times have a dance music element to it that had been off-putting during my initial scan-through, but, and as I sheepishly realized, that does not equate to commercial schlock in the slightest. In fact, those first four albums of Fanfare Ciocărlia's which I found astounding all have that "dance element" to them as well, which should be of little surprise thanks to the unshameful facts that Fanfare Ciocărlia did after all hone their chops as a wedding band and that their music was, and is, associated with celebration. (Celebratory music, that is, that might result in you catching yourself with a "hey wait a second, my hips aren't supposed to be able to do that!" – unless your mother happens to be Colombian, then perhaps they actually are.)
In terms of associating Fanfare Ciocărlia with the colonization of Mars, well, that turned out to be a mix-up of mine, since upon later seeing one of the accompanying paintings inside Onwards to Mars! I noticed that you don't see a bunch of techno buildings on the Red Planet but rather a nice looking little village, much like the beautiful pictures of Zece Prajini that I've seen.
So while I subsequently got the impression that the title of Onwards to Mars! was a play on how much they tour around as Gypsy musicians, upon later coming across the back cover of their first album I discovered I wasn't too far off the mark. As it stated tongue-in-cheek some 20 years ago:
We used to play at weddings in Zece Prajini and all over Moldova. We've played in Germany and France and Belgium. Next year we're going to play America and Bulgaria and in a couple of years we'll be playing on Mars – just you wait!
As far as I now understand it, "Mars" is essentially Fanfare Ciocărlia's way of saying that they intend on sharing their music with anybody who wants to listen (and dance). Moreover, as I then read Ernst describing his first meeting with them all,
When they saw me so interested in their music, they thought I was from out of space, a crazy man – when I told them I would take them on tour in Germany, it was a like a trip to Mars.
The moral of the story? Don't judge an album by its planet
So no. Fanfare Ciocărlia hasn't lost its musical charm in the slightest, and nor are its members a bunch of techno-infatuated dupes under the spell of charlatans like Elon Musk – many of them still live in the same village of Zece Prajini (Ten Fields) where they grew up, some even continuing to grow crops and raise animals.
As I presume most if not all readers of this blog know, we're not going to be colonizing Mars. At best there's going to be a significant drop in the human population in the coming decades, and it most likely won't be by choice. Nonetheless, I'd still say there's much worthwhile that can be gleaned from Fanfare Ciocărlia, because while we certainly won't be going onwards to Mars, we most certainly will be going, in one way or another…
Onwards to the prajini!
The nineteen (and counting) members of Fanfare Ciocărlia (photo © Arne Reinhardt)
p.s. As an example of our rather sad state of affairs (and possibly indicative of the way in which many people actually think we're going to Mars), I've seen the above photo used by two online publications and both times the horse and other animals were (inexcusably) cropped out of the picture (see here and here). Art for art's sake? Music for music's sake? I think not.
Published on the Question Everything on December 21, 2016 & March 20, 2017
Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner
Opening on a Hopeful Note
I have been named Editor in Chief for the International Federation for Systems Research (Vienna Austria) book series, published by Springer, “Systems Science & Engineering”, previously managed by George Klir. I am deeply honoured to have been asked by the IFSR to head up the re-launch of their book series. My hope is to guide the series in the direction of opening up access to systems science and engineering to a much wider audience by making sure that the books published include sufficient prose, along with their mathematics, so that non-mathematically inclined people may also see the insights that systems science has to offer.
SS was developed as a subject during an era when scientists, especially in the various domains of physics, were overcome with pride and zealousness over their mastery of advanced mathematics. The early thinking was that mathematics was a completely adequate language for describing systems concepts. Many books and journal articles, thus, focused on mathematics at the expense of prose. The result was to put off a large audience of people who, nevertheless, intuitively grasped the ideas of systemness but were left without a lot of intellectual material from which to draw. The major exception was a group of people who bridged the worlds of verbal and mathematical description and realized that systems thinking would be valuable in management science but only if ideas could be expressed with a minimal amount of arcane mathematics. They called this track “Soft Systems Thinking.” To their credit they were fairly successful in expressing most of the principles of systemness in plain language using mathematics (usually nothing more complicated than basic algebra and set theory) only to add some amount of preciseness to their ideas.
Today there is a growing understanding that mathematics' proper role in describing the world is as just such an addendum. My work on human thinking, especially in the area of the internal language of thought (LoT) that I have proposed is actually the language of systemness – what I am calling “systemese,” and this language is comprised of four mental modules (actually five modules including the affect, emotional, influence on decision making as I reported in my Sapience book). The first module is the linguistic (verbalization) module responsible for encoding and using names of objects (nouns), relations (prepositions and many modifiers), and actions (verbs), plus the grammatical formation of sentences. This is the language facility most researchers and linguists focus on. However we also have names for quantity, measures (units), and calibrations (comparisons between two or more quantities, for example). These words can be conveniently represented by more terse symbols (signs) such as the numeral, '1' symbol representing the verbal symbol “one” and a built-in sense of counting. Measuring, involving comparison of sensory data from one object, for example, with another object, and calibration (e.g. making sure an arrow head was not too heavy for the arrow) led to various arithmetic capabilities. Math today is the result of an on-going evolution of abstraction of patterns of relations and using those abstractions, along with rules for deriving them, to multiple situations.
The third module in human thinking is strongly related to the mathematics module but was first evolved with the linguistic module and that is the logic module that is used to construct rational arguments. Early humans, as they were evolving language facility needed to use that language to confer on group decisions about future actions (e.g. when to go hunting next). These kinds of discussions required the discussants to put forth veridical arguments for their positions when there was a disagreement about conclusions. Facts and logic were needed to ferret out the proper course of action.
The fifth module concerns itself with visual interpretations. A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. And this has some basis in psychology. Our brains are evolved to use all four of these modules in order to have successful intra-specific communications take place. Successful here means that the results of communications increase the fitness of the species, by increasing the fitness of the tribe (and by doing so the fitness of individuals). The verbal facility acts as an integrating nexus between all of them. We have words and sentences to describe what we see, how we reason, and how big or small things are and how they compare to one another.
It takes all four of these competencies in order to describe the world (it takes the emotional module as well in order to communicate knowledge about individuals' states of feeling, e.g. desires, but so far as scientific descriptions are concerned we try hard to eliminate the effects of emotions). No one is sufficient by itself. It is somewhat possible to translate any of the three extra language facilities into verbal descriptions, but often at the risk of losing some precision or context. A well balanced use of all four is what makes the sciences so successful in producing increasingly veridical descriptions of the world and how it works. The reason mathematics has tended to dominate, especially at the lower levels of organization (e.g. physics), is that the various specializations in the sciences means that those who work in a particular field become deeply antiquated with the subject and the math used to model systems within that field. They can talk mathematics to one another and feel like they have done an adequate job of communicating with their tribe. However two factors are intervening in this comfort zone. The first is that systems science deals with systems in general, regardless of medium (physical, biological, social, etc.) The second is that the problems that the sciences are tackling are increasingly involving complex systems and require transdisciplinary approaches. Meaning that scientists must communicate with other tribes, often speaking different languages.
I will be developing my system language more thoroughly in the new book. My hope is that understanding better how our internal language of systemness works (with all modules) will provide us with a universal way to achieve transdisciplinarity and communications between all of the science disciplines. My object with the IFSR/Springer book series is to similarly guide the whole field toward a more balanced approach to communicating systems science to everyone.
And Now Some Not So Hopeful Observations
This year has demonstrated to us that nothing is permanent, not even democracy!
The evidence that the world as a whole is coming undone is abundant. The circuitous manner in which Trump arrives at the White House shows us that institutions meant to ensure the proper working of democratic governance have broken down, failed. Unless there is some revolution in the electoral college that denies Trump the presidency (and we will know shortly) the fact that a sufficient number of people in the US voted for him, sufficient to bring him close even if losing the popular vote, is, to me, adequate evidence to show how incredibly pathetic our education system has gotten. People (and not just Trump supporters) are generally abysmally ignorant. They are, I am starting to think, equally stupid. Even PhD-educated people are showing signs of a lack of any intellectual capacity, a dismal lack of any kind of understanding about matters outside their particular profession, and certainly no ability to exercise critical thinking skills. Even if the electoral college denies Trump the office, there is likely to be a revolution since his supporters are so emotionally broken that many of them have already shown violent tendencies.
The next few years are going to be especially difficult for the world and I think it is safe to say the rivets are already starting to burst from the boiler. From this point expect the chaos to simply increase and likely at an exponential rate. People, both republicans and democrats alike, voted for change. They wanted to eliminate the status quo and they will get their wishes. But given what I said above about the level of ignorance and stupidity that seems so prevalent in the population, even the so-called educated population, the kind of change they wanted isn't even feasible in the current state of the biophysical economy. So the changes they will get will be quite different from what they expect.
Democracy is a nice-sounding idea. As a form of governance it has appeal because it addresses a basic human desire to be autonomous, translated into the concepts of freedom and liberal human rights. It conveys some sense of equality and opportunity to participate in the decision processes of managing the economic, ethical, educational, and cultural subsystems of the human social system. Democratic governance has evolved over many generations to the kind we witness in the US and many western nations. Coupled with economic freedom, in the form of neoliberal capitalism, it has seemed to everyone that mankind had finally found the right formula for managing our affairs with equity and dignity. But…
A representative democracy is supposed to compensate for the little problem that most people have very limited memory and understanding capacity relative to the complexities of governing large social systems like a country. Even at the founding of the United States of America, the complexities of state and internal affairs were such that the Founding Fathers realized that the common person would be unable to know everything needed to participate fully in the governance process. Ergo, the representation in congress and the electoral college creation for the election of the executive. Even at that, the people being elected to represent the rest are tending of late to the stupid and ignorant side of the mental distribution. I think of someone like James Inhofe (R. OK.) and simply hang my head and cry. Of course stupid people are getting into elected office because the voters are even more stupid and ignorant and are even resentful of anyone who is clearly more knowledgeable and intellectual than they are. They vote with their emotions and a feeling that such people will understand their problems. It hasn't helped that the occasionally smart politician has used those smarts mostly for personal gain — influence, power, and riches. There seem to be as many selfish democrats as there are selfish republicans. And so the common person is left feeling like no one is really looking out for their interests.
A big part of the problem, however, is the difference between what they believe their interests are or should be, versus reality. Americans in particular have been sold on the concept of the “American Dream.” But so have so many other people around the world, pursuing material wealth in the belief that it brings happiness. It has simply never occurred to most people that wealth comes from converting natural resources into goods and services and that those come in limited supply. Thus, now that we have reached the limits imposed by reality, they simply cannot understand why they are denied the American dream. Worse yet in places like Syria and the whole MENA region, they cannot understand why they can't even try to attain something like the American dream. Not even their governments can tell them the truth. Mostly they themselves don't understand the situation. It has taken something like global warming to start physically changing the climate and weather patterns to finally get some leaders to recognize a little piece of the puzzle.
Democracy in any form suffers from this one fundamental flaw. It depends entirely on the mentality of the populace — the whole populace. It depends on people being sufficiently smart that they can use critical thinking and logical reasoning along with possessing adequate knowledge about how reality works to be able to make informed decisions. There are likely to always be differences of opinion because of emotional attachments to world views that vary from culture to culture and ideology to ideology. As long as there is a forum (the political process) for working out differences amenably, and an intent on all parties' parts to do so in a peaceful manner, then democratic process has a chance to work. But as you think about it, when has that description of people ever been true?
Closing on a Hopeful Note (somewhat)
I strongly believe that systems science can provide guidance toward creating a form of governance that would succeed in terms of providing for an acceptable level of welfare for the citizens. That welfare would be considerably less oriented toward physical wealth as we understand it today. But every citizen would have an opportunity to participate in meaningful work, helping to secure the social milieu against disturbing forces from outside, and being supported by the society in terms of assurance of physical needs and comfort.
Problem one is that this is only feasible for a significantly smaller population, one that is not depleting natural resources faster than the renewable ones can be renewed and the non-renewable ones can be recycled. The current population of 7+ billion people on the planet is not just non-sustainable, it alone (never mind continued growth) will kill the planet's ability to supply resources to humans and to most other members of the biosphere. How we get down to a sustainable population is the continuing problem being discussed in population overload circles. To date, no clear consensus has emerged, except that the likelihood of supporting 7-10 billion people is understood to be irrational. The most likely scenario for humanity in the near term is a planet-wide population crash and an evolutionary bottleneck event. This would be a self-correcting aspect of the population problem. But obviously a very brutal solution.
Problem number two is that even if we could get the population down to a supportable number, the physical environment, in particular the availability of more natural resources and the dramatic changes in climate, are going to provide significant hurdles to get over. Future human beings are going to face incredible obstacles in forming any kind of reasonable civilization, even at a tribal level. They will not have the resources, especially high power energy, to do the work needed to build and sustain civilized living conditions.
Problem number three involves preserving all or most of the hard-won knowledge about the world that science has accumulated to date. Not all of this knowledge would be immediately useful to future humans but it would serve as a reminder of the mistakes our current species have made (I imagine preserving the parable of the iPhone as a cautionary tale warning of overzealous technology advances). It might also serve as inspiration for eventually building a reasonable civilization. My own thoughts along these lines is that what will be needed is a way to encode knowledge into a preservable medium, but essentially compressing the expanded knowledge in all fields into a form (message) that could be transmitted through the ages and used to recover all of the detailed knowledge when it becomes possible (and I have to believe it will in some distant future time). I believe that knowledge of systems science is exactly that compressed form of knowledge for everything. If systemness is the fundamental organizing principle of the Universe, then it should be possible to rebuild the specific sciences by applying systems thinking to the phenomena that future humans will certainly witness.
Problem number four, then, is simply providing strategies, tactics, and logistics to people who grasp reality well enough to follow through so they can survive in the future drastically different world they will occupy.
Over the years that I have been writing this blog I have tried, in some small way, to provide some pointers in the directions of, first, understanding these problems, and second, offering some suggested ways to address them. Of course, over that time my own thinking has been evolving and continues to do so today. My involvement with the book series project mentioned above is part of my work on hopefully solving problem number three. I am counting on a wider dissemination of systems science knowledge and thinking to help ensure some preservation. Even if no more than by word of mouth as a kind of oral tradition.
Over the last few months I have turned my attention to ideas about systems based governance of human social systems. Owing to the capricious nature of human emotions, human agents make lousy decision makers on their own recognizance. So the question of designing an architecture that can overcome the weakness of human beings acting as decision agents has begun occupying more of my time. I will be outlining my findings in the new book but also plan to write about them here as they evolve. The good news (of sorts) is that after studying natural governance in living systems I think I can see where our evolved ideas about governance took a wrong turn (as with the evolution of deepening sapience the turning point appears to be around the advent of agriculture!) Moreover, I think I can see how we can learn from natural governance and apply those ideas to create a better form of human governance that will meet the criteria of welfare for all citizens. I can promise it will be nothing like we have now nor particularly like we had back in the tribal days more than 10,000 years ago, though it will incorporate the human meaning that was the basis of tribal cultures. It will describe a system that is in balance with the whole Ecos owing to internal regulation that keep it from growing beyond realistic boundaries or using resources unrealistically fast.
I realize it is too late for our current populations to adopt such a governance system. They can't even understand it or why it is needed. But I hope that as part of the knowledgebase of systems science the ideas will be available to some future society for adoption.
The elections are over. The new president is installed and has already brought chaos to the world, not just the US. History may not repeat itself exactly, but it does prove we humans have gotten into cycles of the same stupid mistakes and for all of history since the first civilizations of Mesopotamia, and, indeed, all other parts of the world where civilizations arose, humans have been repeating the same pattern of expansion, complexification, and resource depletion to the point of exhausting their source of wealth. And the rulers invariably respond to the unrest in the ways we are seeing today. Some, like Assad, who were already in power when the s**t hit the fan, respond with brutal crackdowns on rebelling populations. Others like Trump are put in power by promises to fix what is wrong with the status quo, but turn very quickly to trying (and most often succeeding) to subdue the potential unruly crowds by continuing promises to fix their lives, all the while undercutting their meager sources of income or wealth. Look at the repeal of Obamacare and replacement with a plan that is widely recognized as greatly inferior – except for the already rich.
The old saying goes, "the people get the government they deserve." And I think there is a great deal of truth to this. We have become a nation of profoundly ignorant people – ignorant, tending toward stupid, and incredibly selfish, narcissistic. When somebody pops up and promises to make the world the way it was when they were "happy", well this is what we get.
As the days get longer the pressure will be building toward an all out breakdown in civil society. As millions lose their healthcare, or unemployment (the real unemployment) rises when good jobs were supposed to be increasing, somebody is going to wise up and call bulls**t on the current government. I expect the same to happen when Brexit produces more hardships or when the far right parties in Europe gain control and proceed to screw up royally.
The problem is that even if some of, say for example, Trumps prescriptions were correct with respect to the intended, and promised outcomes, he would still fail because his predecessors (and at all levels of government and business) have left an unfixable system. The sheer complexity of the modern state, along with the sheer lack of consciousness and knowledge of the general governor, ensures massive failures as have happened so many times throughout history. Nothing fundamental has changed in this pattern since the days of old. Only now the collapse of civilization is global. And there is no sanctuary for those who seek to flee. Look at the plight of the Syrian refugees as they struggle to find places in countries that are on the brink of collapse themselves (hint: Greece).
Several thoughtful people I know who have been concerned about the future are now voicing a kind of despair for the future. The evidence for the build up to collapse is now so evident that anyone with half a brain and a bit of knowledge about the history of civilizations can see the end in sight.
On the other hand, and to leave you on a high note, the collapse of the current cultural system (neoliberal capitalism, profit maximization, revolving debt financing, the impacts on the education system, etc.) is a good thing. When I say unfixable, I mean just that. Some systems are fixable, or adjustable so that they work better in time. This one we live in is neither. It is so full of positive feedback loops that reinforce destructive behaviors that there is very little that can be done to break out without that very act destroying the interlocking processes and thus, itself bringing about collapse. What we need to do is see the bright side of this. For one, it will significantly slow down the human-caused forcing of the climate (other natural feedbacks aside this will be a very positive development.)
Once the rotten old system is debris it will be possible to reset human values (many of which are learned) and start fresh. We won't have the high tech gadgets to help us back to the kind of life many of us live now. But, so what. We will get a chance to start over, and hopefully do it better next time. At least that is my hope on this day of turning.
Published on Peak Surfer on February 19, 2017
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
We first latched onto the notion of catastrophic climate change back around 1980 when we were a young attorney taking quixotic cases involving impossible-to-rectify injustices like cancers among atomic veterans, trespass of sacred sites or nuclear waste disposal, and shoving those insults under the noses of attorneys-general, judges and justices to try to get a reaction.
Occasionally we would finesse a surprising win and that helped attract donations to keep the enterprise running and the entertainment value high, attracting more donors, and so it went.
One such case was against the deepwell injection of toxic effluent from the manufacture of pesticides and herbicides by agrochemical companies in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee. The effluent in question had been extracted from an aquifer and tested by State laboratories where was quickly ranked as the most concentrated poison they had ever pulled from the wild. A single green fluorescent drop killed all the fish in the tank. There were 6 billion gallons injected under Middle Tennessee from 1967 to 1980. It made Love Canal look like the kiddie pool.
As we mustered our arguments to go before state regulators and appellate judges, we were compelled to counter some rather absurd arguments being advanced by the mop-up squads of high-priced attorneys for the companies. They said, “Heckfire, Tennessee has plenty of water,” meaning there was no good reason to protect the nonpotable (mineral-rich) waters of the Knox Aquifer a mile down.
Apart from the fact that the Knox is an artesian source of water for area industries and thereby already protected from “contaminants” whether toxic or not by the federal Safe Drinking Water act, we advanced two principal lines of argument, bringing in expert witnesses and entering scientific studies into the record.
Our first line was population growth. Tennessee was growing and what may seem like a lot of water in 1980 may not be nearly enough in 2080. The second line was climate change.
We argued that global warming was advancing, just as scientists had been consistently predicting for the past hundred or more years, and that it would put pressure on water supplies not just in Tennessee, but across the continent.
At that time science suggested warming in the 20th century of about half a degree Celsius. Those were the good old days. Nonetheless, persuading a country judge that global warming was real and something to be concerned about was no mean feat.
We had to pull out the big guns. We went to our local congressman and got his assistance to troll the federal agencies for useful studies. We holed up in Vanderbilt science library poring over journals and books on climatology. We spoke to some key figures in the field at that time — Stephen Schneider, Susan Solomon, Kerry Emanuel, Edward A. Martell, Mario Molina — and we assembled that advice into legal briefs and memoranda.
The case lingered on for a number of years but by 1985 had been largely resolved by gutsy State regulators, who wrote new rules that essentially prohibited hydrofracking. The companies shut down the injection wells, closed their factories soon after (the phosphate ores that had attracted them in the first place having long since played out and the costs of hauling in by train making the location uneconomical) and moved on. The litigation cost meter ceased running and the death threats stopped. But we were still beset by unshakable malaise.
We had seen the future, and it was different than we had previously imagined. It was not our father’s future.
The materials gathered over the course of ten years were published in our book, Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do. The book came out on the heels of two other fine 1989 books that said essentially the same thing: Stephen Schneider’s Global Warming and Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature, all to resounding popular disinterest.
Fast forward a quarter century and we were still very much in a funk about what the future holds. When our granddaughter was born in 2005 we felt very sad for her.
We were still tracking the literature, still going to conferences, still speaking with experts, but until the International Permaculture Conference in Sao Paolo, Brazil in June, 2007 we had not found much to call hope.
It was at the Ecocentro do Cerrado that year that we caught a first fleeting glimpse. Andre Soares and his partners were conducting experiments in recreating terra preta do indio – the Amazonian Dark Earths. They were, not coincidentally, massively sequestering carbon while growing wholesome food.
Just over a year later, in September 2008, the Permaculture International Journal sent us to Newcastle, England to report on "Biochar, Sustainability and Security in a Changing Climate,” the 2d International Conference of the International Biochar Initiative, with over 225 attendees from 31 different countries and over 70 presentations. That, and some intervening trips back to Brazil to visit the archaeological sites near Manaus, provided the source material for our 2010 book, The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change.
For those readers who might be new to biochar, the Virgin Energy Challenge offers this quick synopsis:
Biochar is a relatively low-tech approach inspired by the terra preta soils found in the Amazon basin. These black, fertile soils were created in pre-Columbian times by indigenous farming cultures. They mixed wood char, crushed bone, and manure into the otherwise relatively infertile Amazonian soil to build crop beds. The wood char, though not a fertilizer per se, served to buffer nutrients from the bone meal and manure. It apparently served as a soil analog of a coral reef. Its porous structure and nutrient buffering surface area created a favorable microenvironment for communities of soil fungi and other organisms that aided soil fertility.
Terra preta soils, once well established, appear to be self-sustaining. So long as crop cover protects them from wind and water erosion, they maintain their high level of soil carbon and productivity long after additions of the materials that built them have stopped. In fact they gradually increase in depth as new material composts. In the Amazon basin, thick terra preta soil beds built as far back as 450 BCE remain productive and highly valued by local farmers to this day.
Terra preta soils were initially thought to be peculiar to the warm, wet environment of the Amazon basin. Research has shown, however, that similar results can be obtained in temperate regions by amending soils with formulations of biochar and other ingredients tailored to local soil and crop conditions. The amount of carbon that can potentially be stored in this manner is huge; the amount currently stored as soil carbon has been estimated as 2,300 GT, nearly three times the 800 GT of carbon now present in the atmosphere. If soil carbon could be increased globally by an average of just 10%, it would sequester enough carbon to return atmospheric CO₂ to pre-industrial levels.
The issue with biochar then is not the amount of carbon it could ultimately sequester in the soil; it’s (surprise!) economics. There’s little doubt that a well designed program of soil building, incorporating use of biochar as an element, would be an effective way to sequester carbon while providing long term economic value to farmers. It would boost crop yields while reducing the amount of fertilizer needed. It would also reduce water runoff and nutrient leaching while improving drought resistance. On the other hand, biochar is costly to produce and distribute in the amounts needed, and it may take decades for the considerable investment in soil quality to pay off financially.
The key to success for biochar will come down to technology for producing it from local resources, and dissemination of knowledge for how to employ in in a broader program of soil building. A sense of the complexities can be found in a document from the International Biochar Initiative: Guidelines on Practical Aspects of Biochar Application to Field Soil in Various Soil Management Systems. The three VEC finalists developing biochar display the diversity of product and business strategies possible for addressing these complexities.
There are a few errors in that account, but they are trifling. Biochar is not a “relatively low-tech” approach, it is about as low-tech as you can get. Some Amazonian deposits, similar to those “as far back as 450 BCE,” are ten times older than that. Most estimates put soil carbon at 2500-2700 PgC, not 2300 PgC. You don’t need to increase carbon content to 10 percent globally, 5 percent would probably do it, but remember: we were at 20-plus % soil carbon before the age of agriculture and most soils are hungry to get that back. Building it back with biochar makes a more permanent repair, not just moving the furniture around, as other Virgin Challenge competitors — BECCS (Biomass Energy Carbon Capture and Storage), direct air capture and holistic grazing — do.
Biochar gave us hope, but it did not, in and of itself, solve the climate crisis. We asked that question at the close of our book — “Can it scale quickly enough?” The answer, from what we have seen at the recent UN climate conferences and the lack of early adoption as the dominant farming paradigm, is — “Probably not.”
The rapid rise of global temperature that began about 1975 continues at a mean rate of about 0.18°C/decade, with the current annual temperature exceeding +1.25°C relative to 1880-1920 and +1.9°C relative to 1780-1880. Dampening effects by the deep oceans and polar ice slow the effects of this change but global temperature has now crossed the mean range of the prior interglacial (Eemian) period, when sea level was several meters above present. The longer temperature remains elevated the more amplifying feedbacks will lead to significantly greater consequences.
While global anthropogenic emissions actually declined in the past decade, there is a lag time for consequences. The rate of climate forcing due to previous human-caused greenhouse gases increased over 20% in the past decade, mainly due to a surge in methane, making it increasingly difficult to achieve targets such as limiting global warming to 1.5°C or reducing atmospheric CO2 below 350 ppm. While a rapid phasedown of fossil fuel emissions must still be accomplished, the Paris Agreement targets now require “negative emissions”, i.e.: extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere.
In a recent Soil Day paper presented to the American Geophysical Society and the Society for Ecological Restoration, Harvard professor Thomas Goreau wrote:
“Already we have overshot the safe level of CO2 for current temperature and sea level by about 40%, and CO2 needs to be reduced rapidly from today’s dangerous levels of 400 parts per million (ppm) to pre-industrial levels of around 260 ppm.”
Goreau, citing the work of John D. Liu and ourselves, provided his prescriptions:
"Current rates of carbon farming at typical current levels would take thousands of years to draw down the dangerous excess CO2, but state of the art methods of soil carbon sequestration could draw it down in as little as decades if the percentage of long lived carbon is raised to as little as about 10%."
Here we note that Dr. Goreau’s arithmetic is much better than the 4 pour 1000 or Holistic Management calculations we criticized last week. Goreau has distinguished labile carbon from “long lived carbon” and not limited land area just to existing farms. He advocates 10 percent rather than 4 tenths of a percent. He continues:
While all soils can, and must, be managed to greatly increase soil carbon there are two critical soil leverage points that will be the most effective to reverse global climate change, namely increasing the two most carbon-rich soils of all, Terra Preta, and wetlands. These are the most effective carbon sinks for very different reasons, Terra Preta because it is 10-50% carbon by weight, composed of biochar, which can last millions of years in the soil. Wetland soils can be up to pure organic matter, because lack of oxygen prevents organic matter decomposition. Wetlands contain half of all soil carbon, and half of that is in marine wetlands, which occupy only about 1% of the Earth’s surface but deposit about half of all the organic matter in the entire ocean. Yet they are often ignored in both terrestrial and marine carbon accounting. Marine wetland soils have more carbon than the atmosphere, but are being rapidly destroyed in the misguided name of “economic development.”
Biochar is what soil scientists call “recalcitrant carbon,” meaning that it does not readily combine with other elements unless high temperature heat or some other catalyst is present. Consequently, as much carbon as can be gleaned from the normal “labile” carbon cycle and turned into recalcitrant carbon can be kept from the atmosphere. We know from the experience of the terra preta soils that it doesn’t just stay out of the atmosphere for a few seasons, it traps carbon in the soils for thousands of years.
Switching to renewable energy will not arrest climate change. None of the schemes that involve planting trees can succeed unless they also include biochar. None of the claims of Allan Savory, Joel Salatin or the Holistic Management movement for mob grazing, or any of the claims related to organic, no-till, animal-drawn carbon farming by Eric Toensmeier, Michael Pollan, Vandana Shiva and others pencil out to reverse climate change unless you include biochar. Even then, the area required for biochar-augmented conversion of land-use, farming and forestry is massive — something like 7-10 Spains per year, and maybe more. Anything less than that and the ship goes down.
When we first grasped this in Brazil in August 2006, it provided our first “ah ha!” moment. But then we concluded it likely can’t scale fast enough, by gradual adoption through word of mouth or a few good books, to prevent Near Term Human Extinction. In October 2007 we called that our "Houston Moment," not in the sense that "Houston we have a problem" but because we were in Houston at an ASPO meeting when it dawned on us — it may already be blown. The death sentence for our species — in the next century if not this one — could have been handed down even before we were born.
The problem is not the science or the efficacy of the solution. The problem is human willingness to change. There also seems to be something called profit that always complicates matters. We will tackle that, and offer some possible ways forward, in our coming posts.
Published on The Doomstead Diner on March 19, 2017
Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner
Once you start digging into Collapse and its various ramifications and possible scenarios, you descend into an enormous Rabbit Hole, and it's one most people don't even want to contemplate at all.
As a result, no matter what evidence you care to provide, how good your Power Point Presentation is or how many scientists, economists and social pundits (Bloggers) you Interview, what you mostly get back are Blank Stares, followed swiftly by Denial and various ideas of Techno-Triumphalism & Cornucopianism. The Sheeple just don't WANT to believe that the dream they were sold of endless progress, endless growth and an eventual and inevitable destiny of Colonizing the Universe with Homo Sap Meat Packages is not our Ultimate Destiny. They definitely do not want to acknowledge that a Collapse of this Dream is likely to occur within their own lifetimes.
So, if you have explored the Rabbit Hole some, with this group (the majority) of people, you have virtually no chance of getting through to them at all, you're just banging your head up against a brick wall. But what about the people who have become to one extent or another aware of collapse (and there are more of them all the time)?
These people (who I refer to as Kollapsniks) come in quite a few different flavors, and have widely divergent views on what trajectory the collapse will take, and what they see as the most likely outcome. These divergences of opinion lead to disputes within the Kollapse Kommunity, which given it is pretty small to begin with means what you get out of it are a lot of tiny splinter groups which all argue with each other, even more than they argue with the dominant Techno-Triumphalism spin!
Amongst the Kollapsniks though, you run the gamut from those who believe in Renewable Energy as a long term savior after a period of economic collapse, all the way to those who believe in a Near Term Human Extinction, currently predicted for as soon as 2026 by Guy McPherson of Nature Bats Last, aka "Dr. McSerpent" or "Dr. McStinksion" here on the Diner. There are a few different flavors of Kollapsnik between these extremes though, so for today's essay I will detail some of them that I have run across during my travels down the Rabbit Hole over the last decade. I will work my way from the "least kollapsy" to the "most kollapsy", more or less in order although there are variations here to consider in the taxonomy.lol.
#1- Renewables Kollapsnik (RK)- RKs acknowledge that the fossil fuel economy is destined for death, but feel it is still possible for an econonomy based on renewables to substitute for it, and moreover keep a significant portion of the current 7.3B people on the planet alive utilizing those renewables, along with other techniques like Permaculture, Hydroponics, etc. Wind power and Solar PV are the most prominently featured forms of the RK future scenario, although other forms of renewable energy like wave and tidal power from the oceans and geothermal from global hotspot are also featured occassionally. There are also some who feel that Nuclear techologies such as Thorium can provide clean power, or we might even invent Cold Fusion in the Nick of Time!
#2-Long Emergency Kollapsnik (LEK)- "Long Emergency" is James Howard Kunstler's of Clustefuck Nation's term, John Michael Greer from The Archdruid Report calls this "Slow Catabolic Collapse". In both cases, it's more or less the "slow boiling frog" theory of collapse, which has it that we will gradually descend as more and more things become dysfunctional, but there really won't be a "definable moment" where the observer could say "THIS is where the collapse began!". How long this Long Emergency actually IS before what we are accustomed to now and what our final outcome might be differs from one afficionado of this theory to another, some put the Slow Catabolic Collapse over as short as a 20 year time span, others go for 100 or even 1000 years on this. Rome did not Collapse in a Day, of course, so this is the Historian's Eye view of thigs.
#3- Fossil Fuels Can Last Kollapsnik (FFCLK) – The FFLCLK sees that the overall FF economy can't last long term, either for economic reasons or climate reasons, or both. However, the FFCLK believes there are enough FFs that can still be pumped up at positive enough EROEI to transition us into the #1 RK paradigm. FFCLKs tend to ignore the ongoing and increasing problems with climate disruption, as well as ongoing pollution problems, and just focus on how much FF energy they believe is still accessible and can be used to power the industrial civilization and keep feeding the 7.3B Homo Saps infesting the planet.
#4- Amish Kollapsnik (AK) – AKs generally believe we can retrace back to around an early 18th Century level of techology, pre-steam engine. This is based on animal labor and often permaculture as well. It's a sort of Agrarian-Utopia vision. Sometimes they acknowledge for this to even be possible at all you would need a massive dieoff of Homo Sap population, others contend that if everybody did it and performed Best Practices in terms of raising food and stewarding the land, we could in fact feed all 7.3B people currently walking the earth, and perhaps even more than that. AKs are often "off grid" Boomers who retired (collecting a Pension and or Investment) and own their own Doomstead, although there are younger ones from the GenX demographic also. Few Millenials are loaded with enough FRNs to buy their own Doomstead, they go out WWOOFING if they have this philosophy. This basically means being a slave for Room & Board on the Doomstead of some Boomer.
#5- Fast Systemic Cross Contagion Kollapsnik (FSCCK) – The FFCCK is an afficionado of the work of David Korowicz, the Irish Theoretical Physicist who analyzed the various dependencies we have in our currently very complex system, along with the inability to backtrack on much of it because the prior systems we depended on have been for the most part disassembled. This is the "irreversibility" concept. For instance, you can't instantly go back to animal labor on the farms, because most of the horses were ground up for dog food in the early part of the 20th Century. To re-breed up enough of them to do all the work necessary that tractors currently do would take a generation at least, and then all those horses would need to be fed too! This makes the AK scenario look pretty bad, at least for keeping 7.3B Homo Saps above ground anyhow.
#7- Mad Max Kollapsnik (MMK) – The MMK sees a massive dystopian world of the future coming down the pipe in fair short order, so also fits into the #5 category. Besides Mad Max, this also includes other dystopian films like Children of Men and The Road. You can think of it as "Zombies Gone Wild", and Cannibalism is the main cuisine here during this period. The general outcome of this period is #9 Extinction, although some MMKs might buy into #8 Stone Age, as long as the neo-cavemen are allowed to eat each other in a sustainable fashion. Long Pig. "It's what's for dinner." lol.
#8- Stone Age Kollapsnik (SAK) –The SAK doesn't think we will even be able to keep smelting metal long term, both because of energy depletion as well as depletion of the feedstock mineral ores and ability to mine them up. This leads to mostly a Hunter-Gather type of society and technology, or quite simple horticulture rather than what we currently think of as agriculture. The paradigm clearly cannot support the current 7.3B people, so a dieoff of Homo Sap is required for this paradigm to work at all, if it can work. Precisely how that dieoff will go down is not too certain, nor how long it will take to play out too certain either. The long term for this though if it does play out this way is that eventually small tribes of people establish themselves on portions of the remaining good arable land on the earth surface at a decent enough AGT to survive a global climate change regimen that brings the AGT up a high as +10C from the current average.
#9- Near Term Human Extinction Kollpasnik (NTHEK) – The NTHEK sees the entire situation we are engulfed in as utterly HOPELESS, nothing can be done to save Homo Sap at this point, and probably most of the other higher life forms on the planet besides maybe the Tardigrades. Doing any kind of preparation for the world to come besides being psychologically prepared to die is a waste of time. You are in Hospice care now with Terminal Cancer, and you have only 9 years left to live, so you should live them Excellently in the Hospice Care Facility for the soon to be Extinct Homo Saps, playing Bridge and Chess and maybe even fucking if you can still get an erection. lol. This is of course something of a dead end (sic). The main conversation amongst the NTHEKs is about how awful Homo Saps are and how they deserve to die ASAP. IOW, as a group they tend to be highly misanthropic and highly nihilistic. Very depressing folks to be around for too long, it can make YOU want to commit suicide to "Save the Planet. Kill Yourself", as is the credo of the Church of Euthanasia. This Church really should not exst at all on this side of the Great Beyond, because if the folks running this show were all the least bit honest, they would have ALREADY slit their wrists!
OK! Now that we have some kind of taxonomy and defintions for various flavors of Kollapsnik, what can we deduce from this? Well, first there is tons of crossover between various areas, for instance you could be a slow kollapsnik who believes in an Amish end game, or a fast kollapsnik who does. Those are not mutually exclusive categories. Similarly, Mad Max might only last a short time, or could go on for centuries or even millenia! You can't KNOW the future for sure here, you can only speculate on what it might be.
Here is where the real problem lies in terms of getting any kind of cooperation between members of the collapse community goes is concerned, which is that despite a lack of concrete evidence which could "prove" any of these scenarios as even being the most likely outcome much less the ONLY possible outcome, each kollapsnik is so convinced of his own model he/she is not real willing to consider any of the other ones as a realistic possibility, unless it is pretty close to his/her main model. This is particularly true the more extreme the viewpoint, with the folks who believe in Near Term Human Extinction being the most fanatical and calling everyone else a denialist and deluded fool. Rather difficult to have a civil conversation with these folks.
Besides your favorite Kollapsnik flavor, another area of profound disagreement is how many people will be left standing after the collapse and how many people could the earth actually support in a sustainable fashion? These numbers go anywhere from Zero of the NTHEK up even past the current 7.3B people here now by some extremely optimistic cornucopians. For most kollapsniks though it's somewhere between those two numbers, and a popular one often thrown around comes off the Georgia Guidestones, which call for a reduction down to 500M Homo Saps. Others are more optimistic in the 2-3B range, although it is kind of hard to call anyone who thinks 4-5B people will die in the near future an optimist. It's also hard to imagine year in and year out of the massive death toll you would need to accomplish this in even 20 years. It completely dwarfs the entire death toll from WWII including the Holocaust EVERY YEAR, for 20 straight years!
There are some pundits who make a statistical argument on this, saying that if we just lowered the birth rate by a couple of percentage points and the death rate went up by a couple of percent, we would get all the dieoff we need to reduce population in 50 years or so. That might be true, but it seems unlikely to me that this is how it will play out. I expect large scale famines to occur periodically either from climate change or wars or both, and those famines will take out large chunks of the population in one quick bite. Mostly in the 3rd World to begin with, but eventually moving to 1st World countries too. Somalia seems to be experiencing both the climate and war problem as far as feeding their population right now.
Contemplating how Goobermints will respond, how they will fail and what might take their place also provides another taxonomy amongst the Kollapsniks, and numerous areas of disagreement among them which usually end up in a Napalm Contest. lol. Here are few popular scenarios pitched out by Kollapsniks, in no particular order.
#A- A One World Fascist Goobermint will evolve with a single worldwide currency, usually figured to be the SDRs that the Bank for International Settlements created out of a basket of other currencies including Precious Metals. This will be an Orwellian Police State, with anyone who is not a member of the current Elite used as Tax Slaves to maintain their power and privilege.
#B- A neo-Feudalist model will emerge, with a breakup of large nation-states into Regions controlled by individual Warlords and their armies. Once again in this scenario, Slavery is the generally accepted economic model for most of the population besides the Elite. The main difference from #1 is you might exchange one set of Uber-Meisters (UM) for another, and the total territory one UM controls is smaller than the full globe in size. Various UMs will be in a perpetual state of War with neighbors fighting over resources. It more or less corresponds to Mad Max, although with a little more order imposed by the Warlords, not complete anarchy of small gangs.
#C- A large scale Communist/Socialist Model will emerge, Nationalizing everything from Food Production and Distribution to the Banking System, to Health Care, Housing and Transportation. Everyone will be employed by the State and paid by the State. This is the Nightmare scenario for the entire alt-right Collapse Blogger coalition, from Jim Quinn on The Burning Patform to the Tyler Durdens on Zero Hedge.
#D- Massive breakdown on the large scale will develop many smaller Tribes of people without any real type of Central Goobermint at all. Sometimes this is looked at as a kind of No Goobermint Libertarian-Anarchist Utopia where each of these individual groups functions autonomously on their own patch of land. Other folks vew this result as a Mad Max type of anarchy where there is no law and most of the day is spent raping, pillaging and murdering others.
#E- No Goobermint – Because everyone is Dead. That's the NTHEK POV.
Now, except for #1 and #5, the Goobermint solution to collapse doesn't have to be the same everywhere and probably won't be. So you might have some neighborhoods running a neo-Feudal model, some running a Commie model and some running a Tribal model. It depends a lot where in the timeline you are, the further out you go the less likely the larger organizations of Goobermint are possible and the more likely you will have smaller tribal models. It also depends on population density, places with higher density are more likely to be in the neo-Feudal or Commie models, low density locations Tribal.
That's more or less a full overview of the current taxonomy in the Collapse Blogosphere, although I'm sure there are more distinctions that could be made. These are the main camps though, and differences between the outlook between them is what drives all the arguments (AKA: Napalm Contests) that go on in various commentariats and between bloggers. Kollapsniks tend to be very passionately attached to their particular POV, and no amount of debate will change their minds once set into one of these viewpoints. The arguments between the people with different POVs also become predictable and repetitive if you have been around the collapse blogosphere long enough.
For my own POV, I am a #8C long term and lean toward Fast Collapse but with a period of Scavenging that lasts maybe 100-200 years before Homo Sap is back to near-complete Stona Age. There might be some basic smelting of metal for things like axles, knives, axes and scythes, but none of the complex manufactured and machined items we are used buying at Home Depot.
Just because we'll likely have simpler tools and a more "primitive" style of living doesnt mean we can't retain a lot of knowledge and have a culturally rich society. We can still have music, we can still have literature, we can still contemplate the universe and do mathematics. We can enjoy the spectacle and chronicle the history as the Beauty of Nature is Reborn over the millenia, and Mother Earth recovers from the devastation of the Age of Oil. At least the few survivors will be able to do that anyhow. I do not expect to be one of them. I will however observe it from my Perch in the Great Beyond, as today I observe it from my digs on the Last Great Frontier.
Published on The Doomstead Diner on March 18, 2017
Discuss this video at the Pantry inside the Diner
Diner Eddie is the proud new Papa of a dozen or so new Mangalitsa Piggies on his Doomstead. Well, adopted father anyhow, we don't think he is the biological father. At least so far they aren't sporting bushy mustaches anyhow. lol.
Diners look forward to the Bacon with Eggs from the Chicken Coop of Lucid Dreams and Gypsy Mama, and Ham Smoked by RE for Dinner at the next convocation!
Cigars all around to the Diners!
Published on The Economic Collapse on March 12, 2017
Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner
$21,714 For Every Man, Woman And Child In The World – This Global Debt Bomb Is Ready To Explode
According to the International Monetary Fund, global debt has grown to a staggering grand total of 152 trillion dollars. Other estimates put that figure closer to 200 trillion dollars, but for the purposes of this article let’s use the more conservative number. If you take 152 trillion dollars and divide it by the seven billion people living on the planet, you get $21,714, which would be the share of that debt for every man, woman and child in the world if it was divided up equally.
So if you have a family of four, your family’s share of the global debt load would be $86,856.
Very few families could write a check for that amount today, and we also must remember that we live in some of the wealthiest areas on the globe. Considering the fact that more than 3 billion people around the world live on two dollars a day or less, the truth is that about half the planet would not be capable of contributing toward the repayment of our 152 trillion dollar debt at all. So they should probably be excluded from these calculations entirely, and that would mean that your family’s share of the debt would ultimately be far, far higher.
Of course global debt repayment will never actually be apportioned by family. The reason why I am sharing this example is to show you that it is literally impossible for all of this debt to ever be repaid.
We are living during the greatest debt bubble in the history of the world, and our financial engineers have got to keep figuring out ways to keep it growing much faster than global GDP because if it ever stops growing it will burst and destroy the entire global financial system.
Bill Gross, one of the most highly respected financial minds on the entire planet, recently observed that “our highly levered financial system is like a truckload of nitro glycerin on a bumpy road”.
And he is precisely correct. Everything might seem fine for a while, but one day we are going to hit the wrong bump at the wrong time and the whole thing is going to go KA-BOOM.
The financial crisis of 2008 represented an opportunity to learn from our mistakes, but instead we just papered over our errors and cranked up the global debt creation machine to levels never seen before. Here is more from Bill Gross…
My lesson continued but the crux of it was that in 2017, the global economy has created more credit relative to GDP than that at the beginning of 2008’s disaster. In the U.S., credit of $65 trillion is roughly 350% of annual GDP and the ratio is rising. In China, the ratio has more than doubled in the past decade to nearly 300%. Since 2007, China has added $24 trillion worth of debt to its collective balance sheet. Over the same period, the U.S. and Europe only added $12 trillion each. Capitalism, with its adopted fractional reserve banking system, depends on credit expansion and the printing of additional reserves by central banks, which in turn are re-lent by private banks to create pizza stores, cell phones and a myriad of other products and business enterprises. But the credit creation has limits and the cost of credit (interest rates) must be carefully monitored so that borrowers (think subprime) can pay back the monthly servicing costs. If rates are too high (and credit as a % of GDP too high as well), then potential Lehman black swans can occur. On the other hand, if rates are too low (and credit as a % of GDP declines), then the system breaks down, as savers, pension funds and insurance companies become unable to earn a rate of return high enough to match and service their liabilities.
There is always a price to be paid for going into debt. It mystifies me that so many Americans seem to not understand this very basic principle.
On an individual level, you could live like a Trump (at least for a while) by getting a whole bunch of credit cards and maxing all of them out.
But eventually a day of reckoning would come.
The same thing happens on a national level. In recent years we have seen examples in Greece, Cyprus, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and various other European nations.
Here in the United States, more than 9 trillion dollars was added to the national debt during the Obama years. If we had not taken more than 9 trillion dollars of consumption and brought it into the present, we would most assuredly be in the midst of an epic economic depression right now.
Instead of taking our pain in the short-term, we have sold future generations of Americans as debt slaves, and if they get the chance someday they will look back and curse us for what we have done to them.
Many believe that Donald Trump can make short-term economic conditions even better than Obama did, but how in the world is he going to do that?
Is he going to borrow another 9 trillion dollars?
A big test is coming up. A while back, Barack Obama and the Republican Congress colluded to suspend the debt ceiling until March 15th, 2017, and this week we are going to hit that deadline.
The U.S. Treasury will be able to implement “emergency measures” for a while, but if the debt ceiling is not raised the U.S. government will not be able to borrow more money and will run out of cash very quickly. The following comes from David Stockman…
The Treasury will likely be out of cash shortly after Memorial Day. That is, the White House will be in the mother of all debt ceiling battles before the Donald and his team even see it coming.
With just $66 billion on hand it is now going to run out of cash before even the bloody battle over Obamacare Lite now underway in the House has been completed. That means that there will not be even a glimmer of hope for the vaunted Trump tax cut stimulus and economic rebound on the horizon.
Trump is going to find it quite challenging to find the votes to raise the debt ceiling. After everything that has happened, very few Democrats are willing to help Trump with anything, and many Republicans are absolutely against raising the debt ceiling without major spending cut concessions.
So we shall see what happens.
If the debt ceiling is not raised, it will almost certainly mean that a major political crisis and a severe economic downturn are imminent.
But if the debt ceiling is raised, it will mean that Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress are willingly complicit in the destruction of this country’s long-term economic future.
When you go into debt there are consequences.
And when the greatest debt bubble in human history finally bursts, the consequences will be exceedingly severe.
The best that our leaders can do for now is to keep the bubble alive for as long as possible, because what comes after the bubble is gone will be absolutely unthinkable.
Published on Cassandra's Legacy on March 13, 2017
Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner
A lively debate is ongoing on what should be the minimum energy return for energy invested (EROEI) in order to sustain a civilization. Clearly, one always wants the best returns for one's investments. And, of course, investing in something that provides a return smaller than one is a bad idea, to say the least. So, a civilization grows and prosper on the energy it receives. The question is whether the transition from fossil fuels to renewables could provide enough energy to keep civilization alive in a form not too different from the present one.
It is often said that the prosperity of our society is the result of the high EROEI of crude oil as it was in mid 20th century. Values as high as 100 are often cited, but these are probably widely off the mark. The data reported in a 2014 study by Dave Murphy indicate that the average EROEI of crude oil worldwide could have been around 35 in the past, declining to around 20 at present. Dale et al. estimate (2011) that the average EROEI of crude oil could have been, at most, around 45 in the 1960s Data for the US production indicate an EROEI around 20 in the 1950s; down to about 10 today.
We see that the EROEI of oil is not easy to estimate but we can say at least two things: 1) our civilization was built on an energy source with an EROEI around 30-40. 2) the EROEI of oil has been going down owing to the depletion of the most profitable (high EROEI) wells. Today, we may be producing crude oil at EROEIs between 10 and 20, and it keeps going down.
Let's move to renewables. Here, the debate often becomes dominated by emotional or political factors that seem to bring people to try to disparage renewables as much as possible. Some evidently wrong assessments claim EROEIs smaller than one for the most promising renewable technology, photovoltaics (PV). In other cases, the game consists in enlarging the boundaries of the calculation, adding costs not directly related to the exploitation of the resource. That's why we should compare what's comparable; that is, use the same rules for evaluating the EROEI of fossil fuels and that of renewable energy. If we do that, we find that, for instance, photovoltaics has an EROEI around 10. Wind energy does better than that, with an average EROEI around 20. Not bad, but surely not as large as crude oil in the good old days.
Now, for the mother of all questions: on the basis of these data, can renewables replace the increasing energy expensive oil and sustain civilization? Here, we venture into a difficult field: what do we mean exactly as a "civilization"? What kind of civilization could a renewable-powered society support? Could it build cathedrals? Would it include driving SUVs? How about plane trips to Hawaii?
Here, some people are very pessimistic, and not just about SUVs and plane trips. On the basis of the fact that the EROEI of renewables is smaller than that of crude oil, considering also the expense of the infrastructure needed to adapt our society to the kind of energy produced by renewables, they conclude that "renewables cannot sustain a civilization that can sustain renewables." (a little like Groucho Marx's joke "I wouldn't want to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.").
Maybe, but I beg to differ. Let me explain with an example. Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that the energy source that powers society has an EROEI equal to 2. You would think that this is an abysmally low value and that it couldn't support anything more than a society of mountain shepherds, and probably not even that. But think about what an EROEI of 2 implies: for each plant in operation there must be a second one of the same size that only produces the energy that will be used to replace both plants after that they have gone through their lifetime. And the energy produced by the first plant comes for free. Now, consider a power source that has an EROEI= infinity; then you don't need the second plant. So, the difference is only a factor of two in the investments necessary to maintain the energy producing system forever.
It is like that: the EROEI is a strongly non-linear measurement. You can see that in the well-known diagram below (here in a simplified version, some people trace a line in the graph indicating the "minimum EROEI needed for civilization", which I think is unjustified)):
You see that oil, wind, coal, and solar are all in the same range. As long as the EROEI is higher than about 5-10, the energy return is reasonably good, at most you have to re-invest 10% of the production to keep the system going, which is pretty reasonable. It is only when the EROEI it becomes smaller than ca. 2 that things become awkward. So, it doesn't seem to be so difficult to support a complex civilization with the technologies we have. Maybe trips to Hawaii and SUVs wouldn't be included in a PV-based society (note the low EROEI of biofuels) but about art, science, health care, and the like, well, what's the problem?
There is a problem, though. And it has to do with growth. Let me go back to the example I made before, that of a hypothetical energy technology that has an EROEI = 2. If this energy return is calculated over a lifetime of 25 years, it means that the best that can be done in terms of growth is to double the number of plants over 25 years, a yearly growth rate of less than 3%. And that in the hypothesis that all the energy produced by the plants would go to make more plants which, of course, makes no sense. If we assume that, say, 10% of the energy produced is invested in new plants then, with EROEI=2, growth can be at most of the order of 0.3%. Even with an EROEI =10, we can't reasonably expect renewables to push their own growth at rates higher than 1%-2%(*). Things were different in the good old days, up to about 1970, when, with an EROEI around 40, crude oil production grew at a yearly rate of 7%. It seemed normal, at that time, but it was the result of very special conditions.
So, the problem is here: our society is fixated on growth and, in order to have high rates of growth, we need high EROEIs. Renewables are good for a steady-state society but probably can't support a fast growing one. But is it a bad thing? I wouldn't say so. We have grown enough with crude oil, actually way too much. Slowing down, and even going back a little, can only improve the situation.
(*) The present problem is not to keep the unsustainable growth rates that society is accustomed to. It is how to grow renewable energy fast enough to replace fossil fuels before depletion or climate change (or both) destroy us. This is a difficult but not impossible task. The current fraction of energy produced by wind and solar combined is less than 2% of the final consumption (see p. 28 of the REN21 report), so we need a yearly growth of more than 10% to replace fossils by 2050. Right now, both solar and wind are growing at more than a 20% yearly rate, but this high rate is obtained using energy from fossil fuels. The calculations indicate that it is possible to keep these growth rates while gradually phasing out fossil fuels by 2050, as described here
Published on The Doomstead Diner on March 16, 2017
Discuss this article at the SUN Table inside the Diner
I am going to put off publishing another chapter of How I Survived Collapse for another week to publish instead this compilation article from posts made Inside the Diner on the topic of developing self-sufficiency. We had a lively discussion on this topic this week, and I would like to share it while it is still fresh. We discussed what self-sufficiency really means, and what that entails both short and long term. Many different opinions were expressed on this topic, in terms of what is or is not possible and what the long term outcome will be from the Collapse of Industrial Civilization.
Most of the Diners do not buy into the concept of a Near Term Human Extinction, so the debate is not about whether all Homo Saps will be dead in 10 years or even a 100 years. It's about what technologies we might or might not be able to maintain through this time period, and what are the most important things to be learning now both for the near term of a likely "Scavenging Civilization" which operates by taking many of the materials leftover from the Age of Oil and fixing and repurposing them, to the longer term after those materials have mostly rusted away and been turned to rubble.
There is a wide variety of opinion on this topic, from some Diners who believe it is possible a high tech society like our own can be maintained for a much smaller population; to some who think that we can be sustainable at a 17th Century level of technology (pre-Steam Engine); to those like myself who believe the only truly sustainable society utilizes only Stone Age technology.
Below you find a selection of the posting made to this thread. It comes from only the first page of this thread, which is now at 4 pages long and climbing. For a complete reading, I suggest going to the thread itself, which is open for non-members to read. If you wish to contribute your thoughts to this thread, you will need to register on the Forum and become an official Diner.
Now, on to the 7 Generations debate! 🙂
Over on Knarf's Knewz in a link post about the Black Rose Anarchist Party, JDW put up a couple of quotes from Bill Mollison about becoming Producers rather than Consumers, with the implication that this was the real productive form of Anarchy to be undertaken.
In this one, Bill asserts that if just 10%of the people of the world undertook this form of self-sufficiency, we could feed the world. I'm assuming he means doing it without Industrial Fertilizers as well. Not sure how he felt about big combines, harvesters, tractors and so forth though.
My first question here for this thread is whether this is really true? Could 10% of the population feed everyone else, all 7.3B people currently walking the earth?
Next question is that of self-sufficiency to begin with. Before you can feed 9 other people, you need to feed yourself of course. Is anyone really self-sufficient enough to feed himself?
In all my years of talking with various Doomsteaders with various levels of prepping and various sized properties, not ONE of them has ever said to me, "I am 100% Self Sufficient with Food Production". Most of the time, they give me a number somewhere between 25% & 50%. "But I am working toward being fully self-sufficient, and hope to get there in 5 years". Or some timeline anyhow.
Now, if they have NOT achieved 100% self-sufficiency in food, then if/when TSHTF, they're still gonna starve to death, just a bit slower than the folks who are 0% self-sufficient. If you're only getting 50% of the daily calories, protein and vitamins you need to live, you are gonna die! So anything less than 100%, you are also going extinct.
This is only the question of self-sufficiency on your food production ability given the tools you buy to do this stuff. Even if those tools are just horse drawn plows and the tack necessary for strapping them up, most if not all people including the Amish BUY this stuff, they don't make it themselves. It does wear out of course, but if you are well prepped with spares and so forth AND are food self sufficient, now you may have got up to 20 years, but the next generation of your kids growing up on the farm are not going to be able to buy this stuff, so then they will go extinct. No farming tools, no farming.
So of course, this is why we at SUN☼ always talk about the importance of Community, in order to have some people who know how to MAKE tools necessary for farming, as well as those who USE the tools to do the farming. This sort of community really doesn't exist AFAIK*, except perhaps in some Amish communities. However, even they buy most of their tools from the industrial economy, the only ones they make themselves are the ones the industrial ecoomy doesn't make any more.
So, the whole idea of becoming self-sufficient in time for the Collapse of Industrial Civilization seems like a tough goal to achieve.
Going back in history of course, there certainly were people who were entirely self sufficient, but they were all Stone Age Hunter-Gatherers. Once the transition was made to Agriculture and Metallurgy to do that with, self-sufficiency was lost. Even the Pioneers weren't really self-sufficient, they brought with them tools and implements with which to get started, mostly shipped over from Europe at the beginning until forges and blacksmith shops were built on the East Coast and mining operations began to get iron ore and coal locally. Then they traded the food they grew using these great tools to get new tools when they needed them.
Now, moving into the future here,the likelihood of being able to acquire coal and iron ore to make new tools seems quite small moving say 100 years down the line. For those of us alive today, not an issue, we probaly can scavenge a lot of material and repurpose for a while, like taking sheet metal off carz and using it to sheath a plowshare, or sharpening to make a Scythe. But by the 100 year mark, all that old metal will be rusted and brittle and not useful anymore for making such tools.
So eventually of course, returning to full self-sufficiency means returning to H-G and Stone Tools. It ALSO means getting to that point within about 100 years.
Now, on the upside here, the population is likely to decline quite a bit over that century time span, making H-G living theoretically possible again. However, within that time span, those who don't know how to knap stone tools, hunt in primitive fashion will have to acquire those skills if they don't have them already. How will they do that if you as Patriarch/Matriarch of this group of intrepid Survivors of Collapse aren't spending at least some of your prep time on gaining Primitive Skills? Who will teach them if they grew up as farmers with tools to do farming made of metal, but no longer have metal to work with?
I would like to hear Diner Opinions on many of the issues I brought up in this post. Can a farmer be completely self sufficient? Are any, even the poorest subsistence farming Indian farmers self-sufficient? Could you continue farming (or permaculturing) with no metal tools? Do you think spending some prepping time on gaining primitive skills is necessary, or a waste of time? If not a waste of time, how much time should be spent on this so you will have the knowledge to pass on to children and grandchildren?
I am hoping to get enough responses to this post to make a Diner Compilation article out of the thread, so post up!
*AFAIK- as far as I know
From Lucid Dreams
I think going back to stone tools is a bit of a stretch RE.
A good quality hand tool made of metal and wood can be used for lifetimes pending it is cared for. Metal that is kept clean and dry does not rust. The tools they sell at the big box stores are mostly shit that don't even last one lifetime. There is plenty of metal to scavenge for a long time to come. Take a modern day dumpster for instance. How long would it take one of those things to rust back into the Earth? So going back to stone tools is not going to be necessary.
As far as the self sufficient farmer myth goes, that's a load of bollix. No such thing, and there never has been. It's theoretically possible, and I'm sure some people have done it. I think you could survive pending you had enough hands and the weather helped you (which is unlikely these days).
The best templates we have are the current ecovilliages, and as far as I know none of them are 100% self sufficient. If they were 100% self sufficient, then they would not need money would they? Of course one could argue that it's just easier to buy the stuff you need, like fencing for instance, if you have the money. In the absence of money a lot of things could be accomplished in other ways.
The "self sufficient farmer" is not a reality. That farmer needs farm hands. I think then you can produce a human diet that could keep people reasonably healthy. The Easter Islanders did it, and so did the Vikings, and so did many other peoples before our time. The best answers I've seen to our problems comes from Permaculture. Permaculture has aggregated a lot of knowledge under it's umbrella, and it provides a system of design principles to help in the thinking process.
I have no doubt that if the money was made available a Permaculture system could keep a lot of people alive and healthy. If the goobermint were to throw billions of digibits at Permaculture like they do for the MIC, then we would have an excellent chance at saving a lot more than as many as we can. Restoration agriculture combined with the biointensive methods from the Ecology Action folks and a strong emphasis on bamboo culture would create a very stable system of food, fuel, fiber, and medicine production. It is possible to manage these systems sustainably and therefore provide self-sufficiency, but that sufficiency is really provided by community.
The cabin in the woods is a farce. It will take community to survive. It will take a community with rules and a chain of command, and it will likely be very similar to feudalism due to necessity because nobody in goobermint is addressing any of this. All of our "leaders" are asleep at the switch, incompetent, blind, and servicing BAU for their own personal interests. Nobody in goobermint is taking any of our once problems, now predicaments, seriously.
Restoration agriculture takes time. We are talking about trees and land that's been mostly denuded of topsoil. That topsoil has to be regrown, and that takes time. It takes lots of time. It can be done relatively quickly biointensively, but it still takes time. Years. Most nut trees take 20, 30 years to mature and produce nuts. Orchards take years to mature. None of these systems will mature in much less than 10 years. I'd say 20 years is more likely how much time you need to get mature Permaculture systems in place that would be capable of supporting a large population.
It's simply too late in the game to save all 7.5 billion of us. If we had a Manhattan Project level event that got going with Permaculture in the driver seat today, then we might be able to save half of the current population. That's just my guess.
Metal tools are not going away. They were around before modern BAU, and they'll persist afterward, in my opinion. They will become extremely expensive. Things like plows and hand tools will be very precious when they have to be hand made out of dead cars, though.
Food is tricky. I know a big family with everyone working the fields can be self sufficient, because that's the way it used to be. As in LARGELY self-sufficient, 90% or better. You always need some things. Salt, seeds, sugar, etc.
Transition is the hardest part. You can't go from BAU to self-sufficient overnight. I would expect a fast collapse to create a serious famine.
The best case would be if you can get some of your protein from hunting or fishing, and some food from gathering. People in low population areas would have an advantage there, of course.
Very few people are in a position to even try living self-sufficiently. It would be a huge stretch to assume I could get there in time, even with my modest preps to tide me over. If BAU continues until I reach retirement status, I'll be able to get better at it. Otherwise, I'll have to wing it when push comes to shove. Won't be at all easy. I know that.
As I said to LD, not going away in this generation or even the next one in all likelihood. But in your grandchildren's generation, where will they get the coal and iron ore to smelt the metal and fabricate new tools? There sure won't be Home Depots to buy them at. I am looking 100-200 years out in time here.
If they cannot fabricate new metal tools, then how do they keep farming/permaculturing? Can you do this without metal tools? If so, how?
If you postulate in the generation of your grandchildren that metal tools will NOT be available for them to use, then don't you need to prep them up for that time by teaching them stone tool knapping? How else will they learn it? Maybe they will figure it out on their own, but would it not be better to pass this knowledge down so they are prepped and ready for this day? How can you pass such knowledge down if you do not have it yourself?
Making metal tools? Is there an APP for that? Metal shop, wood shop, home economics? High schools don't bother with such things anymore do they?
As time's arrow shoots forward the social direction moves more and more away from self sufficiency and self reliance. This will mean mass death as soon as the wheels can't turn from lack of cheap oil. There is no way around it and those who imagine themselves self sufficient will be pulled down in the social quagmire of those who are not.
From JD Wheeler:
The best templates we have are the current ecovilliages, and as far as I know none of them are 100% self sufficient. If they were 100% self sufficient, then they would not need money would they? Of course one could argue that it's just easier to buy the stuff you need, like fencing for instance, if you have the money. In the absence of money a lot of things could be accomplished in other ways.
They are fairly well isolated from the rest of the world, so they probably do come close to providing 100% of their needs. If you count net impact and consider the 1.5 million trees they've replanted, they might be over 100%.
From JD Wheeler:
In this one, Bill asserts that if just 10%of the people of the world undertook this form of self-sufficiency, we could feed the world. I'm assuming he means doing it without Industrial Fertilizers as well. Not sure how he felt about big combines, harvesters, tractors and so forth though.
My first question here for this thread is whether this is really true? Could 10% of the population feed everyone else, all 7.3B people currently walking the earth?
I've addressed this before as Permaculture's Dirty Little Secret. I agree with Bill Mollison's assessment that using permaculture methods, 10% of the population could GROW enough food to feed 100% of the population; they could not, however, HARVEST enough food to feed everyone. Even on my little blackberry patches, well over 50% of the berries go unharvested, even by the birds! Permaculture's Dirty Little Secret is that, after you have set the systems up, 90% of the work is harvesting.
From David B.
My first thought would be that the iron age did not start with the fossil fuel age but ran on charcoal made from wood. The roman legions had iron swords, tools, armour all forged on biomass. The plows of the middle ages were mostly wood but the leading edges were iron. All before the first piece of coal left the mine. Huge collapse sure but iron is here to stay.
Published on The Daily Impact February 10 & 13, 2017
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For those of us who have been arguing into the wind for years about the urgent need to abandon our total reliance on the electric grid in favor of distributed energy — making it where you use it — it’s a sight for sore eyes. An enormous government program is building tens of thousands of direct-current microgrids to power homes and businesses and towns all over the country, providing people with electricity that is far less expensive and more reliable than is provided by the grid.
The program began field testing its microgrids just three years ago. For a single household it consisted of a solar array, a basic battery, and a 12-volt wiring harness. By staying in 12 volt, the microgrid avoids the expense and inefficiencies of inverting the power to 120-volt, and makes use of the increasing availability of 12-volt lights, motors, computers, TVs and appliances. By the end of of this year, 100,000 microgrids will be up and running, with no slowdown in sight.
Another triumph of American ingenuity? Hardly. You can have America’s grid when you pry it from our cold, dead hands. This is a triumph of Indian innovation.
With its one and a quarter billion people — four times the population of the United States — India is the second largest country in the world. Since achieving independence from Britain in 1947, the massive and long-subjugated country has moved with surprising speed toward a position of world leadership; it is, for example, one of the few countries in the world to possess nuclear weapons.
But progress has been uneven. Poverty, environmental degradation, corruption, and plain vanilla incompetence lay across the country’s many accomplishments like a toxic fog. This is especially true when it comes to energy: one fifth of the population has no access to electricity at all; half of those who are connected to the grid find it so unreliable and expensive they may as well not have it at all
For years India has been pouring money into bigger generating plants, bigger and longer transmission lines, and myriad electrification projects. Yet of its 29 provinces, only four can boast that all of their households have electricity. The only meaningful gains have been made by the recently inaugurated microgrid program initiated by the Indian Institute of Technology at Madras.
Now, tens of thousands of homes are making enough power — reliably and cheaply — to power their lights, computers, phones, televisions, fans and certain other appliances. Whether the microgrid is alone or working in tandem with the grid, it allows people for the first time to count on being able to read at night, cool themselves with fans, communicate, and watch entire TV shows uninterrupted.
That might not seem like much to you and me, and we may not see the point at first of doing microgrids here. That’s because you and I think of the grid as sturdy and reliable, and most of us consider investing in backup power only if it lowers our electric bills. But the grid is not sturdy and reliable, it is elderly, leaky, outdated and infirm [See “Rage Against the Dying of the Lights,” The Daily Impact December 5, 2014], and one day soon it is going to fail us entirely.
On that day we are going to regret deeply all that time and money we spent grafting wind “farms” and solar “farms” and nuclear plants and coal plants and natural gas plants onto our rusting forest of sticks and strings. There is nothing sustainable, or renewable, or common sensible about gathering a gazillion watts of “renewable” energy in the middle of a desert or on a remote mountaintop and them having to ram it through an aged, leaky, decrepit grid to its eventual destination. We will also deeply regret, for example, saving a few bucks by installing solar panels with built-in inverters to 120 volt — inverters that must be connected to the live grid for the solar panel to work.
We will regret letting the industry convince us that the only way to make energy is to burn fossil fuels in huge plants, the only way to distribute it is through strings strung on sticks (wait, hook it to the Internet and call it a “smart” grid), that high costs and frequent outages and increasing vulnerability are just the way it is. We may even, if we have the time while trying to survive, take a moment to regret that Thomas Edison lost his argument with Nikola Tesla, and Edison’s vision of an America of neighborhoods served by small DC generators never came to be.
Until now. In India.
The hucksters of high tech are abroad in the land, proving they are the equal of Donald Trump in their ability to tell brazen lies and feel no shame. These days, that’s called leadership. Their latest whopper is that we don’t need to worry about the fact that we are killing off the bees that pollinate our food crops, we can do the job mechanically. Here’s a typical headline inspired by the latest revelations in the field: “Should pollinating drones take over for honey bees?”
Consider the technique used in the headline –it’s the craft of clickbait, not journalism. The journalistic headlines would be “Scientists have used a small drone to pollinate a flower.” Yawn. If you said, “Scientists prepare to replace bees with drones,” the lie would be so big and so obvious that scientists would have to protest and your credibility, if any, would suffer. But who could blame you for simply asking the question? (Headlines asking questions, by the way, are an indicator of fake news.)
The story itself breathes heavily through an account of a team in Japan outfitting a little drone with some horsehairs and sticky stuff and successfully transferring some pollen from one lily (a flower selected for its large size and accessible pollen) to another. Mission accomplished, in approximately half the attempts made. The team leader — Eijiro Miyako of Japan’s Nanomaterials Research Institute — said he felt “happiness that I’m a scientist.”
Couple things. The drone they used cost over a hundred dollars and required a human operator. To pollinate just the almond crop, in California alone, each year requires 35 billion bees pollinating three trillion flowers on 900,000 acres. Each little drone, with its four slashing propellers, is going to scare and injure real bees and damage plants while barging around the flowers.
Well, sure, comes the response, we’ll have to develop some kind of artificial intelligence to make the drones self-piloting, and we’ll have to achieve economies of scale, but we can do that. Eventually. In other words if we had some ham we could have ham and eggs if we had some eggs.
Over and over again we are treated to the same cycle; some minor achievement in the lab, announced with a flurry of irrational predictions about the brave new world to come because of this breakthrough. Fusion (at room temperature) has been announced a half dozen times. A week or so ago a breathless account of the creation of metallic hydrogen caught the world’s attention until it fell apart of its own weight.
These “studies” continue to flourish for the same reason that clickbait ads and fake news flourish; because of the avid appetite of ill-informed people for easy solutions. When the ad offers a quick and easy cure for cancer, or the fake news proclaims that a politician we don’t like has been caught running a child sex-slave ring out of a pizza parlor, or fake science proclaims that we no longer have to worry about the bees dying or the globe warming or the world running out of oil, way too many of us turn off our critical faculties and go back to sleep.
Money flows to the grant proposals that envision finding out that what we want to be true, is true. Money flows to the clickbait ads that offer easy solutions to complex problems. Eyeballs cascade to the fake news that proclaims what we want to hear, or what we are afraid we’ll hear. And the institutions that once imposed responsibility on these offerings — the universities, the regulatory bodies, the great newspapers — are vampires now whose souls have fled, leaving behind only a vast craving for cash.
There’s no one left to tell us there aren’t going to be driverless cars and tabletop fusion and eternal life and a cure for cancer and a mechanical replacement for bees and a simple fix for climate change; to tell us it’s up to us not to be taken, not to be gullible, not to accept a view of the world that’s simple and easy and deadly wrong. It’s hard work, but somebody’s got to do it, and there’s no drone that will do it for you.
Published on The Doomstead Diner on March 14, 2017
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Notes from RE and the Diners
Last week, Dr Geoff Chia put up an article/announcement of a lecture he was giving at the Ecocenter in Queensland Oz on March 10th, which he fortunately got recorded so it can be more widely dispersed. You will find the lecture and the slides he used in the video above. Also included here is an Audio only track you can download to your mp3 player or smartphone to play while you are gardening or biking to work, or sitting in traffic in your SUV on Diner Soundcloud.
The lecture has inspired some lively comentary Inside the Diner, here is a sample of that:
From Lucid Dreams:
Dr. Chia is a good speaker.
I agree, although after listening to the whole thing, I felt he was a little heavy handed. Imagine if I pitched that spin at the convocation! The movers & shakers would have looked at me like I was from Mars! I wrote Geoff back I think he needs to take it down a notch for the Newbies.
Why pander to the newbies? The sooner one can accept the truth and reinvent themselves to carry on in spite of the doom before us the better! Perhaps convincing people that massive change is coming but playing down without denial the misery and death part of the fate before us could wake up more people. I will agree with that.
From Lucid Dreams
Speaking from experience with speaking to crowds about these topics, doesn't matter how much you down play it. Most people are not going to recognize the information as valid because it amounts to pulling the rug out from under their sense of security. People start marinating on the ramifications of Peak Oil and then they start to hyperventilate (only in their unconscious mind). The unconscious mind then promptly kicks out the possibility of even entertaining the doomy notions presented. Vaporware, scientists, renewable energy, and technotriumphalism coupled with the psychology of previous investment all finish the job of denial.
Simply put, it matter not how you present the information. Whether you do it with a spoon full of sugar or with a fuckin' sledge hammer, the results are always the same…denial…
Unless the person is ready to accept the information…in which case they will likely have found that information by a simple google search.
I think there is a balance to be struck to begin opening the window without having them freak out and go into full denial mode. Remember, a Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down!
For more commentary or to post your own opinion, join us Inside the Diner for a Collapse Meal!
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on March 8th, 2017
So for a guy like me who's making somewhat of a return to the world of music but who's fully aware of the already underway protracted collapse of industrial civilization, it should be obvious that putting myself at the mercy of a streaming service might not be the best idea if I wanted to retain a bit of access to some recorded music once the ability for streaming disappears once and for all (which for whatever reason[s] I believe will certainly happen at some point in my lifetime). So supposing I'm connected to a community grid and/or have the solar panels or whatever it be to power some kind of setup, owning my music – be it on CD, vinyl, or MP3s – would most certainly be the way to go.
That being said, and without being excessive, I could always do both (supposing I even have the money for any of this) – sign up to a streaming service to discover new music, then purchase what I want to keep for the long term. As the record label CEO quoted in part 1 put it, this is exactly what many people today are doing:
It used to be music discovery was mainly limited to the radio, but now people are free to look and listen to all sorts of music, so people are hearing so much more new or different music than they were before. They are finding music through streaming and if they love it, they are going out and investing in it in a physical format.
According to those in the know it turns out that while Apple's streaming service has the larger catalogue, it's horrible when it comes to suggesting new music to you: "Enjoyed XYZ band? Well guess what, you might be interested in listening to The Beatles!" On the other hand, although Spotify apparently doesn't have as extensive of a catalogue as Apple does its algorithms are purportedly vastly superior when it comes to exposing customers to new sounds.
Nonetheless, none of that is enough to convince me to subscribe to a streaming service, and that's not because of any fears of impending doom overriding my thinking. No. Because having previously owned roughly 600 albums (okay, owned about 150 albums and stole another 450 or so), it's the very prospect of musical abundance itself that makes me shudder, horrified at the thought of being swamped and overwhelmed by the "infinite" catalogue of a streaming service. If anything I'd be more interested in imposing limits to music rather than testing the limits to my sanity.
Having spent a decade in the "musical wilderness" it became rather apparent to me that (conspicuous) consumption can be just as rampant and soul-destroying with oh-so-harmless music as with anything else. It's thanks to the constant barrage of the never-ending availability of new music, the ease by which one can listen to music at any moment thanks to a set of headphones and a playback system, the sounds leaking out of store fronts, elevators, etc., that our minds are becoming so overloaded with music that they're arguably becoming obese on the stuff. From the point of view of someone looking at things from the sidelines it was hard not to get the impression that to a certain extent we're inadvertently – and sometimes purposefully – blocking out the act of thinking, to the point of even numbing ourselves blissfully stupid (which is probably not a good thing to be afflicted with when your civilization is starting to collapse around you).
So forget the idea that "music has never been more popular" (as quoted in part 1), because it's more like "never before has the over-consumption of a product been so viable", thanks in part to its ramifications not being glaringly obvious – like a beer gut or a closet full of shoes.
"Back in the day" when music could only be played live, the expenditure that was required for agriculture-based civilizations to maintain a class of professional musicians – meaning farmers had to produce enough of a surplus so that yet another subset of people could be spared from full-time field-work so as to allow them the opportunity to learn, practice, and then perform their craft – meant that music was quite often limited to such things as celebratory occasions and to helping make things easier for those toiling away in the fields (supposing that said toilers didn't just sing to themselves and/or just make their own music). Music wasn't something to binge and gorge on but something to make those special moments even more special as well as to make the tough periods a bit more bearable.
What we currently have though is the situation in which incessant streams of music and other sounds are routinely used for altering people's moods and desires, often times for nefarious purposes of advertising. That's not to say however that it's just advertising that partakes in this perverse mind-altering usage of music, seeing how it's just as commonly self-administered. With personal catalogues of several hundred albums commonplace, and now the "infinite" catalogue of streaming services, some of the questions that routinely get asked are along the lines of "What matches my mood?" or "How do I want to influence my mood?" or "What mood do I want to be in?" One can get relaxing music, invigorating music, happy music, sad music, edgy music, dinner music, local music, world music, even music that sounds like anything but music, the lot of it often times rendering us into little more than wilfully manipulated au(dio)tomatons who are then just as easily swayed and coerced by those clever enough to influence us with the right sounds and cues for their own selfish and greedy desires.
Likewise, with Spotify promising the perpetual discovery of new music, do we really want to make music into the equivalent of the one-night-stand via the musical version of Tinder? "Dislike, dislike, dislike, like!, dislike, dislike, no definitely not you." When mentioning this Spotify-as-Tinder analogy (Tindify?) to a friend of mine I was told "Yeah, I have 15,000 MP3s [roughly 1,500 albums] and I never know what to listen to." Been there, done that, no thanks. (If I'm not mistaken Hotline was actually my archaic version of Tindify as I can't even imagine how many albums I deleted shortly after downloading and listening to them.)
So with all that amounting to the fact that there certainly wasn't going to be any streaming music service for me I was thus left with three issues/questions to address, supposing I was even going to actively listen to recorded music again:
1) In which format(s) was I going to own my music, and through which method(s) would I purchase it if that were an issue?
2) How was I going to place limits to music?
3) What was I going to listen to, and how would I even find what to listen to?
Regarding the first question, my choice was between CDs, MP3s, and vinyl. First off, CDs would require me to invest in a CD player as well as a Discman (supposing the latter are even available anymore). CD players do however have an array of moving parts, and expecting to be able to find the spare parts for one of these built-to-be-obsolete gizmos at some point in the future – if not in the present – is a complete joke. On the other hand an iPhone's battery will eventually be rendered useless, but so long as you keep it plugged into your power source (as a CD player also requires) you should be okay. The iPhone may of course mysteriously conk out and render you SOL, but that's how these things (don't) work. So as both options are rather equal in their futility, the convenience and portability of the iPhone – and the fact that I got a free ("obsolete") one – makes it the way to go. (As an aside, I would never actually purchase a brand new Apple product.)
Does the iPhone beat out vinyl though? For my present purposes of portability it obviously does. But for the long-term (and by "long-term" I mean at least several decades after collapse really kicks in) it may be vinyl that takes the cake here. Fact is, my iPhone is going to become un-operational sometime sooner than later, its files are going to become corrupted or succumb to digital rot, or whatever. Vinyl, as long as you manage to take good care of it all, is going to last. Yes, record players also have moving parts, but find yourself a sturdy-enough model from the 70s or so (as well as a few extra needles and such) and if something goes wrong with it you'll pretty much be able to repair it with a bunch of bailing twine.
In summation, MP3s are the way to go for the present and, if available, their equivalent on vinyl for the longer term.
Next up, where to buy albums from? Apple's iTunes store is absolutely out of the question since its DRM (Digital Rights Management) means you can only play your purchases on your Apple hardware and/or with Apple software. Another option is the rarely mentioned Google Play service, which like iTunes has both downloading and streaming services but which comes with the added advantage that one's MP3 downloads/purchases can be played on any device. I of course hate giving Google even a penny of my money, so when possible I'd much rather purchase albums/MP3s directly from a music label or musician's website, even if for whatever reason said purchases cost a few bucks more (a few bucks which would go to the label and/or musicians anyway, not a bad prospect at all).
To play the music on my phone-plan-deficient iPhone would then require an extra app to listen to it all with since I don't want to use Apple's iTunes in any way. The best I've found is CloudBeats, an app that downloads (and/or streams) audio files from a cloud service that you've previously uploaded your music to. (While I find the iPhone version of the app to be great, I've read that the Android version isn't quite as good.)
But before I'd given thought to any of that, and before the thought of placing limits to music even crossed my mind, what went through my head was, Do I really want to enter into the world of music again (the dreaded "music scene"), what with all the cooler-than-thou aura that permeates and taints so much of it? Secondly, and supposing the whole thing wasn't completely wrapped in rampant narcissism, was there even anything I'd want to listen to?
I was quite sure that the latter issue wasn't going to entail something from my previous library since hearing many of those sounds generally made me feel like I was back in the narcissistic world of filmmaking, not something I cared to waste my brain cells on. On top of that, even "just" 600 albums would be too much to choose from – and we're talking music that was all over the gamut here, from Johann Strauss Jr. to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, The Beatles to Led Zeppelin, Robert Johnson to John Lee Hooker, Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Miles Davis to Charles Mingus, Buena Vista Social Club to The Squirrel Nut Zippers, Tom Waits to The Lounge Lizards, and on and on and on. While I haven't minded overhearing some of that stuff while I've been out and about or at a friends' place, the thought of re-purchasing any of what I used to listen to and then consciously choosing to play it absolutely repulsed me. So anything from my previous library was out of the question.
Until, that is, a somewhat obscure group of musicians popped back into my head, one that I can't remember how I initially discovered them, meaning they were likely one of the shots-in-the-dark I (aptly?) stole via Hotline. That this was the only group of musicians that I was all that interested in listening to again shouldn't have come as all that surprising to me, considering my previous history.
Back in 2002 I was making a few stops in Europe to visit extended family, at one point departing a train at the Brussels train station where I was to call my father's cousin to get picked up. But before I was able to locate a phone I couldn't help but overhear a sound echoing throughout the tunnels with the most intense ferocity I'd ever heard in my life, leaving me with no choice but to let my ears lead the way. That eventually got me in front of a fellow playing at breakneck speed on an instrument I'd never seen before, rendering me unable to do anything but just stand there – in awe – for I don't know how long.
I ended up being extremely late for my rendezvous, but being completely jacked up on this guy's playing – I later learned he was playing a cimbalom – I decided to scrap the phone call, grab a map, and with luggage in tow make my way across Brussels to my destination. Well it turns out that had of I promptly called to be picked up I would have been joining my father's cousin and her husband for an evening before the Brussels Symphony Orchestra, something they had acquired tickets for ahead of time and which I would have likely found interesting. Whoops.
Nonetheless, I mentioned to my father's cousin's husband the musician I'd seen, the mesmerising player who I don't think even the entire Brussels Symphony Orchestra could have captivated me as much.
He was playing an instrument I'd never seen before, and if I understood what he said correctly, I think he said it was 'seeganee' music.
"Ah yes, Tzigane. Gypsy music."
What? Gypsy music? I don't think so. He said 'seeganee'.
While on the one hand I had zero belief that the musician was a Gypsy, I also had no idea what a Gypsy was supposed to look like or even was. As well, let's just say that I was staying in the richer part of Brussels, and I wasn't sure how advisable it was to go around making it known that I had liked what was supposedly Gypsy music. Fortunately my extended family wasn't prejudiced in the slightest.
"Yes, Tzigane. That's a French term for Gypsy."
On top of the fact that my father's cousin's husband was correct (let's just say that I should have known better than to question this guy's knowledge) and that I'd missed out on the Orchestra, it was nearly a decade and a half later – via one particular album by the only group of musicians that for some reason I was drawn to re-listen to – that I'd again, but unknowingly, laid ears on an Orkestar. And after those ten-plus years in the musical wilderness – and what are the chances of this? – it was the Orkestar that then led me directly to the most astounding sound I expect to ever lay ears on.
So while I was intent on trying to place some limits to music – a maximum amount of albums?, a maximum amount of musicians?, certain genres?, local only?, nothing electrified and so only acoustic? – I quickly found out that there's virtually no need for placing limits to music when you can hardly bring yourself to listen to anything else but a single group of
out-of-this-world of-this-world musicians.
Published on The Doomstead Diner on March 12, 2017
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Seems like there is some new Anniversary or significant date arriving almost monthly these days. We had the New Year's Recap of the events of 2016 to review, then the 5 Year Anniversary of the founding of the Doomstead Diner. Upcoming in August is my 60th Birthday, which is a miraculous longevity for me given the way I lived my life and all the Close Encounters with the Grim Reaper I had along the way. I never figured to make it past 50. However, on all occasions to date, the Finger of God stepped in and kept me above ground level walking the Earth for another day to see another Sunrise.
This month marks another Anniversary, my second full year in Retirement. In fact it was on the Ides of March that I walked out the doors of a gymnastics school as a coach for the last time.
Beware the Ides of March
I got to retire early because I became disabled after taking a fall at work and injuring my neck. Resultant from that are physical issues too numerous to mention, which preclude things like hiking the Bush here in Alaska, circumnavigating the Globe in a Sailboat or even retiring on a Golf Course in Florida to play a round of golf every day. lol. My retirement such as it is consists mainly of puttering around my digs and writing about Collapse here on the Diner. So it's not exactly the retirement of my dreams from my youth, when I hoped to be retired by 50, buy a nice 36' or so yacht and sail the various playgrounds of yachties, from the Greek Islands to the Bahamas and the South Pacific. I never got that dream, at least not long term. I did have a few good sailing adventures of a couple of weeks at a time in my younger days though.
Today, even if I did get the dream, it's not so dreamy anymore to be living the Yachty life. You have the dangers of kidnapping by Pirates, as one German couple found out for the second time this year. You have increasingly bad weather with rogue waves around that can take out a small boat in the blink of an eye. The Greek Islands are not the place they were when I sailed them in the 1980s, now they are piled up with Syrian refugees. South Pacific Islands are sinking under rising ocean waters and are battered regularly by Super Typhoons. So maybe it's better I didn't get that dream after all, at least in terms of living a bit longer anyhow.
Besides that though, I don't really have much of a "Bucket List" of things I always wanted to do but never got a chance to do. In terms of travel, I saw all of Europe, most of South America, the South Pacific Islands and Australia. Never got to China or to Africa, but never really had the desire to see either of those places. Today, I DEFINITELY would not want to travel to either one, in China you are lucky if the air is clean enough to breathe on a given day and in Africa your lucky not to contract Ebola or have your head lopped off with a machete. Besides, are there any Lions or Elephants even left there to see on Safari? I can watch a nice National Geographic documentary on You Tube from the 1970s and see Africa as it once was, I don't want to see it as it now is. Besides it's fucking HOT in Africa, and I hate hot weather.
Speaking of not wanting to see things as they now are, another place I don't want to go is back to NY Shity to see my old neighborhoods and haunting grounds. My old neighborhood of Flushing, Queens isn't even recognizable in pictures I Google up. The great clubs I frequented like CBGBs and Max's Kansas City are all long gone, and even if they still existed I wouldn't want to be an old guy wandering around a music den stuffed with 20-somethings these days with the type of music that is popular now. Everybody pierced up and tatoos from head to toe is just repulsive. OK, I am sounding like Jimmy Kunstler now so I'll get off this topic. LOL.
So besides Travel, what are other things retirees put on their Bucket Lists? Great Adventures doing something EXCITING! Well, first off I would need to be healthy and not a cripple to do these things, but once again assume I was healthy.
Do I want to jump out of an airplane with a parachute? No, unless forced to do that because the plane is crashing, that is just a fucking stupid thing to do. Do I want to climb Mt. Everest or K-2? Another fucking stupid thing to do, they don't call it the DEATH ZONE up there for nothing you know. Most of the lesser adventures like White Water Rafting or hunting for Bear I already did, so they are not on a Bucket List of things I never did but want to still do.
Bottom line here is I have no Bucket List at all, and I'm quite happy to be living peacefully in my digs, keyboarding Collapse on the Diner. I have all the Food, Beer and Smokes I consume every day that I need, and the place is warm and cozy. At least most of the time anyhow, except when the heat went out during the cold snap we had a couple of weeks ago anyhow. lol. However, that was fixed inside a day by the maintenance man, and it never actually got below 49F in the digs, so I was in no danger of freezing to death at the time. It was just a little uncomfortable. I usually keep the heat down fairly low anyway, since I like it colder and it keeps my heating bill down too. However, 49 and dropping is just a little too cold. Low 60s is good for wandering around the digs in Flannel Pajamas or sweats, wearing some nice warm slippers.
So even though being disabled is no fun, I don't feel like I missed out on anything because of it, but what I did get out of it was EARLY RETIREMENT! I am now at 2 years and still running without having to work, getting up each day to do mainly as I please, with the exception of having the continuing headache of litigating my SS-WC Case and making trips to the doctors as necessary. Fortunately there seems to be no major life threatening problem at the moment, just the continuing annoyances. My keyboard fingers still work fine though, and I think I have most of my marbles left so my prose comes out OK when I keyboard. At least most of the feedback seems to indicate that anyhow in the blog commentariat, although I do get criticized for being nuts on the forum by a few people. lol. So I am doing what I enjoy doing, I got no boss over me telling me what to do, I don't even have to get out of my Flannel Pajamas most days! Only if I need to go on a Prep Run to pick up some Food or Beer do I need to get semi-decent in street clothes!
Getting to this point was not EZ though, for the first 7 months of this retirement I had no income and had to live off my savings, which fortunately I had enough of so I did not end up as a Homeless Cripple Freezing to Death on the Streets of Palmer, Alaska. More than half of the people in the FSoA could not have negotiated such a lengthy time with no income, most could not even make it for a month. So I was anxious and worried for this whole time, and anxious and worried is even worse than physical pain and disabiity, so that was not a great time in my retirement. However, once my SS came through and then I won my WC Case and then got my Early Retirement Pension from the Union I worked for rolling in, my financial worries dissipated for the most part, although like with all people concerned about the financial end of collapse, that money is pretty ephemeral. The money in the Credit Union Account could disappear any day the Credit Union or the whole financial system fails. My Union Pension could disappear when the Pension Fund goes bankrupt. My SS Bennies could disappear when SS goes tits up. I do have enough food preps to keep going for a good year or so if/when all that occurs though, and at this point in my relatively long and crippled life, all I really want to live long enough to see is the collapse of the system that I was unhappy with for the entire time I walked the earth in this iteration in this corporeal host. When the system goes down, I will go down with it, along with many others. So it goes in a Civilization Collapse.
The thing for me is, despite being a cripple now and not having the most dreamy of retirements, at least I GOT one, and now 2 years running! As we move forward in collapse, retirement will be a thing of the past for all people, you will have to work in one sense or another until the day you die. If it goes tribal and you are well respected as an Elder in the tribe, you may be supported by the tribe as a person who settles disputes and who advises on where to hunt, or where to plant crops etc, but that's still work, intellectual and social work. If you are a useless hunk of old meat, one day you will wake up and the rest of the tribe has taken off on the move and left you behind. Also as it spins down on the other end of the lifespan, many infants will be left exposed on moutaintops if the tribe cannot afford to support them or they are too deformed. Or they will be dropped in a dumpster or garbage can. Dieoff of a Civilization is not a pretty thing to contemplate, but nevertheless these are things you need to grasp hold of if you are to be one of those few who can make it through the Zero Point.
I cherish my days of retirement, despite my disabilites. I was lucky in when I was born and where I was born and to who I was born. I walked the earth for near 60 years now, and got to see and do many things that most others who walked the earth never did. Few if any who follow me will get to do all that either, and certainly not in the kind of world I was living in before it was totally consumed by industrial civilization. If I had one wish that could have been granted, it would be to have been born 10-20 years earlier than I was, and been pushing 80 now instead of 60 and lived through the times Leonard Cohen did before he bought his ticket to the Great Beyond this year at 82. I wish I was old enough to have been there in the Summer of Love in Haight-Ashbury. I wish I had made it to Woodstock, but I was only 12 and my plans to run away from Summer Camp to go there were derailed. I wish I had been on the bus with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, I wish I had been there to hear Allen Ginsburg read his poetry in some seedy Greenwich Village bar. Alas, I was born a bit too late for all of that, but I did get to experience a whole lot that came after it, so I am grateful for that.
For the current generation of 20-somethings, these are the "good old days", assuming they live long enough to wistfully remember them. As good old days go though, they are not so good for most of them stuck in dead end jobs as Starbucks Barristas or Fast Food workers or Checkout Clerks at Walmart. They don't have health care insurance and they'll never get any time in retirement, crippled or not. They will have a heck of an adventure in trying to stay alive though, and hopefully a few of them will manage to do that.
Now I will close this nostalgic post, because I need to change out of my Flannel Pajamas and go buy some beer on my mailbox money and craft a new letter to SS to try to find out WTF is going on with my case, and then Medicaid to see if I can get my damn ID card so I can find a new Primary Care Physician since my old one retired on Dec 31st and couldn't find a young doctor to take over his client list and practice. This shit occupies my time in retirement, along with writing about the Collapse of Industrial Civilization on the Doomstead Diner. Who could ask for a better retirement than that?
Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on February 20, 2017
Discuss this article at the Education Table inside the Diner
One of the benefits of knowing that the demise of the oil industry is at hand—and thus the modern way of life—is that it now makes sense to learn new skills. Under the standard educational model for most people in the industrial world, most learning takes place in the early years, perhaps stretching into early adulthood for a few. It is during this time, we are told, that the necessary skills are acquired to enable us to become obedient worker/consumers in the economy (or "upstanding citizens in society" in old money). For most people, any learning beyond this age tends to be merely a tweaking of what they already know. For example, they may already be able to operate a computer in an office environment, but they may need to be sent on a course to learn how to use the latest versions of a software package. This kind of learning is called training and one is expected to go through it in order to get a pay rise or avoid being sacked—at least until the day your job is handed to a computer algorithm or a robot.
Of course, this isn't real learning, it's merely learning how to tinker with an unstable and unsustainable system. On the other hand, many adults take it upon themselves to voluntarily expand their minds and pick up new skills. They attend night school classes and go on courses, learning a dizzying array of new subjects that could include anything from conversational French, stained glass window making or calligraphy, through to quilt making, taxidermy or astrophysics. Many more simply buy books and instructional DVDs and learn all about the foxtrot, Faberge egg painting or ritual magic that way—but usually the reason for learning this new information is motivated by a desire to practice a hobby in the leisure time outside of one's productive, money-earning life.
If you want to switch professions, say from being a teacher to a lawyer, you'll likely have to gain a professionally recognised qualification, awarded after a lengthy period of burning the midnight oil and at great personal expense. This is another kind of learning, often referred to as re-training, and although it might give you the ability to make more money in the short term it still likely does not address the problem of systemic instability in the longer term—you might be re-training for a job or profession that doesn't exist in five years.
Economic logic in our over-complex world currently dictates that it is very hard, if not impossible, to earn a living making useful things that can be made far more cheaply elsewhere due to mechanisation, cheap fossil fuels and globalisation. Only people in the continually-shrinking upper middle classes can afford to pay the real costs of production for items made by people who do not work under conditions of slave-labour. For example, I have a friend who is a highly skilled woodworker. He can take a piece of freshly-cut wood and transform it into a beautiful and practical object, such as a chair, a set of spoons and bowls, or a canoe paddle. The amount of work and attention to detail he puts into his creations is both impressive and admirable. But even he admits that he'd rather buy a cheap chair from Ikea than pay the full cost of one of his beautiful hand-made chairs — and he's realistic enough in his outlook that he doesn't blame others for doing so.
Yet this unfair-seeming scenario will not—cannot—last forever.
As the availability of high-density energy sources falters and dwindles, and the political technostructures that make globalisation possible grind to a juddering halt, the calculus of this setup will turn on its head. Many, if not most, of the items we currently take for granted will become very expensive. In other cases they will simply become unavailable at any price. When this happens, the laws of supply and demand will assert themselves and anyone able to provide necessary products and services will find themselves in an enviable position.
Learning new skills and how to make things, however, takes time. There's an assumption these days that anything can be learned quickly and easily, and that once one has learned it one can instantly become a teacher of it. The wife of my chair-making friend—who herself makes baskets, lamps and even coffins from willow—told me last week that she has fielded several separate phone calls in the last two weeks from people wanting to learn how to do exactly what she does. All of them, she said, wanted to quit their careers immediately and move down here to west Cornwall—which for many people is really the back of beyond—and instantly become basket weaving teachers, despite their never having touched a piece of fresh willow in their lives. When gently prodded as to why they felt so moved they each gave some answer that indicated Donald Trump or Brexit as the cause of their unease. An impending sense of Armageddon seemed to be the driver behind their sudden desire to learn how to make picnic baskets.
My friend patiently explained to them that it took her many years of practice to get where she is today. There were the years of experimenting with different designs, and of growing different species of willow, discerning which ones were appropriate for the local climate and soils. Aside from the ongoing learning of the skill of basket-making there were the years of plodding around the region's craft fairs—leaving home at 4:30am in order to get there in time to set up her stall, only to come home late in the day having hardly made the petrol money. There were the years of research into these lost skills (including hunting down old retired fishermen in their 80's and 90's, and learning how they once sat on the harbour walls weaving the extremely specialised lobster and crab pots before the era of mass industrial production) and the years of building up the strength in her hands and fingers. And then there were the numerous setbacks, such as rabbits destroying her willow crop, and all the other various slings and arrows that life chucks at you. Only, she then says, only after a decade and a half of dedication has she been finally able to call herself an artisan who is able to make a modest living from her craft—and she still refuses to call herself a master (you can see what she makes and judge for yourself).
But the people who contacted her were not interested in all of this—they wanted to learn how to make baskets next week and be teaching it the week after.
The point I'm trying to make here is that learning useful skills takes TIME. And the moment one begins to learn something new one begins to realise that there's a lot more to it than you previously thought. Growing food, for example, is another skill that many people assume you can just pick up more or less overnight. It's true that you might be able to quickly grow some food without any prior experience, but growing enough for a balanced diet that will keep you and your family alive is a whole different ball game: man cannot live by beans and potatoes alone.
From a personal perspective, since I first encountered the seriousness of our predicament some six or seven years ago, once I had worked through all the Kübler-Ross stages of grief "No, it can't be happening!", "I'll be alright if I just pack a bug-out bag and buy some gold," etc.) I have picked up quite a few new skills and been led down many an interesting intellectual avenue. Having gone from a situation of relative complacency with a comfortable, if unfulfilling, office job, I have now learned the value of what it means to be a producer of things rather than just a consumer of them. Among the things that I can now produce are charcoal, wood products, fruit, biochar, natural soap, wine, cider, herbs and vegetables, and books. I'm working on producing many more things, including mushrooms, coppice products (fences, hurdles etc), herbal beers and honey. I've planted a forest garden, I've learned permaculture and coppice woodland management, I can strip a chainsaw down and I can field dress a squirrel. All of these things take skills that I have learned, to some degree.
Am I an expert at making and doing these things? NO! (I might be able to make some charcoal in an oil drum but I'll never be like the Japanese masters who had 2,000 different grades of charcoal, which apprentices had to learn to recognise merely by sniffing the smoke it gave off during production.) Could I live self-sufficiently using these skills? Don't make me laugh! In fact, I consider myself a rank amateur in terms of my practical skills, although to an outsider it might superficially appear that I know what I'm doing. This, I have learned, is the case for many people who nevertheless pass themselves off as experts (I recently heard of a young newly-qualified permaculture teacher who had never seen a carrot grow and was unsure how to get it out of the ground – and he was 'teaching' a group of middle aged people who had been expert gardeners since before he was born).
That's where the community aspect comes into play. Nobody can know everything. I would go further and say that hardly anyone can even know a lot of things. There are very few people in the world who can do everything from rebuild a car engine, solder electronic circuit boards, grow (and know how to use) their own medicine, and defend themselves in a court of law. For the most part it is far better to specialise and organise into small, manageable groups. The ideal size for an autonomous group of differently skilled individuals is around 150 people (see Rob O'Grady's book, 150 Strong). This was the size of group I chose to use as an example of 'good practice' in my fictional novel Seat of Mars. In my story the 'clan leader' Art Gwavas, takes over a farm and only allows people with a variety of useful skills to live there. In this way they manage to make life a lot more bearable than it is for the hapless individuals hit by the same national calamity.
People learn in different ways. Many are autodidactic to some extent (can teach themselves), but many also prefer to be taught as part of a class. Some things have to be taught one-on-one. A good method for learning that I have heard works well is to be part of a skills swapping group. The concept is simple; you meet up once a week or month and someone teaches their particular skill to the rest. The next meeting it is someone else's turn. The ones I have heard about tend to involve skills such as sewing, soap making, fermenting and household item repair—but it could be anything really. What I have found with learning is that you should only try and learn things in which you have a natural interest. If you're unsure whether it is for you, you can always dip you toe in and give it a go to see if it appeals to you. I have something of a butterfly nature and tend to flit from one thing to next, so there have been many things I have thought would be interesting to me but turned out not to be. I've been learning my whole life and I plan to only stop learning new things when I'm dead.
It's scientifically proven that learning new things keeps your brain ticking over as you get older. My grandfather decided to learn Italian as an old man. Having never been outside of England in his life, he simply got on a ferry and a train and lived in Rome for a while. His method of learning was to sit on public benches and strike up a conversation with similarly-aged Italian men. They no doubt chatted about the war and the how things had been. When he was happy he could speak Italian he returned home.
So if you decide to learn a new skill for the future, make sure it's something that will likely survive the future. Learning how to race cars is probably not such a good skill for the future (nor is anything that would involve wasting fossil fuels). Also check out the competition. For example, when I lived in Denmark I taught myself how to make natural cold-pressed soaps. Everyone was amazed that I could do this ("What, you mean you actually make it? With your own hands?") and was happy to part with a tidy sum of money for a simple bar of soap. Then I moved to Britain and soap-makers are two-a-penny, and so my soap-making venture no longer makes sense*.
The main thing it's important to consider is the lead time involved in acquiring new skills. The best time to start learning them, ideally, is ten years ago. The second best time is today.
* Oh, and don't become a yoga teacher either. The world is already full of yoga teachers and doesn't need any more.