Greer

Defining Cults

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on December 20, 2016

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What defines a cult, and what defines a cult leader?

These are questions which preoccupied Diners this week, with respect to John Michael Greer, author of the Archdruid Report blog, collapse writer and former Archdruid of the AODA, one of the Druid sects operating out there these days.

The main question which evolved in this discussion is whether Druidry is a cult, because given the fact he had the title of "Archdruid", it's hard to make the case he was not a leader.

Now, generally speaking people do not like being identified as either cult leaders or cult followers. So if you call something they subscribe to a "cult", they get upset.  Reason for this is because a few cults have ended very badly at the hands of some less than sane people that ran them.  Examples of this often given are Charles Manson, Jim Jones and David Koresh.  So to people who focus on these cults, the word cult itself has taken on a very negative connotation.  In and of themselves though, cults aren't either necessarily bad or good, and they are very common.

Here is the modern definition of cults, as defined in the latest edition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Definition of cult

    1
    :  formal religious veneration :  worship

    2
    :  a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also :  its body of adherents

    3
    :  a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also :  its body of adherents

    4
    :  a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator <health cults>

    5
    a :  great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially :  such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad b :  the object of such devotion c :  a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion

cultic play \ˈkəl-tik\ adjective
cultish play \-tish\ adjective
cultishly play \-lē\ adverb
cultishness play \-nəs\ noun
cultism play \ˈkəl-ˌti-zəm\ noun
cultist play \ˈkəl-tist\ noun
cultlike play \-ˌlīk\ adjective

Now, insofar as Druidry is concerned, there is formal veneration and worship there, CHECK #1.  They hold ceremonies, they built Stonehenge, etc.  Now, today there isn't a whole lot known about what original Druids believed, but the modern incarnation has developed their own rituals, not to mention the costumes.  So CHECK #2 also.

Is Druidry unorthodox or spurious?  Well, not many people believe in this religion today, so it's definitely unorthodox.  Whether it is spurious or not would be a matter of opinion.  However, you still gotta check off this box as well because it's an OR logical connector, and Druidry satisfies one of the conditions. CHECK #3

Druidry does not appear to meet the 4th definition of cult, since as far as I know it doesn't cure diseases, although possibly some Druids believe in various kinds of Spiritual Healing.  Still, I would not check off on this definition for Druids. NO CHECK #4

Definition 5 speaks to the individual or Cult Leader.  There are many people with great devotion to Mr. Wizard, his ideas and his writings.  They post up all the time in his commentariat.  In fact they are about the only ones even allowed to post in his commentariat, since he axes the posts of anyone who disagrees with him all the time. lol.  I know this to be factual, since most of my posting got axed from that commentariat before I quit trying to post up there.  So you can CHECK #5 as well here for Mr. Wizard.

Now, what about some other religions or belief systems?  Are they cults too?  Well, IMHO most of them are, yes.  They may not meet as many of the Merriam-Webster definitions as the Archdruid does, but they still meet some of them and are also cults.  Roman Catholicism is a cult, and the cult leader is His Popeness, the Vicar of Christ on Earth, currently Pope Francis until he croaks and the White Smoke comes up from the Vatican anouncing a NEW Glorious Leader for all RC's to follow.

Capitalism is also a Cult.  It's not usually regarded as a Religion, but in fact it is.  People believe in this and have Faith in stuff like the Free Market and the Invisible Hand that supposedly controls it, with absolutely NO EVIDENCE either one of these things really exist.  They are incredibly dogmatic in these beliefs as well.  Far as Leaders go, they're all the Bizmen and Banksters that make a lot of MONEY.  It's EZ to tell who the Tyler Durdens Worship on Zero Hedge.  It's the big Hedge Fund managers like Crispin Odey, Bill Gross, Kyle Bass, etc, etc, etc.

The issue here is that due to their exposure to media and the very nasty end a few cults came to, the word "cult" has taken on a negative connatation to these people.  So whenever they hear the word "cult", they immediately picture up all the DEAD PEOPLE in Jonestown or in Waco.  They let their emotions run away with them and don't understand the meaning of the word because of that. The definition in the dictionary is quite clear however, and it's up-to-date also, Merriam-Webster provides a new edition every year at the very least in paper form, the online version is updated daily.

When I use the word "cult", it's a description of a group of people and their belief system. It's often explicitly religious as in the case of Druidry or Catholicism, but sometimes more secular like Capitalism.  In fact you have cults around Rock bands too, like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or Queen.  There are even cult followers of people like Kim Kardashian!  Cults are all around us, some good, some bad, some fairly innocuous, but they exist everywhere, and so do the leaders of these cults.

To be a real cult, there has to be a Uniformity of Belief to begin with, which means everyone in the cult accepts the given wisdom of that cult, whether it comes in a long diatribe off the keyboard of Mr. Wizard or in a Tweet from Kim Kardashian.  Enforcement of the Group Think of a cult can come in many ways, some "soft" and some "hard", but whatever the case everyone in the cult has to buy into the core principles of the cult, usually espoused by the cult leader.  Cults are not generally Democratic institutions.

Some cults like Catholicism and Capitalism have been WILDLY successful over time, others such as Druidry and Tribalism not so successful.  Quid Pro Quo though, you can't say any NEW cult that pops up is either good or bad or will be successful or unsuccessful.  There are MANY cults to pick from these days to join up with, but really until the Cult Leader asks you to drink the Kool Aid and go for a ride on Haley-Bopp, you cannot say a priori that one is good or one is bad, that depends strictly on your opinions and your beliefs.

Cults will be with us until Homo Sap and Sapience vanish from the Earth.  My value judgements on Mr. Wizard's cult are my own, you are free to make your own value judgements there.  It's still a cult though, and he is the Leader of that Cult.

Hot Brain, Cool Brain

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Published on Peak Surfer on June 12, 2016

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  Lion and wolf cubs, when they learn to stalk prey, learn fairly quickly that they must delay the urge for immediate gratification if they are to be successful. They have to cultivate patience.

 

 
Babies who are taken to their mother's breast whenever they cry do not learn this as early. Those allowed milk only after they stop crying, and maybe even then not right away, learn patience.
 
Last month Walter Mischel gave a Long Now talk that eventually found its way to our earbuds as we bicycled through Amish country in Southern Tennessee.
 
It is wheat harvest time here and Amish men are out scything the sheaves, tying bundles, and forming them into shocks to field dry in the sun. When the wheat has cured, the shocks will be collected by horse wagon and carried back to the barn for threshing. The Amish abide in the Long Now.
 

Walter Mischel’s psychology experiment at Stanford in the 1960s took students from the Bing Nursery School, put them in a room one-by-one, gave them a choice of a cookie, mint, pretzel, or marshmallow and the following deal: they could eat the treat right away, or wait 15 minutes until the experimenter returned. If they waited, they would get an extra treat. 

Michel and his team then went behind the one-way glass and filmed for 15 minutes.

Footage of these experiments, which were conducted over several years, is poignant, as the kids struggle to delay gratification for just a little bit longer. Some cover their eyes with their hands or turn around so that they can’t see the tray. Others start kicking the desk, or tug on their pigtails, or stroke the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal. One child, a boy with neatly parted hair, looks carefully around the room to make sure that nobody can see him. Then he picks up an Oreo, delicately twists it apart, and licks off the white cream filling before returning the cookie to the tray, a satisfied look on his face.
— Jonah Lehrer, The New Yorker 


The genius of the experiment was not in discovering what percentage of children delayed gratification and how that might correlate to sex, age, race, ethnicity or income, but in following the children with a longitudinal study for the rest of their lives.

 

As they matured and became adults, the kids who had shown the ability to wait got better grades, were healthier, enjoyed greater professional success, and proved better at staying in relationships—even decades after they took the test. They were, in short, better at life.
— Drake Bennett, Bloomburg 

 

Mischel showed that a child’s ability to delay eating the first treat predicted higher SAT scores (by 210 points) and a lower body mass index (BMI). They got paid more, lived longer, and had fewer divorces. 

 

 
In 2012, researchers at the University of Rochester added more nuance to the original work.  In "Rational snacking: Young children’s decision-making on the marshmallow task is moderated by beliefs about environmental reliability," Celeste Kidd, Holly Palmeri and Richard N. Aslin tested children who had little reason to trust that the scientists would return in 15 minutes versus a control group of children who were more likely to have trust. Children raised in homeless shelters or alleys, for instance, have much less faith in the reliability of their environments, or adult authorities, than children who are raised in stable family settings surrounded by environmental constancy.
 
What do children plucked from bus station bathrooms do when told that if they delay gratification they will get a bigger reward? They eat the treat right away. While the study is too recent to track those kids for a lifetime, the long term effects of mistrustful childhood do not require a leap of imagination.
 
Kidd et al report:
The results of our study indicate that young children’s performance on sustained delay-of-gratification tasks can be strongly influenced by rational decision-making processes. If self-control capacity differences were the primary causal mechanism implicated in children’s wait-times, then information about the reliability of the environment should not have affected them. If deficiencies in self-control caused children to eat treats early, then one would expect such deficiencies to be present in the reliable condition as well as in the unreliable condition. The effect we observed is consistent with converging evidence that young children are sensitive to uncertainty about future rewards.
***
To be clear, our data do not demonstrate that self-control is irrelevant in explaining the variance in children’s wait-times on the original marshmallow task studies. They do, however, strongly indicate that it is premature to conclude that most of the observed variance—and the longitudinal correlation between wait-times and later life outcomes—is due to differences in individuals’ self-control capacities. Rather, an unreliable worldview, in addition to self-control, may be causally related to later life outcomes, as already suggested by an existing body of evidence.
 
There is also an existing body of evidence that tells us that humans are predisposed to disbelieve scientific facts, or even their own experiences, if they conflict with strongly held beliefs. This is likely the phenomenon most responsible for our failure not merely to make the cultural changes required of us to avert climate Armageddon and Near Term Human Extinction – even simple lifestyle changes like eating lower on the food chain, cutting discretionary travel, living in a smaller house and having no more than one child – but our failure to even acknowledge, as individuals or collectively, that we have a problem. We have chosen instead, to use the words of Dr. Kidd, an unreliable worldview.
 
As John Michael Greer says, human beings are like yeast. They respond to increased access to food and energy with increased reproduction. In other words, marshmallows make us horny.
 
Our cockeyed worldview has a concatenation of causes. We are products of the religious views of our parents. We inhabit a globalized culture that infantilizes us while it trains us to become dedicated followers of fashion.  We like hearing the sound of our "own" voice in our heads. Add all that up and it amounts to simmering distrust. We are not at all prepared to delay gratification. The average child in Kidd's study waited only 6 minutes.
 
In his Long Now talk and in his book, The Marshmallow Test,  Walter Mischel spoke of our internal dialog in terms of a conflict between the "hot brain" that wants to operate on impulse and take what is right in front of it, and "cool brain," that is willing to wait, willing to trust, and then to reap the greater rewards.
 
Those who find themselves more often on the winning side – whether in athletics, business, politics or relationships – are those who have cool brains. They play the long game.
 
All too often they use the inabilities of opponents to see that long game to pad their advantage. That is how they get ahead.
 
Climate change and the existential threat it holds cannot even be perceived without a long view. It needs a cool brain, not a hot one. But there is a self-reinforcing feedback being played out here that does not work in favor of our species. Climate change weirds the normal course of things. It makes the environment for everyone unreliable. It seeds distrust. It makes brains hot.
 
The question then becomes, how can we develop cool brains? Mischel suggests several techniques of ideation that can help build self-control. What is clear, however, is that the best self-control starts early in life and is built upon a foundation of trust. The environment a child experiences will affect how much trust they can invest in adults, their culture — its rules and social responsibilities — and their future. Take away stability and trust from children and the effects of that loss ripple out to very large consequences for everyone.
 
"By changing cognitive skills and motivation, we can use the cool system to regulate the hot system," Mischel says. "Is it all pre-wired? My answer is an emphatic no."
Attention control strategies and cognitive transformations/reappraisals can 'cool' the immediate temptations and 'heat' the delayed consequences is what's important.
***
The point I am trying to make is that if we are going to talk seriously about taking long term consequences like climate change into account, we've got to make the consequences hot. We have to really make them hot. And that's not easy to do.
 
One of the reasons that it is not easy to do is because that limbic system, that hot system that activates automatically when you have high stress, is there for good reason.
 
We have often wondered whether continuing to write scary tomes about our future is an effective strategy. Mischel says it is and we need more of it. But we also need to cool our brains once they have grasped hot consequences.
 
His advice is to narrow the economic class divide, teach self-control in schools, assume everyone is capable of improving their skills, and stop creating new victims of biological and social biographies.
Mischel’s main worry is that, even if his lesson plan proves to be effective, it might still be overwhelmed by variables the scientists can’t control, such as the home environment. He knows that it’s not enough just to teach kids mental tricks—the real challenge is turning those tricks into habits, and that requires years of diligent practice. “This is where your parents are important,” Mischel says. “Have they established rituals that force you to delay on a daily basis? Do they encourage you to wait? And do they make waiting worthwhile?” According to Mischel, even the most mundane routines of childhood—such as not snacking before dinner, or saving up your allowance, or holding out until Christmas morning—are really sly exercises in cognitive training: we’re teaching ourselves how to think so that we can outsmart our desires. But Mischel isn’t satisfied with such an informal approach. “We should give marshmallows to every kindergartner,” he says. “We should say, ‘You see this marshmallow? You don’t have to eat it. You can wait. Here’s how.’ “
— Jonah Lehrer
 
From the presidential campaign now playing out in the United States and similar dramas in Brazil, Philippines and elsewhere, we can surmise that a cool brain standard is not in the immediate offing. It is easy to see the distinctions between the many hot brain / instant gratification candidates and constituencies, whose policies would widen the class divide, rekindle the Cold War and heat the planet, and the rare cool brain / calm and steadfast candidates and constituencies, who want to end divisive rhetoric, level the playing field, and pursue a path to real progress in peace, justice and transformative change.
 
Voting these days is like choosing between the hot faucet and the cold faucet, but only the hot faucet works.
 
Watching the Amish gather in the sheaves we see a culture that invests in trust. Children grow up relying on adults to be steadfast, seasons to come and go, and the good earth to provide. They learn self-denial and delayed gratification early. It becomes a joyful practice because it underpins a greater love of community, and the return of community love for each member.
 
Humans are capable of these things. We are capable of designing entire societies that function this way. Whether we choose to act rationally, with self-control, and not on impulse, is simply a matter of choice.

The Foxtrot Collapse

Off the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on June 19, 2013

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Salvador Dali’s 1957 “Dance”

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There’s always a lot of discussion on peak oil forums about whether the decline of industrial civilzation will take the form of a vertiginous descent, or whether it will be something long and grinding that will be measured in decades and centuries rather than years or months. In the fast-collapse camp are the likes of Dmitry Orlov (who bases his assessment on his experience of seeing the USSR implode) and Ugo Bardi, who expects a ‘Seneca’s Cliff’ dropoff. James Kunstler, Michael Ruppert and any number of others can probably also be added to the fast-collapse camp.

By comparison, the likes of John Michael Greer reckon we are in for a drawn-out era of terminal decline punctuated by serious crises which, at the time, will seem rather severe to all involved but which will give way to plateaux of relative stability, albeit at a lower level of energy throughput. At the end of this process we will be back to something resembling the Middle Ages, with smoking nuclear power plant dead-zones. His basis for this is a study of history, and in particular the work of writers such as Arnold Toynbee, Oswald Spengler and Joseph Tainter, whose books emphasised the cyclical nature of all civilizations  These, they assert, can  be seen to go progress serially through stages of ebullient expansion, cultural dynamism, acquisition  entropy, overshoot, decay and eventual collapse. Our current industrial civilization, he argues, is but the latest in a long line of civilizations shuffling slowly towards the global compost bin.

But is it? Many would argue that scale matters and that today’s too-big-to-fail hyper-complex, bisophere changing civilization is such a different kettle of fish to its predecessors that when it enters the overshoot and collapse phase, as can be observed to be happening right now, the resulting calamity will be on a scale never before seen or experienced. All buildings fall down eventually, but would you rather be standing next to a fisherman’s cottage or a skyscraper when that happens?

In addition to these criticisms, some would point out that today’s global economy, aided and abetted by instant communications, is far more prone to cascading collapses, in which one strand in the web breaking leads to the whole web being destroyed. A bank collapse in China, for example, could lead to other banks seizing up and cause commerce to freeze as notes of credit go unwritten. By comparison, a mercantile trader in 15th century Venice would not have known that the bond guaranteeing his cargo was worthless for up to several months following the bankruptcy of a creditor, and trade would have carried on as normal in the interim. Inefficient communications, in this case, meant resilience.
Anyway, all the talk about fast collapse/slow collapse can seem a bit like fiddling while Rome burns. The simple facts of the matter are that we have exhausted all of the cheap energy options available to us, which is causing the global financial system – an entirely fabricated construct that can only run on blind optimism, greed and political largesse – to exist in a state of total crisis. Virtually every large economy in the world is facing up to its own pet crisis, although the scope and nature of each one is quite different. Europe is mired in unpayable debt, the US is addicted to pumping illusory ‘money’ via the Print button on the Fed’s keyboard and is just starting to realise there is no way back down the ladder, China’s gargantuan credit bubble is deflating, Japan is playing Russian roulette, and commodity producing countries such as Brazil and Australia are reeling from lowering demand from formerly insatiable importers. This is not just part of the business cycle as most talking heads assert.
It does seem quite likely that we are facing an uber Minsky Moment – that moment where investors realise their assets are vastly over-valued and stampede for the door. But where will they stampede to? The US dollar and world stock markets look like safeish havens for the time being to many, which would explain the Dow Jones’ and FTSE’s phenomenal head-scratching rises in recent weeks. Precious metals and land are being snapped up, especially by China which wants to simultaneously dump risky American assets and build a global network of agricultural land to feed its too-late-to-the-game middle class consumers (leaving ravaged ecosystems and raging mobs of dispossessed people in their wake). It’s a game where the stakes keep getting higher and higher with every passing week.
But the planet, of which our human economy is simply one small subset of, is a complex system to say the least, and complex systems are difficult to break all in one go. That’s why in my opinion collapse will not come about in a neatly linear fashion, but will be of a stop-start nature, like a badly-maintained fairground ride with a sadistic teenage operator. Of course, when I say the word ‘collapse’ I am mostly talking about the impacts it will have on the lives of we who live in the ‘West’ – most countries and people in the world have been living with collapse for centuries. Try telling a Malawian subsistence farmer that we may be in for a bumpy ride and see how he responds.
As has been noted before, global financial collapse is likely to be the first step, and that could happen overnight. Hot on its heels will be commercial collapse and a very sustained period of, shall we say, discomfort. Political collapse, as well as the rule of law, are next up on the Magical Mystery Collapse Tour, and we can only pray that we don’t get to social collapse too soon.

But all of these will take time. There will be grey areas and stages that overlap one another. Some locations will be worse off than others that might be just down the road, and some regions and countries might get lucky and find they are suddenly in a far better position than they were previously. Indeed, the whole thing will bloom like a fractal – or should I say is blooming like a fractal because we are already several years into this adventure. Individuals, communities, families, governments, militaries, religious groups and organised crime syndicates will all have their roles to play as the game changes, and only those most able to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances, or just the downright lucky, will be in a position to see the next stage of collapse.

Some stages are likely to be faster than others. The collapse of credit availability, insurance and investor confidence will be more or less instanteous once the first big domino falls, but national currencies, cooperative arrangements and various forms of trade will no doubt linger on for some time. Commerce is complex, with some supply chains being more fragile than others, so we’re likely to see the availability of most high tech items severely curtailed, while more basic items that don’t have to be shipped halfway across the globe and rely on several hundred individual suppliers, will be available for longer. Rationing will prolong the agony and the black market will step in as people get used to the idea that things are not as they used to be.
So, for most of us I expect to see collapse happening at different rates. Sometimes they will be fast and brutal, and other times they will be slow and unnoticeable to those concerned until viewed in the rear view mirror of history. It’ll be a case of slow-slow-quick-quick-slow – which we might as well call a foxtrot collapse, after the ballroom dance with the same moves.

I’m sure that, when all is said and done, nearly all of those in the reality-based community who regularly write about peak oil, civilizational decline and environmental crisis (with the exception of the Near Term Human Extincion folks) would agree that collapse occurrs by stages and it is merely our own standpoints which determine how direcly we are affected and when. After all, a credit meltdown could seem like Armageddon to a Hong Kong banker, but would barely even register as news to someone living a sustainable life on an island in Greece. Conversely freaky weather caused by climate change could destroy the Greek islander’s livelihood, but the banker, unaware of the natural elements outside his air-conditioned trading floor, would not even notice.

Becoming aware of the proximity of the stages of collapse should be a priority for individuals and governments alike, but for a multitude of human reasons this is not the case. Nevertheless, if you’re reading this then you’re probably also one of ‘the choir’ and are acutely aware of all the mounting problems that we face. It’s a catch 22 situation, aided and abetted by most media, which are desperately blinkered when it comes to nebulous predicamants, and keen to focus on blaming individual people for their follies. Oh, and it doesn’t help shift advertising space.
So for the time being we have blogs to use as communication tools, although when they are gone one day we might be back to the days of printed mailing lists and subscriber magazines and journals. In fact, I think I’ve already come up with one …The Entropy Times – your daily dose of doom.

You heard about it here first.

***

By the way – this is my 100th post. I can’t believe I have actually got this far with this blog, and further can’t believe that there are some 10,000 page views a month (although probably at least half are robots/government spies/friends checking that I am still batty). I’m thinking about actually trying to earn a few pennies from my endeavours and writing a book, making it available to buy from this site. It already has a working title – Mind the Vortex – How to Survive the 21st Century – but I’d be interested to hear if anyone thinks this is a good idea or a bad one. With all the work I am doing over at Fox Wood (this week I dug a humungous hole by hand and cleared half an acre of brambles with a sickle) I could do with a project that doesn’t involve getting covered in mud and coming home with bleeding forearms and blistered hands.

Thanks for reading 22 Billion Energy Slaves!

The Rock by Lake Silvaplana

Off the keyboard of John Michael Greer

Published on the Archdruid Report on May 29, 2013

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One of the most important and least popular lessons taught by the history of ideas is that every attempt to answer the big questions—where did we come from, why are we here, where are we going, and so forth—gets whatever support it has from two distinct sources. The first of these is the factual evidence, if any, that backs it; the second is the emotional appeal, if any, that it offers to those who embrace it. Habits of thinking hardwired into contemporary culture treat the first of those as though it’s the only thing that matters, and react to any mention of the second with the same sort of embarrassed silence that might greet a resounding fart at a formal garden party. Since human beings aren’t passionless bubbles of intellect, though, the second source of support is fairly often the more important and the more revealing of the two.

The flurry of apocalyptic predictions that surrounded December 21, 2012 makes as good an example as any. The factual evidence supporting the idea that anything unusual would happen on that date was—well, to call it dubious is by no means a minor understatement: the entire furore was based on misinterpretations of the Mayan calendar that wouldn’t have survived fifteen minutes of unbiased research, but which were accepted as gospel and padded out by industrious true believers into a magpie’s nest of arbitrary speculations, misquoted or invented prophecies, and scientific hypotheses yanked out of context and hammered into shape to support the preexisting 2012 narrative. Those of my readers who tried, as I did, to question that narrative will recall the reaction from believers: talk about the facts and you could expect an endlessly shifting assortment of justifications for belief; talk about the narrative, its parallels in previous apocalyptic fads, and the tangled emotional drives that all too clearly lay behind it, and you could expect a furious insistence that bringing up such matters is irrelevant and unfair.

Questioning the modern faith in progress, on those rare occasions when such questioning happens at all, is a good way to observe a similar species of handwaving in its native habitat. As mentioned in last week’s post, the concept of progress has no content of its own, no single measurement by which it stands and falls. Thus no matter how many things are pretty clearly regressing—and these days, the list of things that are regressing is getting quite long—believers can always find something or other that appears to be progressing, and use that to defend the narrative. When that fails in turn, as it generally does, there’s always something else, even if that turns out to be no more than the pious hope that the regress will turn out to be a temporary hurdle over which, as the myth of progress demands, humanity will sooner or later leap. Move the discussion to the narrative of progress, its parallels among other triumphalist narratives, and the emotional drives that lie behind it, though, and you’ll get the same sort of angry denunciation that came from believers in the 2012 narrative.

It’s going to be necessary to risk that reaction, and a variety of other unhelpful responses, in order to glimpse a shape of time better suited to the realities of our present situation than the dead straight Joachimist line of progress or the Augustinian U-shape of apocalypse that runs from Eden to the fallen world to the cataclysmic arrival of the New Jerusalem, however renamed. The route past those overly familiar alternatives requires attention to the emotional dimensions of the shapes we give to the inkblot patterns of time, and in particular, to a distinctive emotional payoff that the narratives of progress and apocalypse share in common.

Therapists call it provisional living: the belief that life will become what it’s supposed to be once x happens. What x might be varies as wildly from case to case as the diversity of human psyches will permit. Among individuals, it might be losing twenty pounds, being promoted to that supervisor’s position you’ve always wanted, getting a divorce, or what have you, but it always has two distinctive features. The first is that x serves as an anchor for a flurry of unrealistic fantasies about the future that will supposedly arrive once x happens; the second is that x never happens, and is more or less chosen—subconsciously or otherwise—with that outcome in mind.

It’s precisely the fact that x never happens that makes provisional living so tempting. Most of us are aware on one level or another that the choices we prefer to make do not reflect the values and beliefs we claim to hold, and are not going to bring us the lives we think we ought to have. Confront that reality head on, and the message that the statue of Apollo said to Rainier Maria Rilke—”you must change your life”—becomes hard to ignore. The avoidance of that reality is therefore the cornerstone on which most dysfunctional lives are built.

Provisional living is among the most popular ways to engineer that avoidance. The pounds you can’t lose, the promotion you won’t get, the divorce papers you never quite get around to filing, or some other x factor becomes the villain you can blame for the failure of your choices to reflect your ideals and bring you the life you think you should have. Meanwhile the dreams that pile up on the other side of the change that never happens can get as gaudy as you like, since they never have to face the cold gray morning light of reality. Not all those dreams are happy ones; people are almost as likely to put fantasies about suffering and death on the far side of x as they are to stock the same imaginary space with wealth, power, and plenty of hot sex. It all depends on the personal factor.

Progress and apocalypse, in turn, offer the same payoff on a collective level. The imagined world of the future, whether it’s the product of business as usual or of the cataclysmic repudiation of business as usual, becomes a dumping ground for every kind of fantasy, and those fantasies never have to stand up to the test of reality because the x event that’s supposed to make them real never quite gets around to happening. This allows believers in progress and apocalypse, like other practitioners of provisional living, to put a wholly imaginary world at the center of their emotional lives. This makes it relatively easy for them to ignore the depressingly ordinary world in which they actually live and, more to the point, the role of their own choices in making that world exactly what it is.

The imaginary future worlds conjured up by the mythologies of progress and apocalypse, in turn, are pallid reflections of an older and more robust conception, the belief in a heaven of immortal bliss to which the souls of true believers ascend after death. That conception is so thoroughly hardwired into Western culture that it can take quite a bit of research to grasp how much chopping and stretching had to be done to older ideas of postmortem existence in order to make them fit a heaven-centered narrative. It’s indicative that when the concept of reincarnation came back into circulation in alternative circles in the Western world in the 19th century, it was at first denounced in incandescent terms. What made it “disgusting” and “repulsive,” to note only two of the heated labels applied to reincarnation in that long-forgotten debate, was precisely the suggestion that human souls after death would cycle right back to the same world they had just left and live with the consequences of their own choices.

It’s at this point that we return to Nietzsche, for one of the central themes of his philosophy was an edgy analysis of the creation of imaginary “real worlds” by the human mind as a way of devaluing the world we actually inhabit. That was an even bigger issue in his time than it is in ours, with approved versions of 19th century Christian piety claiming that the proper response to every injustice was to wait patiently for payback in heaven, and a philosophical milieu in the universities in which airily abstract speculations about the Absolute had all but replaced meaningful attention to the realities of human existence. The phrase “provisional living” hadn’t been invented yet, but the practice was central to the social morality of the Victorian era, and it formed one of the central targets of Nietzsche’s grand project for a revaluation of all values that would take life itself as its touchstone.

That project had for its core theme the affirmation of existence as it actually is—in Nietzsche’s own phrase, a yes-saying to life that would counter more than two thousand years of naysaying morality, philosophy and spirituality. As he developed his critique of the conventional wisdom of his time, his insistence on saying yes to life as it is became increasingly forceful. That journey reached its final destination in August of 1881 on a walk around Lake Silvaplana in the Alps, at a roughly pyramidal mass of stone that still stands beside the lake: “six thousand feet beyond man and time,” as Nietzsche wrote excitedly on a scrap of paper at the time.

If, as Nietzsche thought, the only ideas that matter are those conceived while walking, it may be useful to spend a few moments strolling along the path that led up to his formula of affirmation, not least because its early course seems to have escaped the notice of contemporary scholarship on Nietzsche. A classical philologist by training, he applied a specialist’s familiarity with ancient Greek thought to the more immediate problems of philosophy and Western culture that concerned him in his major works. Most of his core conceptions can thus be traced back at least in part to one particular school of Greek and Roman philosophers, the one such school that affirmed life as it is with as much verve as Nietzsche himself: the old Stoics.

Mention the word “Stoic” to most people these days and you might, if you’re lucky, get some sort of vague sense of gritted teeth and unwillingness to crumple under the impact of pain. Off past that dim misunderstanding lies one of the most challenging adventures in human thought, a sustained effort to sort out human life on the basis of what we actually know about the world. The Stoic school of philosophy was founded around 300 BCE by Zeno of Citium, and became one of the major systems of classical thought, retaining a lively presence across the Mediterranean world until the long night of the Dark Ages closed in. Its core insight was that human beings can control only two things—their own choice of actions and their own assessments of the things they experience—and that sanity consists of recognizing this fact and refusing to make any emotional investment in those things that aren’t subject to the individual will.

In any situation, said the Stoics, the job assigned to human beings is to recognize the good and act accordingly. Nothing else matters, and the point of Stoic spiritual practice is to get to the point where, in fact, nothing else matters. The radical affirmation of the world as it is was one standard element of the Stoic training: from the Stoic perspective, the world is what it is, and though the Stoic may freely choose to fling himself into a struggle to change some part of it for the better, and unhesitatingly lay down his life in that struggle, no power in heaven or earth can make him whine about it.

The Stoics took that formula of radical acceptance to an extreme that few later thinkers have ever been willing to contemplate. Most philosophers in the classical world accepted the theory that the motions of the planets and stars shaped events on Earth, and speculated that after an immense length of time, the heavens will repeat the same patterns of movement and bring about a corresponding repetition below. Stoic philosophers embraced that theory, and built up a worldview in which the whole universe moved through endlessly repeated cycles from one ekpyrosis—”Big Bang” would not be an inaccurate translation of this bit of technical Greek—to the next, with every single event duplicated down to the last detail in each repetition. It’s one thing to accept the present moment, and another to accept the whole of your life; it’s quite another to imagine that same life repeated endlessly through infinite time, and accept that as a whole, without wishing a single thing to be different. That’s the state to which the most extreme Stoics aspired.

That was the vision that came crashing into Nietzsche’s mind as he stood beside the rock by Lake Silvaplana. Suppose, he said, we engage in a thought experiment. Scientists tell us that there is a fixed quantity of matter and energy in the cosmos, and no sign that the universe has a beginning or an end. (This was all accepted scientific opinion in the late 19th century; the Big Bang theory was still far in the future.) Given a finite amount of matter and energy and a fixed set of natural laws working over infinite time, every event any of us experiences here and now must have happened an infinite number of times before, and will happen an infinite number of times again, in an eternal recurrence that admits of no variation. As you consider your life, past, present and to come, can you face the prospect of infinite repetitions of that same life? Can you joyously affirm that prospect—can you will it?

It’s hard to imagine a more all-out assault on provisional living, or a more forceful challenge to live up to one’s ideals. As he passed through his few remaining years of sanity, though, Nietzsche seems to have convinced himself that his thought experiment was in fact a reality, that every moment of his life had in fact happened countless times before and would be repeated countless times again. I sometimes wonder if that’s what finally pushed him over the edge into madness. Like most thinkers whose work makes a fetish of ruthlessness, Nietzsche was obsessively kind and gentle in his personal life. As he stood there on the Piazza Carlo Alberti, hearing the thump of the teamster’s stick and the terrified cries of the horse, growing more agitated by the moment, it’s all too easy to imagine the voice whispering in his mind: can you joyously affirm this, over and over again, from eternity to eternity?

A moment later he was sprinting across the piazza, flinging himself between the drover and the horse. It was a classically Stoic thing to do, and I suspect that if he’d known that what was left of his sanity wouldn’t survive the moment, he’d have done it anyway. Fiat justicia, ruat caelum, said the old Stoics: let justice be done, though it brings the sky crashing down. That it was his own mental sky that came crashing down was, as the Stoics also liked to say, a matter of indifference.

It was Nietzsche’s great misfortune, and a central flaw of his philosophy, that he never quite managed to grasp that the opposite of a bad thing can also be a bad thing. To challenge oneself with the vision of eternal recurrence as a thought experiment is one thing, and I recommend it to my readers as a useful exercise. If that vision were in fact the literal truth, could you give the rest of your life a shape and a purpose that would give sufficient meaning and value to everything you have already been and done and suffered, so that when you add it all up, you can joyously affirm the whole pattern—and what would the rest of your life need to become in order for you to do so?

To pass beyond that, though, and to try to inhabit a cosmos in which everything is fixed by fate, in which everything revolves through the same series of events endlessly from eternity to eternity, and in which the only freedom open to the will is to affirm that sequence joyously or vainly reject it, is to court Nietzsche’s fate for no good reason. Insisting on a cosmos in which everything is fated to remain exactly as it has always been is as useless, in practical terms, as insisting that one fine day in the not too distant future, the march of progress or the arrival of apocalypse will transform the cosmos into whatever you think it ought to be.

Both these extremes, Nietzsche’s just as much as the one he so forcefully rejected, impose a shape on time that can’t be justified on the basis of our own immediate experience of time. The rigid lockstep of the eternal recurrence is just as hard to find in the course of our lives and the course of history as are the invincible upward march of progress or the satisfyingly sudden full stop of apocalypse. It would take a later thinker, drawing on Nietzsche’s insights but avoiding his habit of countering one extreme by going to the other, to trace out a shape of time that reflects the world of human experience—or, more specifically, the world experienced by human beings who happen to be living at the peak of modern industrial civilization and have begun to glimpse the long road down on the peak’s far side. We’ll discuss that vision in the next post in this sequence.

The Pleasures of Extinction

Off the keyboard of John Michael Greer

Published on the Archdruid Report on May 15, 2013

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One of the wry pleasures that’s repeatedly come my way since the beginning of this blog seven years ago is that of watching a good many of my predictions come true in short order. Now it’s true that I’ve also made a certain number of failed predictions over that time.  Back in 2007 and 2008, for instance, I insisted that the US government wouldn’t be dumb enough to try to cover its ballooning budget deficits by spinning the printing presses; some idiocies, I thought, were too extreme even for the inmates of the current American political class.  As th Fed proceeds merrily through yet another round of quantitative easing, that assumption has proved to be rather too naive.
Even so, my batting average so far has been pretty respectable. In the early days of this blog, for example, Daniel Yergin was insisting at the top of his lungs that the price of oil would settle down shortly to a long-term plateau of $38 a barrel, while fans of a dozen different alternative technologies were claiming just as stridently that if the price of oil ever got to the unthinkable level of $60 a barrel, the technology they favored would be profitable enough to sweep all before it. There were very few of us back then who predicted that oil would go quite a bit past $60 a barrel and stay there, and even fewer who pointed out that abundant cheap fossil fuel energy made alternatives look much more viable than they were. These days, with oil wobbling around $100 a barrel and most of the alternatives still wholly dependent on government subsidies, that turned out to be tolerably prescient.
Over the last few weeks, another of my predictions has turned out spot on the money. A little less than six months ago, as New Age bookstores around the world were quietly emptying entire bookshelves dedicated to December 21, 2012 and putting 50%-off stickers on the contents, I noted in a blog post here that it wouldn’t be long before people who were looking for an excuse to put off doing anything about the crisis of industrial society would have a replacement for 2012.
Well, it’s here. The latest apocalyptic fad is near-term human extinction, or NTE for short: the claim that humanity, along with most other life on Earth, will inevitably be extinct by 2030 at the latest.
It’s probably necessary to say up front that humanity will certainly go extinct eventually—no species lasts forever—and there’s always the chance that it could happen in short order; a stray asteroid with enough mass, or a few rearranged codons in some virus nobody’s heard about yet, could do the job quite readily. Still, there’s a great difference between claiming that human extinction is possible and insisting that it’s certainly going to happen in the next seventeen years, especially when the arguments used to defend that claim amount to nothing more than an insistence that worst-case scenarios are the only possible outcome.
There’s a tolerably long history to such claims. When I was growing up in the 1970s, there were people on the far end of the environmental movement who insisted that humanity would certainly be extinct before the year 2000, and the same prediction has been repeated with different dates and justifications ever since. Those of my readers who remember the Solar Temple mass suicides of 1994 and 1995 may recall that the collective suicide note left behind by the members of that ill-fated order made exactly that claim:  Earth would be uninhabitable by the year 2000, Solar Temple founder Luc Jouret insisted, and so the initiates of the Solar Temple were getting out while the getting was good.
In the early days of the peak oil movement, similarly, the same insistence on imminent extinction popped up tolerably often. I was convinced at the time, and remain convinced today, that this was largely a product of an odd and very American habit I’ve termed “apocalypse machismo.”  One consequence of America’s pervasive anti-intellectualism, with its frankly weird equation of manhood with chest-thumping brainlessness, is that many male American intellectuals end up burdened by doubts about their own masculinity, and some of them respond by trying to talk as tough as possible; intellectual women in this male-dominated culture find they often have to copy that same habit, sometimes to even greater extremes, in order to get taken seriously at all.  This has been a major factor all through America’s recent history; the neoconservative movement, packed as it was with academic intellectuals whose obsession with proving their own virility on a global stage drove them into one foreign policy fiasco after another, makes as good a poster child as any.
In the same way, we had a lot of apocalypse machismo in the early peak oil movement.  In the first few years of this blog, for that matter, I could count on fielding (and deleting) a comment every month or two from somebody who wanted to talk about the new scenario for imminent human extinction he’d just worked up. The Deepwater Horizon blowout and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown fielded a bumper crop of the same thing; those of my readers who doubt this are invited to go digging back through the archives of any unmoderated peak oil forum, where they’ll find, in the days and weeks immediately following each of these disasters, colorful if implausible scenarios predicting the imminent demise of all life on earth presented as sober fact.
No doubt there’s at least some of that at work in the sudden surge of interest in near-term human extinction, but I question whether it’s the main driving force this time around. There are at least two other factors that are likely to be involved, and one of them unfolds directly from the points made in the last few posts in the current sequence.
The shape of time sketched out by Augustine of Hippo in the pages of The City of God, and adopted thereafter by most of the western world until the rise of the later mythology of perpetual progress, allows a range of variations. Even within the mainstream of western Christianity, the options extend over a much broader landscape than most of my readers may realize, and the versions of the Augustinian mythos found outside the Christian mainstream are even more diverse.  In his useful 1998 book Millennium Rage, sociologist Philip Lamy argued that most beliefs about the future in today’s America are “fractured apocalypses,” in which the events foretold in the Book of Revelation are pulled out of context and rearranged in response to contemporary social trends.
His insight can be applied a good deal more generally: the whole Augustinian story has been subjected to similar treatment. Eden, the Fall, the vale of tears, the righteous remnant, the redeeming revelation, the rising struggle between good and evil, the final catastrophe and the return to paradise thereafter—you’ll find these, or most of these, in a great many current belief systems, but the order and relative importance of each element may vary, and it’s far from uncommon for one or two of the classic themes of the story to be stretched nearly out of recognition, or deleted entirely.
One detail that often comes in for serious reworking in modern social movements is the final step, the one in which the elect are welcomed back into paradise while everyone else is herded into the lake of fire to be punished for all eternity.  The habit of morphological thinking discussed earlier in this sequence of posts is of crucial importance here: take a close look at the development over time of social movements that embrace the Augustinian narrative, and the historical shifts in that last part of the story have a fascinating message to communicate.
The wave of Christian fundamentalism that’s currently breaking and flowing back out to sea makes a good case in point. Back in the days of the Jesus People and the Good News Bible, when that wave first began building, its rhetoric was triumphant: the whole nation was turning to Christ, the rest of the world would surely follow, and the imminent Second Coming would see everyone but a few stubborn sinners rushing forward joyfully to embrace God’s infinite love. Fast forward a couple of decades, and the proportion between the saved and the damned shifted significantly closer to the sort of thing you’d hear in an old-fashioned hellfire-and-brimstone sermon, but the saved were still utterly convinced of their own salvation:  those were the days when “In Case Of Rapture, This Car Will Be Unoccupied” bumper stickers sprouted on the rear ends of cars all over America.
You won’t see too many of those bumper stickers these days. Just as the optimistic faith that a new generation could win the world for Christ gave way gradually to the far more pessimistic vision of a world mired in wickedness from which the elect would shortly be teleported to safety—beamed up by St. Scotty, as the joke had it, to the bridge of the USS Enterchrist—so the serene confidence on the part of believers that they would be numbered among the elect has been replaced, in these latter days of the movement, by an increasingly pervasive sense of sin and unworthiness. Too many dates for the Rapture have come and gone, too many once-respected preachers have been caught with their pants around their ankles in one sense or another, and the well-founded suspicion that the Republican party is using the evangelical churches every bit as cynically and shamelessly as the Democratic party is using the environmental movement has got to weigh on a lot of once-hopeful minds.
Christian theology places hard limits on just how far the exclusion from future blessedness can extend, as there has to be “a great multitude, which no man could number” (Revelations 7:9) of the saved gathered around the throne of God when the boom comes down. Outside Christianity, the same process routinely goes much further. A good example is the New Age movement, which emerged out of a variety of older fringe spiritualities right around the same time that the current round of Christian fundamentalism got going in America. The early days of the New Age movement were pervaded by the same optimistic sense that a new and more enlightened epoch was about to dawn, and everyone—even, or especially, those who made fun of the movement’s pretensions—would soon fall in line.
As the movement matured and the New Age stubbornly refused to arrive, in turn, the same mood shift that affected fundamentalism had a comparable impact; New Age teachers began to talk more about the ascension of enlightened individuals into higher planes of being, the activities of evil powers who were maintaining the illusion of a world of limits, and the imminence of a world-cleansing cataclysm that would finally get around to ushering in the New Age. By the time the hoopla began building over 2012, finally, the prophecies trotted out in advance of that much-ballyhooed nonevent ranged all over the map; there were still optimists of the old school, who insisted that a great shift in consciousness would make everyone get around to agreeing with them; there were many more who expected mass death to leave the world purified for the usual minority of the elect; and there were no small number who were retailing scenarios in which the entire human race would be exterminated.
This is a familiar rhythm in the history of American popular spirituality.  At regular intervals, some movement that’s existed out on the fringes for decades suddenly gets a mass following, turns into a pop culture phenomenon, and has thirty to forty years of popularity before it returns to the fringes. Some traditions repeat the process; Christian fundamentalism has had two periods of pop stardom—once between the Roaring Nineties and the Great Depression, and then again from the late 1970s to the present—and a strong case could be made that the New Age movement is a rehash of the vogue for occultism that was so huge a part of American pop culture between 1890 and 1929. Other movements fill the void when the ones just named head for the fringes; from the 1930s to the 1970s, liberal Christian churches were a dominant force in American religion, and there’s some reason to think that the pendulum is headed the same way again as fundamentalism sunsets out a second time.
If human beings were rational actors, as economists like to imagine, they wouldn’t respond to the disconfirmation of their beliefs by postulating world-wrecking catastrophes. Here as elsewhere, though, the fond fantasies of economists stand up poorly as models for predicting events in the real world. If you haven’t had the experience of devoting decades of your life to a failed belief system, dear reader, try to put yourself into such a person’s shoes.  It would take a degree of equanimity rare even among saints to look back on such an experience without harvesting a bumper crop of resentment, grief and guilt—and if fantasies of apocalyptic destruction play any role at all in your belief system, one way to deal with those difficult emotions in their first and rawest forms is to pour them into a belief in some cataclysm big enough to punish the world and everyone in it for their failure to live up to your hopes.
The environmental movement is not a religion, but its course in America in recent decades followed the pattern I’ve just outlined. Like fundamentalism and the New Age movement, it came in from the fringe in the 1970s with the same sense of imminent triumph that guided the other movements I’ve named. Its transformation from a charismatic movement of outsiders to a set of bureaucratic institutions closely intertwined with the existing order of society followed the same trajectory as fundamentalist churches, and its sense of triumphant expectancy faded out at roughly the same pace, replaced by the same struggle against evil that brought fundamentalist Christians into their devil’s pact with the GOP and inspired New Age believers to embrace conspiracy theories and the paranoid fantasies of David Icke.
At this point, roughly in parallel with fundamentalism and the New Age, the environmental movement is having to come face to face with the total failure of its hopes. Back in the heady days of its early successes, the vision that guided it saw environmental protection as the next step forward in the same trajectory of social progress that included the civil rights movement and second wave feminism; it was in this spirit, for example, that environmental lawyers proposed that trees be given legal standing. The hope all along was that industrial civilization could achieve a permanent peace with the world of nature and continue up the infinite road of progress without leaving a scorched and looted planet in its wake.
That hope is dead. If there was ever a chance to achieve it, it went whistling down the wind decades ago, and at this point the jaws of resource depletion and environmental degradation are tightening around the collective throat of the world’s industrial societies, in exactly the fashion predicted in detail forty years ago in the pages of The Limits to Growth. Even if the green technologies promoted by an increasingly frantic minority of environmentalists could support something like today’s rates of energy use, which they can’t, we can no longer afford the sort of massive buildout of those technologies that would be necessary to supplant even a significant part of our current fossil fuel consumption. If what’s left of the environmental movement managed to overcome its own internal dysfunctions and the formidable opposition of its foes, and became a mass movement again, the most it could accomplish at this point would be the protection of some of the most vulnerable ecosystems as industrial society stumbles down the first bitter steps of the long descent into the deindustrial future.
That’s still a goal worth achieving, but it’s not the goal to which the environmental mainstream committed itself when it embraced a role among the socially acceptable institutions of American public life, with the perks and salaries that this status involves.  This explains, I suggest, the way that certain mainstream environmentalists have turned to proselytizing for nuclear power and other frankly ecocidal technologies, under the curious delusion that “possibly a little better than the worst” somehow amounts to “good.”  The desperation in such rhetoric is palpable, and signals the end of the road—an end that, in this case as in the others I’ve cited, involves a good many fantasies of total destruction.
Still, there’s another factor here, and it unfolds from one of the least creditable aspects of the way that the environmental movement has evolved over time. It has become increasingly clear that the perks, the salaries, and the comfortable middle class lifestyles embraced so enthusiastically by so many people in the movement are themselves part of the problem. I was intrigued to read earlier this month a thoughtful essay by leading British climate scientist Kevin Anderson arguing, in terms that will sound very familiar to regular readers of The Archdruid Report, that the failure of climate change activism to make any headway in changing people’s behavior may have more than a little to do with the fact that the people who are urging such changes aren’t making them themselves.
I have no reason to think that Anderson reads my blog or, for that matter, knows me from Hu Gadarn’s off ox, but then you don’t need to wear an archdruid’s funny hat to notice that people these days are acutely sensitive to signs of hypocrisy, or to grasp that even the most vital changes aren’t going to happen if even the people who are most aware of their importance aren’t willing to start making them in their own lives.  For reasons a post last year discussed at some length, those who have built their lives on the fantasy that it’s possible to have their planet and eat it too are not going to find such reflections welcome, or even bearable.

Fantasies of imminent human extinction are one comforting if futile response to this ugly predicament. If you want a justification for living as though there’s no tomorrow, insisting that in fact, there’s no tomorrow is certainly one option. If I’m right, the pleasures of believing in near-term human extinction are likely to appeal to a very large and well-heeled audience in the years immediately ahead, and those of my readers interested in cashing in on the next 2012-style bonanza should probably take note.

Making Wine and Beer

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Back in September of 2010 when work was really slow, I asked my neighbor – a prominent local vintner, if he was hiring. 2010 was a great year for the local vineyards. The dry summer produced a beautiful harvest and all the local vineyards rushed to get their harvest in at the same time before wet weather arrived.

He knew the vintner at Virginia Wineworks, a local ‘custom crush’ operation and they were hiring. One phone call and I started the next day. I worked for 9 weeks making wine from other peoples grapes. It was absolutely back breaking work, constantly wet, climbing up and down racks of barrels or stainless steel tanks, fruit flies in your ears, mouth and nose…. It was quite a challenge for a guy in his 40’s with a bad back and the pay was meager ($12/hr). Most of the employees were half my age, working whatever jobs they could get to pay off their college loans. Because of the hectic schedule they sometimes worked through the night and slept in their cars. Anyway, it was a great experience.

I took the job for a second reason. John Michael Greer, who writes the Archdruid Report http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/ has said several times over the years that knowing how to brew beer or make wine is a great skill for the next economy. This was too good an opportunity for me to turn down. (The employee discount on the wine wasn’t too bad either!)

What I learned is that Virginia is a suitable location for growing grapes, but not the best. A late frost can kill the budding fruit and wipe out your season. To combat this, the big wineries use propane heaters, helicopters and small wind turbines to create heat and stir up the air. They rely on very cheap labor throughout the spring and summer to prune and harvest. Fertilizers and pesticides are required.

The grapes are hauled in on trucks or rented box vans. The de-stemming and bottling machines are critical. The giant spinning press is from Germany. They had to rent semi-trucks with refrigerated units to keep the grapes cold until they were ready to be pressed. Fuel was stored on a pickup truck and pumped by hand into the diesel truck tanks.

Glass bottles came from Mexico, oak barrels from France, yeast from France and Germany, sterilizing chemicals, sulfur, huge stainless steel tanks and hoses, portable pumps (which often stopped working), and lots and lots of potable water.

Anyway, you see where I’m going with this.

To take this to the next level, I took two courses through the local community college on home brewing beer. The first was a one day course taught at Wild Wolf Brewery in Nellysford, VA.

The second was on four Monday nights at Starr Hill Brewery in Crozet.

Again, I learned that brewing at the commercial scale is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. The bulk of the malted grains come in by train, hops and yeast from Europe, temperature and sanitation are absolutely critical, and the bottling machine practically requires a PhD to maintain it. Water comes from the local resevoir and is pre-treated by the local plant but they still filter and test it at the brewery.

Both courses were taught by the respected brewers and I learned quite alot. I also made some good contacts. In fact, I learned of another job opportunity similar to the one I had at Wineworks. Anyway, I felt like I needed more practical information before getting started. So the next step was to watch several videos on YouTube and check out a book from the library. My neighbor, who brewed beer in his dorm room in college, also promised to help.

Feeling more confident, I went out last Friday and bought a Brewer’s Best ‘Deluxe Equipment Kit’ #1002, two cases of brown bottles, some extra Star San sanitizer, and a Brewer’s Best ‘American Amber Ale’ extract kit. I brewed my first batch of beer on Sunday and now it’s sitting behind me quietly bubbling away as the yeast converts the sugars from the grains into alcohol.

My goal is to brew several batches of extract through the summer. Later this fall I hope to get into the ‘all grain’ full mash brewing which will require additional equipment. My neighbor got all excited and went out and bought a couple of brew buckets for himself so we can tag team. I’ll post an update when I move the beer to a secondary fermenter (called ‘racking’) and again on bottling day in a couple weeks.

Cheers!

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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Quote from: azozeo on December 05, 2019, 12:18:35 [...]

Doomstead Diner Daily December 6The Diner Daily is [...]

Quote from: UnhingedBecauseLucid on March 18, 2019 [...]

CleanTechnicaSupport CleanTechnica’s work via dona [...]

QuoteThe FACT that the current incredibly STUPID e [...]

Scientists have unlocked the power of gold atoms b [...]

Quote from: azozeo on August 14, 2019, 10:41:33 AM [...]

Wisconsin Bill Would Remove Barrier to Using Gold, [...]

Under extreme conditions, gold rearranges its atom [...]

The cost of gold futures on the Comex exchange inc [...]

OK, I gave it to myself.    Guaranteed FREE Shippi [...]

The remission is OVAH!  The Cancer is BACK!  I got [...]

1 week, even 2 here in Alaska is total BULLSHIT! Y [...]

Now UP on GEI!  REposted on 01 December 2019A Worl [...]

Alternate Perspectives

  • Two Ice Floes
  • Jumping Jack Flash
  • From Filmers to Farmers

Missing In Action By Cognitive Dissonance     As a very young pup, whenever I was overdue and not ho [...]

Politicians’ Privilege By Cognitive Dissonance     Imagine for a moment you work for a small or medi [...]

Shaking the August Stick By Cognitive Dissonance     Sometime towards the end of the third or fourth [...]

Empire in Decline - Propaganda and the American Myth By Cognitive Dissonance     “Oh, what a tangled [...]

Meanderings By Cognitive Dissonance     Tis the Season Silly season is upon us. And I, for one, welc [...]

Event Update For 2019-12-05http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.htmlThe [...]

Event Update For 2019-12-04http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.htmlThe [...]

Event Update For 2019-12-03http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.htmlThe [...]

Event Update For 2019-12-02http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.htmlThe [...]

Event Update For 2019-12-01http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.htmlThe [...]

With fusion energy perpetually 20 years away we now also perpetually have [fill in the blank] years [...]

My mea culpa for having inadvertently neglected FF2F for so long, and an update on the upcoming post [...]

NYC plans to undertake the swindle of the civilisation by suing the companies that have enabled it t [...]

MbS, the personification of the age-old pre-revolutionary scenario in which an expiring regime attem [...]

Daily Doom Photo

man-watching-tv

Sustainability

  • Peak Surfer
  • SUN
  • Transition Voice

"The drift towards near-term human extinction must be averted at all costs."I confess. I a [...]

"Since 2005, winters in Mexico have been my Hemingway Machine."  As winter descends upon m [...]

Waterboarding Flounder"Serious oxygen loss between 100 and 600-meter depths is expected to cover 59–80% of the ocean [...]

Of Warnings and their Ripple Effects"We need wooden ships, char-crete buildings, bamboo bicycles, moringa furniture, and hemp cloth [...]

"Restoring normal whale activity to the oceans would capture the CO2 equivalent of 2 billion tr [...]

The folks at Windward have been doing great work at living sustainably for many years now.  Part of [...]

 The Daily SUN☼ Building a Better Tomorrow by Sustaining Universal Needs April 3, 2017 Powering Down [...]

Off the keyboard of Bob Montgomery Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666 Friend us on Facebook Publishe [...]

Visit SUN on Facebook Here [...]

What extinction crisis? Believe it or not, there are still climate science deniers out there. And th [...]

My new book, Abolish Oil Now, will talk about why the climate movement has failed and what we can do [...]

A new climate protest movement out of the UK has taken Europe by storm and made governments sit down [...]

The success of Apollo 11 flipped the American public from skeptics to fans. The climate movement nee [...]

Today's movement to abolish fossil fuels can learn from two different paths that the British an [...]

Top Commentariats

  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

My new post is pretty much done, but I wanted to wait until the end of the weekend to put it up. [...]

I wonder whether this has been fully thought through. If something goes wrong, clearly the whole thi [...]

One of the big questions is, "Do you count all of these things with virtually no value as part [...]

There was no Iranian missile attack. That claim is pure Israeli propaganda, designed to further thei [...]

How DARE THEY! World’s Biggest Oil-Refining Tower Completes 11,000-Mile Voyage Anthony Osae-Brown, T [...]

That was a good piece - not sure that was exactly what Steve was saying about Marx and industrializa [...]

Steve wrote a couple of articles last year, Marx & Debtonomics: https://www.economic-undertow.co [...]

Wait - when did Steve say that about Marx? I must have missed an interesting discussion along the wa [...]

@Ellen, I concur with Steve that Marx understood the problems with capitalism but failed to place th [...]

Well said. I would only argue that we, in effect, have MMT already. It hasn't failed yet. [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

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Simplifying the Final Countdown

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Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

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Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

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Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

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SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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Collapse Fiction

Useful Links

Technical Journals

Deterministic–stochastic empirical mode decomposition (EMD) is used to obtain low-frequency (n [...]

At the sub-national level, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) proposes [...]

The recent droughts in the American Southwest have led to increasing risks of wildfires, which pose [...]

The effect of urbanization on microclimatic conditions is known as “urban heat islands”. [...]