Monthly Post

A Neglected Factor in the Fall of Civilizations

One of the many reasons I enjoy writing these weekly essays is that they give me the opportunity to look at the world in new ways. Too many writers fall into the trap of saying the same things over and over again in different words—sometimes for a while, sometimes until death taps the author on the shoulder and finally says, “Okay, enough of that.” It’s an easy trap to fall into, and a lucrative one. Publishers and readers alike love predictable, repetitive authors, as a look at the new fiction shelf of your local public library will demonstrate promptly enough.

That sort of repetition isn’t of interest to me.  As a result, I routinely field complaints that I’m not still writing the same kind of posts I did in the early days of my blogging career: “What happened to the Archdruid we knew and loved?” (Yes, I’ve gotten those exact words in my inbox more than once.) The answer is quite simple, of course. Most of a decade ago I looked back over a decade of posts on peak oil and decided that I’d said pretty much all that could be said about that topic.* That’s why I ventured into new territory, and will be proceeding into still newer ground in the years ahead. Endless repetition of the same clichés is convenient, and it can be profitable, but it’s fatal to the creative spirit and the higher capacities of the mind.

Here we go again. (But I digress.)

(*At that time, that is. There’ll be more to say on it quite soon, not least because the price of oil has risen from $70 to $95 a barrel in the last few weeks…)

Fortunately there are always new perspectives to the predicament of industrial society, and one of those leapt up onto my desk the other day and perched there glaring at me, for all the world like an annoyed cat.  The issue in question can be summed up in a very straightforward way.  Many of us have noticed that there are quite a few things the political and economic leadership of the world’s industrial nations could do to respond constructively to the rising spiral of crisis that besets us. Many of us have also noticed that these things are precisely what the political and economic leadership of the world’s industrial nations will not do.

One of the people who noticed this was the historian Arnold Toynbee. Toynbee’s life work, the sprawling 12-volume A Study of History, argued that civilizations fall because their leadership abandons the problem-solving function that is central to any effective elite. His take was that civilizations rise when a creative minority inspires the rest of society with a vision of constructive change so enticing, and a set of solutions for current problems so promising, that most people fall in line behind them.  As long as that minority continues to inspire the rest of society, by pushing forward its vision and coming up with effective solutions to the problems the society confronts, it remains a creative minority and the civilization keeps rising.

Arnold Toynbee, reflecting on why elites never seem to get a clue.

Sooner or later, however, the creative minority stops coming up with solutions to new problems. Instead, it starts insisting that the same old solutions will work just as well with new problems as they did with the old ones.  Since this isn’t usually the case, the new problems go unsolved, and the former creative minority turns into a dominant minority, which can no longer inspire the masses and settles for bullying them instead. When this happens, the civilization tips over into decline, and eventually goes down under the weight of its unsolved problems.

It’s a compelling analysis, not least because Toynbee shows in exhaustive detail exactly how this process played out in two dozen fallen civilizations of the past. At the same time, of course, it begs the obvious question:  why doesn’t the dominant minority recognize what’s happening and pull out of its death spiral?  The dominant minority will not come through the process of decline and fall with its power and privileges intact, after all. Its wealth and status depend utterly on the maintenance of complex social structures that will inevitably come apart at the seams as the society they rule unravels.

It’s not as though Bill Gates, say, will keep his present status if industrial civilization goes to bits. He got his position by manipulating the complex systems of a mature civilization, and holds onto it only because those systems and his friends in powerful places sustain him. He has no gift for charismatic leadership, no skills worth anything in a dark age environment, and no resources that can’t be taken from him by the first well-armed warlord who comes along. For that matter, the moment the rule of law breaks down, his own guards will no doubt cut his throat with considerable glee and take whatever goodies he’s stockpiled.  Why shouldn’t they?  Like the rest of today’s kleptocratic elite, Gates has never learned the fundamental law of dark age society, which is that you can only earn loyalty from your subordinates by giving your loyalty to them.  It’s only in a civilization, and a complex, decadent civilization at that, that someone like Gates could rise to power in the first place.

This isn’t difficult to figure out. A study of history far less exhaustive than Toynbee’s points it up with compelling force. Why, then, do elite classes so consistently bring about their own nemesis by refusing to solve the problems that bring their societies down?

Clay Shirky, explaining the reason.

NYU professor Clay Shirky may have found the answer.

Shirky has made a name for himself over the last few decades as a proponent of crowdsourcing and internet collaboration as an alternative to bureaucratic institutions.  He’s published two books on this theme, Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus, offering various arguments for his case. One of the points he made has been given a name of its own, the Shirky Principle. Like most really revolutionary ideas, it can be summed up simply enough:  “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”

This is best understood by a specific example, so let’s consider the weight loss industry. This is a booming field, worth billions of dollars a year in the United States alone, and it’s backed by a constant drumbeat of pronouncements from government, health care officials, and the mass media. It’s also a total failure by every objective measure. The more money gets poured into weight loss, the more government and corporate programs push weight control, the more people go on diets and work out at the gym and gobble weight loss medicines by the handful, the fatter Americans become.  Why?

A thought experiment gives the answer readily enough. Imagine for a moment that somebody worked out a cheap, effective treatment for obesity:  pop one pill, let’s say, and your metabolism resets itself to keep you thin.  What happens?  A lucrative industry goes broke, and all its stockholders and bondholders lose money in a big way. All the businesses that make money off people who want to lose weight, and all the pundits and influencers who tell people how to exercise and diet, have to find something else to do with their time. Thus it’s in their interest to fight obesity—but it’s not in their interest to win.

That’s why steps that could have an immediate effect on the issue never get taken. It so happens, for example, that a stunningly large number of Americans are prescribed antidepressants by their physicians. It also happens that many of the most popular antidepressants have uncontrolled weight gain—up to 5 lbs. a month, every month, as long as you take the drug—among their common side effects. Has anyone talked about correlating obesity with  antidepressant use, and explored the possibility getting people who have weight problems off antidepressants, or at least switch them to drugs that don’t have that side effect?  Surely you jest.

It’s also worth noting that in the United States, there’s a remarkably exact negative correlation between obesity and altitude.  On average, the higher you are above sea level, the thinner you are. Just one of those weird statistical oddities? Not in a society that dumps oceans of untested chemicals into the groundwater, which flows downhill and ends up in the tap water that people drink. It would be easy enough to test tap water in different localities for chemical pollutants, and then compare the concentration of each pollutant with local rates of obesity, to figure out which pollutants are most likely to be messing up people’s endocrine systems; focused studies could then settle the matter once and for all.

Of course nothing of the sort is being done, and it seems vanishingly unlikely that anything of the sort will be done. Partly that’s because it would inconvenience whichever chemical companies are producing and dumping the main culprits, but it’s also because the weight loss industry would suffer a devastating financial setback if any major cause of obesity were to be identified and removed. It’s so much easier, and so much more lucrative, to keep on pushing remedies that don’t work, and raking in the profits.

(And if, dear reader, you’re about to pound your fist on the keyboard because you’re sure that the cure for obesity is diet and exercise, and fat people just need to be bullied even harder than they are already, I’d encourage you to stop and think about the subject for a change. Government at all levels, the entire medical establishment, the media, and the weight loss industry have been pushing diets and exercise for more than a century now, and flinging abuse at fat people has become a national sport in the US.  Those methods have not worked. Doing more of them isn’t going to work any better. In fact, the more diets and exercise have been pushed, and the more bullying has been directed at fat people, the more common obesity has become  What’s that saying about doing the same thing and expecting different results?)

It’s become a running joke all through American society.

What’s true of the weight loss industry is equally true of the medical industry as a whole. It’s reached the point that the saying “a patient cured is a customer lost” is a bleak joke throughout American society, and for good reason.  Old-fashioned notions of curing and healing were replaced long ago by what medical professionals call the “disease management” model: in effect, keeping you sick enough that you have to keep going to the doctor, without making you so sick that you lose your job and your medical coverage. That’s why so many pharmaceuticals these days have so many ghastly side effects. As computer geeks say, this is a feature, not a bug, since every time a side effect shows up, that’s another visit to the doctor and another plump bill.

This sort of exploitation routinely rises to levels that would face legal charges in a less corrupt society. One friend of mine spent years suffering from asthma so serious that she had to make repeated trips to the hospital. A few years ago she read about the role that wheat allergy plays in some cases of asthma like hers, and decided to try removing wheat from her diet. Her asthma went away.  At her next appointment, she related this to her doctor, and the doctor nodded and admitted that she was familiar with the syndrome. My friend, astonished, asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?” The doctor’s response: “We prefer to medicate for that.”

No doubt they do prefer to medicate, and they have ample financial reasons for that preference.  The fact remains that my friend had been burdened with a wholly unnecessary sickness for years, because her doctor was more interested in making money than in helping her patients. That’s the Shirky Principle in a nutshell: it’s so lucrative for physicians to fight disease that they are very, very careful never to win the fight.

Of course the same thing is true of institutions far removed from health care, and also of institutions in which the profit motive isn’t involved. Consider the more than Byzantine labyrinth of federal, state, and city bureaucracies tasked with fighting poverty in the United States. It’s been pointed out many times that the federal government could simply hire every impoverished person in the country for a decent salary and benefits, and pay them to do nothing at all, for much less than it costs to support the social welfare system. What’s more, handing out cash to the poor would actually do something to lift them out of poverty, which is something that most of a century of social welfare programs has utterly failed to do.

The Health and Welfare Building in Harrisburg, PA. Welfare may not do much for the poor, but it certainly pays a lot of salaries.

This is anything but accidental. In every bureaucracy, the first goal of each employee is to keep his or her job, pay, and benefits.  The second goal of each employee with subordinates is to increase their number, since income and status goes up according to how many flunkies you manage. If the social welfare system succeeded in ending poverty, or even reducing the number of poor people by any noticeable figure, some of the system’s employees would be laid off, and these prime directives would be violated. Thus it is always in the interest of bureaucrats tasked with social welfare to be sure that the poor remain mired in their condition, and to see to it that as many more people as possible join them in poverty. Examine the way that the US welfare state treats the poor and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that keeping the poor impoverished is what the system is designed to do.

For that matter, consider the Pentagon, State Department, the CIA, and the rest of the baroque bureaucratic mess that officially has the task of protecting America’s national security. Were they to succeed in making America’s place in the world secure, the layoffs wouldn’t just be limited to bureaucrats; gargantuan corporations that rake in profits from supplying arms to the US military and its allies would suffer drastic losses. I’d like to suggest that this may be why the entire national security apparatus of the United States seems to work so hard making sure our country has as many enemies abroad as possible.  National security, after all, is just as bad for the defense industry as good health is for the medical industry.

A major crisis for the military-industrial complex. “Quick! Find another enemy!”

It’s worthwhile in this light to remember how, once the Soviet Union went down, so much effort went into making the Middle East as hostile to American interests as possible. It’s just as interesting to watch the US national security establishment working so hard right now to push Russia, China, and Iran into a military alliance hostile to us. If your business is war, maximizing war is good for business, and if your business is selling munitions, there’s nothing like a nice hot proxy war to show your customers how useless their current stocks of tanks and missiles have become, so that they can be sold a whole new set at a hefty price. That this might have cataclysmic downsides further on is not something that anyone seems to worry about.

Here’s that chart again. Politicians started ranting about climate change about halfway through the arc. Notice any change?

Finally, let’s apply the same logic to global climate change and see how it fits. Thirty years of massive government programs and endless jeremiads in the corporate media have done precisely nothing to decrease the steady rise in the amount of carbon dioxide human beings are adding to the atmosphere. Year after year, we’re told by kleptocratic godzillionaires and privileged activists that things are getting steadily worse and we all just have to try harder. It’s worth considering the possibility that once again, we’re watching the Shirky Principle in action.

Back in the heyday of the peak oil movement, after all, a great many independent researchers crunched the numbers on solar photovoltaic systems, large-scale windpower, biofuels, and the other green energy options, and showed that none of them could replace fossil fuels in any meaningful sense. They did due diligence on nuclear power, and showed that it’s a subsidy dumpster that never pays for itself.  They also gave the hoopla about electric cars a good close study, and pointed out that it doesn’t matter if the car’s electric if the electricity’s being generated by burning fossil fuels—and let’s not even talk about the environmental costs of lithium batteries and a smorgasbord of other technologies that electric cars use.

This would actually have helped — and of course that’s the problem.

What’s more, these same researchers pointed out that there are straightforward ways to cut carbon emissions sharply without plunging the world into medieval conditions. Grants and zero-interest loans, for example, could have been made available to insulate and weatherize millions of poorly insulated American homes, businesses, and factories. The dilapidated US passenger rail system could have been repaired and expanded, so that taking the train would become the easiest and most pleasant option for a huge share of short and mid-range journeys, replacing far more energy-intensive flights and freeway time. National right-to-farm legislation could have removed the regulations that keep many Americans from growing a share of their own food, sharply decreasing the amount of food that has to be transported over long distances.

These and other measures could have been done for no more money than has been poured down the ratholes of solar PV farms, gigantic wind turbines, and electric cars.  The result would have been an actual decrease in the carbon dioxide emitted by people in the US, and it also would have provided other benefits, such as creating a great many working class jobs. Such measures were discussed in great detail online and in conferences, and their benefits documented. Yet when climate change hit the big time, none of them seem to have been considered for a moment. Instead, all the funding and hype went into measures that would not, and did not, do anything to slow climate change. The Shirky Principle suggests that this is not an accident.

What your civilization ends up looking like when you neglect its problems for too long.

The difficulty, of course, is the one that Arnold Toynbee pointed out all those years ago:  societies that fail to solve their problems end up being dragged down by them. People who have to trudge through their days in perpetual ill health because it’s profitable for big industries to keep them sick won’t have the energy to deal with crisis conditions when those arrive. A society that deliberately leaves millions of people mired in hopeless poverty cannot count on the labor or loyalty of those people when push comes to shove. A nation that spends all its time creating enemies abroad, so that its national security bureaucracies and its munitions industries can keep on gobbling up an inflated share of tax money, has only itself to blame if those enemies gain the upper hand—and a world that loves to talk about climate change but avoids doing anything effective to forestall it will have to pay the costs of agricultural failure, coastal flooding, and the eventual abandonment of trillions of dollars of (literally) sunk costs.

The logic of the Shirky Principle is forceful and pervasive enough that it deserves to be included in any discussion of how civilizations fall. Again, Toynbee’s assessment is worth taking seriously here. Over and over again, down through the millennia, civilizations have staggered down the long slope into ruin even when there were obvious things they could have done to turn aside from that unwelcome fate. The fact that institutions so often preserve the problems they are supposed to solve may go a long way to explain why.


  1. At this link is a complete list of all of the requests for prayer that have recently appeared across the Ecosophia community. A printable version of the entire prayer list current as of 9/16 may be downloaded here. Please feel free to add any or all of the requests to your own prayers.

    If I missed anybody, or if you would like to add a prayer request for yourself or anyone who has given you consent (or for whom a relevant person holds power of consent) to the list, please feel free to leave a comment below.

    * * *

    This week I would like to bring special attention to the following prayer requests.

    May Erika’s partner James, who has just learned he has cancer all over inside him on his liver and lungs, be blessed, healed and protected.

    Christine Marie and Stephen Paul are to be married in Cardiff Castle on Thursday 21 September at 9:00am. May they (and Christine’s children Hugo and Casper) be blessed with a successful marriage full of love, good health, and happiness.

    In the case of Princess Cutekitten and the large bank who is suing her, may justice be done, with harm to none.

    May Josh Schaad’s soul be blessed and eased in his soul’s transition into death, and may his wife Alyssa and sons Gavin and Caden be blessed and protected, and find what comfort they can during this very difficult time.

    Neptunesdolphin’s husband has just had his big toe partially amputated due to a staph infection, and his diabetes has worsened in connection. He and she and son all are struggling to cope with the difficult situation, made no easier by the fact that all three have different varieties of mental impairment. May Neptunesdolphin’s husband heal quickly and vigorously, and successfully manage his diabetes; and may her family all get through the situation successfully and with grace.

    Lp9’s hometown, East Palestine, Ohio, for the safety and welfare of their people, animals and all living beings in and around East Palestine, and to improve the natural environment there to the benefit of all.

    * * *
    Guidelines for how long prayer requests stay on the list, how to word requests, how to be added to the weekly email list, how to improve the chances of your prayer being answered, and several other common questions and issues, are now to be found at the Ecosophia Prayer List FAQ.

    If there are any among you who might wish to join me in a bit of astrological timing, I pray each week for the health of all those with health problems on the list on the astrological hour of the Sun on Sundays, bearing in mind the Sun’s rulerships of heart, brain, and vital energies. If this appeals to you, I invite you to join me.

  2. I’m thinking now of the relationship between the inner-city black community, and the Democratic Party. Methinks all the race talk of late is not designed to lift black people up, as much as keep them in thrall. Fixing gender too it turns out, is exceedingly lucrative, while facilitating life-long ill health.

    I know my parents have never eaten as well as they did this year, now that I have returned home and built a big garden. My dad says to me last night, “i got a real lesson this year in what vegetables are supposed to taste like.” The freezers are full of wild meat, the root cellar is about to be filled.

  3. Another fine post, JMG. Toynbee should be required reading for government employees and politicians, though I suppose it most likely wouldn’t help.

    It’s my observation that a couple of things are different this Descent, but that won’t change the end result. The exploitation of fossil fuels created a rocket ride upward, and seems to be leading to a plunge faster than I would have guessed 15 years ago. When complexity goes awry, everything breaks at once. The other “new” aspect of this Descent is the impact of electronic media on propaganda, namely TV. It sure seemed to be a factor with covid, and how the thinkless masses complied.

    As for the Shirky principle, it reminds me of the old “motivation” poster from regarding consulting, which I joked about 20 years ago when I was, err, an IT consultant:

    “If you’re not a part of the solution, there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem.”

  4. >I’d like to suggest that this may be why the entire national security apparatus of the United States seems to work so hard making sure our country has as many enemies abroad as possible

    It’s always Friday Night with that crowd.

    And they always need a fight.

    Saturday Morning might as well be the moon to them.

  5. Thank you for not “saying the same things over and over again in different words”. I have stopped following quite a few commentators for precisely that reason

  6. I’m about to retire from a certain nonprofit organization. Although I just learned the term “Shirky Principle” from you today, I’m sadly all too familiar with the phenom. One of the things I’m considering doing with my retirement is more nonprofit work, only for a brand new organization that doesn’t fall for the Shirky Principle. Do you think there’s a way to do that or is it just an inescapable part of human existence?

  7. As a corollary to the Shirky Principle “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” how about this:

    Institutions should exist to only to handle predicaments.

  8. Would you offer any comment about institutions taking on a consciousness of their own, independent of their individual leaders’ wills, and whether it’s within that consciousness that the Shirky Principle operates?

    I hear many people attributing Shirky-ness to star-chamber type conspiracy theories, where it’s all happening by design to the benefit of a dozen villains in a dome under the sea. But I’ve seen institutions that have no global hierarchy deal with the same issue of preserving the problems they’re intended to solve, seemingly without intent, and often to their leaders’ continual frustration and burnout. What force is at work there?

  9. JMG
    Happy to report the Shirky Principle is alive and well here in the emerald isle. Just today we granted permission to Amazon to build another 3 data centres in North County Dublin, the latest in a long line of data centres. All the while the proposal to cull 200,000 cows is still on the table. Farm emissions bad, high tech emissions good.

    Also this week, we denied permission for the building of an LNG terminal on the Shannon Estuary. This would be a meaningless, green, virtue signal, had we not started an economic war with Russia. I dread to think what a hard winter would do to Ireland (and Europe).

  10. I work in produce and often see very obese people with carts full of fruits and vegetables and other healthy choices and I’m always left wondering what’s going on? How did they get so big? I always assumed they were getting a massive calorie surplus from somewhere but now I think there’s definitely more to the story than just food.

  11. Thank you for citing Shirky’s insightful Law. It is succinct version of a Law that I published in 1993, which I call the “Vested Interest Phenomenon”, or VIP:

    “Every social service organization has a vested interest in the continued existence of precisely those evils which it is pledged to combat.”

    I grant that “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution” says the same in fewer words.

    But you should avoid ‘conspiracist’ versions of Shirky’s Law. Never blame on malice what can be explained by incompetence. I favor a Darwinian explanation of Shirky’s Law: institutions fail if they entirely fail to solve their problem, or entirely succeed; so there is selective pressure for partial failure; therefore institutions tend to evolve towards partial failure.

    Shirky’s Law and the VIP are related to Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracies:
    “Bureaucracies have two kinds of employees: those who work for the bureaucracy’s purpose, and those who work for the bureaucracy’s interests. Inevitably, any bureaucracy is lead by the second type.” This too can be misread as conspiracism, but the Darwinian explanation is more apt.

    This opens the question to: in what contexts does natural social selection favor complete success? Perhaps a non-institutional one?

  12. Thanks for today’s post. This raises the obvious question: Has there ever been a society or civilization which was able to change course – and if so, how?


  13. Great article. But I guess I’ll be the keyboard warrior and push back on the “diet/exercise don’t work” claim. Sure the increased *promotion* diet and exercise hasn’t done anything to stem the increasing waistlines on a population level, but the actual implementation of a change of eating/exercise habits certainly can (it did for me, lost 100lbs over 15 years ago and have kept it off–part of why I’m choosing to take the time and pick a nit on an otherwise great article is that I delayed those changes for years because I believed “diet/exercise don’t work” and so didn’t bother.).

    It a way, its similar to a lot of the Covid regime and the confusion around it (on many sides, including my own oppositional position). E.g. sterilized PPE used according to strict protocols can reduce nosocomial rates of respiratory pathogens in healthcare settings–but mandating people wear dirty hankies across their muzzles whenever they leave the house does nothing to impact transmission or infection rates generally. Similarly, changing your diet and exercise regime can (and usually does) produce change in weight, but just giving money to out to repeat the mantra “diet and exercise!” does nothing.

  14. Hi JMG,

    Where is the best place to read where “Toynbee shows in exhaustive detail exactly how this process played out in two dozen fallen civilizations of the past.”? Is it in his summary book or do you need to read the full series? I think I read the summary in the past, but don’t remember it well. The full series would be fun but I suspect the series is one of those things that libraries used to keep but don’t anymore. Thanks, Drew C

  15. Do you think its possible for a new creative minority to arise to provide a landing on the winding staircase of decline? Perhaps, it might come from within the leadership of the populist movements?

    Last week I was listening to a few videos of Peter Santenello who has a really interesting youtube channel ( ) where he goes around and talks to people on the street all over America. He went to the poorest part of Appalachia and to Gary, Indiana in some of his recent videos. There, and in some of the others I listened to, people pointed to the “lack of leadership” as one of the main things that is causing some of the problems we have in this country, and that same accusation came from all kinds of different people.

    This article didn’t restore any faith I no longer have in the PMC -but I am still hopeful we can be peer leaders to each other, and perhaps a new creative minority can arise within the populist movements that can forestall a swifter fall.

    As ever, many thanks.

  16. How long have libertarians advocated doing away with big government?
    That would make the Shirky Principle reactionary instead of revolutionary (in Marxian terms).
    Nothing we could have done will preserve the standard of living we’ve grown accustomed to. Those on top will adapt to stay on top. Their living standards will also decline, but they’ll still enjoy the best that a civilization in decline can offer.
    A significant percentage of today’s elites have one foot in the grave, because of their advanced age. They don’t have to worry about the future, so business as usual works for them.

  17. Thank you, once again, for giving me a name and a source of factual, researched evidence and thorough explanation for yet another phenomenon I’ve long intuitively recognized and understood, but could only vaguely describe with a lot of easily-dismissed hand-waving.
    I can now add “Shirky Principle” to “The Pareto principle”, the idea of “Clerisy” or “PMC – Professional Managerial Class”, and others. You are my ongoing education.

  18. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Most of the corporate and political surveys now make sense. I have often wondered why most of them don’t leave any space for constituents or consumers to address actual obvious issues. I got lots of polling calls for the 2016 election, but most of them seem to be of the form “If I said X would you change your vote? If I said Y would you change your vote.” After the 5th poll, where it became obvious they did not care at all what I actually wanted, I stopped taking the calls. On a second note: I once worked as a consultant at a drug company. My manager used the term that they were “Inward looking” as a polite, minimally judgemental way of describing the phenomenon you are talking about. That same company gave away their vaccine technology because the lawsuits got to much. The smaller company would be too small to sue.

  19. Thank you! When I brought this up in August and it failed as a fifth Wednesday candidate I thought it would never come up. I’m glad to see you give it your usual thorough and acerbic treatment!

  20. …and then there’s the War on Drugs, which really took off when Prohibition was repealed and all those people fighting the War on Liquor had to find another boogeyman pronto.

  21. Dear John Michael,

    In regards to the “Shirky Principle”, I have absolutely no doubt that it exists and operates, as I have seen its effects firsthand and directly more than once within the bureaucracy of my local municipal government, and the examples of it on the US federal level are too many to enumerate.

    However, in recent years, again in reference to the US federal government level, I have been seeing what I can only describe as a consistent pattern of purposeful self-destructive sabotage of our governmental and social institutions, amounting essentially to what would appear to be a willful and coordinated death cult. This goes well beyond the Shirky Principle, of bureaucrats protecting and expanding their narrow self-interests at the expense of the interests of society in general.

    It is one thing to blunder into destruction, but quite another thing for those in power to lead the charge directly into destruction. Do you or have you seen THIS effect, the purposeful and apparently planned destruction of one’s own society, essentially national suicide, anywhere else in history?

  22. I really appreciate the topic, and diversity of topics on this blog. I had this awakening 15 years ago during my stint as a bureaucrat, working with housing issues and realizing none of the theater staged around it truly wished to solve any of the raison d’etre problems we ostensibly existed to deal with, but lots of people had comfortable lives pretending. Needless to say I wasnt a good fit, so thankfully it didnt last long. It reminds me of the old slogan another world is possible, with the caveat: if the powers that be dont exist wholly to prevent its emergence. Sadly it feels as though we are entering the Frankist- nihilistic phase (Jacob Frank), where all norms that used to bind society to coherence are rejected to bring about the end times as soon as possible.

  23. I didn’t know about Shirky but have always found this axiomatic. The Upton Sinclair quote “”It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” comes to mind regarding why TPTB blithely sow the seeds of their own destruction.

    This administration appears hell-bent on accelerating the overall destruction, somehow oblivious that the brunt of the damage falls primarily on their most loyal constituencies.

  24. ‘At her next appointment, she related this to her doctor, and the doctor nodded and admitted that she was familiar with the syndrome. My friend, astonished, asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?” The doctor’s response: “We prefer to medicate for that.”’

    A real doctor would, of course, have informed the patient right up front about all the possible treatments, and asked the patient’s preferences.

    The recommendation to buy expensive drugs and go right on eating wheat has a number of aspects. As you can find out by reading any of Dr William Davis’ books, starting with “Wheat Belly”, wheat and other grains are beautifully evolved to make humans sick very gradually and almost imperceptibly. To get healthy – and, by the way, to lose excess weight effortlessly – stop eating all grains (without exception) and consuming seed oils. (All grains are seeds). To get as healthy as is possible for you, exercise reasonably, get plenty of sleep and (when available) hot sun, and eat exclusively fresh fatty meat. It’s been tried, it’s known to work – but, as Mr Greer observes, for some obscure reason we have not been told.

    Your grandparents could have told you, of course.

  25. “The difficulty, of course, is the one that Arnold Toynbee pointed out all those years ago: societies that fail to solve their problems end up being dragged down by them”.

    I see some inappropriate reification here. Heartless as it may sound, Mrs Thatcher had a point when she explained that there is no such thing as society. There is such an abstraction, of course, but that’s a little different.

    Society is not a human being, nor a collection of human beings, so it doesn’t have human feelings. That’s why it doesn’t care when everything goes to hell: it doesn’t have the equipment to care, any more than Robby the Robot. (Although actually, to judge from the movie “Forbidden Planet”, he had more empathy than many humans I could name).

    Individual humans do the damage, due to their individual human failings. And other humans (almost always) get it in the neck as a result. “Society” is just an irrelevant distraction.

  26. Interesting analysis. Many thanks. I’m of the opinion that elements of the elites do know what’s coming, and green-zoning al Iraq is their solution. I run a private security company in New Zealand and large sways of the rural land is being bought up by overseas investors who are getting us to look after it. I think it plausible to create a relatively small safe haven eg NZ and continue life as normal while the world burns. Reading some interesting things about Hawaii that is in a similar vein. Large land grabs post fire.

  27. Dear JMG,

    A thoroughly enlightening essay. Thank you.

    This part jumped out at me:

    “ [Toynbee’s] take was that civilizations rise when a creative minority inspires the rest of society with a vision of constructive change so enticing, and a set of solutions for current problems so promising, that most people fall in line behind them. As long as that minority continues to inspire the rest of society, by pushing forward its vision and coming up with effective solutions to the problems the society confronts, it remains a creative minority and the civilization keeps rising”.

    This minority sounds like a cadre of magicians able to conjure and configure new meaning from barren ground.

    In your view, how can this take place? Who will evoke these stories and what will they be?

    Yours gratefully,

  28. This somewhat reminds me of how dysfunctional people are dysfunctional mainly because they define themselves by the dysfunctional conditions of their lives. That’s why all their efforts at attempting to mitigate their dysfunction actually have the effect of making the dysfunction worse. It isn’t until they decide to stop defining themselves by their dysfunction, among other necessary measures, that they start really recovering from being dysfunctional people.

  29. The most ironic, is when the effects of several of these “rackets” come together to create an even bigger problem for the failing empire. The first one of these that comes to minds is the intersection of Obesity, Prescription Drug Addiction, and a useless self serving education system. The empire creates new enemies around the world to justify the military industrial complex but can’t recruit nearly enough young people in to its armies to fight these new enemies because 70% of them are disqualified for reason of obesity, drug addition, mental illness or substandard test scores.

  30. Everything that you say is true. I’ve long thought so. Don’t the American people deserve some blame, too, though? Another side to the Climate Crisis is that the wider population has no intention of making the sacrifice in quality of life necessary to save the Earth. Due to financial problems, I’ve spen a good part of the past year living in the suburbs without a car, and I could write 200 words about the ways inwhich it has been a horrible experience. “Better public transportation” would not have helped in any significant way. The city, and my life are neither set up to make it functional, and that can’t be changed.

    I don’t see people who work 80- hours a week at high stress corporate jobs and hire a lawn service to sweep leaves off of their patio, going out to dig up the backyard to plant tomatoes and squash. Or take a train, when business executives fly across the country for a three hour meeting, although that happens less now that we have Slack and Zoom. Tell people that half of their vacation to Disney World will be spent sitting on a bus with bored children? Of course, people could stop working too much, and they could learn to slow down, etc. etc. and people might learn to be much happier over time but that’s a learning curve that the majority of America isn’t interested in.

    Whenever someone says, “People need to get off of their cell phones!” My reply is, “And do what?” That is their life. It’s much a part of them as the air they breath and the thoughts they think. Read a book? The average reading level in the US is fifth grade, and they wouldn’t know where or how to find a book. Walk in the park? There is “nothing” in the park, until you learn to appreciate nature, without superheros ransacking it. Grow a garden? First you spend a few hundred dollars on tools and equipment, then you start exercising to get strong enough to deal with it, then you watch 40 or 50 hours of Youtube videos to learn what to grow and how to try to keep your plants alive. Then the first year most of them die. Point being that, no, the captains of industry are not making any serious attempt to steer the ship away from disaster, but they are piloting a ship with a rudder that doesn’t function.

  31. Great essay. Very much enjoy reading your work! It is depressing, though. It looks to me like the powers that be are actually accelerating the problems and trying to end Europeans in the bargain. I can’t understand it. Have we just to watch as they burn down our posterity and ancestory? Very demoralising.

  32. JMG – thank you for this. I am grateful for your input and continued active thinking and ideas, to help us consider and then manage the changes where we live, and share with others who are interested.

    This is a study I found through a JMG post (somewhere?, don’t recall) about obesity and possible correlation to psych meds (especially lithium), PFAS and more. It is a bit technical, but somehow was never popularized in the medical literature, despite sound analysis and extensive references. For those who like to see and analyze raw data/references for themselves….

    Other references about growing healthy food in the “What Your Food Ate” by Dave Montgomery and Anne Bilke, can be helpful for backyard growers.

  33. Mac, thank you.

    Quin, as always, thanks for this.

    William, there are plenty of people in the black community talking about that these days, though they don’t get into the mainstream media. Glad to hear of your garden!

    Drhooves, to judge by accounts from earlier times, simpler technologies were just as effective at enforcing conformity — the Middle Ages did it with preachers speaking from pulpits, you know. And the plunge is going at the same pace as always. I’ll be discussing that in an upcoming post.

    Koyaanisquatsi, funny. Thanks for this.

    Other Owen, now you’ve got Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s All Right” going through my head!

    Raymond, you’re welcome and thank you.

    Mrs. Noah, I recommend avoiding organizations that have employees. If you can find a voluntary organization, where everyone’s in it for the sake of the mission instead of drawing down a salary, that helps. (I support Masonic charities for that reason — it’s all volunteers, and so no one has a financial incentive to prolong the problem.)

    Dobbs, the problem (!) with that is that institutions put in charge of predicaments will routinely make them worse, since that means more funding…

    Josh, that’s basic systems theory — every complex system develops goals of its own irrespective of the goals of the people or other organisms that make up the system. That’s how markets and ecosystems work, but it’s also how bureaucracies become toxic messes.

    Kevin, I wonder whether officials are being bribed. That’s the way such things happen here in the US, certainly.

    Douglas, good. No, they’re not getting a calorie surplus — their bodies are preferentially storing calories as fat because of chemical imbalances, from any number of sources (antidepressants and environmental toxins among them).

    Paradoctor, first, where did you publish that? If this goes into a book I’d like to cite you. Second, malice and incompetence aren’t the only potential factors; there’s also greed, you know.

    Milkyway, yes, but it’s not an easy process. Typically what happens is that the society runs into catastrophic problems, but before it can fall apart completely, somebody kicks the failed elites out of their positions of power and replaces them with a new creative minority. That’s one of the common factors in long-lived civilizations, like China and ancient Egypt: they go through repeated cycles of flourishing and decline, but manage to pull out of the decline by replacing one dynasty with another.

    Jon, some people can change their weight by exercise and diet. Many people can’t — and yes, this has been demonstrated again and again in controlled studies, as well as in the experience of countless dieters and exercisers. Insisting that your experience is universally applicable is just as mistaken as insisting that your experience doesn’t matter; in either case, it obscures the possibility that other variables are involved.

    Drew, if you want the exhaustive detail, plan on reading all twelve volumes. If you read the short version, that doesn’t include the exhaustive detail!

    Justin, as I noted to Milkyway above, yes, it sometimes happens, but it usually takes a whale of a crisis and the emergence of a new leadership class.

    Wqjcv, “progressive” and “reactionary” are theological terms in the religion of progress. Outside that belief system, they mean nothing.

    Renaissance, I’m delighted to hear it!

    Bradley, two very good examples! These days, the last thing the corporate-political establishment wants is to find out what actual concerns people have, because that would force them to confront the reality of their failure.

    Roldy, I looked into it, and decided it was definitely worth a post. As for the War on Drugs, exactly — the repeal of Prohibition was a body blow to a big federal bureaucracy, so a new enemy was found.

    Alan, good heavens, yes. It’s so reliable a process that the first modern Western theorist of cyclical history, Giambattista Vico, described it in print in the late 17th century. It is precisely a mode of collective insanity, generated by what Vico calls “the barbarism of reflection” — the point at which discursive thought becomes so deeply mired in abstractions that it loses track of reality.

    Mack, that’s a painfully common experience at this point of the historical process.

    TJ, it really is one of life’s eternal verities.

    Tom, why, it depends on what you mean by “real doctor,” of course. I’m quite sure the physician in question actually existed, and had an MD. I’d point out that your diet of choice, while it may well work for you, is no more universally applicable than any other. As for Thatcher’s handwaving about society, no, that’s not even remotely true. The entire logic of the market economy — Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” — only works if you recognize that a complex system can do things that its individual components don’t intend.

    John, if they knew what was coming they’d know that their notional ownership of land means nothing if they have no way to enforce that ownership. It always starts out this way, with the rich telling their guards to enforce their control; before long, the guards realize that they’re the ones who actually have the power, with predictable consequences.

    User, good! Yes, that’s the way it always is.

    Boy, we don’t know yet. If the new stories were already available, the new creative minority would be visibly rising to power.

    Mister N, hmm! Yes, that makes sense.

    Clay, and of course that sort of thing is always the way it works out — one racket collides with another racket, and the next thing you know, the Visigoths are in the Forum.

    Bruce, of course. Remember that in terms of global wealth distribution, the population of the US is a privileged class, and “ordinary middle class Americans” are in the top 1% globally. They — and I’m one of them, of course, at least by income — profit from the problem, and a great many of them are working long hours to maintain the problem.

    Ste, well, what are you personally going to do about it? It really does come down to that.

    Gardener, I would have linked to that paper but it’s not available for public download. I hope the authors change that at some point.

  34. I’m reminded of Rousseau’s quip that “Civilization is a hopeless race to discover remedies for the evils it produces.” I sometimes call these problems, where institutions which are supposedly dedicated to solving them actually have every interest in preserving them, “Rousseau traps”, but maybe they should be called “Shirky traps”. Seems like it’s an across the board phenomenon these days. Maybe because, as Rousseau suggests, it’s the nature of civilization itself. On the whole, I suspect our pre-civilized ancestors had fewer problems than we hyper-civilized folk do, but who knows.

  35. In business we say, “the best order is a re-order, and the best customer is a return customer”. Cold sales calling and advertising are costly procedures, and breaking in a new client can be a stressful and often unsuccessful affair. Businesses often become entrenched, and therefore fail to adapt to changing market conditions. Sears and Penny’s are classic examples of sclerotic business empires – not at all unlike the civilizations of which you write. Another quote, “the larger they are, the harder they fall”.

  36. Here’s a great example of the ruling classes increasingly making things up as they go along, or more accurately, saying whatever it is at the time that looks like it’ll keep them in power:

    “Rishi Sunak delays some green targets and scraps others as he reveals net zero policy shift – UK politics live”

    Of course, yesterday it was all about supporting the whole ‘green deal, get us to 0% whatever it takes’ agenda (which was always extracting the urine from an energy for the masses perspective). Most amusing thing from this announcement today is the Ford motor company are annoyed they’ll have to potentially dig out those dirty ICE building guides again. Maybe the current rising oil price will save them the hassle.

    I think institutional trust is being quickly eroded all the way to the bedrock with our lot over here in Blighty, in tandem with the U.S., and I’m not even sure most in power have consciously noticed yet, they’re that deluded.
    This yo-yo looks a giveaway to me – but now what?

  37. @ Bruce T #34
    “Another side to the Climate Crisis is that the wider population has no intention of making the sacrifice in quality of life necessary to save the Earth. Due to financial problems, I’ve spen a good part of the past year living in the suburbs without a car, and I could write 200 words about the ways inwhich it has been a horrible experience.”

    Likewise, I could point out that if the point of life (and of making ourselves properly at home on this Earth) were making sacrifices, why would we expect many people to take part? And even then, what would we have achieved? A bunch of people feeling entitled to extra consideration because of all they sacrificed!

    Due to giving due consideration to a large number of factors, I’ve spent all of the past seven years living in a rural area without a car, and I could write lots of words about the way in which it has been a wonderful experience.

    For one, the moment I got rid of the car, as if by magic, a whole lot more money seemed to remain in my pockets long enough for me to wonder what I might spend it on. For two, I realised that there are still many other ways to go from one place to another, and all I am really dispensing with is that illusory comfort of having my own private chariot, ready to obey my wishes at a moment’s notice, parked outside my door. But, actually, with very little additional thought and planning, I can now avail of a large portfolio of transport options, including walking, cycling, using the bus, and hiring taxis – these last two with the lovely warm feeling I get from knowing that it is they, and not I, who have to knock heads with all of the bureaucrats taking their pounds of flesh – through taxes, through obligatory insurances, through obligatory inspections and maintenance, and in other ways. No knocking heads = no headaches, and that is a gigantic plus.

    My experience, granted, is only a single data point… but I can tell you that I thought long and hard before giving up that car, about whether it would be wise, or even possible, to dispense with it. But, afterwards? I never missed it, not even once. It was a great decision, and more like offloading surplus baggage than like making a sacrifice.

    Be well. Stay free.

  38. Hm. But even after a catastrophe subsequent kicking out of elites, it‘ll take a new creative minority and the right stories to make it rise (and a whole load of good luck, too).

    So, since everybody can only ever change themselves… what can each of us do to foster these new stories, and potentially the next creative minority? And to lay the seeds for potential good luck?

    Lots to ponder…


  39. I think one of the hangups a lot of people have over the contamination theory of obesity is that for decades doctors some people who clearly live a very sedentary lifestyle have made sure everyone around them knows that their weight is caused by a “glandular disorder,” not their lifestyle. (Some people do genuinely have such disorders, of course, but I’m talking about those who flaunt it, whether they actually have it or not.)

    Like the “welfare queen” trope, there are enough prominent examples to make the stereotype stick in people’s minds, to the detriment of those who genuinely struggle with real issues.

    It also doesn’t help that there’s also been only scant recognition of those who, like multiple people I know, live very active lifestyles and are physically strong and healthy but cannot seem to shed their weight below a certain level without extreme measures such as surgeries or literal starvation.

  40. On obesity (speaking as a 30+ BMI individual, not a healer).

    Being fat might be ok, being fat and tired (or, from the perspective of 3rd parties, fat and lazy) definitively means something’s wrong with your body. I have been both, so I feel encouraged to share.

    Most of the time, being on a diet makes me rabidly hungry, and tired. When I broke the 30 BMI barrier for the first time in my younger years, I had a hard time finding a job after quitting the PhD program I was enrolled in; overqualified for the jobs I could perform, lacking experience for those my credentials suggested I should apply to. I knew I was going to get depressed so I started exercising to stave that off and have some structure in my days. At the urge of my parents, I started to see a dietitian in order to not “harm myself by inadequate eating” (though the gym instructor was giving me pretty solid diet advice so far). Long story short, I lied in the bed for hours each morning, trying to find the will to go out and put my resume in circulation. I had almost daily head splitting migraines too. When I stopped the diet, I bounced back and gained, maybe 20 pounds, and my waistline was never the same again. At least I found a job shortly after.

    Later I learned that I can be pretty active and, in spite of being heavyset, not suffer from high blood pressure or sugar levels. In general, I have to eat less often, but richer foods. Plenty of veggies on top of that gain me better skin and a happier mood, but I cannot base my diet on those. Sugars and bakery I dislike in general, and don’t make me good at all, though I confess being partial to just out of the oven bread.

  41. Hmm, I distinctly remember you writing about Toynbee and the downfall of creative minorities before. 😛 But not about Shirky, so fair enough.

    That aside, I wonder how conscious this dysfunctional decisionmaking complex is. For example, it really does look like the American foreign policy establishment went out of its way to ensure an otherwise long-term entanglement in Middle Eastern conflicts, but were they really seeking that result or did they honestly believe they could secure a lasting American hegemony in the region with a few decisive actions? Or were there true believers who were alternately encouraged or undercut by self-serving opportunists seeking a source of long-term profit?

    On reflection, that last scenario seems somewhat likely to me. I don’t think any elite is wholly homogenous in outlook and motives. However, those who seek to maximise their profits may have a key advantage in internal struggles, in that they have fairly simple and straightforward objectives. They know what they want and how to get it – at least in the short term. That would often not be the case for do-gooders sincerely seeking to impose a simplified abstract solution on a complex world.

    The Soviet Union would be another example, of course. Perhaps a particularly stark one, in that self-dissolution (the withering away of the state) was its explicit ideological objective. Somehow they made no progress towards that over decades in power, except for the decay of discipline that happened unintentionally. At least some parts of the leadership may have been sincere Communists, but they were entirely rudderless when it came to that particular issue. Those members of the elite who were either not Communists or willing to combine the ideology with self-interest typically found it easy to finesse them.

  42. After reading ADR for over a decade I was inspired to enroll in 3 years of university adjunct ag school that was designed to get small farmers up and going. The staff was constantly sending out surveys, holding meetings, and reaching out to other organizations about improving land access, and not once did the phrase “Right To Farm” come up. Most of the graduates who didn’t have rich friend connections went back to their day jobs, myself included. I’m currently renting in a place where I could have a modest operation, but the landlords are too afraid because the neighbors complained about commercial activity in the past. Bringing this issue up to the so-called “agbusiness experts” resulted in no response. Now we’re waiting for a real estate crash and/or enforcement to collapse while trying to stay in practice with the tiny garden beds we are allowed to use.

  43. About the “long living civilizations” like China – I wonder to what extend the archetypes of the respective civilizations’ collective unconscious play a role in all of this. When observing the happenings in the western civilization, I suppose that there are clearly archetypal forces at work and they do seem to foster the civilizations’ decline. If civilizations like China manage their transitions more gently, maybe their collective unconscious is structured in a different way and other archetypal patterns become activated at certain stages of decline?

    Could such a thing even be the product of intention? Is there a way to engineer the archetypal patterns of an entire race given enough resources, time and continuity? Or are different human races “just” different kinds of reproductive strategists as a result of evolution, where our current western civilization would possibly be rather closely described as an “r-strategist”?


  44. On the how we ended up like this.

    I recall having read a book on the Mexican Revolution (1910 Mexican Civil War, actually, not the War of Independence), which postulated that the bureaucracy was preserved intact from the Porfirio Diaz’es regime to the revolutionary governments, mainly because the new leadership had no experience in governance and no actual plan beyond supplanting themselves the current rulers.

    Two key features of the Profirian bureacracy were: 1) “Poca política, mucha administración” (the strategy of giving lucrative public-sector sinecures with little actual decision power to potential rivals) and something that has no lemma, but I shall try to explain next.

    2. Make rules cumbersome and hard to follow, then make enforcement lax and discretionary. Encourage public servants to live beyond their means, to expend, and to count in their continued employment by the government to maintain their lifestyle. Then make lots of rules with harsh penalties (including, but not limited to, the termination of their employment). Finally, turn a blind eye to most transgressions, but punish severely those cases where the accused shows any lack of deference to authority.

    This, as far as I can tell, has been the law of the land for the last 150 years or so, if not since before. Everything is possible if you play nice, ask meekly, and support the big bosses’ when it counts. You step out of the way, and they don’t have to punish you for your disloyalty… you have already reeked in a number of transgressions that can be used against you at any time.

    So, another part of the puzzle is that, by the time the creative minority has turned into a dominant minority, they have already weeded out any and all independent thought amongst their flunkies. No one will dare suggesting we are headed down the wrong route because anyone who could or would has long been gone.

  45. I thought at once of Livy (59BC – 17AD).
    “We can neither endure our vices nor the remedies needed to cure them.”

    Things never change.
    There is nothing new under the sun.

  46. Housing and homelessness has supposedly been a major priority since partway through the last decade where I am. There were 15 tents in the park across from the grocery store last time I went there. There are tents in the park a couple of streets away from my new church every time I go there. The area around the music conservatory is full of human misery, people and their belongings, and there’s more open drug use than I’ve ever seen before.

    One of the most common reasons for people leaving my former church was people getting evicted and being unable to find new housing they could afford. Some left the city, some moved to far-flung areas of town, some became homeless. There are now like 5 people on a sunday, excluding the pastor’s family.

    I have never seen it this bad in my city before.

    What they’re doing clearly isn’t working.

  47. The alt-right calls it the ‘Iron Law of Institutions’: the first priority of any institution is to ensure its own survival.

    I encountered the principle while working for my state’s government department for youth crime. There are about two hundred youth in jail in my state. I looked around at the bureaucracy for the department, all dedicated to managing these two hundred. Asked, “Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just hire a whole lot of ex-cops to follow the kids around and stop them committing crime?” Apparently not.

  48. There is a lot of talk in the conservasphere (is that a word?) about building a parallel society. I know of one website actively building a parallel marketplace. This tells me that when the system does fall apart, the roots are already there for rebuilding. Of course, a lot of this is dependent upon the Internet. Hmmm.

    One reason I collapsed in my new neck of the woods is because a state has a lot more leverage than just a town or a region. In a federalist system, the state has the power to do what it wants, mostly, provided it has the fortitude to eschew federal dollars. So, hopefully my new state will get the representatives to do that. I think we’ll do it eventually. I must say, I’m ecstatic to be part of the process.

    State and local elites are just as clueless as national elites, though. I doubt it has crossed more than a couple of minds that a state could withhold tax revenues to DC and use it for state-wide projects and maybe even have some leftover cash.

  49. Hi John,
    I think the Shirky Principle works hand-in-glove with biology’s “Regression to the Mean.” A natural aristocracy (NA) of virtue and talent solves real problems and achieves well-deserved status. With luck, the natural aristocracy may continue for another generation or so. (When at its height, the Antonine emperors of second-century Rome adopted their successors rather than allow biological sons to succeed. Tragically, Marcus Aurelius died before cultivating a successor, and Rome got his son Commodus instead. The empire went downhill from there.) With more luck, you may have successors not at the genius level of the original NA, but they’re competent enough to fine tune the solutions, thereby still adding value. But unfortunately, its very hard for parents to be ruthless with where their kids end up in the pecking order, and so eventually you have mediocrities where the NA’s used to be. They don’t have the brains to solve the real problems–for example, what to do when fossil fuels take more energy to extract than they can give–and so they pretend to be solving the old problems. Interim solutions like insulation would only make it clearer that the NA-pretenders haven’t figured out the long game.

  50. #29 I get the sense that the rich people creating a doomstead aren’t really expecting the Long Descent, but a kind of fast collapse scenario, which has its own problems, when TSHTF happens, how do you even get to your doomstead in New Zealand under such conditions?

    #40 the trouble with Sunak’s speech is he’ll have annoyed both sides of the debate, the climate-sceptic wing of the Conservative Party won’t be happy that the overall net-zero target is still there, and will keep pushing all the more to get rid of it.

  51. “Society is not a human being, nor a collection of human beings, so it doesn’t have human feelings. That’s why it doesn’t care when everything goes to hell: it doesn’t have the equipment to care, any more than Robby the Robot.”

    That’s why socialism is so effective at killing vast numbers of people. Individuals do not matter, only the end goal of the perfect society matters, and the Party, being the ultimate expression of society matters even more.

    As to the water contamination hypothesis, half the work is already done. Every Class A public water system has to test their water on a routine basis for inorganic chemicals, volatile organic chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, other organic chemicals, soil fumigants, and various radioactive elements. Testing for the fluorinated “forever” chemicals will be starting soon.

    What they haven’t done is run those results against obesity in a multifactor statistical analysis to look for a correlation. Or if they have they are keeping it quiet.

  52. Thank you for introducing another lens by which to understand institutions, systems, and how they go wrong. Lots of food for thought here.

    Forgive me if anyone has already shared this, but a rather long piece has been going around about the specific flavor institutional lock-in found in the West (and China), and many of the ways it is failing these days, called “The China Convergence” by NS Lyons:

    The central thesis, that the PMC is dominant, has a preferred way of doing things, had initial success applying that way of doing things, and has come to waaaaay over-apply it, causing an ever-increasing spate of problems, will not be new to most readers here, but it’s a good piece and makes some interesting comparisons and contrasts between how the US and China have applied managerialism.


  53. Don’t get me started on corporate charities who never solve the problem they take donations to fix…

  54. John, while reading your writing it constantly occurs to me how marvelous it must be to be able to write with such fluency and erudition. My writing is so convoluted, painful and makes me a laughing stock, an object of irridiculum. This is compounded by the fact my diplopia makes it difficult to read what I write. Indeed I have not read a book this century and so will never get to read Toynbee’s 12-volume A Study of History. This may explain my tendency these days to see the world from a more naive point of view and ask very simple questions, giving sophisticated people every reason to dismiss me as a simpleton.

    Three words stood out: “civilization”, “economic” and “climate change”. I scanned in vain to detect three vital words that provide meaning to our current conundrum: “compassion”, “ego” and “balance”.
    What do you mean by “civilization” and does Arnold define it? If he does, how does he define it? I associate civility with the practice of basic human rights and a society “befitting a citizen”.
    It is thus clear to me that neither the UK or the USA qualify as civilizations because both institutions are founded in extreme addictive behaviour (drugs, minerals, combustion, slavery, military weapons, planned obsolescence, pollution etc).
    The lives of many British and American individuals may qualify as civilized, as do societies such as the Scottish and Irish social practices of “the commons”.
    What do you mean by “economic” and how do you distinguish an economy from the Anglosphere’s prevailing vast dis-economy?
    And what’s with your use of the term “climate change”? For me climate change is wonderful and life-enabling. Could it be you conflating this amazing sustaining terrestrial process with human-induced disruption of the climate balances that enable mankind to exist?
    For me, the Shirky Principle ( “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”) is not all that revolutionary. It’s merely a restatement of this simple reality: “Without compassion, the ego prevails till we inevitably self-destruct.”
    Thank you so much for enabling this discussion, John. Perhaps the “neglected factor” resides on the tip of our tongue i.e. our continuing use of The Crown dialect of the English language.

  55. Government programs and corporate media haven’t only done nothing to decrease the rise of carbon dioxide, they have definitely increased carbon dioxide emissions while making endless noise about doing the opposite. Take countries like Australia and Canada for example, whose leaders are busy taking in record numbers of migrants, rubber stamping VISA applications, and increasing population at record breaking levels. At the same time, both are led by nominally progressive governments who claim to take climate change and net zero seriously.

    There is not a snowflake’s chance in hell that these countries, with their high energy and car centric lifestyles, can continuously grow the population while simultaneously, somehow, magically, making the transition to run entirely off clean energy and doing the complex work of decarbonizing their transport systems and polluting industries.

    I have three observations about this.

    1. They are not solving problems, they are pretending to solve problems
    It is obvious to anyone who thinks about it long enough that our leadership do not take climate change seriously enough to do what is necessary, to solve problems, and to drive fundamental changes in economic and social norms. I would expect to see stuff like:

    – Reinvigoriation or new development of rail, subway systems, canals, and rivers as methods for moving freight and people
    – Long term planning to redesign urban environments for public transport and bicycle travel
    – Logical colocation or local connection of industries with their inputs (labor, energy, resources)
    – In certain countries (USA), this would need to come with public safety measures. Or some way of dealing with drug problems, class issues, and race issues.

    The fact that we are seeing, instead, a doubling down on the personal vehicle (but electric!), and the suburban consumer lifestyle, and a clinging on to the cosmopolitan/imperial hyperconnected globalised worldview… says everything I think.

    2. There is a widespread nonsensical narrative pinning the responsibility for climate change on the average person
    The idea of the individual carbon footprint, and the miserly personal sacrifices people are encouraged to make by media and activists, are a form of cruelty and abuse in my view. Social norms involving routine use of fossil fuels in daily life need to be changed, and that would take feats of courage and leadership that no one is going to demonstrate until it is forced upon them. When you consider the individual carbon footprint along with the fact that politicians are deliberately allowing and encouraging large migrant populations into countries with energy intensive lifestyles for other reasons (demographic, workforce, wage suppression, headline GDP growth, etc.), the harping about reducing one’s carbon footprint seems like a kind of Jevons paradox, where slight increases in carbon emission efficiency by well-meaning citizens and governments are pointless except as a political pretext for vastly increasing the number of energy consumers.

    3. Green parties are not fighting against the system, they are cynical elites as well
    Even putting aside the hypocrisies of activists and party members, who do not live their lives in accordance with the values they preach, a close examination of my own Green party shows me that they have what I call the “cornucopian” position. They have the luxury of not having to govern, so they have no intention of solving problems, just filling the air with unrealistic ideas, shrill denunciations, idealistic notions, and insistence that things that absolutely cannot work… will work! Additionally, while they previously took population growth seriously, they now take the standard endless growth position while also playing a role in ensuring that the supply of housing is unresponsive to demand, so they are just part of the furniture of housing ponzi economics in that respect – which is the main game in town hereabouts.

  56. Here’s a friendly word to those who haven’t seen the memo: The online/app dating industry is the star poster child of the Shirky principle:

    I concluded something was deeply amiss and deleted all my dating accounts well before Shirky-via-JMG cast a floodlight on the wasteland of these gigantic mutant parasites. Dear gods, I had joined several services that seemed to be automated ghost towns of femme-bots and vacant profiles, several others peppered me daily with dozens of emails from purported women whose accounts could not be replied to (all with blurbs like “How are you doing?”, “Let’s meet!” and attached photos), another that blocked all my messages because my profile was always screened out by the women’s filter settings, another’s help-desk told me “…well, no, sending messages is a premium feature which costs extra. Would you like to upgrade?”, though the contract I paid for said nothing about this… Every dating site had it’s own particular pattern of how it did NOT connect you.

    My former wife encountered entirely different patterns of non-connection, notwithstanding the tediously repeated option of offering her womanhood as a bedroom accessory to a stranger; even I felt bad for her. But she did have the sense that God gave geese and bailed within one month. I was a slow learner and bailed only after 2 years.

    And all of the above was BEFORE all this AI stuff took off.

    Lord help us.

    —Lunar Apprentice

  57. Good day JMG.

    This is a timely post for me, as I just finished Peter Turchin’s End Times about elite overproduction yesterday, and it tails in very well with this essay. He argues that the elites generate a wealth pump for themselves by exploiting the lower classes(very similar to what Shirky proposes), which then leads to overproduction of potential elites and the immiseration of the populace, as the elites have access to a greater proportion of society’s resources.

    At this point to frustrated elite-aspirants who find themselves blocked from joining the upper crust become likely to become counter-elites which then struggle with the existing elites for power, leading to an inability to deal with the problems facing the civilization due to the infighting amongst themselves. At that point, collapses becomes common which tends to prune back the number of potential elites until they are low enough to find some degree of peace and present a unified face to the problems facing them.

    I found it to be a fascinating read that should be required reading for the ruling class, and highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in civilizational decay.

  58. I ran across a comment of your where you brought up the idea of encouraging people to think in terms of ternaries, to help them find productive solutions to ongoing conflicts. I’ve been thinking about this. What can I be doing besides screaming across No Man’s Land at the pro-vaccine blue voters?

    Right now it appears to me that my former comrades on the Left are locked into a variety of delusions, and they act to block out anything that might dispel the delusion. I appear equally deluded to them.

    But I’ve learned that I have to trust my basic sense of sanity, if only to act as a functional adult. So how do I convince friends and family that CNN’s portrayal of the world might not be particularly trustworthy?

    How do we break out of this cycle of electing geriatric felons?

  59. Blackstone, I’m sure that tribal peoples have just as much trouble as we do — it’s just on a more localized scale.

    Greg, it’s a common pattern!

    Jay, yeah, I read the press release earlier today. I wonder if it’s begun to sink in that actually achieving net zero is only possible if most of the population embraces medieval lifestyles.

    Milkyway, ponder away! I have no easy answers, for what it’s worth.

    Slithy, exactly. One of the things that makes obesity so challenging for people to think about these days is that it doesn’t have just one cause, nor is there just one effective response.

    CR, thank you for this.

    Daniil, good. Of course elites aren’t monolithic. They’re a gallimaufry of different individuals with divergent agendas, forming alliances of convenience and pushing this or that project for many different reasons.

    Phutatorius, maybe so. I don’t happen to know.

    Aloysius, that seems painfully realistic to me.

    Nachtgurke, those are excellent questions to which I don’t have even the beginnings of answers.

    CR, fascinating. I wonder to what extent that’s general bureaucratic behavior.

    Teresa, yep. Humans gonna human.

    Pygmycory, that’s another fine example. Every program to reduce homelessness has increased homelessness.

    Kfish, and that’s yet another fine example! Thank you.

    Jon G, I’ve been watching the parallel-economy project with quite some interest. If they can make it work, the results could be dramatic.

    Gregsimay, that’s also certainly an issue. As I noted in the post, the Shiirky Principle is only one facet of the whole business, though an important one.

    Jeff, thanks for this. It’s been on my reading list for a little while.

    Peter, you might consider seeing what Shirky had to say about that!

    Dave, one of the things that lends clarity to prose is the habit of giving words their standard meaning, rather than forcing your own meanings on them. Like Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s story, you have every right to give words some arbitrary meaning of your own, but if you do, don’t be surprised if people don’t listen. That is to say, if you want the definitions for the words I’ve used, I recommend consulting a dictionary.

    Eric, I disagree with you about personal carbon footprints, of course. There are plenty of ways to use less carbon, and less resources generally, than your peers do; I do quite a few of them, and have a perfectly pleasant lifestyle on about a third of the carbon output of the average American. The rest of your points, on the other hand, seem reasonable to me.

    Lunar, good gods. Yeah, that sounds like a prime example.

    KAN, thank you for this! It’s on my get-to stack.

    Sub, interesting. Thanks for the heads up.

    Cliff, that’s an exceptionally complex question. There are various answers, but the one that seems most promising to me is Dion Fortune’s answer, given in detail in her book The Magical Battle of Britain: focus on a level higher than the grubby realm of material politics, and formulate ideals and energies there, so they can percolate down the planes. More on this in an upcoming post.

  60. I am happy to report back on the Gathering of the Guilds that occurred here two weekends ago. From all I saw, it was a massive success. All of the parking spaces they had allotted were full for those coming to the event, and people had to go across the street to the cemetery to find a place. That’s just to say how well attended it was.

    Spinners were spinning, forgers were forging, glass blowers did their thang, and their was lively chatter all around the outside of the Weavers Guild house where tents and different areas had been set up for the demonstrations and to be pass out information. The wood turners and the enamelers enameled. A number of booths were also set up for artisans to sell their wares -potters, felt artists, and all the rest. I would think they would do it again next year, and I think they may have all acquired some new members after this happening.

    Those guilds attending:

    Cincinnati Blacksmiths Guild
    Cincinnati Book Arts Society
    Clay Alliance
    Contemporary Quilt and Fabric Arts
    Greater Cincinnati Lapidar and Faceting Society
    Ohio Valley Basketweaver’s Guild
    Ohio Valley Enameling Guild
    Ohio Valley Woodturners Guild
    Tiger Lily Press
    Weavers Guild of Greater Cincinnati (founded in the early 1940s).

    None of these activities seem very efficient. They all however seem very resilient! & the technology all seemed rather sustainable.

    One story from one of the early members of the guild I found touching. It was a family whose father was a tailor, and his wife had a severe medical condition that required extra money. He took to learning how to weave rag rugs during his off hours to sell to help take care of the family and his children. This is where his daughter got her love of weaving and went on to be a member of the guild.

    The guild also had a dye garden in the back, and there was some people working on a “rust belt fibershed” who showed some of the cloth they had made from local, harder-to-work-with-than-cotton fibers.

    All in all it was a great way to spend Saturday morning. This bit of hopium is still giving me some juice.

  61. @KAN #62 – That was a fantastic piece! I had been planning on sharing it on the next open post. Much of the rest of Luc’s stuff is likely to be of interest to other folks here.

  62. Hi JMG,
    I think for many people not working in large organisations, the phenomena you describe are most visible at the level of “safetycrats,” university educated individuals whose employment has devolved to sitting around tables in meeting rooms, imagining ways the rest of us can hurt ourselves, then making up rules for us to follow to prevent the imagined harms. Of course, they have student debt to pay, rent to pay (or if they are higher up the tree, a mortgage to pay), etc and the only way any of this can be paid is to sit around that table and imagine more scenarios and make more rules.
    Instant sclerosis and no conspiracy required…

  63. Although some degree of the Shirky Principle is probably baked into any institution within a hierarchical society, I think that there can be overarching social structures that keep the individual institutions in line. What has changed in the West is that that overarching social force has disappeared.
    In FDR’s day for example, he was able to force the ruling strata to go along with his program, which benefitted all of them collectively but at the expense of many of the individual parts, particularly those companies more dependent on cheap labor (textiles for example) than on massive amounts of capital (automobiles and steel for example). A big part of why FDR could do that was the power of the labor movement and the international threat of outright anti-capitalist forces. However, there was also a coherent ruling elite capable of making the concessions that they needed for their own sake.
    Now even in countries where significant pushback occurs from below, for example France with the yellow vest movement, the rulers do not discipline each other even for their own sake. I contend that they no longer can.
    To put it simply, I think that we have ceased to have a ruling class and instead we have just the shards into which it has broken. This is the crucial difference that unleashes the Shirky principle.
    Another aspect of what I think is the same phenomenon is that our wise and noble overlords have systematically shut down feedback mechanisms so that there great wisdom need not be distracted by the cawing and mewing of we, their less enlightened underlings. This too is part of what enables institutions to act out the Shirky principle, which in a way is what narcissism looks like when the subject is an institution not an individual.

  64. JMG, thank you for finding what is new to say, when there’s nothing to add to what you already said.

    You’re the opposite of rock band AC/DC. Angus Young said, “I’m so pissed off when people say we have a dozen albums that all sound exactly alike! They’ve not kept up with our career! We actually now have twenty albums that all sound exactly alike!”

    Are you familiar with the work of Ray Dalio? One of the most successful investors of all time, he put much of his profits into ocean ecology research, and funding better education at downtrodden, inner city schools in his area. He became a public intellectual with his book “Principles” and its follow up. I think he knows Toynbee’s work.
    Dalio has a detailed review of the factors that make empires historically successfully. He shows how those factors have mostly broken down in the U.S. in recent decades, while on the upswing in China. He hopes very much that Americans can renew a shared sense of civic order. He doesn’t explain how this could be likely.
    He said that once he has had his say, he will just fade away from public view. That might have already happened. If not, he’s seemed open to interviews, podcasts, panels. A discussion between the two of you might provide excellent food for thought, for those who already know either of you.
    He seems to be a fundamentally decent, sincere man.

    Some well known solutions are rejected. I know some people with diabetes and weight issues who manage them extremely well with careful, disciplined nutrition and exercise. I mentioned this to another person with these chronic issues, intending to provide a spark of hope. CR Patiño # 20, he wasn’t big but active; he was fat and exhausted, totally wiped out after the work day. Usually too tired to go fishing, his favorite thing! (It’s available fifteen minutes from his house.) He flew into a rage and demanded a change of subject.

    As far as I can tell from knowing him many years, he has decided that these things could not possibly work for him. Therefore he will not try them, and it is not allowed to even speak of trying them.
    This despite his also mentioning, each time he has a doctor’s appointment, that his doctor is an athlete in his 80’s with three times the energy of the patient half his age, and keeps pestering him to get some exercise. But he says a day walking around and working with the machines at his factory job is all the exercise he needs.

    It isn’t that bicycling and broccoli, swimming and spinach, weights and walnuts have failed him. It’s that he never even tried them.
    When I mentioned that I wanted to do more with these kinds of things myself, I got the same enraged reaction. As if I held a red-hot blade about to be plunged into his eyeball, unless he could wipe out his enemy this very instant.

    There are a few other things he struggles with which I am proven to be good at. My offers to help him in friendship, were met with the same totally livid rage, or a pretense I had never even said anything.
    There was a bitter ending of the friendship. I’ve gone over and over in my mind what was said, wondering if I could have somehow helped him. I truly think it’s not that I was inadequate at offering a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

    Mister Nobody #32, self-image as the hopeless & helpless loser might be it. He had some crushing defeats in his youth from terrible things that very much were not his fault.
    That could be said of me too. But I’ve always wanted to leave my own problems behind, not be held down by them any more, not have to mention or even think about them any more. Unless, in a wonderful life, a way out I found could help others.
    I think this man might believe, however, that without his many terrible challenges, nothing would be left of him!

  65. I wonder if the more lean people at higher altitude could be that way simply from their bodies having to be more efficient using the limited oxygen supply. Weren’t Kenyans superb runners, before industry arrived below the Rift Valley?

    Unfortunately, I know too many people with stories like your friend with the allergy. There’s a family history of endless runarounds trying to get an actual root cause diagnosis of difficult health issues. I face that problem myself now as a kind of generational curse, it seems.

    “simply hire every impoverished person in the country for a decent salary and benefits, and pay them to do nothing at all.” Buckminster Fuller pointed out that if this lets even one genius with a great breakthrough for society do their thing, rather than endless struggle to make ends meet, that would pay for the whole program!

    “it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that keeping the poor impoverished is what the system is designed to do.” Having fallen into this system from a formerly middle class background, I see this all too much, all too closely.

    The War Department that won’t get paid if peace breaks out, reminds me of discussions in the software forums. There are always people who point out that code not written or deployed has no bugs! Some of the best programmers think carefully all day, discard many bad ideas, then write just a few line of superb code. Managers who judge productivity by lines of code, or “if they’re so smart, they should be furiously typing all day,” consider these slackers the worst!

    I worked for a Fortune 50, DJIA component corporation, where it took six months for five levels of management to deny my request for a $50 CD-ROM drive that would have helped me do my job. Later, my code was ready to deploy, which needed a different five signatures. Four out of five division heads surveyed thought it was a great idea. (It would have increased factory efficiency, which is why my boss sponsored it.) The boss of the Department of Saying No said, “No.” (It wasn’t something he came up with, as a good use of his servers.) That was the end of it!

    Weatherizing, rail upgrades, in-city farming: all things that could be available and often appealing, to “people paid to do nothing” who’d like to do something that helps their communities.

    Thank you for the wonderful way you pull together so many ideas, skillfully woven to help your readers think in new ways.

  66. A really ugly example of dysfunction at a water management system where the problems just keep concatenating – and are then made drastically worse by multiple natural disasters.

    The only state capital where you can’t drink the water

  67. Once again I published and article that unintentionally tied into your Wednesday post, but couldn’t find a link to Star’s Reach on bookshop. Is there a link you would prefer me to share? Mahalo for your inspiration. -Kalihi Valley Druid

  68. I have no doubt that Shirky is right, that institutions will try to preserve problems to which they’re the solution. Their continued employment depends on it. So, and this is a deplorable and unworthy thought, what about cancer research and the charities devoted to funding it?

    And could it be that creative minorities are the very creators of the new problems that they’re entrusted with solving?

    Some modern-day economic tribulations have underlying them some simplistic notions that a reasonably intelligent twelve year old would laugh at. Yet they come from celebrated scholars (ie members of that vaunted creative minority) working at institutions regarded as the pinnacles of learning and enlightenment.

    It wouldn’t be so surprising therefore if the solutions to these problems are as simplistic as the ideas that generated the problems in the first place.

    Like, for instance, pay Chinese workers to buy the products they make, pay US workers to make the products they buy. What are the odds of such a solution getting a hearing?

    Creative minorities being creative will have none of it especially if their self-interest is at stake. Instead, they’ll creatively recast such problems as something else, like for instance, as progress unfolding, they will use terms like ‘creative destruction’, they will say things like places where jobs are being destroyed are happy places, they will accuse complainers of being, well, complainers, tiresome to listen to, people having no grounding in the subject matter, nor in relevant facts and evidence, uncredentialed, touting misinformation, exaggerators, demagogues, and not only that but outright liars and deniers.

    Our modern creative minorities are looking more and more like authoritarian Communist ruling elites who made gigantic messes and then lied like the blazes about everything all the time and then persecuted people that called them out on their bushwah.

    The Russians had their fill of aristocrats that blighted the landscape for centuries, then they chased out the communists that plagued them for seven decades, and, if Putin and his cronies aren’t careful, history will repeat. And maybe our so-called creative minorities on this side of the waters should take note.

  69. JMG, for some reason I had been thinking about this the last two weeks. There seems to be nothing to be done about it but allow to run it’s course…if this happens all the time, predictably, it’s hard wired and no Constitution can prevent it. It does occur to me that a monarch is much more swiftly and easily replaced or done away with, than a bureaucracy entrenched behind so called democratic value screen. William Rufus can easily take an arrow in the eye while out hunting, but Turkey the apparatchik or Snerdley the chinovnik are faceless and legion. I wonder if past societies had instinctively figures that out and were ahead of the game. Of course there were terrible tyrants to, but I wonder how terrible they were for the Everyman. Vortigern was said to be quite popular with the Britons.

  70. Well, I miss the Archdruid days only in the nostalgic sense.

    I admit I sometimes wonder what happened to the Archdruid we knew and loved, but if that guy never bothered to explore any new territory, I doubt I would still look forward to reading this blog each week. (Today’s post being another great example!)

    I think my biggest surprise looking back on the “good old days” of the Archdruid Report is that by now I was expecting to be watching the people of this country getting poorer, but I never expected to be watching them go through mass formation psychosis or Trump derangement syndrome.

    In retrospect, it seems obvious that people would react to downward mobility (or even the prospect of downward mobility) by going batshale crazy, but back then I naively expected them to do so quietly and stoically. Or to follow the example some of us are setting by calmly collapsing early. How wrong I was!

    Ah, well. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. I can’t say I’m not nostalgic for that.

  71. Cliff, why must you convince your friends the “pro-vaccine blue voters”? Why not let them figure it out for themselves.

    About voting, I have declined to vote for Trump, Clinton or Biden the last two general elections. The party apparatuses are in place and have the power they do because we, all of us, gave them that power and authority with about three decades worth of frivolous and emotional voting. A place one might start is attending of local candidate fora and ask specific questions. As in, e.g. Mr. MAGA or Ms. PMC our town has about 500 homeless persons. What is your plan to address this?

  72. This is a timely post for those of us in Australia since we are about to have a vote on what amounts to creating a permanent bureaucracy for aboriginal affairs. I was once employed by one of the many aboriginal bureaucracies and saw how it works from the inside. It’s not pretty.

    Incidentally, i think this also accounts for the failure of the civil rights movement in general. Martin Luther King pointed out that there needed to be two stages. First, equality before the law. That’s the easy part. The second part requires welfare programs to address historical inequity. But those welfare program are administered through government bureaucracies which, as you’ve described here, have a vested interest in NOT solving the problem.

  73. I think a great deal of obesity is caused by etheric starvation. I consider etheric starvation to be the most common malady of our era. It is caused by ugly environments, devitalized food, poisonous industrial chemicals in the environment, and EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies, like microwaves and cellular 5G) I do my best to explain what etheric starvation is here:

    That said, nobody should ever diet. My thoughts are that if you are truly overweight — basically that’s only a decision you can make for yourself; doctors these days are mostly quacks and not worth the powder to blow them to hell in my opinion — that you try to eliminate single food groups like gluten or dairy and always replace them with two new foods/drinks that are variations on what you already like to make up for the absence. If you like gluten and have to give up noodles, try two new kinds of tea. If you loved cheese and have to give up dairy, try two new kinds of salted nuts. Another strategy is to eat just a little bit less of the exact same thing you are used to eating, like 20 percent less as far as portion size goes. And if you overeat, oh freaking well, don’t worry about it. Don’t make a tsunami of bother over a slip. Don’t go psycho and overexercise. Just shrug it off and stop caring. Tomorrow is another day where you can eat one square inch less of potatoes or three fourths of the burger you used to finish. Apollo said “Everything in moderation” and that means starving on purpose is equally as bad as stuffing.

    One of the reasons my public high school was so horrible was a class I was forced to take as a senior called Aerobics Slimnastics. This was in 1990. Gym class is mandatory in Illinois. I always hated gym class despite having an athletic body and excellent endurance. The instructor, a morbidly obese ex-ballet dancer, had us girls track everything we ate; we flunked if we failed to submit paperwork. My friend was 5’4″ and forced herself to eat 700 calories a day in order to stay at 100 pounds. Meanwhile, I was eating somewhere around twice that and weighed 110 at 4’11”. My friend predictably ballooned in weight the second she relaxed her diet because dieting (especially at a young age) is a great way to give yourself a metabolic disorder. That class was absolutely her trigger into a daily struggle with eating, which is trouble no spirit in the material world should ever have to go through.

    I had her in mind when I wrote this essay:

  74. Thank you for writing what you want to write, JMG. It’s never boring on your blogs. You keep things fresh and engaging. There’s always something new to ponder. And this, of course, extends to the commentariat.

    Apologies if you’ve already seen this clip from Seattle’s KOMO news:

    Like you, I remember a different Seattle. Even my sisters in Bellevue, across the lake, won’t drive there unless there’s a really, really good reason to do so.

    That said, Bellevue is not what it once was, either. The same problems that afflict Seattle are making serious inroads.


  75. Yes, a gigantic re-engineering of an economic, technological and social system with roots extending back to at least the 1700’s is needed. It will happen the hard way. I continue to be astonished by the Ukraine fiasco. The natural maximum limits and boundaries of the NATO alliance system were stupidly ignored in a mad attempt to bring Russia to heel. This madness goes back to at least 2014.

  76. Justin, huzzah! I’m very pleased to hear this. The future capital of Meriga seems to be rising to the challenge of its destiny. 😉

    Les, exactly. One part of the process we’re discussing is Parkinson’s Law, the rule that in any bureaucracy, the amount of work to be done expands to fill the time and money allotted to do it. If there’s money to be had, the most preposterous jobs will be invented to absorb it.

    Jessica, of course. Successful societies figure out ways to circumvent the Shirky Principle. Unsuccessful societies fail to do so.

    Christopher, I haven’t followed Dalio, mostly because so many kleptocrats think they’re intellectuals. I’ll give him a look someday when I have time.

    Pygmycory, do you have another link for that video? The one you posted apparently didn’t work.

    KVD, like the rest of my fiction, Star’s Reach is temporarily unavailable due to being transferred to a new publisher. It’ll be out sometime next year.

    Smith, most cancer charities get the majority of their funding from the chemical industry. This guarantees that nobody in those charities will ask hard questions about the role of toxic pollutants in causing cancer. As for creative minorities, what we have now doesn’t fit Toynbee’s definition at all — they’re dominant minorities who claim to be creative, even though they haven’t have a genuinely original idea in fifty years.

    Celadon, bureaucratization is a normal symptom of cultural senility; it sets in during the old age of a society, and leads to the hardening of the social arteries that drives civilizational death. That’s why the societies that spring up in the wake of collapse go out of their way to have no bureaucrats at all — they’d rather have monarchs than apparatchiks.

    Blue Sun, it’s a reliable amusement of mine that quite a few of my critics insist at the top of their lungs that all my predictions are wrong. The way Americans in an age of decline fled into radical political ideologies of left and right? I had that pegged in 2009.

    Simon, exactly. Once a movement for social change becomes bureaucratized, it turns into a movement for preventing social change.

    Ilovemusictheory, that’s certainly an option people might consider.

    OtterGirl, thank you. No, I hadn’t read that — I avoid news about Seattle these days. A long, long time ago it was a quiet, pleasant, comfortable little city, not the failed state in miniature that it’s become.

    Moose, “re-engineering” isn’t exactly what I expect, unless you use that term to describe what happens when a ship runs aground on rocks and the survivors have to build a raft from the remaining lumber to get to safety…

  77. CR Patino #49
    Interesting post. I live in Mexico most of the year, though i am not there now. For a cynic or realist like me, the system works, though it is frustrating to many of my idealistic friends, especially foreigners. i find it easier to live with than self righteously ” idealistic” and , to me, dishonest systems such as the US. No one expects it to be more than it is. People understand that and get on with their lives. One expat I know got a Jalisco drivers licence; Most of his Mexican friends looked at it and said’ what is that?” No one bothers.
    Shall we say, certain ” extra judicial” groups exert the primary control of the town, but it is the safest place I have ever lived. It is not repressive, but there are certain lines one does not cross.People can still prosper there.
    I think it is hard for people who are very attached to other systems to realize this one works as well, only a bit differently.

  78. This is one of your best ever articles in my view, and I would go further and point out that the medical profession not only refrains from doing its own job of healing, it also wages lawfare against others who try to do it in its stead. I’m thinking of the firm that developed the probiotic treatment for eyes and teeth (Prodentim is the one for teeth; I forget the name for the one for eyes) – highly effective by all accounts, yet having to fight off legal challenges precisely because success in that field is seen as a threat to the “dog in the manger”.

  79. I’ve been thinking about mirror worlds since the other Naomi published her doppelganger book. If even a person like her is starting to talk in those kinds of terms, then a revolution in the mode of thinking, away from “science”, may truly be happening right now.

    However, I would not call this particularly good news, as apparently it is going to be the negative side of magical thinking that is going to be the new mode. At the risk of sounding like a philosopher using misunderstood terms from mathematics or physics in their work, I might describe what is happening on social media as the mass production of industrial quantities of widdershins – in the black, negative, undoing sense – spells and rituals.

    This can bring on all kinds of secondary effects in the physical world and culture – not to mention subtly or not so subtly degrading the bedrock of scientific principle (and not just on one side of a particular divide!) – “if I don’t believe something is true, I must believe and massively promote the exact opposite” instead of “ok, there is proof that this is not true, therefore some other explanation must be found – let’s retrace our steps until we find where we went wrong and create a new branch”. A relatively non-inflammatory example… well, for example the suddenly-publicized cardiologist who declares that there is absolutely nothing good about eating oatmeal, that in fact it is very bad for you.

    I am also thinking of the apparent sudden demonic turns that ChatGPT (having learned from the massive and now poisoned data set that is the public Internet) is so prone to in extended conversations, and wondering if the same process is happening in everyone’s brains, just a thousand times slower.

    It’s not really on topic for the week, but I can’t figure out where to write this out. A quickly forgotten, drive by pseudonymous comment on an archdruid’s blog seems somehow apposite.

  80. @JMG,

    I think that we are past the point where elites keep on doing what helped them gain power, a long time ago, and ignore today’s new problems: they are actively creating new ones. We are past the point of zero marginal utility and well into the territory of negative utility.

    Today’s elites understand perfectly well that they are in danger of losing power and do their best to be perceived as able of solving problems. But since they are unable to solve real problems, they spend their time and our resources inventing new ones. “Fixing” all these invented problems takes resources and labour.

    So it is now impossible to find nurses, teachers, plumbers, construction workers, woodworkers of all kinds, factory workers, tailors, truck drivers, artisans of all kinds and even newspaper boys. People who actually do something useful, but are paid a pittance and treated as dirt.

    At the same time, there is an army of useless “workers” (of which I am one myself, unfortunately): professional coaches, managers, administrators, digital transformation specialists, business analysts, e-learning specialists, consultants and advisors of all kinds etc. who can only solve made-up problems. And earn two or three times as much as real-world people.

    I do not how that affects the timeline of collapse, but as it stands, a neglectful elite would already be an improvement.

  81. One thing that always stands out to me when you mention Toynbee’s view that…

    “civilizations rise when a creative minority inspires the rest of society with a vision of constructive change so enticing, and a set of solutions for current problems so promising, that most people fall in line behind them. As long as that minority continues to inspire the rest of society, by pushing forward its vision and coming up with effective solutions to the problems the society confronts, it remains a creative minority and the civilization keeps rising. Sooner or later, however, the creative minority stops coming up with solutions to new problems. Instead, it starts insisting that the same old solutions will work just as well with new problems as they did with the old ones. Since this isn’t usually the case, the new problems go unsolved, and the former creative minority turns into a dominant minority, which can no longer inspire the masses and settles for bullying them instead. When this happens, the civilization tips over into decline, and eventually goes down under the weight of its unsolved problems.”

    …is that by this view, whether a civilisation is in ascendancy or in decline, it is always the project of an elite.

    It follows that as a non-elite person – as one of the rabble, the masses, the hoi polloi, the great unwashed – I am, by definition, uncivilised. Instead, achieving my compliance with the civilisational project of whatever elite I happen to live within reach of, IS the major problem for them to solve, whether by inspiring me or by twisting my arm.

    Whereas for me, as a regular person, the problems I have to solve will be there regardless of whether I live in an ascending civilisation, a declining civilisation, or a no man’s land currently between various elites and their projects. I will always have to meet basic needs, form networks of mutual benefit, cultivate and refine necessary skills, and learn to navigate the specific obstacles and hazards I am likely to encounter. These last might be hunger, weather, pestilence, interpersonal violence, and, of course, the necessity that elites will always have to make use of my energies and or my possessions (or just take them) to further their projects. Whatever the hazard, as one of the uncivilised non-elites, I will always have to navigate it.

    That people have always done so, both within and without civilisational projects, is testament to a fundamental, ineradicable, resilience that people can, and often do, tap into. There will always be dangers, some of them of our own making. There will always be ways to navigate hazardous waters. And there will always be some resilient navigators among us…. dare I say “collapsing now”?

    Not everyone aspires to be either an elite, nor civilised (in the Toynbee sense). Most of us aspire to make a good life out of whatever materials we have to hand.

  82. JMG,

    I’m still pondering away (and will likely do so for a while…), but I feel that your reply to Cliff contains one important step of bringing new society-wide stories into being:

    “There are various answers, but the one that seems most promising to me is Dion Fortune’s answer, given in detail in her book The Magical Battle of Britain: focus on a level higher than the grubby realm of material politics, and formulate ideals and energies there, so they can percolate down the planes. More on this in an upcoming post.”

    I’m very much looking forward to that post!


  83. Thanks, JMG, for this incisive analysis! It explains so much and at the same time it raises many new questions. For example, if the military-industrial complex does survive on an eternal war footing, what happens when the Ukrainian front collapses and there are no more possible enemies which are even safe to attack, like China, Iran or North Korea?

    Another example of institutional ossification is the software industry: to be kept employed, programmers have constantly to work at computer operating systems, and this surely explains how operating systems became more and more unwieldy. But the question here is, what happens when operating systems like Windows become big and unwieldy enough to seriously get in the way of everday work with computers? It is at least clear that such developments have the seeds of one or other form of collapse in them.

    About online dating, I came to the same conclusion as Lunar Apprentice: the online dating sites, and offline dating servies are rather there to perpetuate the problem of finding a pertner, and with time, the online dating scene became less and less original and more stereotyped. So, I never did much with it.

  84. Part of the cause of the Shirky Principle seems to be our inability to effectively operate in timeframes longer than our own lifetimes. That’s one of the takeaways I’m getting from working through your OP Workbook, functionally it’s teaching a way to operate through long periods of time.

  85. There was a cartoon in the New Yorker today that nicely describes our current situation and this post. Several old executives are sitting around a table in a boardroom and one of them says “During this troubling time, I think we should extend to our customers our most heartfelt deals, deals, deals!”

    I guess that’s the most we can expect from our so called leaders these days.

  86. I have been watching “California Insider” on Epoch TV (Anti-China, Pro-Taiwan station). The interviewer who is an Iranian who emigrated to the U.S. from China and Mexico. He decided to start the program when the California that he emigrated to suddenly became depopulated. He wanted to know why. So for the past few years, a parade of people from diverse areas of California ranging from farmers to fish and game wardens to water managers to insurance people all have been on explaining problems in their fields. They all say the same thing – a small group of Progressives have taken over the state and are running it into the ground. They also say that there is a lot of profit to be made in having scores of homeless people everywhere as well as electric cars, etc. The upshot is that all these people are flummoxed as to how to overcome the Progressives. The interviewer believes as long as he can interview these people and have their interviews broadcast nationwide, that others can stem the tide they see happening in California.

    Also Epoch TV has a program called “China in Focus” where they report on the doings of the Communist Party and all that. It would seem that China is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. The Chinese people seem more and more restive and angry that their homes have been flooded, nothing works, and Covid reactions is too draconian. Meanwhile, Belt and Road program is falling apart in the Pacific. The President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands warned everyone in the area about the Chinese and their “gifts.” The Fijians have complained about the shoddy hospital that the Chinese built among other unfinished buildings.

    Back in the U.S. the Washington Post is promoting Biden as the last best hope against the Deluge (i.e. Trump). The Washington Examiner is promoting the old Conservative agenda as the way to go. First Things wants everyone to go back to traditional Judo-Christian values. It would seem that everyone knows there is a problem but no one has come up with any original ideas.

    Meanwhile, out there in the fringes are the people who like the California Insiders are ready to something new.

  87. As for being the same old Archdruid, people change and grow. It would be a very boring world, if we remained the same. We all go through phases of interest. Also, there are so few generalists out there. I am a generalist. I believe that this blog is a generalist blog. I mean that instead of one specialty, there is an exploration of many things to delight.

  88. >Buckminster Fuller pointed out that if this lets even one genius with a great breakthrough for society do their thing, rather than endless struggle to make ends meet, that would pay for the whole program!

    It could also put the people in charge out of work too. Never underestimate their desire to have all of a very small moldy pie, rather than share the pie with others, even if their slice would be bigger and tastier.

  89. JMG, it’s a great post but I think you may be coming down too hard on the Powers That Be (politicians, doctors, elites etc) and giving the general public too easy a ride. Politicians say what they say because it makes them popular, because the general public want to believe it. Of course you can’t get thin by consuming weight loss products, and of course you can’t swap out fossil fuels and swap in renewables and expect everything to be the same or even better than before. We will have to get through a lot of pain and disruption before we get to “net zero”, and when we get there it won’t look anything like what most people think it will (think: 18th century style windmills, kitchen gardens and horses). But if a politician were to say that in public, s/he would be instantly downvoted.

    “Still a man hears what he wants to hear
    And disregards the rest… ”
    Simon and Garfunkel, “The Boxer”, 1970

  90. I never thought your predictions were wrong. I’d say that my interpretation of your predictions was incomplete.

    I expected that “collapsing then” (is it too soon to say that?) would make things easier. And it has, but I was only thinking of the physical aspects. I naively assumed that if the physical was taken care of, everything else would be kumbaya.

    I didn’t expect the decline to strain my interactions with “normies” so much. I didn’t expect to see so much social and psychological agita in society. I didn’t expect the heartache of family members and friends clinging to the ‘Age of Progress’ so tightly as to cause arguments, rifts, lost friendships, or worse; and even, if you can count the Covid panic as part of the collapse process, the injection of children with experimental biotech that could harm them (that’s the most heartbreaking of all).

    Sometimes I feel like this blog is a secret society meeting where I can speak without feeling awash in uncomprehending blank stares. On bad days it’s a respite from utter hostility.

  91. Hi John Michael,

    In order for the elites to survive in the longer term, they’d have to find the strength of character to set limits upon themselves. Then act as an exemplar thus inspiring loyalty. I’m not seeing that happening, are you? 🙂



  92. Cliff,

    Try these:
    PMC elite in action – neglecting science to push agenda
    lay overview, 9/23 – 72 yo (vax author) Offit not taking boosters anymore…. June 12, 23 More technical, Uptodate more likely to get infx than those not uptodate – with current definition of having had one bivalent. Cleveland Clinic

  93. JMG wrote
    “Kevin, I wonder whether officials are being bribed. That’s the way such things happen here in the US, certainly.”

    No doubt corruption is part of the mix, but I think there is more to it. To use your phrase, I think we are just dealing with a senile elite who have no real idea what they are at any more.

  94. You mentioned Toynbee. I am finally reading “Dawn of Everything”, which is of course more interested in the absence of empires and rulers than in their presence and doesn’t explicitly reference Spengler or Toynbee. They do cite one monumental 1944 book by anthropologist Alfred Kroeber (the father of Ursula LeGuin, I think) called “Configurations of Cultural Growth”, who they imply made a big effort on the lines of Spengler. They cite Kroeber’s conclusion:

    “I see no evidence of any true law in the phenomena dealt with; nothing cyclical, regularly repetitive, or necessary. There is nothing to show either that every culture must develop patterns within which a florescence of quality is possible, or that, having once flowered, it must wither without chances of revival.”

    The book will be a bit hard to come by. Have you by any chance read it?

    In general, the concrete examples Graeber and Wengrow give are very instructive. Mozhay has confirmed to me that a good deal of what they write about early Sumer is plausible, though in at least one text they (or their source) bent the translation a bit. Have you by any chance had the time to look a their references?

    I find it interesting that they stress how ignorant we are about almost everything in Ice Age human history, and how unlikely it is to have been a flat, eventless hunter-gatherer band eternity. They do suggest that field agriculture arose only in the Holocene, but bring numerous examples of fisher-foragers, hunter-foragers and fisher-hunter-foresters who built monuments or lived in cities. They also acknowledge that most of the earlier examples would now be covered by the sea. It would really only be a tiny step to acknowledge that we cannot exclude the possibility of fisher-hunter-forester cities and monuments on the continental shelves, let’s say in the Bahamas 😉

  95. I worked for a year in the lab of somebody who recently won a Nobel Prize. He was usually very polite to everybody and even washed up dishes in the kitchen himself. The only time he got into a screaming rage was when a high school student wanted to spend a few weeks in our lab, and the administration of our institute gave him a page of several forms to fill out, including both of this parents’ birth dates etc. etc. So my boss went right into the top administrator’s office and screamed that he had only accepted his position on condition of minimal bureaucracy and that this kind of rot had to be extirpated immediately. The form was withdrawn, and I hope he has been successful in his quest to cull bureaucracy over the last years.

  96. Drhooves, JMG has already mentioned earlier forms of inducing crowd madness. I would specifically cite religious persecution at the end of the 4th and in the 5th century AD, the first attempt at a crusade in 1095 AD and the Children’s Crusade, and the early modern witch hunts. Of course there are many more.

  97. I remember, way, way back in the day, when polio vaccines were invented and put to use, the March of Dimes was frantically searching for a project that would keep them in business. And where is the March of Dimes now?

  98. @Christopher #71: My youngest daughter ran track & field for an Albuquerque (elev. ~5,000 ft) age-group team. The one team that consistently beat their was the one from Los Alamos (elev. 7,320 ft.)

  99. One more thought: “simply hire every impoverished person in the country for a decent salary and benefits, and pay them to do nothing at all” is Universal Basic Income, isn’t it?

  100. A quick story to illustrate the Shirky Principle.

    A friend of mine wanted to help people by becoming a Social Worker. He took classes and then was doing side by side training with a social worker where they were visiting “clients” in need of help. At one of their visits the client, who was practically bed ridden, complained that his wheelchair was broken so he couldn’t get out of bed. My friend looked at the wheelchair and realized that it was an easy fix and that he could fix it and greatly improve this person’s life. The social worker said something along the lines of, “You can’t do that. We aren’t allowed to fix wheelchairs.” So the wheelchair remained unfixed and unusable.

    This was when my friend decided that social work wasn’t his calling and dropped out of the training.

  101. Thank you for this essay JMG. And for this wonderful forum.

    When I read this I thought, the Shirky Principle is like when a parasite has a friendly, helpful expression on its face.

    A parasite entraps a victim and weakens it, while keeping it alive as a source of food. Our society is replete with this kind of ‘relationship:’

    grifter gullible person
    cult leader cult member
    drug seller addict
    narcissist codependent
    predatory lender debtor

    Usually the ‘victim’ is there voluntarily, because he perceives some benefit to the partnership.

    It is sometimes hard to admit to oneself that one is not so much a victim, but in an agreement, or a ‘binary system.’

    And usually there is some uncanny attraction between the two parties.

    One of the best things I ever read was: “What is it about you, that makes you the perfect fit for a narcissist?”

    Another example is that wonderful expression “banking relationship.” My bank tells me it will soon start collecting and retaining “biometric data,” including my voice. If I do nothing, I consent to this. And I consent to their doing this to other people too. My mom, my friend, not just me.

    If one can recognize these kinds of ‘relationships’ for what they are, it is easier to
    avoid the most common tricks of entrapment — convenience, fear-mongering, the addictive kind of pleasure, and false promises of love or comradery.

    Then one can just say “thanks for the laugh!” and not comply. And turn instead to something wholesome and life-affirming.

    A binary system can only exist if two parties converge, and agree to participate.
    One party is created by the other. One cannot exist without the other.

    On the subject of doctors: The British psychiatrist Winslow Forbes published a essay about doctors in 1840, called “How to Get a Practice.” The essay is meant to be funny, but it is all about the art of entrapment:

    “It has been recommended to a young physician who wishes to get into practice, to start with a new theory. Attempting to prove that the blood does not circulate would ensure a great degree of notice, and prove highly beneficial to him. Were he to endeavour to prove the unwholesomeness of some favourite and common article of diet — the more startling and extraordinary the opinion the better — he would obtain an enviable degree of notoriety…A physician should never affect ignorance of the cause of a complaint; he should place it in the pancreas, or pineal gland, if he has no other local habitation ready at the moment. He must also be always ready with an answer to every question that a lady puts to him; the chance is, that she will be satisfied with it.”

  102. #76 Social mobility always seems to be a stated goal for left wing politicians and even many right wing ones. However if substantial or sustained economic growth becomes a thing of the past once the elites realize this they might drop social mobility like a hot potato as without growth mobility would have to necessarily go down as well as up and they wouldn’t want that for their children.
    I can’t imagine how this ends but it probably won’t be pretty.

  103. To follow up on Milkyway and Justin questions, has there ever been an enlightened failed elite that willfully stepped down to leave space for others after having realized they were inadequate to deal with the situation?

    As for a new creative minority, a major point of this blog is to reach out and try to provide the conceptual tools to those that could become one! If you are reading this, this is your chance ;-).

  104. By an interesting coincidence, the following quotation was posted by one of the bloggers I follow, just a few hours after yours:

    “But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work. We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.”


  105. Here is the list of what chemicals a public water supply is required to test for.

    The Chemical Contaminants Rule has a table further down the page. Anyone not on a private well should get a Consumer Confidence Report every year detailing the state of the system. It might be on line if your system has a web page. The results of these tests are public data, you should be able to get the lab results from your provider.

    One caveat, not every test is done every year on every system. Some of the tests in our system are every three years, some every seven, lead and copper is every five, and nitrates are indeed annually.

    The reason for the variation is our water is from wells over 400 ft deep, so nothing will change quickly, and we are in an agricultural area where the industrial chemicals are unlikely to appear but nitrates are entirely possible.

    So the input data for water contaminants vs obesity is there, but what a correlation chore.

  106. It’s not as though Bill Gates, say, will keep his present status if industrial civilization goes to bits. He got his position by manipulating the complex systems of a mature civilization, and holds onto it only because those systems and his friends in powerful places sustain him. He has no gift for charismatic leadership, no skills worth anything in a dark age environment, and no resources that can’t be taken from him by the first well-armed warlord who comes along. For that matter, the moment the rule of law breaks down, his own guards will no doubt cut his throat with considerable glee and take whatever goodies he’s stockpiled. Why shouldn’t they? Like the rest of today’s kleptocratic elite, Gates has never learned the fundamental law of dark age society, which is that you can only earn loyalty from your subordinates by giving your loyalty to them. It’s only in a civilization, and a complex, decadent civilization at that, that someone like Gates could rise to power in the first place.

    Seeing as the Russian oligarchs literally made out like bandits after the collapse of the Soviet Union, I’d suggest Gates wouldn’t particularly mind a breakdown of the rule of law. The notion that a kleptocratic elite can’t manipulate their own advantage while governance structures are crashing down is rather wishful thinking.

    The other one is the Imperial Roman experience, where the big landowners of Italy just basically retreated to their estates, ran their own little in-house economies to evade taxation, and transitioned to presiding over the origins of medieval serfdom. Even in situations where armed warlords turned up… we’ve literally got the letters of one fifth century Romano-Gaulish aristocrat who managed just fine (and kept his wealth) by making sure to lose at backgammon whenever the warlord popped round for a quick game.

  107. Just to add to what JMG said about poverty – I remember a while back there was a group called Food Not Bombs which tried to feed the homeless (in Florida, if memory serves correctly), and the local cops forcibly prevented them! That’s how strong the Shirky principle is. The powers that should not be will literally stop you if you try to solve such a problem and do their job for them. It’s insane.

    Also, the Shirky principle reminds me of another useful phrase, coined by the late Randolph Bourne: “War is the health of the state.”

    I suppose you could apply that to just about every problem the system pretends to try and solve. The war on climate change, the war on poverty, the war on Covid, the war on terrorism, et cetera. Perverse incentives perpetuate them all.

  108. Great piece! Similarly, Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy says that in any organization, those who want to control the organization for personal gain will always gain control over those who actually want to achieve the purported goals of the organization and expand the bureaucracy…The corollary is that those goals are eventually forgotten or ignored, and the actual goal is constant expansion of the bureaucracy…When I worked for the State of Illinois in the ’70s this was visible everywhere..

  109. “The issue in question can be summed up in a very straightforward way. Many of us have noticed that there are quite a few things the political and economic leadership of the world’s industrial nations could do to respond constructively to the rising spiral of crisis that besets us. Many of us have also noticed that these things are precisely what the political and economic leadership of the world’s industrial nations will not do.”

    Ding ding ding!

    Recently, I got banned from an online discussion board dedicated to climate change. It was on a post talking about using deep-sea mining to dig up rare earth minerals to build renewable energy.

    I said that deep-sea mining for solar panels and batteries was insane and ecocidal, and said that the single best and simplest way to mitigate climate change is to reduce energy consumption, instead of trying to produce and consume insane amount of energy, but with renewables instead. This started a firestorm of people saying that reducing energy consumption was undesirable and impossible, and that we needed to adopt “green growth.” In the end, I was banned.

    Reducing energy consumption is simple and possible. We waste a ton of energy, use high-energy solutions for problems that could be solved in low-energy ways, and have a bunch of high-energy activities that we could live without, like the consumer economy and globalized trade.

    Producing the same quantities of energies we produce today, but with renewables instead of oil is the real “undesirable and impossible” goal. Renewables are inherently diffuse energy sources. They cannot, and will not, do the same thing that oil does. They cannot power a high-energy society, and if we try, we will further environmental destruction. However, they could still be useful in powering a low-energy society.

    But because of the economic paradigm, we are banging our heads against the wall trying to do the impossible instead of doing the simple and easy solution.

  110. I was reading more on Arthurs Britain, and it was the slaughter of the three hundred British nobles, and subsequent departure of the Roman nobility, which finally cleared the way for the rise of King Arthur. They wouldn’t pay for an army to defend Britain, and relied on Hengist and his mercs. After they were dead or departed, the British raised their own warlords like Urien of Rheged and of course the arthurian knights, to deal with the invaders. A melancholy truth. Who knew dark ages were so informative? Besides the ex archdruid of course, hehe

  111. @stephen h. pearson, #83

    Sure enough, once you know how to navigate the system it can be really convenient. A recent example would be anything regarding COVID19 vaccination. No matter where you lay in the political/ideological spectrum, you may do as you wish and for the most part get away with it for little or no personal cost.

    However, it used to be the case that there were two sets of rules. The written rules were there only to provide opportunities for the bureaucracy to milk the general population, but there were other set of actual unwritten rules that experienced public servants enforced earnestly. With the installation of Democracy TM at the turn of the century, these long term career bureaucrats have been slowly but steadily replaced by newcomers who, more often than not, lack the experience to call the calls, and whose main virtue is their party affiliation.

    Then of course, in a society with shady morals, if everyone is guilty of something, sleazy buzzards are treated like normal people, actual petty criminals are treated like law abiding buzzards, and psyco-type degenerates have no problem associating with normal criminals. That’s when you pay the price (or karma, to link this to the post from 2 weeks ago).

  112. Dear JMG,

    You say, “if the new stories were already available, the new creative minority would be visibly rising to power”. I’m reminded of Brian Eno’s explanation of “scenius”, and hope this forum you host might breath life into these new stories we so need. It shows signs of scenius to me!

    Also as you mention Rishi Sunak, I thought it might be interesting to point out that his team’s acknowledged electoral strategy is to create “wedge issues” to draw clear blue policy water between the Conservatives and Labour. Examples would be: “you pro net zero, me anti”, “I’m tough on immigrants, you’re weak” etc. It occurred to me that wedge issues could well be called false binaries – and their active construction a form of black magic. With that, I suspect it will end badly for Sunak.

  113. JMG,

    I am going to offer three more “factors” for the current downward spiral in elite decision making:

    1. Some elites are in fact “panicking” and its degrading their ability to think and act. Remember “panic” isn’t just someone hyperventilating while running around in a circle, it’s is often a frantic series of knee-jerk decision making without any cause/affect consideration.

    2. Many elites don’t recieve any pleasure from “solving the problem” or “making a positive impact in their time”. Many elites equate those sorts of acts as discomforting and painful. Pleasure/Pain in our society is channeled into outlets we don’t need now and can’t support in the future.

    3. Most elites either don’t require or think they don’t require a network of other elites to work with. They have no actual peers to bounce ideas off of and are trying to do things in a vaccum.

  114. By the way, my inbox today has been full of comments from people who’ve never posted before, and want to go on at various lengths about their theories of weight loss. That’s not the subject of this post, and so all such attempts have been and will be deleted. Keep it on topic, people!

    Robert, that’s an excellent point, and of course a very good example. Can’t have people just getting well, you know!

    Mick, I know. That’s why I’m working overtime to get what the old Golden Dawn papers call the Magic of Light into as many hands as possible.

    Disc_writes, that’s an intriguing point which I’ll have to reflect on. Why the transfer of wealth to the useless, and the self-defeating neglect of people who actually do necessary jobs?

    Scotlyn, oh, granted. That’s one of Toynbee’s major biases — he was himself a member of the elite, and so he saw everything as a matter of elite action rather than something more broadly based. I suppose a case can be made that civilization is an elite project, and its rise and fall is generally a source of annoyance to ordinary people who just want to get on with their lives!

    Milkyway, maybe so. I plan on putting up that post in the next couple of months, for what it’s worth.

    Booklover, oh, they’ll find new enemies. The US can always invade Africa, you know.

    Milton, excellent! I wondered whether anyone would get that aspect of it.

    Joshua, what I’d expect from our current leaders is for them to insist that they’re offering us great deals, when in fact it’s the same old “heads I win, tails you lose” scam.

    Neptunesdolphins, fascinating. Thank you for the data points!

    Toxic, of course. If this essay was a book I’d devote a couple of chapters to that.

    Blue Sun, gotcha. I know the feeling; one of the reasons I appreciate my commentariat is that most people would respond to discussions like this with blank looks or blind hostility.

    Chris, neatly summed up! No, I’m not seeing it either.

    Kevin, fair enough. You’re there, I’m not.

  115. >Seeing as the Russian oligarchs literally made out like bandits after the collapse of the Soviet Union, I’d suggest Gates wouldn’t particularly mind a breakdown of the rule of law.

    I wouldn’t equate Gates with a post-collapse oligarch. They may look similar, but I would claim they are very different under the hood.

    Not all of those oligarchs were mob bosses but I guarantee you they knew how to deal with them if they weren’t one themselves. I’d say the Orange One is closer than the Gatesian One to a post-collapse oligarch.

    I’m not sure either one would survive collapse, but I’d say the Orange One has much better odds. Of the two, he can inspire enough loyalty out of his muscle to avoid getting shot. Nobody does anything for Gates unless they’re paid to do it, I guarantee you that.

  116. re: Obesity

    All the bullying aside, the Military Industrial Complex is going to have a real problem with their inevitable Hot War With Russia. They’re going to have to draft men to fight in their war. That alone will cause all sorts of things to break loose (who wants to fight and die for Joe Biden?). But that’s not really what’s going to get them all panicked.

    It’s that close to 80% of the men won’t be able to pass even the most basic physical fitness tests. You can draft all you want but only 20% can actually do the work of fighting and dying for Joe Biden.

    Because they’re obese. Well, that and sick from other things, which you have to go over to JMG’s other blog to discuss.

    And it isn’t like they haven’t been warned about this either. For almost a decade now. Hey, this is going to be a problem. Well, here is now.

    All I have to say is if you’re young, fit, with practical skills, you’ve pretty much got a bullseye painted on your back. The military is going to want to talk to you.

    I wonder what might happen with young men, once they figure out that being “too fat to fight” is a good way of getting out of the draft?

  117. One thing that puzzles me is the movement to flood western countries with illegal migrants. I don’t understand how it profits any institutions. As far as I know it’s not a process that’s bureaucratized.

    It’s puzzling because I could see how the immigrants would benefit the rich by depressing wages, but from what I have read, almost none of them are working or competing for low wage jobs. If that’s true, I don’t get it.

  118. @ JMG: I think that people with actual skills and drive are not rewarded with wealth and power because they would be a threat to the existing, incompetent elite. Even very talented people tend to produce average kids. Can’t go promoting the competition against your own offspring!

    @ Samuel: Food Not Bombs is a worldwide organisation. In a lot of places they’re still happily feeding people with salvaged food.

  119. This reminds me way too forcefully of the recent (and apparently ongoing?) COVID pan(dem)ic.

    What we know: hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin (plus basically zinc and Vitamin C) were defeating COVID without prejudice in every country that was using them. But here in the U.S., those drugs are evil, unproven, way too cheap, but most importantly…out of patent. Our real saviors are just waiting for their introductions…wait for it…(roughly 3 days later) ta da!

    Expensive (and useless, at best) experimental patent medicines owned by the folks in charge of public policy regarding which medicines are “good” and which are “bad.”

    I really hate watching so many people “do the right thing,” only to get sicker by the week. I mean, except for the way they bludgeoned me and my family over the head with their Scientastic religious beliefs along the way. At every opportunity.

    This was really good, John Michael. And I love the Shirky Principle.
    I’m gonna get a lot of mileage out of this.

  120. @Booklover, #89

    > But the question here is, what happens when operating systems like Windows become big and unwieldy enough to seriously get in the way of everday work with computers?

    A case could be made that we crossed that bridge 20 years ago, and what happens is what you see as of today. The computer I am typing in had Windows 10 installed until about 2 months ago. Five years ago it was brand new, and I never fell for the “try Win11 for free” death-trap. However, with each upgrade it was inflated up and up, while I grated my teeth at the impossibility of accomplishing simple tasks that once had been easy. Its final week in that past incarnation it spend more than 30 hours trying to install one last upgrade, and then it was so badly bloated that even checking my email became a daunting task.

    I put it out of its misery by formatting the hard disk and installing Linux Mint on top. It is still much slower than it was when new (even for a configuration that is supposed to run very lightly on legacy hardware), but it is enough for my casual use and I am reasonably happy with it.

  121. Absolutely fantastic. Long time reader (10+ yr) and always appreciative of your unique & valuable words. Read Toynbee 2x cover to cover, at your suggestion, looked around and said holy moley i have a front row seat. Talk about the irony of the Senile Elite!

  122. Hi John Michael,

    Nah, me neither. The elites love their word games though, but as the old timers were wont to say: ‘Words are cheap’. In fact, I’d have to suggest that words not backed by action are a particularly poor form of magic, which will reflect poorly upon the practitioners. You wrote about karma recently, and err, talk about building a debt to repay using that poor form! Ook! 🙂

    It is very possible that the legal system is also sowing the seeds of its own demise by not applying the rule of law equally to the elites. That’s a similar problem.



  123. Aldarion, one of the things that critics of Spengler tend to miss is that he said, in so many words, that the pattern he’s discussing only applies to civilizations — “great cultures” in his terminology. The tribal cultures on which Kroeber focused his studies don’t have that same pattern, so it’s not surprising that Kroeber didn’t find it! As for The Dawn of Everything, I haven’t given it a thorough read; if they’ve gotten as far as admitting that there may have been complex societies during the Ice Age, that’s a good sign.

    Patricia M, I don’t remember that myself, but I read about it. Most charities these days are careful to avoid solving their problem.

    Aldarion, indeed it is. UBI has its problems, but it would be less expensive than the current welfare system!

    Orion, thanks for this. That’s a great story.

    Lavender, that’s a valid point. One of our failings as a species is that we tend to give bullies the benefit of the doubt much too often.

    Viking, not that I’ve ever heard about. Failing elites always cling like grim death to power.

    Joan, hmm! That makes sense.

    Pygmycory, thanks for this. Yes, that works.

    Strda221, the Russian oligarchs made out like bandits…for a while. Then a well-armed warlord came along, and those who didn’t submit to his authority got pushed out of windows or otherwise fatally inconvenienced. Nor is Gates in the same class as the tough Soviet-era crime bosses who elbowed their way into temporary power under Yeltsin.

    Justin, duly noted.

    Samuel, exactly. It’s the same nonsense, endlessly repeated.

    Pyrrhus, Pournelle’s law is another very good summary.

    Enjoyer, I bet you did! The last thing most climate activists want is to be told that they can’t keep having their earth-wrecking lifestyles.

    Celadon, hmm! You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the massacre of the British princes interpreted that way, but you’re right, it makes sense — though it’s a bit messy as a way to get a failed elite out of the way.

    Boy, now there’s a blast from the past — I haven’t thought of Brian Eno in a long time. You’re quite right about false binaries, and their consequences.

    GlassHammer, of course. As I noted, the Shirky Principle is only one factor, though it’s an important one.

    Other Owen, well, there’s that!

    Blue Sun, au contraire, there are large NGOs heavily involved in encouraging it, and very large industries that profit from it — you can pay illegal immigrants substandard wages and get them to work in unsafe conditions, and if they complain, you narc on them to La Migra and they’re gone. Very large numbers of upper middle class and wealthy people also depend on illegal aliens for their domestic servants, for the same reasons.

    Kfish, of course!

    Grover, yep. That’s one of many examples.

    Sheila, glad to hear it. Here, have some popcorn. 😉

    Chris, a similar problem indeed. It intrigues me that so many people in power have forgotten just how far they can fall, and just how fast.

  124. About migration to Europe, I can’t quite pin this down in words, even inside my own head, but it would somehow shift the mind space of Europe for Europe’s leaders to admit that it is not a good idea to let in so many people from cultures that are quite different from Europe and from places that have an essentially infinite supply of people that the source cultures treat as surplus. Perhaps the key is that it would unavoidably cast blame on Europe’s leadership. Also, it would mean seriously engaging the question “is this good for the average European”. Europe’s leadership, like its American boss, keeps that question well off the table.
    Just from what I have written here, one would think that there would be some way for Europe’s leaders to deal with the issue, (We need to leave that space open for our Ukrainian hero-saints”) but my strong sense from time spent there is that they simply can’t.
    They don’t need the immigrants for cheap labor. They have eastern Europe for that plus outsourcing to China and up-and-coming new Chinas, such as Vietnam. So I don’t think they allow the issue to fester because it benefits them (other than for virtue posturing), but because there is no way for them to deal with the issue without that casting light on how feckless their leadership is in terms of impact on the average European.

  125. Sorry if I gave the impression that Graeber and Wengrow admit the existence of Atlantis! It is really only a tiny step left before admitting at least the possibility, but they don’t go that last step. And that’s fair enough, since the book is based on well-excavated sites and well-described populations. I do have a mind to ask Wengrow about it when I have finished the book; too late to ask Graeber, unfortunately.

    I would like to take a look at Kroeber’s book exactly to find out if he included literate, empire-building civilizations in his studies.

    By the way, I have thought about the Atlantic megaliths for a long while and would like to read an in-depth treatment. Dawn of Everything doesn’t go into them, though they cite a book which contains a chapter “Instruments of Conversion? The Role of Megaliths in the Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition in North-West Europe”. That title tickles my imagination. I had always assumed the megaliths were erected by farmers, but after Göbekli Tepe that is not at all sure, and Graeber and Wengrow discuss a series of powerful, hierarchical, sedentary fisher-forager groups from Finland to Bretagne. The (Holocene) Atlantic seaboard is where you would expect refugees from Pleistocene coastal settlements to show up.

    To tie this back in with the your original essay, they speculate that in some cases of civilizational decline, such as the Olmecs and the Mayas, many common people (if they didn’t die) simply walked away from elite oppression.

  126. Amazing piece, JMG. This is one for the record books (at least for me). And timely, too, as we are in a bit of a ragged stretch of the downward slope and quite possibly poised on the brink of an even ‘raggeder’ patch in the near future.

    @Blue Sun & JMG: I know a disillusioned USAF vet who produces daily ‘sitreps’ on all kinds of aircraft (mostly military and government – including flights that have been ‘scrubbed’) with a primary focus of the US. He also reports on flights between the US and Mexico for Big Muddy River that transport illegal workers (‘cuz they are not the kind of aircraft used for cargo). Besides the profits for big business, there is also gathering evidence that in at least some of the smaller (by population) Western countries such as Canada and Ireland, governments are presently bringing in immigrants at a break-neck pace to deliberately strain the already collapsing social systems and, quite possibly, to dilute the national identity of the general population. Veterans and serving members of armed forces in these countries note with increasing alarm that an abnormally large proportion of the immigrants are single fighting-age males coming from countries which have been racked with war for many years and/or societies that are far more violent than ours. Pleasant thoughts to put one to sleep at night!

  127. @The Other Owen

    Regarding obesity and military recruitment.

    When I was in USMC boot camp there were some obese kids they’d let in. When these obese kids couldn’t do the requisite pull ups, etc they would get sent to a specific “weight loss platoon” that was unofficially called The Donut Patrol.

    It seemed like all those guys did all day was jog around the recruit depot. Eventually when they got in better physical shape they would get moved back into a normal training platoon.

    Anyways, I suspect that if Uncle Sam REALLY needed meat for the grinder they would just take that “Donut Patrol” concept and expand it. Healthier kids would spend the normal 13 weeks at boot camp. Obese kids would probably be stuck in a few months of a Donut Patrol type platoon and then they’d go do the standard 13 weeks once they were in better shape.

    Also it is worth noting that a huge number of young people disqualified from service are actually barred for some pretty trivial reasons. Like they were prescribed Paxil for depression once, got diagnosed with ADHD, were arrested for misdemeanor trespassing, they smoked weed, etc. In a real dire situation I’m sure the military would drop all that nonsense.

    @ blue sun

    Maybe the reason they’re letting all these young healthy fighting age immigrants in is so that they can give them all amnesty making them citizens, then draft them straight away and send them off to fight in Eastern Europe or China.

  128. JMG, I certainly don’t recommend as conscious strategy. But if history is a guide, some Hispanic warlords and or redneck warband allies will be the occasion of bringing down our elites in messy fashion and then the natives and Interlopers will hammer out a workable consensus. Or we could learn from history real quick and partition the country at a very colorful convention. Either way I’m not sure it matters if you know the pattern, you can lay low when you need to? When have humans ever collectively breached the seven seals of historys scroll and made good use of it? I used to think our founding fathers. Now I’m sceptical

  129. Oh my gosh, so many things I want to say about this. I’ll start with this question. I have not read Toyenbee, so maybe this he address this. But it strikes me that part of the reason the elites won’t solve a problem, but instead foster it, is that as our society has progressed our thinking has gotten more and more short term, and our concern about future generations has rapidly evaporated.

    The result is that a decision is only looked at as valuable if it is valuable “next quarter” and a problem that affects your children or grand children is no problem at all.

    Is that unique to our collapsing civilization or is that a common feature?


  130. Very off-topic, but maybe you will want to know. I will leave at your consideration to delete this one.

    It is long standing tradition that Mexico celebrates its Independece with “El Grito” ceremonies on the night of September 15h, followed by military parades on the morning of the 16th. I do not particularly enjoy those, so I am not used to follow those very closely, but this year I noticed something I don’t recall seeing ever before.

    Along with the display of Mexican military forces, there were small contingents of foreign soldiers parading their respective national flags. The usual suspects were here: small Central American countries that fall into our sphere of influence (Cuba and Venezuela stand out, for some reason); also here where South American countries that could be considered more on equal footing with us, sibling nations if you wish (Brazil, obviously, along with Chile, Colombia are the ones that come to mind).

    One would expect that, given who our closest commercial partner and neighbor is, the bars and the stars should have paraded this 16th on the Zocalo… but no. Russia was here, China was here, Korea was here, but no Murica!!!

  131. JMG,

    N.S. Lyons has a substack called The Upheaval. He has a post called the China Convergence about how managerial elites took over in the west and the comminist states. It is a long article ~80 pages, 85 with footnotes.

    He covers similar themes and explains why the PMC (I’m pretty sure he reads you) have metastasized from a progressive technocratic elite into a disfunctional governance structure that makes rules (stupid, actively harmful rules) to maintain their own power. I suspect that it’s right up your alley.

  132. Jessica, interesting. I’ll take that under consideration.

    Aldarion, nah, I didn’t think they’d gone that far, just that they’d taken baby steps in that direction. I’d be interested in seeing a good treatment of the social dimensions of megalithic culture as well.

    Ron, thank you!

    Celadon, I’m sorry to say that this cartoon more or less sums things up:

    AV, it’s not unique to our civilization but we have a much worse case of it than most. It’s tolerably common for failing civilizations to stumble from crisis to crisis because they no longer have the leisure to take a longer view, but the fixation on the next quarterly profit statement or the next election is a little extreme.

    CR, well, it occurs to me that since the southwest quarter of the US used to be the northern half of Mexico before we stole it at gunpoint, in a war many Americans at the time considered a blatant act of piracy, the US may not send military contingents to your independence day celebrations because it would be in very bad taste!

    Team10tim, I’ve got a copy on the get-to pile, but thanks for the heads up.

  133. AV #139 re: The result is that a decision is only looked at as valuable if it is valuable “next quarter” and a problem that affects your children or grand children is no problem at all. Is that unique to our collapsing civilization or is that a common feature?

    The early 20th century economist Werner Sombart marked the change from the long term to the short term as occurring with the rise of the courtesan in France. Whereas previously major building works like cathedrals would take generations and were artefacts of a community, with the rise of individualism, when pleasure palaces were built to please the courtesans, they had to be built quick. To quote (this is from the translation of the second volume which will be available for sale from 5 Oct):
    “Once the individual had torn himself out of the community which outlasted him, his lifetime became the measure of his enjoyment. The individual wants to live as if he himself experiences as much as possible over the change in things. Even a king has become too much for himself — he wants to reside himself in the castle which he began to build. And when even the lords of this world now transferred this world to the little woman, then the tempo in which the means for satisfaction of luxury demand were brought was quickened. The woman cannot wait. The man in love, however, not at all.”

  134. Well, I certainly hope your remain to true to yourself, and write as you see fit for purpose and interest. It does get tireless to hear that same old, same old the live long day…

    And yes, Arnold Toynbee ought to be part of thinking for any educated individual – even if the college crowd have moved themselves onto re-writing the actual history. Oh – I mean the recent wish to have Stonehedge with the current preferred persons. A Study of History just might speak to closing to several with their condition within our ageing civilization. But – there again – on with the show!

  135. I don’t have a link for this, but have heard that the US is taking in fit young men ,and perhaps women, and offering them citizenship in exchange for 4 or 5 years in the military. This is what France always did with the foreign legion, and more or less what Rome did towards the end. The US has pretty much done this for quite awhile, though they may be planning to do it on a larger scale now. I remember being in the army with one Venezuelan guy for sure in the 1950s who was doing that.

  136. I intially found the old Archdruid Report when someone on a blog I no longer read (due to its repetative and thus eventually boring nature) linked to an article you wrote about Hillary Clinton during the loooong leadup to the 2016 election. Loved it, went back to post one and read them all (including comments) to catch up and have been hanging around ever since.

    I remember looking at a review of Retrotopia for some reason and one of the comments was along the lines of ‘he was ok but then he went nuts and is pushing some ecosophic garbage’ … patently he didn’t know you very well as you have always been that kind of ‘nuts’ 🙂 I mean can you image an Archdruid on an blog called The Archdruid Report having an interest in nature spirituality *gasp*

    One of the constants in my life has been finding new ways to get both sides of an arguement with me against me … most likely because my focus is on finding the reality in the situation and so will argue against the flaws in either side’s reasoning and, as you know well, multvariate statistics (so to speak) doesn’t play nicely in the binary world (ok worldview … reality is rarely binary)

    It is still a wonder to me that we can have so many ‘sudden’ health issues wandering around and it is not acceptable to wonder (out loud) if a certain not-so-medical treatment introduced into the mix might be a part of the issue. A relatively fit aquantance died not so long ago and there was a discussion … one person asked if he ate bacon, someone else wondered about his family and maybe he had a genetic predisposition, when I asked if he had been ‘vaccinated’ it was like if I had asked an innocent new bride if she minded if a donkey joined us in the nuptual bed … the pull back and revulsion at such a thing even being mentioned was interesting to watch and, as you have mentioned, the denial ramping up with the consequences is a dangerous place to be.

    I have a relative that has been on a variable stew of medications for so long that she no longer knows what the base level of her is like and when she asked to be taken off in a supervised environment they nearly killed her going cold turkey then, having survived that, immediately put her back on a slightly different stew and spend the next few months zombied and has only now found a doctor willing to walk her back down the slope as far as she is willing to go and is even questioning the veracity of the diagnosis. A patent cured is indeed a customer lost.

  137. This is a bit comments on various parts of this post.

    @JMG “His take was that civilizations rise when a creative minority inspires the rest of society with a vision of constructive change so enticing, and a set of solutions for current problems so promising, that most people fall in line behind them. ”

    I like that this is similar to how that Grist writing competition was framed. But there is a Chinese saying “The wrong person with the right means, makes the right means work the wrong way”. A great example of this in action.

    As an aside, when it comes to Bill Gates, many mistook him for a technology guy when really his entire schtick was purely the manipulation of people and markets. Look at the products produced under him, there were far better things made by much better people but they didn’t understand how to manipulate people and markets for success. And now rather than having the ‘hacker spirit’ of the 70’s being used for good (well better than what we have today), it is the drive engine of digital jails and surveillance engines.

    When it comes to to intrenched industries, it has now been well over a decade since the ‘replication crisis’ began in science academia – the silence in addressing this is deafening. So long as they don’t talk about it, their “work” cannot be questioned and can continue for fun and profit.

    Anti-depressants are an interesting case. When they where first introduced, the patient would take these for a few months, would ease up the worst of the symptoms and allow room for the patient to address the underlaying issues. This is a fairly reasonable idea even if the specific drugs may not live up to their promise. The key point being that they are only used temporarily. Instead for multiple reasons as you laid out, it was just easier and more profitable to just prescribe them indefinitely. Out of sight and out of mind, our out of your mind.

    Regarding the usefulness of poor people, I quoted George Carlin a few weeks back, I will do it again – “The rich are there to make all the money and pay none of the taxes. The middle classes are there to do all the work and pay all the taxes. The poor are there to scare the daylights out of the middle class so they’ll keep working and paying the taxes.”. It is telling that Georges view is of a middle class as being the only ones that work has not aged well.

    Regarding “Quick! Find another enemy!”, I forgotten who said it but there is the idea of “If North Korea didn’t exist, we would have to invent it” . I see folks are inventing a lot of enemies nowadays, all it seems to do is isolate the western empire even quicker than it would have otherwise happened.

    Be well.

  138. I have read that our interest (usury) and debt based money and economic system demands endless economic expansion to pay off the debt plus interest. Any level of societal wealth is never enough, even if equitably distributed, the show must go on. Charles Eisenstein has described a different money system with no interest that shifts money to being just a medium of exchange not a store of wealth and source of interest income. Of course our elites would never countenance this as it cuts off an endless siphoning of interest – think Federal Reserve

  139. Precisely, JMG, and I do make that case.

    Of course, the challenge for a person like me who is literate and educated, while being thoroughly ordinary and thoroughly uncivilised, is to be able to sift through layers of histories written mainly by elites and by victors and also, frankly, by propagandists, to tease out the traces hinting at what ordinary people – who were unlikely to be writing much, but who were certainly present, and certainly making the best lives they could, given the materials they had to hand, in the face of whatever challenges presented themselves – were up to in any given time.

    Because those ordinary people, in every age, when I find traces of them, are who I take to be my personal guides and ancestral role models.

  140. It’s interesting to observe how the elite strategy of “it didn’t work this time, let’s double down on it and see if that’ll work”. Of course, what happens is try harder, fail harder, maybe change our tactics. But nope, we didn’t try hard enough, so let’s triple… quadruple… quintuple down on it and then MAYBE it’ll finally work!

    The world of AI (and the subfield of “deep learning”, specifically) kind of had that moment last year with the public preview release of ChatGPT; it wasn’t anything exactly new, but compared to previous iterations it was simply massive! It wasn’t just doubling down, it was closer to decupling or even centupling down. And it worked… kinda?! I’ve even heard commentators say to the effect that “it turns out human language was a solvable problem after all, we just needed to throw enough data at it…”.

    Fast forward close to a year later, the output quality of the chatbot has deteriorated significantly, many new exploits have been found to attack it, and it’s more expensive and cumbersome to run and fix than ever.

    As it turns out, if you scale up your solution, you scale up the benefits… and all the problems too.

  141. @JMG,

    >Why the transfer of wealth to the useless, and the self-defeating neglect of people who actually do necessary jobs?

    We are past the Shirky Principle, which held true even in times of progress like the 1950s or 1960s, but was not a threat to civilization. The Shirky Principle implies at least coping with real problems, if not solving them.

    We are also past the point of negative marginal utility, where institutions designed to solve problems end up making them worse (poverty programs that create more poor, schools that reduce education levels, hospitals that kill more people than they cure…). This at least implies worsening real problems.

    Now we are in the business of solving fake problems. This is more convenient: there are only so many real problems you can pretend to be solving, but a potentially infinite amount of made-up problems. And since they are made up, they can never really be solved.

    But there are only so many resources to go around. Given that such hallucinogenic projects usually enjoy better access to funding by central banks and large investors, those with less access to the ZIRP gravy train get a smaller piece of the cake: necessary workers like teachers, nurses and construction workers, and in general anybody who does something useful.

    The solution for many is to take some Executive Master’s of Sciences in Today’s Nonsense to get a piece of the action, thereby making life even more miserable for everybody else. Those who don’t, end up earning half my salary for much heavier, more difficult, more crucial work with only stagnation and humiliation (by the credentialed cretins) to look forward to.

    Examples of not solving fake problems:
    – ESG (there is no such thing as sustainable development);
    – Crypto and LLMs (energy-hungry solutions without a problem);
    – Overhyped IPOs that bomb within a few weeks because those companies do not do anything useful;
    – The whole European thing (the Euro-madness just makes Europeans angrier at each other, which then requires “more Europe”);
    – The war on “fake news” (any deontology manual for journalists can tell you that there is no such thing as “real news”, they are all fake);
    – The war on terrorism;
    – Hordes of loss-making, “growth-first” software companies that write code for problems their customers did not know they had (“upgrades” etc.), but that displace real-world solutions;
    – Defense contractors that build ineffective weapons to fight countries that would not be enemies if we did not provoke them;
    – Dutch teachers who get burn-outs because of all the things they are supposed to do in class besides teaching, while their pupil can barely read and generally do not care about those extra activities anyway;
    – Dutch librarians who take additional degrees that teach them how to save libraries from the non-existing problem of obsolescence, then turn them into “digital meeting places” that only alienate book readers;
    – Buggy apps that replace time-tested real-world solutions no one complained about;
    – The “learn to code” movement (there is no shortage of code monkeys, but only of experts; such experts are very idiosynchratic to specific companies or industries; “learning to code” at a young age reduces the chances that one will become such an expert; pick up a hobby instead);
    – The whole race/gender/sexual preference oppression thing;
    – Anything XR say, do, or say that everybody else should do.

    I am sure you can find others.

  142. JMG – regarding the whole “those who don’t study history” cartoon idea, do you think it HAS to be that way?

    The myth of progress is often discussed here, but I was wondering about its ever improving, ape-man to the stars central theme, and the accurate reality of the whole civilization collapse/dark age/civilization arises cycle. Is the development of civilization somehow inherent in humanity?

    In isolation, from Dark Age to New Civilization can certainly look like “progress”, but is it inevitable? Is there any reason why, next time around, we cannot simply stay Dark Age primitives, rather than develop into New Civilization sophisticates, if you see what I mean?

    So when the current elites fall into the history repeating trap they are hell-bent on throwing themselves down, does the rest of our society/civilization have to follow suit, as if this limited form of “progress” is somehow hard-wired, or could we break the model and do something different?

  143. CR Patiño, I have the same thoughts about Windows 10. I still use it, but at the moment, I most often use my Android tablet. I looked at Linux, but it has the disadvantage that there is fewer software available for Linux and so some software tools are missing or difficult to replicate. A further possibility for what happens when people become disenchanted with bloated software might be doing things without computer altogether.

    JMG, surely, the United States could invade Africa, but that would become another quagmire, and then there is the rising Chinese and Russian influence in Africa, and then there is the

    A further interesting factor is that the mechanism, by which institutions and governments keep on pursuing wasteful, unsustainable practices instead of doing useful things, leads to an acceleration of the self-destruction timeline for the institution or the empire or the civilization.

  144. “Why the transfer of wealth to the useless, and the self-defeating neglect of people who actually do necessary jobs?”
    My guess is that they are so enthralled with computerization of everything that all their attention is on that. Computers allow control, control, control and more control.

  145. >they would get sent to a specific “weight loss platoon” that was unofficially called The Donut Patrol

    That will probably be the name of a movie 20-30 years from now, where the protagonist dies at the end of the movie in a training camp. It’ll be made because 1000s more will have died that way.

    >Also it is worth noting that a huge number of young people disqualified from service are actually barred for some pretty trivial reasons

    So instead of 80%, it’ll be 50% when they get less picky. That’s still a lot of fish they have to throw back into the sea, because the fish aren’t healthy enough. And this upcoming war is going to be probably less than a 1/10th as popular as Vietnam was?

  146. Hi John Michael,

    I recall you mentioning that Franklin D. Roosevelt was of the elites, but managed to curb some of the worst excesses during a time of general hardship. And was widely hated in some circles (probably his own class, if I’d hazard a guess). He was clearly able to act when others couldn’t, or wouldn’t. Do you think it is possible that such a leader could arise again?

    Hey, how about them fuel prices? As an interesting side story (and also a reality check that there was a lot more oil and other resources in the 1930’s), today I spotted the highest price for petrol that I’d yet seen in this corner of the country. $2.289 per litre. That’s a whopping $8.70 a gallon. I had to fill up the small Suzuki, and that cost me $50. Anyway, the lady at the next pump over was filling up before I even began, and was still filling up after I had paid and was heading off.

    Hey, how about them big cars? 🙂

    Man, they’ve gotta be hurting, people who own such monster vehicles and monster lives. We live in a society awash with debt and future theft, but on an individual level, I really do wonder how much debt is being gotten into, to feed the pretence that things are normal. It’s utterly bonkers.

    At the core of these issues is that I suspect that the west is being given an object lesson, slowly and painfully.



  147. Here is a fun little article for everyone. What I enjoyed the most about it was the way the author eviscerated the op-ed from Wired that the article targets. Admittedly, Wired offers a lot of low hanging fruit to target, now more than ever. But I enjoyed the authors colorful turns of phrase in his riposte.

    And, for what its worth, does have some other rather interesting content. They commissioned me to write an article for them in 2022 and I’ve been following them a bit since then. I don’t agree with all their takes, or even primary positions, but it’s an interesting space to watch.

  148. On this blog we have discussed many of the reasons that we were able to go to the moon in 1969 but not since. I realized that Shirkey’s principle also plays a part. When the Soviets announced Sputnik, the large scale US space program was created so quickly, and worked on such a tight time schedule that there was no time for a ” counter-lunar” vested interest to set in.
    While it was still a huge and sometimes dysfunctional organization, Nasa grew so quickly it did not have time to become a hive a dysfunctional infighting before 1969. No large contingent had yet developed who would profit from perpetually trying but never reaching the moon ( that would have to wait for the Artemis program).
    Apollo happened so quickly, and with so much momentum that none of the elements of the Shirkey principle had time to become entrenched.

  149. Is there a little bit of Carl Jung’s psychology at work here “what you resist persists” or am I trying to overthink it and all that is required to understand the phenomenon is to consider the self-interest of the elites.

  150. About letting in illegal aliens (migrants) in the U.S. On “California Insider,” the sheriff of a Northern California Country (Mentecino(?)) discussed the cartels and their importation of undocumented workers. He said that there are vast marijuana farms that use these people and abuse them. He discovered that it is an on-going criminal enterprise with slave labor. White and brown slavery in action.

    He was asking for help since all he has are three deputies and himself to deal with this. He thinks that the cartels are paying off officials since they are so efficient with their pipeline of people going to Northern California from the border areas. Plus the marijuana farms have a high rate of deaths, so they need more and more people.

    Which makes me think that graft and corruption must be in the Biden Administration wholesale. Up until now, I thought it was incompetent boobery. Meanwhile, rumour has it that Obama is running things, so there is a lot of money being sloshed about.

  151. Depressing quote of the day,

    “Our government has not failed us. To fail implies there was at least a good faith effort to do the right thing.” — Eric Matheny

    As for “Maybe the reason they’re letting all these young healthy fighting age immigrants in is so that they can give them all amnesty making them citizens, then draft them straight away and send them off to fight in Eastern Europe or China.”

    It has been done before, but in the other order. Successful completion of a term of military service gets you citizenship. I knew two people who were in this program back in the early 80s when the Navy was short of manpower due to the lingering effects of Vietnam.

  152. I’m in a bit of a reading and writing frenzy, so lots of choice bits are coming up. I had need to go back into the Journey to the East by Hesse and found this choice tidbit. I think it relates very much to something the self-appointed elites have quite forgotten.

    ““The law of service. He who wishes to live long must serve, but he who wishes to rule does not live long.”

    ― Hermann Hesse, The Journey to the East

  153. @Australian Dreamer: When one of my friends back in Albuuerque, Daisy Ramos joined Jay’s Circle, she was a total mess, and one day she mentioned offhandedly that the side effects of one of her meds was getting to her. When we suggested she run that by her doctor, she said he’d just pile on another med.

    Her (partial) cure for what was wrong with her? (I suggested it to her, BTW.) Haul the entire bag down to the local big-name pharmacy and consult the pharmacist. That helped a lot! Another part of the cure was the distance from her loving family back in Arizona. who treated her like an incompetent – plus getting her own Section 8 apartment instead of living in the facility her family back there that her family had picked for her.

    And then a lot, an awful lot, of talk therapy and tough love from Jay – and when I left, she was more successful with the s/f fan crowd than I was.

    But – such doctors will always be with us, and, alas, such loving families. I’ myself, have at least 3 times taken myself off meds nobody ever thought to put a stop to, and it did me a world of good in all 3 cases – one of them, due to a quick & dirty diagnosis of bipolarity instead of an Aspie under severe stress. The cure for the latter being finalized in divorce court in 1990.

  154. @Neptune’s Dolphins: Mendocino County. And, yes, it’s a massive problem up there in the heavily forested countryside.

  155. Since no one else has commented on the latest Lardbucket news,

    “After an F-35 fighter jet disappeared into the South Carolina sky, a 911 operator received a confounding call.

    “I guess we got a pilot at our house and he says he got ejected from the plane,” said the caller, asking for an ambulance.

    “I’m sorry what happened?” the operator asked, according to a recording obtained by CNN.

    “We got a pilot in the house, and I guess he landed in my backyard and we’re trying to see if we can get an ambulance to the house, please.”

    “We’re getting help on the way,” the operator said, before the pilot took the phone.

    “We had a military jet crash,” he said. “I’m the pilot. We need to get rescue rolling.”

    And then he added: “I’m not sure where the airplane is. It would have crash-landed somewhere. I ejected.”

    However messed up the rest of the plane might be the stealthing features do work. Our own radars couldn’t find it even with the canopy gone.

    So how do you find your invisible airplane? 🙂

    Given the airplane flew 80 miles after the pilot ejected one has to wonder why he left. “I wonder what this button does?” Patooie says the plane.

    Fortunately no one seems to be hurt.

  156. @ Chris at Fernglade #157
    “Do you think it is possible that such a leader could arise again?”

    A book that I have just put on my “to get” list is this one. “America’s Last President: What the World Lost When It Lost John F. Kennedy”

    According to some, President Kennedy was actually assassinated twice. Firstly when his life was taken and secondly when his reputation and interrupted legacy were clouded, smeared, blackened and scheduled for burial. I understand this book presents soundly researched evidence showing that his Presidency was founded on a vision of a peaceful, multi-polar world, and that he was busy undertaking a number of policy directions both at home and abroad that would not have sat well with a large number of entrenched interests.

    I will be interested in getting the low down on the detail of these policy interests of his.

    Still, overall, it does no good for ordinary folk to put ALL our eggs in the basket of hopes for better leadership. There are many other baskets that may be less easily upset in the long term.

  157. @Mary Bennett #77:

    It’s not so much convincing them that my case is correct, as trying to show that the sources they rely on are deceiving them. But then, how do I know that my sources are not deceiving me?

    Neither side is willing to accept the evidence of the other side, and it’s gotten to the point where we can’t really talk to each other. That sounds like a recipe for deadlock and civil war, which I am particularly anxious to avoid.

    It’s likely a fool’s errand on my part.

  158. @JMG, #143
    Well, yes, that’s part of it. Specially since the clash between AMLO vs Republican US-Congresscritters on the proposed USAF strikes against Cartels on Mexican soil. However, even if performed by military personnel, this was (at least in spirit) a diplomatic mission. I could’ve totally see the Spanish parading happily without anyone but the most recalcitrant Indigenists batting an eyelid.
    To bring this sort of back on topic. I don’t see any purposeful messaging here with regards to the further alignment of Mexico with the BRICS block (specially in the Defense front). What I see is indolent politicians on both sides of the border, scoring cheap points with hard-core constituencies that are going to vote for them anyways; all while risking real alienation between neighboring countries that will be riding the challenging years ahead together, like it or not.

    @Booklover, #154
    I never used Win8.x, but Win10 is the first case of a Microsoft’s OS that I recall breaking the factory’s defaults. Others would age more or less graciously if you avoided installing newer/heavier apps. This one is actively trying to make you buy new hardware! Even machines that were bought during the initial bouts of the pandemic (2020 Q3-Q4) are now struggling to keep up unless you install solid state disks on them. In a sane society, we would be seeing massive class action lawsuits against the Redmond Rustlers.

  159. Hi all:

    Two things to comment on this post.

    First, my first “official job” was in the medical instrumentation field. Two years later I run from it as fast as I could, just becuase the Shirky effect was really well known… that was 1998.

    So, far from new.

    The second, is that about ten years ago, I read a book in spanish (as it happens, I’m spanish, I live in Spain, close to Barcelona). That book is in fact a treatise in the Shirky effectd, and it is really in line with what is told over this blog and the companion one.

    Well this book and the other two from the same author.

    Those books are free for download, as encouraged by the same author (so, no sales pitch here) but they are only available in spanish and portughese.

    I wonder if Google can translate then easily and in a readable way.

    The first one is titles La Danza Final de Kali or Kali’s Final Dance as literal english translation.

    I highly encourage to read it!


  160. An alternative theory just occurred to me. What if civilizations fail because the creative minority loses control of the mechanisms of government? At that point the bureaucracy takes over and, since its only motivation is short-term self-preservation, it proceeds to lurch mindlessly from crisis to crisis until the civilization collapses. It may even turn on the creative minority and replace it with members of its own ranks. After all, what happened to the leader who said he was going to break just one government agency into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds?

  161. @stephen (#146) Interesting point. I can’t say for other countries, but in Canada, it is now possible for landed immigrants to enrol in the military seconds after getting cleared through customs (something which puts our serving military personnel and vets who enlisted at a time when only citizens could apply in conniptions). By the looks of things, this ‘brilliant’ strategy does not seem to be working because (a) despite its best efforts at recruitment the country’s military is shrinking by several thousand per year (some battalions presently have 100 soldiers [this is not a typo!] when they should have 800-1000); and (b) said fighting-age male immigrants seem to prefer expressing themselves kinetically in rival factional gangs rather than in uniform. Maybe – just maybe – it has something to do with Canada’s ‘let’s make our military the wokest on the planet’ agenda: with woke indoctrination cranked up to ‘warp 10’ any self-respecting fighting-age immigrant male would go AWOL screaming and holding his hands over his much-abused ears.

  162. Siliconguy #56:
    “As to the water contamination hypothesis, half the work is already done. Every Class A public water system has to test their water on a routine basis for inorganic chemicals, volatile organic chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, other organic chemicals, soil fumigants, and various radioactive elements. Testing for the fluorinated “forever” chemicals will be starting soon.”

    Naah, if they follow precedent, all they’ll do about PFOA and etc. in the water is convince the public that it’s another kind of fluoride and so it makes your teeth stronger.

  163. A luta continua (The struggle continues)

    This was the slogan of FRELIMO during the campaign to kick the Portuguese colonists out of Mozambique. Once the revolution was over, there was no more use for revolutionaries. What to do?

    Cue Shirky. “Machel became the first president of an independent Mozambique in 1975 and continued to use the phrase a luta continua as an unofficial national motto. Posters bearing the phrase can still be found on the walls of Maputo, the nation’s capital.” — wikipedia

    AFAIK they are still using the phrase. It’s pure Shirkyism, keeping a revolution going artificially. Castro used the same methodology, I believe.

  164. Mythic, rewriting history is a common habit of failing elites, since it’s essential to their self-esteem that they avoid noticing either their track record of failure or the inevitable results moving steadily toward them. Toynbee’s a good antidote to that — and thus very unwelcome.

    Stephen, that’s been common US practice for many years. We got a lot of Filipino immigrants that way after the Second World War, for example.

    Dreamer, I’ve been repeatedly amused by the shock and loathing on the part of those of my critics who suddenly get around to noticing that I really am what I’ve been saying I am all along — you know, a Druid. The horror! 😉 Unfortunately you’re quite correct that the same shock and loathing is being deployed in less amusing ways by those who don’t want to admit that the inadequately tested experimental drugs pushed on them by government, the media, the medical industry have nasty side effects.

    Michael, if the Grist competition had been open to genuinely new ideas, I’d have done my best to promote it and write something compelling for them. The rest of their rules made it painfully clear, though, that what they wanted was another helping of the same ideas that have failed to accomplish anything useful already. It’s on the fringes, if anywhere, that the ideas we need will be born.

    Moose, that’s quite correct. There are plenty of interest-free money systems on various drawing boards, but since they don’t permit the owners of money to parasitize the production of real wealth — that’s what charging interest is about, after all — they have zero chance of being put to work. Instead, we can expect money to drop out of use as the market economy implodes under the burden of its parasites, and the usual shift back to local customary, household, and gift economies to replace it.

    Scotlyn, that makes perfect sense, of course.

    Carlos, I’ve been watching the AI circus with quite some amusement; once again, a vast amount of hype, followed by the slow realization that the technology doesn’t perform as promised, and a slow trickle away into irrelevance. That’s the story of most recent innovations.

    Disc_Writes, fair enough. I don’t think Toynbee would be too surprised.

    Marsh, civilizations tend to emerge wherever the resource base permits the rise of privileged minorities who don’t have to work for a living. There have been societies that have gone out of their way to prevent the rise of civilization — the southeast Asian cultures chronicled in James Scott’s book The Art of Not Being Governed are one example, the northeastern woodland Native Americans are another — but it’s not a common outcome, and it takes constant vigilance.

    Booklover, of course it would be another quagmire. Quagmires are good for business! You can keep them burbling away for years, never succeeding but never quite failing, and rake in profits all the while.

    JustMe, I suspect you’re right and that’s a significant factor.

    Chris, it’s a possibility. It depends entirely on whether there’s anybody in our current elites who can pull his head out of the feeding trough long enough to notice what’s happening. As for fuel prices, yep — oil is upwards of US$90 a barrel today, and likely to go higher. It’ll be interesting to see how soon we get panic buying, leading to a price spike and crash.

    Justin, I’d have liked to see the author go a little deeper. It’s a fun bit of snark, but the antibirth rhetoric we see flung around so enthusiastically these days deserves closer scrutiny and a colder analysis.

    Clay, a fine point! I’m intrigued to note that Scientific American, of all venues, just released an essay explaining that human beings aren’t going to live in space…

    …so the ongoing failure of the Artemis project may be shifting into overdrive soon.

    Koyaanisquatsi, no, you’re not overthinking it — that’s a point worth reflecting on.

    Neptunesdolphins, interesting. Yeah, that would make sense.

    Siliconguy, ha! Funny.

    Justin, good heavens. Retrotopia, here we come! And thanks for the reminder about Hesse — I need to do another Hesse reading orgy sometime soon.

    Siliconguy, the sheer stunning incompetence in that series of events has me wondering if there really is more going on this time — and you know how allergic I am to conspiracy theories!

    DFC, ***bad weather***? Okay, that’s the best one yet.

    CR, so noted. I freely admit my status as Clueless Gringo™ in such matters.

    Beamspot, of course it’s not new. Several other readers have noted earlier statements of the same principle.

    Roldy, a case could be made!

    Martin, that’s another good example. Mexico got there first; for many years it was ruled by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the Party of the Institutional(ized) Revolution.

  165. JMG: Another fine essay. The first paragraph made me smile, as I have always felt disaffected and disappointed with the NY-dominated publishing establishment (and its overlap with academia). That cabal pushes writers to increasing specialization and narrowness, expects you to stay in your lane, and only rewards you when you do. One of the reasons I keep coming back to your writing is that you grow and change and cross over into other disciplines constantly.

    Also delighted to see you reference Clay Shirky. I used to read his work back in the 90s, when many of us were more optimistic about the shiny new online world. I’m glad he’s still around and still relevant. Sounds like he hasn’t sold his soul like so many others.

    The obesity distraction here made me wonder if you’d consciously chosen to frame the Shirky Principle using that example instead of the one that immediately leapt to my mind: homelessness. The truckloads of tax money dumped into the problem in places like LA and SF with only a marked worsening to show for it while non-profits grow like fat cats–hoo boy, that’s a perfect example. It might have been even more distracting a topic than obesity’s proving to be, though. At any rate, the concept here is spot on, and I liked your advice to another commenter to look for a non-profit staffed by volunteers. Back in my libertarian anarchist days, I got into voluntarism as a concept and think we threw the baby out with the bath water when we let government step in where humanity left off in caring for each other. Also, I’m now worried that as some of my favorite local non-profits grow to a size where they need staff, they will cease to be effective!

    JMG, Nachtgurke: Thanks for your comments on the long-running empires’ abilities to give rise to a new creative elite and sidestep complete collapse. I’ve been wondering about that and would welcome more of your writing, JMG, on that topic in the future if you’re so inclined.

    To the rest of the commentariat: I’ve recently gone down a rabbit hole in revisiting the ‘little house’ books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which though ostensibly written for children are nonetheless a good eyewitness account of life in the years just before fossil fuels changed the world as we know it. Wilder herself went from a childhood journey by covered wagon to seeing travel by car and even plane become commonplace in her adulthood. There has been nowhere near as dramatic an increase in technology in my own lifetime. You’d think that would clue people in to the myth of progress, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s jarring sometimes being aware of your position on the downward slope while everyone around you thinks we’re still ascending. Anyone else have this experience? How do you handle it, outside of buying a copy of The Long Descent for everyone in your family?

    For Wilder fans (probably not you, JMG), here’s my writeup on visiting her homestead, where she wrote all of her books. Sadly, the state of her hometown is definitely signaling that all is not well in these United States. Oh, and there’s also a visit to Baker Creek Seed Co. in here, for you gardeners:

  166. JMG,

    And now a story. My mom (now deceased) had a perfect example of this happen to her about 20 years ago. She was working for the state of Oregon administeriing money to help women who were tranisitioning back into the workforce from prison. A reporter asked her where she would like to see her fund in 10 years. She replied that she would love it if there was no need for it in 10 years.
    She got called on the carpet big time! Her boss was very upset and told her she was not allowed to ever say anything like that again. My mom refused saying it was the truth and she would always tell the truth. So her boss banned from ever talking to the media.
    She took early retirement soon after that.


  167. This article by Kevin Dahlgren seems germane to this week’s discussion.

    From the article:

    “Do you know the definition of insanity?” He [a homeless person] asked

    “Yes, Its when you do something over and over again and expect a different result” I [Kevin Dahlgren] responded.

    He giggled for a few moments and responded

    “They do the same thing over and over again because they want the same result”.

    In Canada we had protests across most of the country this week about whether or not gender commissars in the public school system should be allowed to discuss gender transition and other subjects in secret with children. The knives haven’t come out yet for the Muslims who are the largest and most cohesive bloc in the anti-child-transition camp, but it will be interesting to watch when it inevitably happens. For now the media is content to ignore everyone at the protests except the white Christian ones, or claim that Christians have hoodwinked the Muslims somehow – they really cannot imagine a world where they are not in charge.

  168. @Siliconguy

    That F-35 incident resulted in one of the most awesomely hilarious TV interviews of the decade. If you have not seen it, just poke around the tubes a bit for “Randolph White” and F-35.
    “I was in the bathroom taking a shave…”
    If that guy did audiobooks, I would buy them all. There’s a truncated version of the interview here:
    But the full version is well worth it– he goes on to speculate about meteorites.

  169. JMG,

    You know as poor as the current crop of leadership is the mold/casting being built for the next batch is going to create something far less reasonable and in all likelihood much more violent.

    This is because the safety which made overt acts of power (i.e. violence) unnecessary is diminishing and they will not peacefully adjust to the new more precarious level of day to day life for quite some time. They will take the dimished safety as an attack upon themselves until the memory of prior levels of safety fades.

  170. Don’t a lot of the institutional goals in question seem rather, well, Faustian to begin with? As far as I can tell, in most times and places, charities were intended to help the poor not “end poverty;” police arrested criminals rather than going to war against them; schools were intended to provide the opportunity to learn for those who treasured such opportunity not educate every single person to particular specifications; and medicine prior to broad-spectrum antibiotics was meant to succor the patient’s ability to recover where possible, not step in and remove the illness from the person (let alone from the population) like a dentist pulling a tooth. It shouldn’t be surprising that the pursuit of infinite or perfect goals hampers the achievement of finite or adequate ones.

    That fits right in with the trajectory you described for climate change measures. I get push-back on advocating conservation, localization, and LESS in climate change discussions, specifically on the grounds of their not being “real solutions” or even that they’re the Big Lie That The Oil Companies Want You To Swallow. Because, you see, they don’t eliminate emissions completely, the way wind, solar, electric cars, heat pumps, etc. supposedly will as soon as the big corporations stop resisting the simple and obvious solution of “just switching over to renewable power.” Naturally the perfect unbounded solution shouldn’t require any effort or sacrifice!

  171. Toynbee also noted that Civilizations are born around a religion, prosper with that religion, and disappear when that religion dies out. Vide Western Civilization and Christianity.

  172. Re: water contamination: (@siliconguy et al)

    When I lived in Boston, a brief, minor scandal hit the news. Some junior reporter decided to do something investigative or something. So it turned out that the municipal water authorities were required by law to test the city water for all sorts of things, every year. And they did.

    What the law neglected to do, was require them to publish the results or do anything about it, if the water wasn’t safe. You can probably already see where this is going. Turns out the city water has had unsafe lead levels since forever, the water people have known about it since forever, and… they just opted to not say anything. I lived there for a couple more years after, but I never heard about any follow-up on that either.

    I am reminded of the SEP field, an alien technology from one of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker books. It renders things functionally (not actually) invisible, by making them look so weird, so impossible, and so bizarre, that everyone in range instantly decides “that’s Somebody Else’s Problem” and ignores it, hoping someone else will deal with it.

  173. Brunette, I could have used any of a hundred different examples to lead off the discussion of the Shirky Principle! I chose the diet industry precisely because so many people are so obsessive about the notion that diet, and only diet, determines body weight. Offering a challenge to that false belief struck me as a good way to point up the problems with the Shirky Principle in practice — and if it meant deleting some irrelevant posts, why, that’s just one of the services I offer. 😉

    AV, that’s a classic example. Thank you!

    Justin, truer words were never spoken.

    GlassHammer, the thing to keep in mind is that the current ruling class has no clue how to use violence competently — as witness the total failues in Afghanistan and Ukraine. That means that their attempts to use it will simply guarantee their replacement.

    Walt, that’s an excellent point.

    Jim, Toynbee’s vision is a little more complex than that. Religions and civilizations play hopscotch with one another. A religion is born in the waning years of one civilization — think of the way that Christianity emerged in the twilight of Rome. It provides a bridge through the dark age that follows, as Christianity did, and then ages and falters as a new civilization rises. It dies as the civilization reaches its peak — and then some new religion emerges as the civilization begins to decline.

  174. Hi John Michael,

    Happy equinox!

    You’re probably right, especially given that’s what’s happened before in relation to energy. I’ve come around to the conclusion that as a civilisation we’re taking the: ‘rationing by price’, path when it comes to resource depletion. The funny thing about that option is that across all levels of society (including goberments) everyone thinks they’ll be on the correct side of that story. That’s what I call a gamble.

    We’re just so dysfunctionally illiterate when it comes to energy. I read an article this morning about how rooftop solar power systems (one in three houses on the entire continent) generated x massive percentage of the grids capacity at some point in the day. Yeah, but what about at night, or for the rest of the day. What then? That’s the question which pops into my head. The entire system has to balance supply with demand. And they speak of batteries, yeah, but I don’t see anyone installing battery capacity of three to four times the grids usual demand. Although a lot of people are demanding that someone, somewhere spend the money to do that. Batteries in such a context anyway would be subject to an abuse of the commons, much like say, landfills and waste are.

    Hey, I like the discussion on diets. Nice shot. My observation is that pretty much everyone is different, and like you pointed out has different sensitivities and needs. But your larger point is correct, this is what living on a poisoned planet looks like. There are consequences. I tend to put a few brain cells towards what I eat, but mostly (sweeping generalisation alert!) I see people wanting what they want, and hoping to not think about it too much. Much of the food sold is fairly lowest common denominator, whatever will last and cope with the shipping. There are consequences for all those choices.



  175. JMG:
    I published “The Vested Interest Phenomenon” 30 years ago in the _very_ short and small run of “The National Liar”, a satirical newsletter at Lincoln University, then in San Francisco. The article went as follows. Quote it as you wish.


    From the annals of the National Liar
    Volume 0, #0, April 1, 1993
    From the Discreditor’s Desk:
    The Vested Interest Phenomenon

    We here at the National Liar naturally take strong interest in politics. What better place to find material suited for publication here? Who but a politician would call himself a liberal and prove it by writing thousands of new government regulations? Or call himself a conservative and prove it by spending the nation $2,000,000,000,000 into debt?
    Liberals do not liberate and conservatives do not conserve. Why is this so? Why does communism lead to communal warfare, and capitalism lead to national bankruptcy? Why does welfare spending cause poverty, and defense spending cause warfare? When merchants run a country, consumers lose their jobs; when spies run a country, nobody knows what’s going on; when lawyers run a country, everybody becomes a lawbreaker; and when priests run a country, sin is the only way to succeed. Why?
    There is a simple explanation for every one of these ironic reversals. It is the Vested Interest Phenomenon, or “V-I.P.”; a universal political law which states:
    Every social service organization has a vested interest in the continued existence of precisely those evils which it is pledged to combat.
    Please note; every service group has a vested interest. There are no exceptions to this rule. The V-I.P.’s validity is forever guaranteed by the existence of corruption, stupidity and incompetence. Social service organizations which attain their stated goals must then disband; those which somehow fail can continue to exist. Thus they inevitably evolve downwards.
    For instance, if liberals really did liberate the masses, then the masses would have less need for liberals. If conservatives really did conserve family values, then families would have less need for conservatives. To maintain their power base, both groups must preserve their pet peeves. That is why liberals enslave and conservatives destroy. They usually do so unwittingly; indeed, witlessly.
    One can multiply examples of this nature, not limited to formal politics. Commerce reduces our wealth, medicine makes us sick, war destroys the homeland, philosophy eclipses wisdom, science confuses us about Nature, religion leads us away from God, and so on.
    And what of this newspaper? Is the National Liar immune from the subtle ravages of Vested Interest? If there were no Vested Interest Phenomenon, would this newspaper have as many follies to mock? Certainly not! Obviously the National Liar has a vested interest in Vested Interest, and is as untrustworthy as anything else. So don’t believe anything in this newspaper – especially this very article!
    Doubt this Discreditorial!

  176. Highly OT: but OMG!!!

    Bottom line: “Apparently archaeologists have discovered the eearliest known wooden structure in Kalambo Falls, Zambia: two cut logs bearing tool marks that were shaped and joined to form part of a structure—476,000 years ago. Click through the link above for details as to how they dated it, and why it appears to have survived: it’s being reported in Nature so this looks pretty solid, and it’s a jaw-dropper.”

  177. C R Patino
    I will defer to your greater knowledge on the workings of Mexican society. Mine is mostly based on life in one small town where pretty much everyone’s interests intersect on keeping it safe and having the tourist industry thrive, both foreign and Tapatio. Funny how even in the comfort and security of this blog, I find it difficult to use the c word.
    Interesting your mentioning Philippinos in the US army. post WWII. I had some Philippino NCOs including my favorite sergeant in basic training in 1958. They were offered quite a good deal, probably as a reward for their loyalty and service during the war. They could transfer with their rank and time from the Philippine Scouts,(like recon, not like boy scouts) which gave them a pretty good retirement package. most of them planned to go back to the Philippines upon retirement though.
    After the early years, the US colonial rule grew more benign, better, I would say than Britain or France or Holland, and certainly better than Japan. At least they had the sense to grant the Philippines independence in 1946 without the need of a war for independence. We probably get therein to the whole concept of the American commercial empire as opposed to the earlier European and American administrative empires, but not today.

  178. Scotlyn #87
    I absolutely agree with you. Ordinary people always manage to some extent and are better to rely on themselves than wait for someone of importance to help them.

  179. Hi John,

    Great post as always.

    This has attracted my attention and suggests a very cultural moment of embracing Dark Age values.

    “Hatred of “the Bugman” and exaltation of “brotherhoods of savage men who have decided to purify the Earth and rid it of the infestation of the human-cockroach” recur throughout Bronze Age Mindset. Peasants are “locusts on the Earth”, urban workers “blob humans” willingly enslaved by their labours. Military dictators, ancient Greek tyrants and pirates, weight-lifting and nude sunbathing are among the author’s few enthusiasms.

    BAP’s disdain for Christianity and the Enlightenment sets him apart from most other intellectuals of the right at the present time. The contrast with the much more widely known Jordan Peterson is telling. Like BAP, Peterson writes for those disenchanted with liberal culture and has attracted an audience of disoriented young men, but there the similarities end. The Canadian psychologist is a cultural conservative, who believes contemporary malaise comes from a rejection of Western traditions – notably the Christian religion.”

    Peterson represents the emerging Second Religiosity as predicted by Spengler. What BAP represents is a yearning for the coming deindustrial Dark Ages.

  180. >You know as poor as the current crop of leadership is the mold/casting being built for the next batch is going to create something far less reasonable and in all likelihood much more violent

    They’ve created a bunch of gofers and bagmen. Also see: Hunter Biden. But you are right in the larger scale of things, it’s just that whoever replaces them (and it won’t be the Hunter Bidens of the world) is out there amongst the general populace. Or somebody really ambitious that they think is just another flunkie.

  181. >we’re taking the: ‘rationing by price’, path when it comes to resource depletion

    Your faith in the free markets is touching. And also quaint. This is the 21st c, and everything is rigged by the government, only the window dressing remains. Rationing will ultimately happen by state diktat, where the most politically connected will rig things in their favor. And it will be done incompetently, with lots of wastage.

    I think they had a taste of what free market rationing would be like, back in the 70s and decided that reality was just way too much of a bummer. I dunno, maybe they were right.

  182. I realized that coming up with examples of large private and public organizations that have been wrecked via Shirkeys principle was too easy and a little pointless. But coming up with large public and private organizations, or complexes of organizations in America today that have not been ruined is much more difficult, and perhaps more useful. For if we can identify any, then we can figure out why they have avoided Shirkey’s self serving fate ( for now). I can only think of a few, and I might even be wrong on those. Here is my stab at it:
    The National Park Service
    The US Coast Guard
    The system of fraternal organizations like the Masons
    The agricultural extension service along with 4H, FFA and the county
    and state fair system.
    Farmers Markets

  183. CR Patiño –

    Re: impossible regulation + selective enforcement = soft authoritarianism

    Eamon Fingleton wrote a book describing how this combination is widespread in China. Western business interests can’t get anywhere without a little bribery, and perhaps a little prostitution makes the travel more pleasant, but both are illegal. Surveillance collects the evidence, but there’s no reason for an actual enforcement action as long as everybody on the Chinese side makes a profit. Why go through all the exertions of a public trial, when the evidence can be presented privately to the accused and a settlement reached?

    Selective enforcement could potentially be applied to any of us, at the local level, if it should become acceptable, and who’s to say that the meme of “driving while black” isn’t an indicator?

  184. @stephen h. pearson, #191

    Ok, that makes sense. The ancestors of the future Dukes and Counts of the Meycan Empire may have not yet internalized the Noblesse Oblige principle, but they are very good at keeping the goose of the golden eggs… if not happy at least healthy enough to keep on churning out great value. So, yes, I get the self censoring.

    From general principles, the closer you are to the center, the more diluted any one individual’s power becomes. So, you may be enjoying some benefits from the “cut the red tape” side of collapse.

  185. @Peter Wilson

    AFAICT, corporate charities are just an employment program for the flunkie scions of the wealthy. Also a convenient way to launder bribes to public officials– you can’t give them your money directly, but you can “hire” their offspring, nieces, nephews, and daughters-in-law for no-show “board member” jobs that pay very well indeed, at your nonprofit… Bonus points: this kind of political bribery is tax-deductible!

  186. On the military-industrial senile-elite complex, may I present:

    Yes, for reasons incomprehensible to any sane mind, apparently “Zelensky” has “asked” (I assume his handlers held a knife to his funding’s throat and said he had to?) the spirit-cooking lady to be his ambassador and help Ukraine’s schools.

    The mind boggles.

    Honestly, I’m sympathetic to Ukraine here. I know a fair number of Ukrainians, nobody wants to be a suburb of Moscow, and I’m all for national self-determination and not getting invaded.

    But this is some evil psycho lizard-people shale, and as of today I think I’m OK with everyone involved getting nuked by Russia.

  187. Orion – Speaking of wheelchairs… while waiting for my wife to be treated at a clinic, I looked at the pool of wheelchairs that the facility had for helping people in/out from their cars. The tire of one of them had come off of its hub. I went to the receptionist and offered to repair it. “Oh, no.”, she said, “We’ll have someone from the maintenance department take care of that.”

    Three weeks later, I was back at the clinic, and the only “repair” was a “do not use” sign on the chair. So, I waited until no one was around to see, and made the repair with my bare hands and Swiss-army knife. And I stole the sign.

    Three weeks later, I’m back at the clinic again, and a patient needs a wheelchair. There was confusion when all of the chairs appeared ready for use. “Watch out for the broken one.” “Which one is broken?” “Ummm… none of them, I guess.”

    Do what you can, when you can, where you can.

  188. >I assume his handlers held a knife to his funding’s throat and said he had to

    Does Kermit the Frog ever get a knife held to his throat? Or does he gladly do the will of Henson?

  189. forcastingintelligence, I am a fan of John Grey and am glad to see that he still flourishes, but I don’t care to either subscribe to or register with New Statesman. Could you perhaps summarize the article. I have come across references to BAP and I supposed him to be yet another loud mouth who thinks after the apocalypse, he gets to be in charge. So much for the meek inheriting the earth.

  190. Chris, yeah, the degree of sheer pigheaded ignorance displayed by almost everybody on energy issues is one of the major issues we face. I long ago lost track of the number of people who seem to think that if a solar PV system is rated at X kilowatt/hours, then it’s going to produce that many kilowatt/hours 24 hours a day, seven days a week, forever.

    Brunette, thank you!

    Paradoctor, got it and thank you.

    Patricia M, I saw it this morning! Thanks for this.

    Forecastingintelligence, and both of them are typical products of this point in the historical cycle: the preservers, who are starting the process of assembling some package of cultural heritage to pass on to the future, and the dismantlers, who are starting the process of clearing away everything else. Me, I’m very much on the side of the preservers, but both are inevitable parts of the process. I don’t think Gray gets that.

    Marsh, it’s worth your while!

    Clay, I’d more or less agree on those, though there are exceptions within some of them — I know lodges that exist solely for the benefit of a little circle of elderly members, for example.

    Methylethyl, I saw that. Maybe that was the quid pro quo for the Clinton Foundation getting its claws into the project to rebuild Ukraine as a US puppet state (not that that’s going to happen).

    Patricia M, alas, the link didn’t come through in usable condition. Can you repost with the URL?

  191. >and then some new religion emerges as the civilization begins to decline

    Here’s my Modest Proposal for the record:

    1. Take the Old Testament and throw it in the trash. Especially that Book where all it is is begat, begat, begat, begat. Who cares about some family album from before the Late Bronze Collapse? Get rid of it. Nobody cares outside of a few 1000s of seminary students. And I bet even they would be happy not to have to care either.

    2. Take the New Testament and make it the New Old Testament.

    3. Take the Aprocrypha and make it the New New Testament. Call that Bible v2.0 and Christianity v2.0.

    4. Ok, you’re screaming about things that you find Special and Precious from the Old Testament? Now’s your chance to write a new Book and put it in the New New Testament.

    It’ll never happen. But there’s my suggestion. And I shudder at the people getting the Bright Idea to make The New 100 Commandments, given the opportunity.


    I generally stay away from talking about the F-35 because it’s a bad joke at this point. Dead horse, something something beating something something. But I take away from this article that if the F-35 is Teh Future(tm), then they are going to need all the mechanics they can get their hands on, to make good on all their promises, if they want to use the thing in the Hot War With Russia. And if they can’t get them, they will draft them. Especially if you’re a documented mechanic with documented skills.

    And with 21st c warfare, there are no such things as safe behind the lines. If they can see the maintenance hangar, they can blow it up with a missile.

  193. I just ordered “The Dawn of Everything” from the local library. I was checking Wikipedia for criticisms of the book and found this: “Historian Walter Scheidel criticized the book for its lack of “materialist perspectives”, but also called it “timely and stimulating”.” Well, that does sound intriguing.

  194. Just to see if I got it straight (and by way of summarizing JMG’s excellent article for this week) — from the PMC perspective, the old saying I heard and read most often from Gore Vidal holds true: “No good deed goes unpunished.” The rest, to quote the sages, is commentary. Am I being too simplistic here?

  195. Hi John Michael,

    I so hear you, and despite having over a decade of experience of having to live with this solar energy technology, I can’t seem to get it through to people that there are significant downsides. I’ve got the daily records stretching back now to 2009, and there are just some winter days where you get 10 minutes of sunlight. That’s why the plants aren’t growing at that time of year. And that day can come on the back of the two previous days of 30 minutes each of sunlight each. Sure that’s not always the case during winter, but a system has to accommodate the worst days, not the best, or even the average.

    Have to laugh, the strangest comment I’ve ever fielded on the interweb, was some dude responding to that information as to the downsides of the technology, and then declaring that the system was faulty on the basis that he had this model which suggested that the result should have been at least 2 hours of sunlight.

    That comment really left me scratching my head, but basically what I was thinking was that: Mate, we’re fracked!

    Back in 2009 I went into the technology boots and all, with high ideals and noble beliefs. Fourteen years later, in order to be off grid, I pay ten times as much as what people on the grid pay, and all I hope for is the technology to simply work without disastrous outcomes (there’s a lot that can go wrong and quickly with this stuff). Need I mention that peoples AC transfer switches with grid tied systems seem to be failing after a decade for some unknown reason? Think, cheap.

    As a civilisation, we simply cannot afford pay for the size and scale of batteries to run things as they are today. The numbers don’t stack up, even with the benefit of scale.

    You won’t find me disagreeing with you about how solar hot water is a better use of the suns warmth, and plants of course. 🙂



  196. I wonder if there aren’t more layers to this onion. How do civilizations go down the drain so consistently because their elites become so dedicated to staying on deeply rutted institutional donkey paths? That being, this is the way we’ve always done things, this approach has always worked, this is our tradition, to do otherwise would be a shocking violation of our values, a breaking of a sacred trust. I’ve seen variations of this thinking at work.

    And so, Vikings may be starving but shellfish are unhealthy. They just are. So say our priests and learned men and our most venerated high kings and warriors. And, besides, real men don’t eat shellfish, they just don’t. And given that Vikings are the most manly of men, Vikings don’t touch shellfish, shellfish may be jumping into Viking boats begging to be devoured but Vikings have never eaten shellfish, Vikings will perish before a morsel passes our lips. I’ve seen this type of thinking at work too ie avoid obvious but unconventional solutions at all costs.

    Maybe we see the same stuff unfold over and over because while human nature may change over time and place, maybe it doesn’t change all that much.

    Maybe it’s like R.H. Tawney said, books without things make Oxford dons, things without books make borough councillors between whom the world goes to the devil.

    IOW too many guys thinking without doing, too many guys doing without thinking, which is what happens when advanced societies have specialized roles and division of labor. And so institutions get into ruts they can’t get out of. Maybe the men of action and the scholars should put their heads together once in a while.

    But maybe we ought to beware of that too. It seems that universities went woke, then governments went woke, then the military and now big business too, and if this isn’t a fogbank to obscure real material problems then I don’t know what it is.

  197. Other Owen, I doubt the Bible in any of its versions will play much of a role in the rising series of religions. How much of a role did Pagan Greek sacred writings play in the rise of Christianity and Islam? About as big a role as the F-35 will play in the next serious war…

    Clarke, oh, quite possibly, but it’s an elegant little snark.

    Chris, I’ve noticed consistently that there are two kinds of people who think solar power is the answer to all our problems. The first are people who know nothing about it. The second are people who are trying to sell you a PV system!

    Grover, that’s just sad. Really, truly sad. They need to put Zuck in a playpen somewhere and give him a binky so he won’t get so stressed out dealing with reality.

    Smith, and that’s also a factor. As I noted in the post, the Shirky Principle is only part of the problem — though it’s an important part.

  198. John #29,
    I too live in NZ, but my NZ isn’t populated by a bunch of rich foreigners who employ you to keep their little empires down here “safe”. You are living in fantasy land if you think that NZ is going to be immune from all the chaos of the “outside world”, and we can all just live our “normal” lives.

    When it comes down to the crunch and the ordinary Kiwis are really up against it and go for your employer’s goodies, are you going to be there to “protect” the rich foreigner’s bolthole? Good luck mate.

    In case you haven’t noticed, this country’s infrastructure falling apart, all systems are in disarray due to being run by clueless ideological “woke” bureaucrats and their woke academic mentors pedalling “post modern” intellectual rubbish.

    I’ve watched this process going on for 25 years, and its getting worse by the minute.

  199. The Shirky Principle is new to me, but makes a lot of sense and really highlights one key mechanism by which empires rot out from the inside. Given the biologically driven need to compete for resources, it is basically inescapable, and the best anyone can do is identify what is happening and get out of the way before the wheels come off the bus. Accusations and recriminations are pointless.

  200. JMG said: “…the new problems go unsolved, and the former creative minority turns into a dominant minority, which can no longer inspire the masses and settles for bullying them instead. When this happens, the civilization tips over into decline, and eventually goes down under the weight of its unsolved problems.”

    I came across an interesting exposition possibly related to this:

    What is wrong with the western political class?

    “…The Ukraine war and the loss of control over the non-western world have caused economic chaos in the West – which will be followed by social chaos. This is bringing the whole house of cards down far too fast and they fear they might lose control. They need to react and solve those problems – but they don’t know how – because they are incompetent. All these challenges and failures are causing their models of self to be challenged, which has serious emotional consequences for them – so they escalate on every level. They shout at people, insult people, make up delusional explanations, and then retreat into absolute denial. Everybody can see this – including the leaders of the non-western world. Nobody wants to talk to our political elites these days, because a narcissist who is losing control is not pleasant to be around.”

  201. this reminds me of something i saw on usenet back in the day: “give a man a fish and you establish a relationship based on your benevolence and your control of the fish supply; teach a man to fish and you must then find something else to do”

  202. Hi JMG,

    Since I feel that the last couple of topics were related to my previous message, I’d like to say that I am indeed a long time lurker, and definitely not a corporate troll farm 🙂

    Maybe what I really miss is not the old Archdruid, but the younger me that reading your essays thought that the world still could realize the predicament it was in, and take some significant steps towards softening the blow. Now your essays make me both angry and sad.

    I honestly AM a bit bitter about your apparent fondness of MAGA ideas, but as you often point out, the ideas that I find more appealing don’t seem to produce meaningful improvements.
    I guess everybody is more or less consciously realizing that we are in a downward arc, and nobody really wants to give up what they have, regardles whether they are upfront or in denial about this.

    By the way it took me one hour of rethinking and rewriting for these meager paragraphs, so I’ll definitely go back into my lurker hole. Thank you for continuing to write.

  203. @The Other Owen, re: military fitness

    What I’ve heard from military folks is, it’s a lot worse than just obesity and diabetes. You know how nobody gets outside to play anymore as kids? Turns out hanging out playing video games and watching netflix (or sub in any other non-physically-demanding activity) for all your growing years means you don’t put any stress on your bones and joints… and they end up underdeveloped. You may not be fat, or diabetic, or have any chronic health problems to keep you out of the military– but five or ten years into your military career, all that PT, gear-hauling, etc catches up… you will definitely blow out your knees. And possibly your back. You can’t build the necessary muscle strength on top of a skeletal frame you developed sitting indoors. So look at all the numbers about how many people can’t get *into* the military because of poor fitness… and add a whole bunch on top of that who are going to have to get out after less than ten years because they were *just* fit enough to get in, but not fit enough to sustain it.

  204. “I guess everybody is more or less consciously realizing that we are in a downward arc, and nobody really wants to give up what they have, regardless of whether they are upfront or in denial about this.”

    There is a Tucker Carlson interview on zerohedge,

    “Our system is collapsing in real time. We’re watching this happen. If you read the American media, it’s stories about Kim Kardashian and lots of irrelevant crap about trannies and all this stuff. The bottom line is the president of the United States is non compos mentis.”

    Even the true-blue sanctuary cities are buckling.

    “The mayor of New York is warning that the city could be “destroyed” if it doesn’t get more help to cope with an influx of migrants. City officials describe a humanitarian crisis that’s straining resources, filling up shelters and putting pressure on New York City schools.”

  205. Patricia O, the Shirky Principle doesn’t affect everyone and everything to the same degree, or in quite the same way. Thus accusations and recriminations may be pointless, but public discussion of where it’s worst and what bureaucracies and industries might belong on the chopping block in an age of rapidly contracting resources seems reasonable to me.

    Earthworm, it’s an interesting thesis, not least because the fixation on encouraging unearned self-esteem in modern Western culture has produced a bumper crop of narcissists.

    Adrian, good! That sums it up nicely.

    Flavio, duly noted! Thank you for a thoughtful response.

    Siliconguy, yep. Polycrisis, here we come!

    Oh, and further to Patricia M above, here you are — I recovered the meme from a South Carolina pasture…

  206. Dear Archdruid:

    Let me to say , another time more , that I think that you are a genius and that I can’t state if your more valuable ideas are based in a remarkable intelligence, a deep understanding of an astoundingly extensive background of books, a deep conscience of spiritual human or not human phenomenons , or a way of life that let you to stay out the Pluto cavern in which so many of us are trapped. But I am obliged to reckon that the idea expressed in your post about the impossibility of that any institution really wants to resolve the problem for which solution It has be created, because this will suppose its demise, for me is a revelation which match with many isolated observations made by my shelf in a variety of different fields.

    If we combine the Shirky principle with the Parkinson Principle , which states that a bureaucracy tends to grow for justify the creation of a hierarchic pyramid, we’ll obtain an enriched panoramic of the Tainter’s assertion about the tendency of societies for the accumulation of institutions for address problems which affects them, till the moment in which this accumulation turns to be an unbearable load which impedes the society for the development of new institutions, or which causes the debilitation of the existing ones for to address the collapse

    All the exposed leads to me to the idea that the important condition for to avoid the collapse of a society is not only the sustitution of dominant minorities for creative minorities, but to destroy those institutions wich are become useless or (according with your paper about catabolic collapse) catabolizing these institutions ,which is be a specificall way of creative destruction.

    History show us many examples of this substitution of minorities, in some cases it has been a proceses which have been completed in many years (Industrial Revolution in UK) but in others It has occurred in a period of months (Russian Revolution).

    The slow cases of substitutions of dominant minorities seems to be driven for improvements in the process of creation of wealthy; processes which demand new leadership and new institutions. But, the cases of repentine substitution of dominant minorities seems to be driven by catastrophic events which put the society Next to the gates of the collapse. And ,in these cases , seems more probably that the members of the dominant minority will result physically exterminated.

    And, about the creative minority. In the slow way, It can be created maintaining an harmonic relation with the rest of the society ,even, integrating deserted members of the dominant minority. But,in the case of rapid substitutions of dominant minorities, these can not have harmony with the rest of the society they’ll can’t incorporate deserters of the dominant minority, and they’ll need to destroy all the existing institutions and create new ones.

    In consequence. If there is not substitution of dominant minority ( It seems to be the present circumstance of the Western society )we’ll face a collapse of the kind of Western Roman Imperium , and. If there is substitution of dominant minority, this will be kick, the members of the dominant minority will be exterminated, most of the institutions will be destroyed and the new creative minority will present many carences like happened with the Nomenclatura and criminal syndicates’ chieftains raised as consequence of the Russian Revolution

  207. #219 JustMe – Thanks for the link to Tom Murphy’s recent post, which led me to view some of his other recent posts. He’s a treasure.

  208. JMG, you comment above on “There have been societies that have gone out of their way to prevent the rise of civilization … the northeastern woodland Native Americans are another example”. I have just finished “Dawn of Everything”, and their last full chapter is dedicated to exactly this matter – they have a lot of references for the Hopewell Interaction Sphere and trace a counter-reaction to Cahokia leading to non-monarchical, decentralized polities. Would you recommend some reference to compare with theirs?

    By the way, I fully agree with Tom Murphy’s assessment cited above – great concrete examples, somewhat defective logic in the overview and theoretical chapters.

  209. The classified ad is hilarious! All that’s missing is that you must bring your own truck to pick it up, I ain’t gonna box up and ship all of this!

    Those interested in the history of the homeless problem in Los Angeles might want to read the 100 pages of history in a 2021 ruling that denounces the Shirky Principle at work. The legal side of the ruling has been challenged, but I’ve not seen anyone say how the judge got the history wrong.

    blue sun # 126 Some cynical commenters say this provides a flood of people dependent on government programs and handouts. Who are then more compliant with what the Establishment wants of them. Especially, voting for more government.

    Celadon #137 our gracious host described the aftermath of that colorful Constitutional breakup in Retrotopia. A much more cynical version is in Neil Stephenson’s Snow Crash, when the federal government has new memos about policies for TPDUs (Toilet Paper Dispenser Units). Everyone but federal employees just totally ignores the government.

    CR Patiño # 140 I remember that in early September, 2001, President Bush made a speech about how Mexico was our closest friend and ally, best buddy ever, shared engine of economic growth in the most important relationship of our time.
    A few days later, he was in London to celebrate the “special relationship” with the U.K., of which nothing was more important and he looked forward to their doing their part in the new war. I think I have never seen any commenter “compare and contrast” those two speeches.

    # 171 “Win10… This one is actively trying to make you buy new hardware!” Not new at all. Remember “Vista Ready” vs. “Vista Capable?”
    “Those accustomed to viewing Microsoft as a monolith might be surprised at the number of dissenting voices.” Never better described than here:
    “In real life when you shout “shut up!” to two people arguing loudly you just create a louder three-way argument. When you try to unify two opposing forces by creating a third alternative, you just end up with three opposing forces. You haven’t unified anything and you haven’t really fixed anything.”

    stephen h. pearson # 146 Famed mystic Neville Goddard described this in his life. He was born into a British family in Barbados in 1905. At 17 he moved to New York City. He was drafted into the U.S. military World War II. After basic training, he applied for an available exemption for a 38 year old married man with a child at home. After a while that was approved. He got an honorable discharge and it included U.S. citizenship.

    Michael Gray # 148 “Bill Gates, many mistook him for a technology guy when really his entire schtick was purely the manipulation of people and markets.” As a software engineer for many years, I think he was both. Altair BASIC, the Kyotronic 85, his Chief Software Architect work on the dot-Net platform, were all competent technical work. describes that overnight, Gates read a 500 page spec, and the next day he had detailed questions. “Bill Gates was amazingly technical. He understood Variants, and COM objects, and IDispatch and why Automation is different than vtables and why this might lead to dual interfaces. He worried about date functions. He didn’t meddle in software if he trusted the people who were working on it, but you couldn’t bullshit him for a minute because he was a programmer. A real, actual, programmer.”

    I had brief chats with some people who’d dealt with Bill directly, and they all agreed.
    That’s not to say he wasn’t ruthless and manipulative.

    A Nony Mouse # 149 “I have read that our interest (usury) and debt based money and economic system demands endless economic expansion to pay off the debt plus interest.”
    Suppose I had a dog I provided for breeding. I could loan you the dog, and you would return the dog plus provide me one of the puppies as interest. You still have a profit from the rest of the litter.
    Same thing with non GMO seeds. From your harvest, return the original number of seeds plus a few more. The investment itself creates the asset growth to pay the interest.
    If I loan you $100 and you repay me $110, where exactly did the extra ten dollars come from for you to pay the interest? Unlike seeds, money doesn’t grow on trees. Unlike dogs, it doesn’t have puppies. How was there another ten bucks in the economy?

    Roldy # 173 I think the idea is that it’s the same people, like activist radical Baby Boomer hippies when young, becoming conservative reactionary button-down yuppies, enjoyers of the status quo, never-retiring defenders of The Establishment when old.

    Paradoctor # 189 “Liberals do not liberate and conservatives do not conserve.” Bumper sticker of the millenium!

    Other Owen # 196, the dissent in Creative LLC vs Elenis says since markets are a creation of government, if you’re going to buy and sell in the market, you gotta do it by the govrnment’s rules.
    # 208, if it’s only available half the time, maybe they should call it the F-17.5.

    Anselmo # 226 further, the Peter Principle shows how not only is the bureaucracy growing, it is getting increasingly incompetent at anything but being a growing bureaucracy.

  210. Got an error making a comment just before this one – not nonce, cross-site scripting. If that collection of responses didn’t make it into the queue, I’ll retry later.

    JMG, I don’t know if you or other commenters are familiar with Buckminster Fuller’s view of history. I’ll try to summarize and paraphrase what he said. There is much, much more. My purpose is not to fully represent or convince anyone of Fuller’s view. Only to bring it up.

    Some people discovered early that ships can navigate the entire planet. They became the Great Pirates. They had a great deal of technology on board – refrigeration, for instance – before it became known on land. They were the secret sponsors of the governments that allegedly sponsored navies.
    For instance the British East India Company, not Queen Elizabeth, was actually in charge of that relationship. The Great Pirates had many administrators in their divide-and-conquer nations around the world. The local politicians weren’t really in charge, but got to parade around as though they were. The actual strategic plans were made by globally comprehensive thinkers.

    Apparently independent nations were just another resource to the real rulers, offshore – off of every shore. As needed the local administrator’s ship could come in, as they say, to show the dazzled masses how great their apparent rulers were.

    In the early 1900s, the Great Pirates suddenly disappeared. Their local administrators, the national politicians, now had to come up with some plan on their own. Imagine a company’s Vice President of Property Management, Human Resources Administrator, and Accounts Payable Supervisor suddenly find they are now the co-CEOs, now that the executive team and Board stopped showing up or responding to messages.

    Perhaps the shift happened because the real power of change moved into wha’s invisible to the naked eye. Any Admiral can see a steam engine and understand it. Any Admiral knows a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. But steel and other alloys combine chemical bonds that are molecular chains stronger than each metal’s own weakest link. You can’t see how it actually happens, only the results. The actual design has gone out of sight without special equipment and knowledge.

    The Admirals now couldn’t personally understand everything relevant to their decisions, but had to rely on specialists. Specialization was invented to make sure only the heir to throne got to know all that was going on, while everyone else had to stay in their own department. Now the heirs were beholden to the specialists for the next strategic opportunities and risks.

    Fuller said this shift led to the New Deal (FDR recognized if the elites stomp too hard on the little guy, you could get a real change who’s on tops revolution), the Military-Industrial Complex and Cold War, and a few major corporations telling the government how to organize their industries. All to keep the public from knowing that the real owners and strategists weren’t the politicians all the way back, but their hidden backers. Who couldn’t be found any more.

    Fuller did not say that the Great Pirates had computers decades before land use, like refrigeration. But if this was the case, that would further have moved strategic resources away from anything the Admiral could sail to, into the invisible realm of algorithms.

    Fuller said Harvard Business School was for the sons of the “robber baron” captains of industry to learn how to sustain economic empires, empires the new managers had not created. But so many administrators were needed that they had to also open it up to those below the elites, if they were qualified. Like the Chinese imperial exams that found which kids in the provincial countryside could be brought into the junior level of the ruling elite.

    There are some problems learning Fuller’s view of history. Much of it is in the book Grunch of Giants, but a lot is scattered in many other books and talks. He constantly jumped back and forth between history, technology, the science and math of the technology, and metaphysical ideas about humanity’s purpose in the universe. No one book has his view of history in a linear format.

    Even worse, with everything Fuller wrote and spoke, half of it is insantly crystal clear. In the other half, all two dozen things that could be said about something are made into a list of adjectives which have a family reunion and then take a trip to Vegas together, before the sentence is finally over.

    I learned about Fuller’s ideas well past the deadlines when he had said: If all of humanity isn’t sensibly cooperating by now on what really matters, we’re doomed. I looked around and noticed a world with hardly any of the cooperation he called for. When I found you also said we’re doomed, it wasn’t a huge shock or surprise.

  211. >they were *just* fit enough to get in, but not fit enough to sustain it

    And they were warned about this. About ten years ago.

    We have abused and neglected our young males for decades now, and the bill for that may be literally coming due. As I understand it, some of those bone injuries are quite expensive to repair.

    They’re going to make movies about this upcoming war. They won’t be full of glory and honor.

  212. flavio@222 (if you can bring yourself to unlurk again), which maga ideas? our host certainly displays little respect for the way the democrats are running things, but i haven’t seen any sign that he thinks the republicans would make a much better job of it overall, they’re both part of the same system, admittedly they’d probably have a go at closing the border but that might receive bipartisan support before long

  213. Scotlyn,

    Your description of giving up your car, and the freedom that followed, is just like my experience of giving up my so-called smart phone. People ask me all the time how I can live without a phone, and I tell them it has been the most liberating act I’ve ever engaged in. I haven’t missed it for one hot second. You give me hope for finding the same joy when we finally decide to dump the car.


  214. adrian smith # 233, are you aware our gracious host wrote not only many blog posts, but even a whole book about The King in Orange, and what he represents? JMG has made clear that he’s no sycophant admirer of Trump as a virtuously admirable person, nor is he a die-hard political partisan. With that said, he has very often discussed how he thinks the Republican policy platform is overall better for the country.

    A search on this blog’s search box for “Trump” brings up ten pages of results. Including many very relevant essays from 2018, 2019, and 2020 in which he very clearly laid out his reasons to think this way, and engaged commenters at the time.

    After browsing the archives, I think you’ll easily “see many signs” of JMG’s perspectives on DJT.

  215. I think there’s a somewhat disturbing corollary to the Shirky Principle: if a problem doesn’t really exist, then people who are tasked to solve it may benefit from creating it. Notice, for example, that the hatred against trans-people only really started after there was a push for trans-rights, and in large part this hatred is because of the policies and decisions being made by the people trying to “help”.

    Before this, most people treated it like a mental illness, or a personal decision which has no impact on them, and things like “calling trans-people by their preferred pronouns” was common practice in both camps (“Don’t argue with crazy” being a common sentiment with the people who considered it a mental illness); but with the push for such insanity as allowing straight men to use women’s changerooms in high schools, or the push to put children on puberty blockers when no one really knows how that will work out, and attacking the people saying this is a bad idea, is it any wonder there’s suddenly a lot of issues with people not liking or trusting trans people?

  216. Dear Mr. Greer and Commentariat:

    Shirky’s Principal reminds me of: “The purpose of a system is what it does (POSIWID) is a systems thinking heuristic coined by Stafford Beer,[1] who observed that there is “no point in claiming that the purpose of a system is to do what it constantly fails to do.”[2] ” (from Wikipedia).

    I keep learning things here!



  217. I finished the first volume of the abridgement of A Study of History after reading this post.

    Overall, I feel like he exhibits more bias than Spengler, especially pro-Christianity; the core insight that he has about the development of “Societies” is useful in so far as how human groups tend to come together, and I think can be seen on both the micro and macro levels in group forms. He also doesn’t go much into the “inner life” of the different societies he mentions, at least as far as the abridgement goes.

    I prefer Spengler’s analysis, especially his clear delineation of the Magian civilization as a separate entity from the Classical or Faustian, and seeing Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam as both expressions of that world-view.

    On the other hand, I can see how Toynbee’s “creative minority” > “dominant minority” works even in smaller scale “societies”. We can see it in how young companies with a new insight in a market might grow rapidly in the beginning but end up as corporate behemoths making tiny, incremental changes in their products.

    Both their models are orthogonal to each other IMO, but Spengler’s macro-level analysis gives more meaning overall.

  218. Dear Mr Greer

    A really good quote from John Gray about net zero on unheard. Here is the link

    Rieff later wrote a book called The Triumph of the Therapeutic, in which he said that a therapeutic model of behaviour was spreading through every part of society. Rather than using moral terms or even political terms, people started using psychoanalytical terms. “What do you want out of this? I want closure.” Well, the thing about Freud is there’s never any closure. Closure is impossible for Freud. We bear the scars as well as the good things from infancy, whatever we do. I think conventional climate policy is for therapeutic people to feel good. They don’t want to feel powerless, so they deceive themselves.

  219. christopher@235, i’d forgotten about the king in orange, but my bad, i haven’t been a very consistent reader here
    apologies for misrepresenting jmg

  220. An excellent example of an enterprise that seems like it could be in danger of succeeding too well is on-line dating. Any on-line date that actually resulted in a long-term monogamous relationship would be two customers lost. Yet, from what I read (in the comments on Zerohedge, that cesspit of one-liners), that’s not actually been a problem for the sites. People looking for relationships are just finding scams and frauds, but maybe that’s what it was actually set up to be, or evolved to succeed at.

  221. @The Other Owen, #207

    I cannot tell if you are joking or serious, but I don’t think you get Christianity in either case (unless you were being mordant about the impossibility, in which case, Chapeu!!!!). But the point is that you cannot ever take away *anything*. I am not fanatic enough to claim that every single word in the scripture is divine wisdom, and thus taken literally; but we as humans are not smart enough to figure out which parts are essential (the Word of God) and which just accidental (the chronicles of Abraham’s descendants). In any case, we have the responsibility to pass what we received as closely as we received it, so that each future Christian has a chance to make their own mind about those matters.

    Adding is another matter, and personally I think we are long overdue for a Newer Testament. As with any tradition, I don’t think I *personally* should add to the canon anymore than any of the living theologians of the 20th and 21st century, but authors like Origen, Thomas Kempis and St. John of the Cross were beyond doubt holy men with a personal relationship with the Christ; their works time tested sources of insight to all Christendom. Of course we would need to repeat the folly of Constantin to have a debate about what to rubber-stamp with the “sacred text” label, but such is organized religion. And if you argue that they did not physically met Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph… shall I remind you the neither did a certain Saul of Tarsus who wrote… what percentage are we talking about, of the New Testament?

  222. I remember seeing plenty of advertisements for March of Dimes in the’70s, and their crusade back then was against Birth Defects. Didn’t learn about their original work against Polio until High School.

    Looking over their present day website, I see they’ve “expanded their focus” to all births. Which explains why I haven’t heard of them in decades – with no focus to speak of, there’s no reason to support them (IMHO).

  223. @Celadon #118
    I’m not sure that Arthur was simply an historical warlord. When I met one of the first Tibetan monks to visit Britain he commented that these islands were blessed by many gods, and that one in particular loved this archipelago so much that he incarnated dozens and dozens of times as a native leader. Our once and future king.

    @Siliconguy #56
    I’m also not sure whether most US citizens are really equipped to comment on ‘socialism’, given that it has been so effectively misrepresented and undermined in the US. A nation that was once a socialist giant (Debs, Haywood, Harlan County etc.)
    Dr. Hahn blames our current predicament on a warped quasi-Christian view of history.

    For my part I’m getting rather depressed with this ‘Cassandra syndrome’ in which most of my ‘liberal’ family and friends discredit me personally, on account of my alleged ‘conspiracy theories’. I will get no satisfaction whatsoever from being proven right in the end.
    I’m sure it was just like this during the fall of Rome. ‘Lucius, look, the Eastern Quarter has caught alight, pass me another amphora’ 🙂

  224. JMG wrote in response to my comment about propaganda tech and rate of decline:

    “Drhooves, to judge by accounts from earlier times, simpler technologies were just as effective at enforcing conformity — the Middle Ages did it with preachers speaking from pulpits, you know. And the plunge is going at the same pace as always. I’ll be discussing that in an upcoming post.”

    I dunno. Speaking from a pulpit is certainly effective, but I don’t see it in the same category as being immersed for many more hours per week in television/smart phone/Internet/tailored ads and news, etc. Maybe there’s a limit to how much one can be swayed by these techniques. If nothing else, the scale of the impact of propaganda now swells past regional, national and what seems like interstellar boundaries. Much of western civilization reacted to Covid as a stampeding herd. I can’t think of a similar event in history at that scale. You were exactly right about the “human” response to decline, where as I thought early on there would be some adults in the room that would take charge. Nope.

    As for the rate of decline, I’ll look forward to your post on that. I just know back in 2005 or so, there were numerous things in energy and transportation that I thought I’d never have to deal with in my lifetime. Now I’m planning to migrate to a living arrangement without a car, and seriously wondering if heating bills will be too high for the climate I prefer (I hate hot weather, currently in North Dakota). In theory, I’ve got another decade or two to go in this rock. This isn’t all bad of course, just relative – hard to plan for things like this.

    Another thought on the Shirky principle – maybe decline would avoid some anguish if people could realize:

    “These “issues” are predicaments, not problems. Think mitigation, and don’t seek “solutions”.

    @Aldarian #102 – agree that humans have been manipulating others since there were more than one in a cave. But it’s not just about going crazy – it’s about steering the herd. It appears to me we’ve gone way past the old techniques into 4th and 5th generation psychological methods, and are under constant bombardment. Maybe there’s a limit to how much a human can be affected, but my gut is telling me the herd is much, much more skittish these days.

  225. Anselmo, those are certainly two of the options, but not all dominant minorities drive collapses of exactly that kind, and not all new creative minorities take over with that much bloodshed, you know. That said, combining the Shirky Principle and Parkinson’s Law works quite well; it occurs to me that the Peter Principle — “in any hierarchy, each person tends to rise to their level of incompetence” — might also be worth including.

    Mark, of course. Modern pest “exterminators” do the same thing — they keep the bugs or rodents or whatever under control, but don’t actually wipe them out. Wasn’t it William Burroughs who compared pest control companies to heroin pushers?

    Aldarion, I’ve cited the two I know of — northeastern Native American peoples and the tribes of the southeast Asian highlands. Doubtless there are more.

    Christopher, Fuller’s grasp of history was about as good as his abilities as an automotive engineer — but of course we’re talking about a guy who spent his whole life trying to insist that Pi couldn’t actually be an irrational number. Fuller was one of those erratic geniuses who produced some brilliant successes and even more abject failures. He’s worth reading and studying, but do check his facts!

    Anonymous, that’s a very good point.

    Cugel, now there’s a name I haven’t heard in too long! I should review Beer’s systems theory writings sometime soon.

    Alvin, I won’t argue. I find Spengler more broadly useful, but Toynbee makes some extremely valuable points — such as the one I used in this post.

    Jasmine, that’s fascinating, and typically spot on. Thank you for this!

    LatheChuck, another good point.

    Godozo, yep. They’ve diluted their focus so that they never have to worry about accomplishing anything.

    Patricia M, I’d be more convinced if he noticed how much dau tranh is also being done by the far left. That said, he makes some good points.

    Drhooves, the fact remains that the level of social unanimity was considerably higher when propaganda came from pulpits than it is when propaganda comes from the internet.

  226. Patricia Matthews @ 245, I read the article at History Unfolding. Thank you for the link. I would like to know why the author, an otherwise intelligent, not to mention productive, person thinks the USA has any reason to be involved in the debacle in Ukraine. IMHO, Mme. Nuland has no business holding ANY govt. post and ought to have been dismissed long ago.

    I agree that some parts of the Republican Party might have a tear it all down strategy in hopes that guys and gals like us can be in charge amid the ruins. (I think they have a bitter awakening coming on that idea.) I don’t see much sign of coordinated strategy, especially with their man Trump imploding lately. For a supposed strategic mastermind he is looking rather lame lately. As I see it, he had two good options post election night 2020: a. make a gracious concession speech and then, quietly set his govt. to work investigating the voting process, state by state (He did have the whole govt. apparatus to call on.) or, b. graciously concede, attend the inauguration and then he would have had four years to jeer from the sidelines at an increasingly inept and unpopular Biden/Harris admin.

    Which admin seems bent on committing political suicide.

    But, I also fancy I see some signs of returning and or resurfacing political and cultural sanity.

  227. It’s awful late in the cycle, but open post begins tomorrow…. JMG wrote: “Patricia M, I’d be more convinced if he noticed how much dau tranh is also being done by the far left. That said, he makes some good points.”

    That’s interesting. I recall that JHK has been referring to the Dems as the “party of chaos” but is it political chaos as in dau tranh? Maybe you’d have to ask JHK. My own take is that the Dems have been pushing a woke agenda for decades, and the result, intended or not, is chaos in the streets. I don’t know if this distinction is worth pursuing, but open post begins tomorrow.

  228. Pretty late on the cycle, but in response to @DrHooves…

    Maybe the fact that we are so heavily bombarded means that less of it would not make the cut to keep a significant portion of us in line? JMG’s response made me recall the original The Matrix movie. According to Agent Smith’s narration, “whole crops [of enslaved humans] were lost” because they kept waking up from the dream world induced by the machines. Those last had to resort to recreate the real world as it had been in the 1990s, because they lacked the imagination to provide a compelling fantasy. The masters of delusion had to imitate reality and resented their victims for not buying their original fabrications.

    So, most of us know we are lied to, and consent being lied to, because we are too tired of swimming against the current. But from the point of view of a medieval peasant, the priest’s manipulations were not such. They were both the Word of God and *obviously* truth. Back then they did not have to erode most people’s wills, because the story was so compelling that everyone acted their part as naturally as eating, sleeping, and… you get the idea.

  229. “I’m also not sure whether most US citizens are really equipped to comment on ‘socialism’, given that it has been so effectively misrepresented and undermined in the US.”

    Just look at history and we see;
    The Holodomor,
    The Great Purge,
    The Great Leap Forward.
    The Cultural Revolution
    and Pol Pot.

    I don’t see much misrepresentation there. A fair bit of arguing about the exact body counts, but as Stalin said, one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.

  230. Dear Silicon Guy 252

    The problem with debates about socialism is defining exactly what we mean by that word. When it comes to Stalin, Pol Pot etc I am totally with you. I would not want anything to do with ideologies like that as they are on the same level as the Nazis.

    But coming from the UK I might be using socialism to describe the 1945 labour government that was democratically elected, upheld free speech and brought in the NHS and opposed Russian communism and helped to set up Nato.

    Then the two of us get into a massive argument and start shouting at one another, when in reality we are talking about two completely different things and I actually agree with you about Stalin, pol Pot etc. This kind of argument occurs to frequently these days.

    Wish you all the best


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