Book Club Post

May 2018 Book Club

This week’s post is the latest of a monthly series of open-discussion posts focusing on books I’ve written or recommend. Our theme for the present is Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, and this week we’re discussing “The Spiritual Ecology of History” (pp.119-131). I’d like to ask readers to keep their questions and comments focused on that chapter and the ideas it contains; I’m currently hosting a weekly Ask Me Anything post on Mondays on my Dreamwidth journal at, and there’ll be a more general open post on this blog in due time, so comments on other subjects should go to these venues instead.

The chapter covers a fair amount of material, but those of my readers who have followed my blogging for any length of time know the central theme already. Over the last couple of millennia, it’s become fashionable in many spiritual traditions to insist that the universe we know, with all its frustrations, its limitations, and its annoying lack of interest in our preferences, will shortly be replaced by a shiny new universe that will cater to our sense of entitlement and fork over the better lives we think we deserve.

Popular though these notions are, they’re nonsense, for reasons that have been covered already in the book. The seven laws that make up the heart of Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth apply to our collective destiny as much as they do to our individual aspirations. Just as each life cycles from birth through childhood, youth, adulthood, old age and death, each human society has its own life cycle of growth and decline. Just as the universe will not hand you enlightenment just because you want it—the path of initiation is a path of hard work!—the universe will not hand our species Utopia just because we think we want one.

May I put things quite bluntly?  The cosmos is not your Mommy. It will not clean up the messes you make, nor will it rescue you from the consequences of your own bad choices.  You have a relationship with it, but it’s like the relationship that any individual cell in your body has with you. When’s the last time you concerned yourself with the personal desires of a single cell in your gall bladder?

On the other hand, unlike the cells in your gall bladder, you have an option if you want to become something more than you are. That’s the path of initiation—a path that has to be walked by the individual, one laborious step at a time. No one will do the work for you, but every step you take has been taken before, over long ages, by those who have followed the path before you and left guiding marks along the way.

Questions? Comments? Discussions? Have at it—subject, of course, to the usual rules.


Next month’s book club post will go on to an important work of occult philosophy, one of the most influential such works in today’s occult field: The Cosmic Doctrine by Dion Fortune. Please note that there are two different editions of this work in circulation these days. The currently available edition, published by Weiser, reproduces the original 1924 privately printed edition; the edition most often found in the used book market, published by Helios in hardback and Aquarian in paperback, is the revised 1966 edition. I personally prefer the revised edition, because that’s the one I used in my original study of the text, and the revisions to my mind sharply improved the clarity of the presentation; the same material is covered in both editions, though. I own copies of both, and will give citations from both, for those who are prepared to read along and study this extremely useful manual of magical philosophy.


  1. I’m also a little concerned with what would happen if we were able to get everything we wanted. Most of us don’t seem to have any idea what we want, as individuals, and as a society we’ve shown we’re no better, and may actually be worse….

  2. “When’s the last time you concerned yourself with the personal desires of a single cell in your gall bladder?” Actually, I’ve had to concern myself quite extensively with the personal desires of cells in my prostate gland; said cells have decided they can multiply without limit and that this is a good thing. I’ve had to slap them down hard once and may have to do so again shortly. It’s been an instructional and maturing experience and makes me aware of what the Earth probably has in store for a certain species that also seems to think that it can multiply without limit!

  3. The idea that after my time is up, all that I am will get absorbed back into nature strikes me as natural and I’m fine with it. I have no desire to have a little rectangle of land with a stone monument on it with my name. But apparently many if not most people find this concept scary if not downright appalling. They think that there just must be something more to it all, some grand purpose. Some say that the concept of there being more is due to poverty – opiate of the masses. But for most of history people have been poor in at least some senses of the word and I think many such societies did not look for a utopian afterlife or a deeper purpose to their existence. Is this due to the modern religions, religions that declare we humans are separate and above nature?

  4. The gall-bladder-cell analogy hits home even more pointedly when one imagines such a cell stomping about in indignation, muttering “This body would function so much better if I were in charge.”

    I’m not sure how well it fits specifically into the chapter for this week, but a recent meditation on the levels of awareness/consciousness and the path from less conscious to more conscious (“knowing” and “knowing that one knows”) to individuation (“know who it is that knows that one knows”), which is the purpose of initiation, brought some insights for me. In various writings, including yours I believe, the analogy of an actor playing a role is often used. The actor (“the one who knows that he knows”) is not the role. My insight, for what it is worth, was the realization that the roles are not “bad” — in the sense of, say, illusion or imprisonment from the perspective of a gnostic — and that my purpose here in this life is to play this role for this time so that the play (or the dance) can go on. And when the purpose of this role is complete, another role will be picked up. But I don’t need to know about the roles I’ve played before or the roles I’ll play in the future or to try to stop playing roles at all — my function is to play this role here and now, but to be aware that I am an actor playing a role and not identical to the role itself.

    I don’t know if that makes sense written out, but it made sense to me at the end of my meditation! 🙂

  5. For next month, how much of “The Cosmic Doctrine” should we read to prepare for the discussion? Thank you!

    – Ann

  6. I think this is a good place to bring up the importance of role models and influence. Everything you do can impact those around you and those who will come after you. It’s a good thing to think about not just who we want to be ourselves, but what example we want to be for others. All of our actions determine and show the values we want to spread and the world we want to live in. But I think this also takes a reasonable balance of knowing the limits and how you can best work with them. But yes, the first step is making the choice that action is needed and not just letting a mess stay a mess.

    Your comparison of a life cycle to the cycle of a civilization can be extended in that no one quite knows their death day, but we can see the signs of decay and do our best to extend our life the best we know how, just as we can see the signs of decay in civilization and work toward correcting them. The question I have though is – is the death of a civilization really as certain as the death of a living being?

    I also want to point out that conditions change over time, and what worked in the past is not always the best approach today. That is not to say you can’t learn from the paths of others though, and we would be wise to not repeat unfavorable history.

    Also, just a note, the guides that come before us are not always human, and yet their influence and example can be just as valuable if given the attention they deserve. 🙂

    – RMK

  7. Dear Mr. Greer,

    Outstanding intro (quote: “That’s the path of initiation—a path that has to be walked by the individual, one laborious step at a time. No one will do the work for you, but every step you take has been taken before, over long ages, by those who have followed the path before you and left guiding marks along the way.”)

    The predicament remains the same, though: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14 King James Version

    There is no one to teach us how to clearly and irrevocably see those marks (your hard efforts notwithstanding) – one must find them from one’s own volition.

  8. JMG
    I wrote to a man today about an interesting author who saw the British ‘enclosures’ of land that laid the basis for what we know as modern agriculture, as ‘evil’. The author was an engineer named LTC Rolt writing in 1947t: “…the evil which provoked this crime still holds the reins of power”.

    The so-called agricultural revolution and the ‘enclosures’ he was referring to took place about the time of the poets William Blake and John Clare when fossil fuels had as yet made very little if any direct impact on agriculture. The destruction nevertheless of what Rolt describes as a historically evolved social organisation in rural Britain and its replacement by clearly recognisable extractive commercial, ’monetised’, farming, is worth noting. Whatever we call it, I can see from my own studies of agriculture the prophetic nature of that 18th Century early 19th Century inflection point.

    I think the point of Rolt’s essays (High Horse Riderless) is not to condemn machinery – he was a dedicated engineer – but to see the evolved social ‘organisms’ that we create as the carriers of both human capability and evolutionary change, for that which history might call good. You end your chapter with the phrase ‘ripening’ of human potential. I suppose we make the best of what seems our particular loss of previous wisdom.
    Phil H

  9. JMG
    On a lighter hearted note, your chapter prompted me to get John Michell’s The New View over Atlantis down from the shelf. I always enjoy Michell’s writing but as a matter of interest did you ever manage to check out his geometries and numbers for Glastonbury and elsewhere – 666 square megalithic yards and all that?! I could not begin to summon the energy.
    BTW If Atlantis did not get what was happening – they might have of course, but ignored it – they cannot be blamed for the end of the Last Ice Age. I take your point though that we moderns really have no such excuse.
    Phil H

  10. Wrote you on DW about losing my main income, car, and place to live. While things are okay at the moment (still have a bit of savings, backup car, and a roof till next month) I’m definitely in a more precarious place. After a bout of initial panic I decided to enjoy my new freedom by settling into a nice cozy electronic induced coma for a few days. Thanks for that knife idea for snapping me out of the trance.

    Yesterday it dawned on me that I was saying to myself what everyone else says when I try to explain catabolic collapse. “I”m sure things will work out somehow”. It’s a very comforting statement when viewed from the other side of the mirror. Extremely seductive.

    But then some time after I read your article yesterday it dawned on me that bad stuff happens to good people all the time, and the only way to hedge is to carefully weight the options and get my seeds in the ground as quickly and efficiently as possible.

    The timing of your articles is suspiciously convenient as always, but I’m not taking that pony to the dentist. Sincerest thanks.

  11. JMG, you’ve mentioned before that the explosion of the human population and attendant decimation of many other life forms has led to an unusually large number of souls living out their first human lives all at one time; you’ve also said that once people get on a serious spiritual path, they can achieve Gwynfydd within three lifetimes. Presumably, then, initiates into the mysteries are toward the end of their time spent in human incarnation. It seems reasonable to extrapolate, then, that in times with a low human population, the percentage of initiates relative to total population would be greater than when the human population is large or rapidly growing. Thus the wisdom of a population would seem to be inversely correlated with its size. To go further (and with due awareness of the human misery involved), a population collapse would seem to have advantages in addition to the practical ones of bringing a population into equilibrium with the carrying capacity of its environment. Am I correct in my thinking, and does the historical record support this? Our time often seems to me unusually blind, stupid, and spiritually barren, but I might be making too much of my own biases.

  12. (afterthought)
    Dear all,

    (We, as humans, think that we know better, and we can be better…) Because we never question ourselves about the viruses’ beauty.

  13. Firstly, there are very few books that I read multiple times, yours is one of them and one that says more to me than almost any other book that I’ve read – thank you!

    There is something that I struggle to see in humanity’s cycle of rise and fall which I think is best expressed in the final sentence of the chapter: “the gradual ripening of human potential”. It may be that this is hard to see given the expansive time frame masking a gradual improvement but it is an area that worries me.

    I am quite a fan of Bill Plotkin’s work on the development of the human soul and, if I remember it correctly, he describes our current level of human development as being in adolescence with many phases and initiations to go through to reach full maturity. While the declines in civilisation are probably akin to the initiations between ages, it worries me that our relatively fragile existence will be hampered if we don’t grow up just a little more quickly.

    To take a simple example, the UK is planning on banning plastic wet wipes over the next 25 years against a public outcry that these things are essential to life and the same public explaining how their children will suffer as a result of being wiped with a flannel (I kid you not – I watched a vox pop of very silly people expressing this last night).

    The question that I have that while I understand the need for initiation (i.e. the decline and pain that it brings) to progress our ripening, what can we do to wake a few more people up to the lessons in your book so that the pain is a little less, um…, painful?

  14. “The cosmos is not your Mommy. It will not clean up the messes you make, nor will it rescue you from the consequences of your own bad choices. You have a relationship with it, but it’s like the relationship that any individual cell in your body has with you. When’s the last time you concerned yourself with the personal desires of a single cell in your gall bladder?

    For reason/s not altogether clear yet … I can report that reading this brought the broadest smile of the day. There is something awesomely refreshing about the cold hard facts. Perhaps because as someone told me decades ago, there is no such thing as an ugly truth. And as someone else suggested … it makes me free. Or perhaps because I just celebrated the birth-minute of that cell in my gall bladder.

    The possibility of being the penultimate cell in a hair follicle may be humbling, but also liberating because intrinsic in that identity is purpose, belonging, and the availability of all resources required to fulfil that existence. So I need not concern myself to invent or seek them. Of course I should also accept that there is zero chance that as a hair follicle I will ever have a clue of what BigJim is actually about. So … I can quit inventing cosmologies to appease my ego’s desire to be in the know. That clears my agenda for the rest of my life. 🙂

  15. As I was reading the most recent entry in the Dark Mountain blog, it got me thinking of how some of us feel guilt-ridden over all the anthropogenic destruction going ’round, while others just don’t give a damn and keep acting with destructive agency (and others – most of us, I presume,- just don’t seem to care enough either way). And yet, how many extinctions have occurred without human interference?
    What I am trying to say – and I’m not a native English speaking person, so please bear with me,- is that we humans, just like viruses, lay around in a “dormant state” until certain conditions are set in place triggering our worst and best features. Unlike (?) viruses, we seem to also have the capability to extinguish ourselves. If we can just tune our timeframes and frame of mind to the shortness of both our individual and collective lifes, perhaps it will become easier to understand this human/virus analogy.

  16. I haven’t commented on the Book club posts because I haven’t read your book, but will make an exception for this last post. I get the impression that this blog, to the contrary of the ADR, is mainly directed at polytheists or animists, and certainly it is not the place do discuss Christian theology. Still, one phrase in your summary of the chapter rang false in my ears, and I hope you will permit me to explain why:

    “ A universe that will … fork over the better lives we think we deserve.”

    While you may have correctly observed that a lot of Christians behave or speak as if they deserved better lives, in this life or the other, I challenge you to find a single Christian theologian who affirms this. I certainly don’t think you will find one before the 20th century.

    As an eloquent counter-example, I cite Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran theologian executed by the Nazi regime. While he certainly would not agree with you in general, you can see, by substituting “the cosmos” or “the One” instead of God, that he starts out against the same sense of entitlement that you do here.

    “…Only when you know the impossibility to pronounce the name of God, can you at some point pronounce the name of Jesus Christ; only when you love life and earth so much that, on losing them, everything seems lost and finished, can you believe in the resurrection of the dead and a new world; only if you accept the law of God over yourself, can you at some point speak of grace.”

    (My translation, see for the original)

  17. As I reread my initial comment, I realize that I could have done a better job of tying it in with the specifics of this chapter. In an attempt to do that, and as an actual question, could we extend the actor-role dynamic to societies and civilizations? That is, are civilizations themselves playing out their own roles, wearing their own masks, and themselves working towards that level of awareness of knowing who it is that knows? And the dynamics of birth, growth, flourishing, and decline the playing out of that dynamic on a larger stage?

  18. This concept was nicely summed up by my Hawaiian born wife (4 generations but not native) this week as she was watching the eruption of Kilauea in Hawaii. She conjured up her long buried Pidgin accent and stated , ” Madam Pele kick da kine Haole’s butt.” This is a bit of a simplification because I am sure some local born folks lost their homes, but the gist of the statement is that if one does not respect the Hawaiian god of the volcano, Madam Pele, she will rise up and show you who really rules the earth and no amount of protesting, wishing, or denial on the part of humans will change that.

  19. Will, if we got everything we think we want, we’d add an even more overdeveloped sense of entitlement than we’ve got to the list of our other problems!

    RPC, a valid point.

    Nevanell, you’re most welcome.

    Dean, I think it’s more complex than that, but certainly the Abrahamic religions’ fixation on a blissful otherworld on the far side of death hasn’t helped at all.

    David, good. The one thing I’d add is that if you approach the process of playing each role intelligently, you become a better actor with each role…

    Ann, thank you — I should have announced that, shouldn’t I? Next month I’m going to start with a framing discussion, intended to put The Cosmic Doctrine into context. You don’t need to read anything in advance; we’ll be talking about how to approach a document of this kind, so you can go on to begin the reading at that point.

    RMK, yes, and you also have the power to choose which role models you yourself want to learn from. That’s a considerable power, too.

    A.Kullervo, I don’t think Jesus was talking about initiation there. All are called; few choose to answer. Once you begin making a sustained effort, the Path opens up before you — it’s just that it’s a very long Path, and a lot of people mistake the long slow stretches for not getting anywhere at all.

    Phil H., exactly — all we can do is play the hand we’re dealt, knowing that there’s a reason for it all, even when we don’t know what the reason is. As for Michell, yes, I’ve spent quite a bit of time with straightedge and compass working out his geometries!

    Aloysius, good. I suspect you would have had the realizations anyway about the same time, and my writing simply gives you the opportunity to do some thinking.

    Jen, I wish I could disagree, but yeah, that’s pretty much the case. We live in an unusually difficult time for those who want to seek the higher life.

    Stuart, you can’t. That’s like trying to make plants grow faster by pulling them up by the roots! People will wake up at their own pace, and all you can do is lead by example and hope that that helps a few people get a clue a little faster than they otherwise might.

    Marco, excellent! I also find such statements a source of freedom and joy, because they remind me what size I actually am.

    A.Kullervo, and that’s one way to look at it, too.

    Matthias, I suspect you may be misunderstanding what I’m saying. What is the Christian doctrine concerning the Second Coming and the eternal bliss of the elect thereafter but a claim that sometime soon — right after Jesus comes back — the miseries of the world we know will go away forever and the saved will get a cosmos more to their liking? What is the doctrine of heaven but a claim that as soon as we die — if, that is, we belong to the right church and do what it tells us — we get to be blissfully happy forever? These are hardly new ideas in Christianity; if you want to tell me that they weren’t being preached by theologians before the twentieth century, I’ll beg to disagree, with citations; and these beliefs, and beliefs like them, are what I’m talking about. If anything, it’s been from the twentieth century onward that Christian theologians have been concerned with finessing these claims — before then, the doctrines of heaven and of the perfect world to come were elaborated in fantastic detail and impressive certainty by Christian thinkers ranging from the pre-Nicene fathers straight through to the major doctrinal writers of the nineteenth century.

    David, that’s a fascinating question, to which I don’t have an immediate answer. Hmm!

  20. Clay, your wife spoke an important truth. Bingo: we are very small and not particularly important in the great scheme of things, and even so small a phenomenon — cosmically speaking! — as an erupting volcano can very comprehensively kick our butts.

  21. Alas! As I suspected.

    Also, glad to hear you will be starting with a framing post for The Cosmic Doctrine; I started reading the first chapter and must confess to a fair degree of bogglement.

  22. “you also have the power to choose which role models you yourself want to learn from. That’s a considerable power, too.”

    I heartily agree. Albeit some of those models (that you are drawn to, by choice or otherwise) are less inclined to teach and sometimes you have to conjure the strength and make the right decision to find a new role model to learn from.

    Point – just because you want to learn from someone, doesn’t mean they will let you. Which is where that choice ultimately comes in sometimes. To find a role model that is both worth learning from and will let you in. Sure, you can just observe and imitate with some role models, but others it can be better to develop along with them.

    However, there is also something to be said about learning from the anti-role model. Beings that teach you how you don’t want to be.

    Anywho, I meant to mention that I’m a bit behind on reading your posts, but I’m planning to catch up soon.

    Also, I’ve read a little of Dion Fortune’s book and have discussed her teachings with others on another platform. The impressions of her work are…mixed reviews, so I’ll be curious to see where the posts lead here.

    – RMK

  23. Jen, I’m not surprised. The Cos. Doc., as its students used to call it, isn’t your common or garden variety book of occult philosophy. The secret — which of course isn’t actually a secret at all — is passed on in the comment “this book is intended to train the mind, not to inform it.’ What we’ll be talking about next month, above all else, is how to use the book to train your mind.

    RMK, heartily agreed about negative role models! I’ve learned an enormous amount by paying attention to people who I really definitely don’t want to resemble, and figuring out how to be as different from them as possible. As for Fortune, no question, she had her issues and her problematic aspects; we’ll note those as we proceed.

  24. @Matthias Gralle – I always felt able to discuss Christian theology on the ADR and still feel able to discus it here. I think the reason Christianity hasn’t come up much here on the new blog is most of us take it for granted that progress has replaced Christ and energy dense sources, like fossil fuels, nuclear fusion, etc, are the new saints.

  25. Speaking of both negative role models and Fortune, maybe it’s best to note that we can appreciate, even admire, some parts of people while preferring not to model the other parts of them? Just because some parts are problematic doesn’t mean there isn’t something to gain from the rest – like useful magical philosophy. 😉

    Also, I started reading a new book today that prefaced with a quote that was relevant here, so I thought I’d share it: “We create ourselves by our choices.” — Kierkegaard

  26. @Jen

    I am not sure I’d extrapolate from a single data point (today world) the way you seem to be doing with regards of the percentage of “realized” souls in the general population. If you assume that there’s a more or less steady flow of souls coming from the less-individualized layers of existance, a post collapse society does not sound like an utopic land of the highly evolved to me. Rather, it sounds like a bunch of old souls just graduated into disembodied life in a short timespan and the newbies and sophomores are duking it out, Lord-of-the-Flyes-style, to figure out what to do next.

    Also, concerning present time, please notice that the ranks of the living are not all necessarily being filed with first-timers, either. I think it was earlier this month that JMG speculated that the ancestors may just been dragged prematurely out of the afterlife in order to meet the 7 billion and counting quota (a thought that let me both sad and in a sour mood at the time). So, the percentage of “new souls” in the human population may be lower than what the number of extincted megafauna would suggest.

    Not that it we have a way to know, one way or another…

  27. “the universe will not hand our species Utopia just because we think we want one.”

    Which also applies to faster-than-light travel and other sudden breakthroughs that would make space colonisation viable and generally keep the perpetual progress engine running?

  28. JMG – I think that Matthias assumed that you were referring to the modern development of “Prosperity Gospel” Christianity, which asserts that “as you give (to the church), you shall receive (with gain)”, and thus you can achieve material prosperity WITHIN your lifetime. No need to piously await the second coming; you can get what you want Real Soon Now. After all, just look at how well it’s working for the man preaching the message!

    You’re quite right, of course, that “pie in the sky, by and by” has an ancient history within Christianity. Prosperity Gospel, though, is promoted by a small minority of Christian preachers, and denounced by the ones I listen to.

  29. John–

    The issue I seem to run into most frequently when framing history as ecology in discussions with others is their sheer unwillingness to consider it. I talk about lifecycles of empires and civilizations and they point to the unique causes of each decline; I point out the rise and fall of powers and they say “But China’s been here for millennia.” (Yes, they ignore swathes of history, blend periods together, gloss over trouble spots, and say “it’s different this time!”) I am slowly learning, as my wife continues to tell me, that many people simply aren’t ready to see, just as I wasn’t until my time was right.

    The idea of building a culture centered on ecology and natural cycles does indeed appear to be our best path forward. Indirect influence, as we’ve all discussed before.

  30. RMK, that’s a point of quite some importance, of course. The current attitude might best be described as Newspeak thinking; if someone is ungood in any sense, they must be ungood in every sense, because what is ungood cannot be good and what is good cannot be ungood. Count Korzybski, where are you when we need you?

    Daniil, it does indeed. Central to the most popular thoughtstopper of the modern faith in progress — “I’m sure they’ll think of something!” — is the frankly rather bizarre notion that our current standard of living is so important to the cosmos that it will hand us as many fanciful technological breakthroughs as necessary, just to let us keep on living the wasteful and unsatisfactory lifestyles we’re currently living. All the evidence so far suggests that the Star Trek future is impossible — not going to happen now, not going to happen in the lifestyle of our species — but people insist that it has to happen because, basically, if it doesn’t, then we don’t get to keep buying cheap salad shooters at Wal-Mart…

    LatheChuck, that might explain the misunderstanding. The whole Prosperity Theology trip has roots going back to the Protestant Reformation — it was, for example, a standard belief among the Puritans in colonial America that God’s favor was demonstrated by prosperity, so you could tell if someone was among the elect by how rich they got — but of course it’s never been the mainstream. Still, that wasn’t what I was trying to talk about; it’s the whole pie-in-the-sky business, and more centrally the pie-right-here-on-earth-once-Jesus-comes-back business, that I was trying to critique.

    David, it’s awkward, isn’t it? The difficulty, of course, is that once you grasp the ecological nature of history, the warm cozy fantasy of perpetual progress toward a Utopian future crashes to the ground, and you wake up in a very cold place. Most people, I suspect, are well aware of that, and cling to the cozy fantasy because they don’t want to face up to what they already sense is true.

  31. We may indeed be talking past each other. I don’t object to the overall summary of the difference between your position and (post-Exile) Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In fact, I find your position coherent and even beautiful in a certain bleak way, though I don’t find myself called to it!

    I simply object to your use of the word “deserve”. You won’t find any biblical author, church father or other theologian that I know of stating that any human being “deserves” to live in paradise, not even those who taught universal salvation. I think that is a crucial difference between historical Christianity and bland, insipid 20th century mainstream thinking. Bonhoeffer coined the term “cheap grace” for this: the facile assumption that one will be OK in the end, without having to walk the walk (“Nachfolge” in his words).

  32. I feel like playing devil’s advocate here for both sides of the “large number of new souls” argument. I think it may be a factor, but I think there are others as well.


    I’m also fairly sure that not having time to process is going to cause issues for us as well. So, the old souls aren’t quite fully stable, and there are still a ton of new ones.

    I think JMG also mentioned that if you wait too long for another incarnation there’s a compulsion to do it, even if what’s available doesn’t fit. Thus with the decimation of the large fauna, there’s also the possibility that a bunch of souls who aren’t ready for human existence just yet are forced into it.


    I have a counter argument for the idea that our problems are related to the influx of young souls: I have a very severe neurological condition that makes a lot of aspects of my life far more difficult than it otherwise would be. (I’m on the autistic spectrum. When I was little, my parents were told to expect me to never be able to live on my own). I’m fairly sure I’ve been here a little while (a handful of past life memories, a vague sense of it, and having had a very, very distinctive character since I was very little, and an intense interest in spirituality), but I struggle a lot with a wide range of things due to my defective neurology.

    I’ve been mulling over the extent to which defective neurology, induced by environmental factors may underlie or excaberate some of our problems as a society.

  33. Matthias, fair enough! Thank you for taking the time to work down to the specific point at issue. The notion that human beings not only will get a world more to their liking, but actually deserve one, goes back some little distance before the twentieth century; you’ll find it in American religious writing from the liberal end of Protestantism in the early 19th century, as displayed in a pitiless light in the “Great Disappointment” millenarian movement of the 1840s and enshrined in pieces of religious music such as “O Holy Night” — “Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth” and so on. But I won’t argue for its presence earlier on, and it may also be specifically an American absurdity — I’d be horrified, in fact, to hear that it’s caught on elsewhere to any great extent.

    Here in the US, though, it’s a huge issue across the religious spectrum from devout Christians to devout atheists, and very much including the vast middle ground of the vaguely-theist-but-apathetic. An imperial tribute economy seems to be bad for a nation’s theological savvy. Certainly ours has suffered drastically from an overdeveloped sense of entitlement — and the result is that a vast number of people seem to think that God is under some kind of obligation to fork over the New Jerusalem, cleansed of death, suffering, and those annoying people who have the nerve to disagree with them, sometime very soon. Oh, and with whipped cream on top. 😉

    These are the people I’m trying to shock into their senses. I’m not at all a fan of Calvin, but a little bit of his searing sense of the terrible supremacy of the divine might be a useful corrective just now…

  34. Hi JMG,

    Reading this chapter got me to wondering – why would I (or anyone else) want to look for a way around actually just doing the work of initiation? Why would I try to find an easy way out, when it’s obvious that you get what you pay for, so to speak? Why would I try to run from this work, even (or especially) once I know what it is and what is required of me? My guess is that a lot of the personal realizations that can come up through this work can be pretty hard to face, and wanting to run away seems like a convenient way to avoid it all. In a lot of cases it feels easier not to stir things up; to avoid the pain of dealing with difficult things. Believing in an imminent apocalypse or sudden rapture would undoubtedly be a comfortable way of thinking to get around that kind of unpleasantness.

    Deep down I know though, that between that binary lies the reality of my being, in the center where it always has been, and no amount of hand waving or wishful thinking can change that. I generally find it pretty hard to go on living with myself like everything’s fine once I have seen what’s really going on in a particular situation, or see that I’ve been thinking about things in a wrong way. I often feel compelled to try to make changes in my life that would be more honest in light of my new understanding. It’s definitely not easy, though, and I haven’t always done it. But I do usually wind up feeling the truth calling me, and sometimes quite insistently. I suppose at every step along the path, I am offered the choice between doing the work and avoiding the work, being honest with myself, or not.

  35. Greetings all!

    There are pdf’s versions of the Cosmic Doctrine freely available online. Do you mind if we use them or should we order the proper version from some place?
    The book depository has an edition but I do not know to which one it refers to.

  36. I think we have reached an agreement about the scope of your satirical attack 🙂

    The sense of entitlement to heaven is certainly not restricted to the USA, I think it has been quite common in England, Germany and Scandinavia since at least the early 20th century, enough for Bonhoeffer in the above citation to reject it. By the way, in support of your reference to the imperial tribute economy, that same Bonhoeffer (during the Nazi years) called for the church to immediately sell all her worldly belongings and reforce her teaching by actually living accordingly ( Unfortunately, he wasn’t heeded.

  37. Despite majority tendencies, it’s important that those who recognize these tendencies toward labeling be the role model for others and work toward showing not only that people can change, but that people are multifaceted. And that’s another one of those messages that’s well expressed and evident in fiction – dynamic characters, and “villains” who aren’t all bad.

    Thanks for mentioning Korzybski by the way. I’m planning a nonfiction work on conversation’s power to reveal and conceal information, and I think his ideas will be useful in that effort.

    – RMK

  38. Hi JMG,

    Re: your discussion with Matthias, I must admit that I also thought that in your introduction you were giving an unusual slant to the overall position of those spiritual traditions of the last few millenia, in that the end-game of such traditions surely isn’t to cater to a human sense of entitlement, but to work through the Almighty’s plan for humanity (which includes a great deal of punishment and hellfire for those who don’t get with said plan), and thereafter to roll out the Almighty’s “shiny new universe”, as it were. You are right of course that this is at the same time a shiny new universe for the rewarded ones, but surely the whole point of that Christian/Islamic type of eschatology is that rigid submission to the demands of said Almighty must come first (as per Calvin, as you point out)?

    In either case, as you have said before, isn’t that shiny new universe in fact “on the far side of death”?


  39. JMG, as I read your post I thought to myself, “Self, this seems to indicate there’s going to be a conflict ahead, with those nature religions versus the revealed religions.” I think some of the comments so far are indicating that may be true. Following your blogs and other indications seem to be showing there’s a movement for a minority back to a more harmonious relationship with nature, and sustainability and conservation are terms being more frequently used.

    But I think your main points on this topic are spot on for the majority – the Religion of Progress is embraced, anthropogenic impacts are ignored, and the Cosmos will be serving up Utopia shortly. The Christian dogma related to the second coming isn’t a positive influence, and reminds me of the hue and cry that was ignored when Reagan nominated James G. Watt as the Secretary of the Interior. I think it’s safe to safe that act and time period was a step, perhaps a leap, in the wrong direction.

    @Jen – very savvy post, IMHO. I was thinking along similar lines, though as a devout agnostic, not so much in terms of souls, but more just in terms of numbers. There are many people on the planet alive today that owe their existence to fossil fuels (myself most likely included), and would not have survived as a member of “the fittest” in a age without them. Furthermore, there are a great number of people today who’ve fallen under the spell of the materialism and technology of industrial life, and have never even had a chance (or need or desire) to consider nature and ecology in their proper framework. The end result of this, as you’ve indicated, could very well be a ratio of wise-to-the-unwise ratio being much lower than is healthy for both humans and the environment. That seems pretty obvious to me.

    But that topic, in a public forum, will soon bring the accusations of racism, prejudice, elitism, and so on – which gets us back to civilization performing the upcoming faceplant in the brick wall of decline.

  40. I can’t find the comment, but either here or on Dreamwidth someone remarked that one reason for the failure of the 70s back to the land movement was that while men were doing projects like barn building the women seemed to end up doing the cooking, dishes, childcare, etc. The comment also noted that men tended to be more committed to the back to the land idea than women. Well no wonder.

    I become alarmed when comments on post-oil blogs assume that our future will just naturally include a return to traditional roles (we won’t get into how traditional these roles actually are). Women will be back in the kitchen and LGBT folk back in the closet where they belong. Oh, and slavery too, according to some. Some people’s fantasies about their version of retrotopia are downright frightening. Now obviously some aspects of contemporary sexual roles will change. Everybody will be doing more physical work–though we don’t have to make it harder than it needs to be. For example, I was reading about the malt making industry in England before WW II. The informant told of carrying bags of grain that weighed almost as much as he did and coming come with shoulders worn raw by the task. My first thought was “why make the bags that big”? Barley grains are small, you can put them in any size bag. So the miller’s convenience or profit turns a hard job into a backbreaking one.

    I guess my point is that, although the universe does not owe us a good, or even bearable life, we should consider that we owe it to one another. A decent future would be based on a conviction that one person’s comfort or profit should never be attained at the cost of another person’s misery. We can’t hold the universe to that rule, but we can and should hold other humans to it. Visualize a future that is not a repeat of the errors of the past and you have a chance of building it. Assume that sexism, racism and oppression are inevitable and they will be. If someone says, “working slaves to death is the only way to get the silver out of the mine”, you have to reply “Then we close the mine, silver is not worth a human life.”

  41. Stefania, got it in one. The work of initiation is work; what’s more, it’s hard work, and it involves, first, facing up to whatever personal problems you’re trying to avoid, and second, facing up to the gap between the way you like to think of yourself and what your thoughts, words, and actions actually say about you. Neither of those are easy, and a lot of people convince themselves that they don’t have to do it because God or progress or someone else will do it for them. That never works, but it’s always popular anyway…

    Karim, you can certainly use a PDF if you wish. Dion Fortune’s works entered the public domain in Britain and most of the rest of the world in 2017, so she and her heirs got full value from her work, and they’re now free for anybody to use.

    Matthias, unfortunately efforts to convince the various churches to follow the explicit injunction of Jesus and give all they have to the poor have generally not gone over well! Still, human nature being what it is, similar gaps between theory and practice can be found in every religion I’ve ever heard of. I’m very sorry to hear that the nonsense we’re discussing has found so extensive a foothold on your side of the pond — though I suppose that does suggest that Americans aren’t quite as uniquely idiotic on the subject as I’d feared. 😉

    RMK, true enough — one of the extraordinary powers that fiction has is the ability to put the reader inside the mind and heart of someone the reader might otherwise despise out of hand, and force an awareness of that person’s humanity. As for Korzybski, you’re most welcome — he’s unfashionable these days, but there are some very powerful tools in general semantics.

    Bogmuck, here in the US, at least, it’s been fashionable among many Christians for nearly two centuries now to insist that the shiny new world isn’t on the far side of death at all — that it’s going to show up any day now, courtesy of the Second Coming. I’m thinking, for example, of the very popular bumper sticker a few years back that said WARNING: IN CASE OF RAPTURE THIS CAR WILL BE UNOCCUPIED. Take a moment to taste the self-satisfied smugness in that: the bland assumptions that of course the Second Coming is going to happen sometime very soon, and of course the driver and occupants of the car will be among the blissful minority who will be blipped away to the throne of Jesus while everyone else in the world gets roasted alive in the fires of the Tribulation.

    That’s the sort of thing I was critiquing. As Matthias pointed out, it’s not the mainstream of Christian tradition, and you’re quite right that it’s nowhere in Islam — but it’s all over American popular Christianity, and there are reams and reams of Dispensationalist theology out there insisting that this is what the Bible really says.

    Drhooves, I think the quarrel is likely to be as much within the revealed religions as between those and the nature religions. These days a significant number of people in Christianity and Buddhism, to cite the two examples I know about, are starting to grapple with the extent to which the religion of progress has slipped into their faiths without being noticed, and with the ways that human participation in the community of life can be understood within the moral and theological frames of their traditions. On the other hand, there are still a vast number of James Watts out there — and it’s anyone’s guess which side will come out on top in the resulting conflicts.

    In the meantime, the spread of nature religions in the US continues. My guess is that we’re facing an era of religious interaction and innovation like nothing that’s been seen since the heyday of the Roman world, and out of it will come the new religious visions that will light the coming dark ages and become the crucible for the successor cultures that will build upon our ruins.

  42. John—

    Re reactions to history (and future history) as ecology

    One of the things that simply befuddles me (to use Jen’s term) is the casualness with which American hegemony is assumed — assumed to be good and assumed to be inevitable. This occurs with shocking frequency. (No doubt, Romans of the corrresponding period in the imperial trajectory thought the same way.) But the whole notion of empire is antithetical to the principles of the American republic, and I don’t see how they don’t see that — much less how they don’t see that every empire in the history of humanity has gone to the same place on the dust pile, despite those same empires making those same claims of inherent goodness and inevitability. It just makes sense to me to begin thinking about how we might manage navigating the future coming at us. Much dismayed head-shaking on my part.

  43. The copyright on the original edition of The Cosmic Doctrine expired, but I think this would not be true for the latest editions with the new text.

    I would like to ask for clarification on something. I own several of your books, and I would like to carry them in my phone. I understand most of them are available for online purchase, but not as PDF files, which have pages that have the same layout of the printed editions, specially Llewellyn titles, that seems to be horrified of that format.

    Would it be OK to scan these to carry on my phone? Of course I’m not going to give away copies. Otherwise, could you please consider selling your books in PDF format?

  44. It would appear to me that the process of initiation is, in large part, figuring out what one is doing wrong and fixing it. Past the ministrations of the persona there are much deeper parts of the self, and those parts allow for all sorts of practical benefits not to mention profoundly ecstatic and pleasurable states of union. Maybe I’m misunderstanding the point entirely, but one is initiated into more degrees of wholeness, power and peace. The avoidance of facing up to oneself is baffling to me, since the alternative is so ghastly. Distracting oneself until death takes hold is infinitely more terrifying than admitting one has room for improvement and doing something about it!

    In your essay on the Sources of Magic Power (, you wrote:

    “When the legend of Johann Faust became popular in Germany, for example, boatloads of books hit the stands claiming to be the authentic manual Faust had used to summon up Mephistopheles, and nearly all of them were focused with the exactness of a well-tuned laser on the fantasy of getting rich quickly by metaphysical means—Rhonda Byrne’s heavily marketed opus The Secret is part of a long tradition, though she somehow didn’t get around to telling her readers how to sell their souls to Satan. (I think she assumed they’d just go ahead and donate them without additional encouragement.)”

    I wonder, sincerely, if many people have bought into the idea of a prosthetic soul to compliment the shiny new universe you mention. As above, so below; if one believes in a an imminent universe free of limitations and nothing but cookies and ice cream for all eternity, that will be reflected in the concept of one’s soul. If the universe did everything for you, what sort of development could the soul have? Indeed the soul would inevitably be prosthetic in nature, an on call numinous, warm fuzzy feeling that keeps the abyss safely at bay.

  45. @Will J
    Re: Reincarnation

    Thanks for playing devil’s advocate on that subject. As I’ve mentioned before, the model of reincarnation I use is very different from the one that’s standard in the west. It does not have any problem with the number of souls required for the very large number of bodies, and does not require newbies to fill the roster either. It does not accept the idea that higher animals can become human souls without an extremely major evolution that essentially renders the idea moot. I can actually find common ground with a Christian ‘one life’ viewpoint, although there are enough other differences that it’s not a good fit.

    I’ve alluded to it before, so I’m not going to go into detail here. It’s just that I get a chuckle out of how wrong the conventional occult wisdom is on the subject, and how much it leads people astray.

  46. CRPatiño,

    I entirely agree that such extrapolation is rather a stretch if based only on our own time period. I do think an historical analysis of the question might prove interesting, but am not currently up to attempting it. I find the idea of other-than-material dynamic equilibria related to population ecology rather fascinating. I certainly wouldn’t predict some kind of post-collapse enlightened Utopia, any more than, say, Europe after the Black Death was a Utopia–the ratio of resources to population went up, which was a corrective, as I imagine a somewhat greater ratio of spiritual wisdom to population would be, but not a panacea.

    As for the exact mechanisms and rates by which souls get cycled through various incarnations and levels of manifestation, I can hardly speculate, but I will think on it more. I too find the idea of people being dragged back into bodies before they are ready rather disturbing, and something I had not previously weighed in my ongoing decision whether or not to have children.

  47. Will J,

    I most certainly agree that an influx of new souls is not solely or even mostly responsible for our many ills; there are a huge number of factors, many simply inherent in the human condition, some circumstantial, and some amenable to alteration, I think.

    I have not given much thought to neurological issues as related to broader societal trends, and would be interested in your further thoughts on the particulars, if you are willing.

    For what it’s worth, many of the people I know who seem able to escape the damaging groupthink that seems so prevalent in our society are somewhere on the spectrum, so maybe there are adaptive possibilities as well? However, that is perhaps easy for me to say, since I don’t have to walk in your shoes, so to speak.

  48. David, that’s one of the commonplaces of history. Back during the heyday of the British empire, everyone in Britain basically assumed as a matter of course that British global hegemony was a permanent thing — until it wasn’t. Empires breed hubris, hubris breeds nemesis, and nobody wants to think about that a minute sooner than they have to.

    Packshaud, no doubt that’s the case — and the Society of the Inner Light, which held the copyright, may well have reissued the original 1924 edition with new material in order to start the copyright clock running again. Myself, I prefer — and recommend to others — the revised edition, which is the one now in the public domain.

    Violet, I get that — but a lot of people don’t, and I think they’re right to do so. Self-knowledge is the way to rise beyond the human stage of being, and those who aren’t ready to do so seem to be fairly good at avoiding self-knowledge and passing through the experiences they need.

    John (if I may), trust me, I get at least as much amusement out of the mistakes (as I see them, of course) in the teachings you present… 😉

  49. I find Jen’s take on the “too many souls” theory compelling. Case in point: the perverse drive these days to try to keep people from death. I’m thinking of lonely elderly people who sadly ask to die yet are kept alive via machines, infants with massive deformities who are put through torturous surgeries in vain hopes of a “normal” future, people who feel compelled to endure ineffective years of chemotherapy after a cancer diagnosis, and the taboos around talking about suicide, let alone contemplating it. Could this culture’s instinctive unwillingness to let people go through the Gates of Death be a symptom of too many souls and not enough bodies to house them?

  50. Not only has the Roman Church successfully resisted exhortations to sell everything and give to the poor, in the 13th century it came to regard as orthodox doctrine that it had the right not only to arrest, torture – and often murder – Christian heretics (Cathars in this instance), but also to rob them of all their worldly goods, thereby throwing whole families into utter destitution, even if themselves untainted by heresy.

    I tend to regard that development as the point at which Rome became largely Satanic and definitively abandoned Christ, apart from some noble exceptions who somehow fought their way through the thickets of Canon law and theological detritus back to something approaching the Faith.

    Before the great Cathar repression, St Bernard – the Crusade enthusiast – had merely, as far as I recall, recommended ‘lots more preaching’ as the appropriate response to the heretics, as well as stern reform of priestly corruption and worldliness, which seems to me to be a truly Christian approach.

  51. @ JMG, your response illustrates one of the main reasons why I keep coming back to this forum; you’ve pointed out a major, and life long blind spot. Of course, your perspective strikes me as more complete, balanced and generous then the one I expressed, and to put it on makes the world seem much less tragic and more like a great comedy! Now I have another way of looking at things that is much more congenial. Many thanks!

  52. Hi John Michael,

    Have you ever wondered whether the fixation on future utopian visions is a neat trick to take peoples thoughts away from the grubby realities of the present and the past? And also, there is a certain implication inherent into those thought patterns that suggests that there is nothing to learn from the grubby realities of the past? One of my pet hates was the oft told claim to me that I heard over and over again as a kid that: ‘you can do anything’. Of course such claims were never applied to their own lives and choices.

    Mate, it rained and rained here today as a rogue pool of cold air broke away from Antarctica and landed here. Today = feral. It was cold and it has rained all day long. Over two inches have fallen so far.

    Anyway, one of my other pet hates is people claiming that we can live in an advanced industrial civilisation using only renewable energy sources because they forget how the not too distant past looked. So today, the advanced renewable energy sources of almost 6kW on the farm, produced only 0.72kWh for the entire day. The system itself consumed over three quarters of that energy too. Cheeky system! Far out people talk rubbish. I guess they just don’t seem to understand that an advanced civilisation can also include prodigious use of digging sticks!

    The other thing too that worries me is that if we as a society ignore the past, so to do we ignore the lessons learned in the past. I keep the house toasty warm using firewood sourced from the woodlot I share with the animals and everything else that lives in there – and firewood is an enormously complicated fuel source. How many people realise that?

    I’m also beginning to get a firm grasp on just how small the surplus that nature provides us with – it hardly surprises me that people cling to Jetsons-style futures because an impoverished energy future can be seen in the well documented lives of people in the not too distant past. Mind you, they had much more fertile soils too, and that benefit isn’t lost on me.

    I’m hoping your spring is warmer than here?

    Grumble, grumble, grumble…


  53. JMG, you wrote “it’s just that it’s a very long Path, and a lot of people mistake the long slow stretches for not getting anywhere at all.” What causes stretches to be slow at times and faster at others? What’s happening during the slow parts?

  54. Hi John Michael,

    Almost forgot to mention something amusing that I read the other day – and it does sort of relate to your reply to David (above). On your suggestion I have been rather enjoying the true silliness that is Robert E Howard’s collected stories of Sailor Steve Costigan. Mr Howard was a prolific author, and for those who are unaware, Sailor Steve Costigan is perhaps not the smartest of blokes, but far out, I wouldn’t want to get into an argument with him because he’d thump me. Anyway, people will get the gist, Steve’s not that bright, he gets into scrapes, and inevitably he punches his way out of them before getting into the next scrape. And by all accounts, he’s got a very hard skull.

    Sorry, I digress, and getting back to your reply to David (above). As a bit of colourful background to a story, it was mentioned that the British navy turned up to a small island in the Pacific to deal with an outlaw, lobbed a few shells, destroyed a few villagers huts, and then went on about their business elsewhere. That policy has a ring of familiarity about it. Meanwhile, the indomitable Sailor Steve Costigan, his mate, and his dog, sail into the village and take on the outlaw boss of the village single handed. And all the while they were very scornful of the hands off approach of the British battleship.

    The book was written in the 1930’s in the US so I can see how such a sub-plot in the story developed.



  55. @ Mattias & JMG

    Of course the “sense of entitlement” and “deserving” the paradise are as old as the protestantism faith, not so clear in Luther teaching but clearly estated in the John Calvin texts. The idea of a Almighty God that sentence some people and save some others from the begining of Time regardless what they do (the doctrine of Predestinationism)


    “We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is fore-ordained for some, eternal damnation for others.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 21, Paragraph 5)

    “…we say that God once established by his eternal and unchangeable plan those whom he long before determined once for all to receive into salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, he would devote to destruction…he has barred the door of life to those whom he has given over to damnation.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 21, Paragraph 7)

    “Therefore, those whom God passes over, he condemns; and this he does for no other reason than that he wills to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines for his own children.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 1)

    “…individuals are born, who are doomed from the womb to certain death, and are to glorify him by their destruction.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 6)

    “The very inequality of his grace proves that it is free.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 21, Paragraph 6)


    As Max Weber pointed out in “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”, the clear sign of belonging to the Legion of the Justs is the success in business. So the money is the proof of the “Justification”, to have been “selected” by God (against all the middle age/catholic/first christians tradition with their suspicion about the richs). The essential inequality in the human destiny is inescapable, and this bring a fundamental barrier between people

    The required accumulation of capital to achieve the total success of capitalism in the world need the kind of ethics of calvinism, because the barriers of usury, the moral suspitions about the richs and the sensual natue of the “free will” of the catholic-mediterranean people cannot accomplish that task, even if they start some forms of capitalism at the end of the middle age

    This kind of faith is the reason, for example, in english exist the word “winners” and “losers” as an adjective for a person, and this words do not even exist in spanish or italian or the majority of catholic countries/languages, because for the us (spaniards), you can “win” or “lose” in some conditions in your live, but you are no “doomed” to win or lose, to use the words like “winners” or “losers” has no meaning and sound quite ridiculous in our lanuage (soy un “ganador”, ¿?). This kind of language is a consequence of the predestinationism faith, and the reason why to be poor in US is so devastating for the poors’ self esteem, because that is the proof you are a “f**ing “loser” doomed from the origin of time before you are born, and any social change/help can change your fate

    I think was Steinbeck who said: “Socialism never took root in America because the poors see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires”.
    Everybody in US is, of course, a “winner”

    Predestionationism is what explain the myths of “Manifest Destiny” the “Indispensable Nation”, and all the Hollywood plots where the main character overcome huge traps, barriers and problems to beat the “doomed” (bad guys) to the final happy-end; what a diference with the spanish, italian or russian movies or the greek tragedy, where the main character usually is a f***ing “loser”! (as f.e. Don Quijote de La Mancha was)


  56. Kimberly, that may well be part of it. Another part, though, is a hangover (very much in the post-alcoholic sense) of Christian preaching about hell. So much of this, down through the centuries, has focused with laser intensity on the claim that you’d better do whatever the preacher tells you or fry in hell forever. Since most people aren’t willing to hand over their lives to some guy in a funny collar, not least because the guys in funny collars have a long and sordid history of abusing their authority whenever they can get away with it, the notion that we’re all going to hell when we die is fairly widespread in the subconscious of most people raised in Christian countries. The often-frantic rationalist insistence that there can’t possibly be any kind of afterlife, to my mind, is a fairly transparent defense mechanism against that deeply rooted fear.

    Xabier, a lot of us Freemasons hold Bernard of Clairvaux in very high regard, partly because of his role in helping to launch our traditional forbears, the Knights Templar, but also partly because his attitude toward the Catholic church itself. The reason the Cathars spread so widely in southern France, according to all the evidence I’ve seen, is that they walked their talk and the Catholic clergy didn’t; Bernard proposed the one really effective way to counter that.

    Violet, you’re most welcome. It took me a long time and a lot of meditation to figure that one out, even after encountering the concept repeatedly in occult writings.

    Chris, grumble grumble indeed! We’re having what I’m told is a typical New England spring, temperatures in the seventies one day and in the fifties the next, now sunny, now pouring down rain. As for the fixation on utopias of past and future, why, yes…

    Dot, good question. I figure it’s the same thing that causes everything else in life to move at different paces at different times, and to toss occasional bursts of frustration and annoyance our way!

    Chris, glad to hear you’re having fun with Sailor Steve! I’ve long been convinced that if Robert E. Howard hadn’t committed suicide, he would have become one of the great Western authors of the 1950s — right up there with Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour — and his sense of humor, which ripened as he got more experience as a writer, would have been a large part of that. As for the British navy and its habit of blithely thinking that every problem can be solved by lobbing a few dozen shells at random into some bloody country or other inhabited by mere natives — yes, somehow I’m having trouble seeing any difference between that and the latest random flurry of cruise missiles lobbed at Syria…

  57. @DFC (and others):
    I won’t try to defend Calvin and double predestination (which he invented) nor the winner/loser attitude. I would just like to point out again that Calvin doesn’t say we deserve anything.

  58. @Jen:

    Well, here CosDoc also provided me a humbling lesson on the limits of my English as second language, of the always valuable face-hitting-the-concrete kind.

    Looking for help while the posts do not start, I found this article by Gareth Knight, which you might find useful, and it also provides some background on how the book came to be:

    The Cosmic Doctrine – how it all began!

  59. Jen,

    There are a lot of things that other people take for granted that I just can’t do. The social skills aspect is one of the ones that a lot of people talk about, but there are others: I have terrible fine motor skills and hand eye coordination, and I’ve been told these are fairly common for people on the spectrum. My handwriting is awful, even when I slow down to do it slowly. This also isn’t a lack of practice thing, since I write by hand an awful lot, but I can’t control my hands. Also, if you throw something at me, I almost certainly won’t be able to catch it.

    I also have attention problems. It’s very, very hard for me to tune out distractions. If I can hear, smell, see, taste, or touch something, odds are it’s going to distract me. Combine that with overdeveloped senses, and it’s a nightmare.

    I’m inclined, for what it’s worth, to think that most people on the spectrum are less severe cases than I am, and that being on the spectrum also has benefits for avoiding group think. When I was little my parents were told to expect that I was going to be institutionalized by the time I was a teenager, which I’m pretty sure isn’t what most parents are told when their kid is diagnosed as autistic.

    As for the broader social trends, I’m still mulling it over. One of the biggest ones that I think might be an indication of neurological issues is the amount of over the top anger. I know there are other factors, but anger management tends to be a common symptom of neurological problems. I think it’s also possible that some of the muddled thinking that got is in this mess might also be one of the results of it.

    Part of the problem with this is that there are too many causes for everything, and I haven’t found anything that doesn’t have other causes. I view neurological issues as making the problems we face worse, but not necessarily causing any problems on their own.

  60. @ JMG and @ DFC

    Re cultural differences in narrative

    While I don’t have vast experience with Asian cinema, I’ve watched enough to know that the main characters are more likely than not to suffer tragic fates (e.g. Warring States; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hero). I remember getting halfway through Warring States, having gotten rather attached to the (quite likable) main character, before I thought, “Oh, yeah. This is a Chinese film. He isn’t going to end well.” And sure enough…

    I think David has a point about the American requirement of the underdog and how our perspective of the world must be contorted to fit that particular Procrustean bed.

  61. You’ve stated that people are nothing special and humanity is basically a standing wave of misery, but you’ve also made some favourable references to Nietzsche and made it clear that with the right methods a motivated individual can become something quite impressive. So where do you stand on the concept of the ubermensch?

    Can you say something about the role of puritanism (the mentality more than the specific religious group) in creating the current situation and its likely role in the future? I think of puritans as people who want to scrape society clean; give it a close shave. I imagine this would be metaphorically abhorrant to someone as luxuriantly bearded as you 🙂 but to be clear on the meaning of the word, does this match how you think of puritans?

    Also this: 🙂

  62. DFC, to say that Calvin’s statements regarding predestination imply entitlement or deserving is to infer exactly the opposite of what Calvin really taught—that predestination inherently _nullifies_ any idea of deserving or entitlement. While I really do understand, given the sad state of American/Western Christianity, why you, JMG, and so many others believe that “deserving” is inherent in Christianity’s doctrines, it is, to use a good and ancient word applied by Paul in writing about whether good works and obedience contribute in any way to God’s grace, anathema. Matthias, I like to refer to JMG as “my favorite archdruid” and find many of his socio-political-economic insights and ideas helpful and interesting, and as a Christian I just politely stay out of the spiritual side of his writings (until now I guess!). Would love to have a long conversation with him someday, I have no doubt he experiences real spiritual “things”, but this isn’t the place or a decent venue for such.

  63. @WillJ. we are not disagreeing there. if you are to actually advocate the Devil, you may want to sport edgier arguments.

    @Jess. Food for thought. Of course this is all speculation, but sometimes it leads to interesting places.

    @Rita, on traditional gender roles. What you fail to grasp is that there are practical reasons behind putting women in the kitchen and at the care or children. There’s also a million years or so of evolutive momentum that makes you better at those task than us, though of course we are more than mere animals and we can do differently (though at the cost of greater effort).

    (pre)Historically speaking, the #1 reason for assigning women to the household economy is risk of population colapse. Birth is a chancey ordeal in humans, and every young mother that dies there is one less womb available to give birth to the next generation of the tribe. It is therefore natural to hedge that risk by assigning more outgoing and riskier task to men. In particular, when considering preindustrial conflict with other human groups, young men dying to foreigners is no issue at all, but young women is. This leads to the genderization of violence, that I suspect further lead to the affirmation of Patriarchy (aka, male priviledge) as a social more.

    So, if you truly care about those bleak futures the (predominantly male) peak oil scene liked to assign to your gender, the best you can do is to enroll in a martial arts class and a shooting range. I suspect that in the conflicts of decades to come, the most successful wardbands will not be the ones with the most men, but the ones where women fight side to side with their men to fend off bigger male-only wardbands, but still, you should arrange the affair in such a way that it is the men that do the lion’s share of the bleeding, of you’ll end up screwing your tribe’s reproductive capacity for a generation.

    @JMG and David.
    There’s such thing as a “Ganador” concept in Spanish. Depending on context it can mean “the one who just won” a contest or event, or “one who has a track record of winning more often than not”. Please note that traditionally this does not say a thing about attitude or entitlement to winning.

    The concept of “Perdedor” is a bit more nuanced. You certainly have “el Perdedor”, in the sense of “the one who just lost”, but my mind keeps reverting back to “Looser” when trying to express any enduring condition of the person. What we do have is a “Buen Perdedor”, which would translate as a “Good Sport” (I guess “Good Looser” is too much of an oxymoron for you guys). We also do have the concept of people who never seem so succeed in what they try, but those are usually designated in terms of the character flaws that leed to their failures, i.e. “Flojo” (lazy), “Tonto” (dumb), “Conflictivo” (belligerent), etc. If there is no direct observable cause for the failure track, the person is simply labeled as unlucky.

  64. Once again, since I have problems with Dreamwidth, but to the point of this post as well: I put a sharp kitchen knife under my router. But I’m not addicted to the internet; I’m addicted to communicating with distant friends and getting the local news I need (“The potluck meeting will be at…”)

    Well, the cosmos had no obligation to do either what I say I want or what I really want. What got disrupted was my communications, as Windows kept trying for 2 days to update and start, update and restart, can’t update, you have a new update coming….”

    And our theme song …. the only rock song that would make an excellent Calvinist hymn.

  65. @Rita,
    I think that’s just wishful thinking on the part of a certain set of traditionalist preppers. I see the same thing w/the Sons of Confederate Veterans misremembering the past (if anything, the North was more sanctimonious than the South before the Civil War, as any reading of Uncle Tom’s Cabin will show.) I’m pretty confident that as we head into the deindustrial dark ages, we’re entering the post-Christian era, in which polytheism more in tune w/the land, and less ascetic, more celebratory of human nature is the order of the day.

  66. We haven’t had any big stories yet this year…. somehow it feels like the blackswans will pass us by again. I don’t think the system is out of balance enought yet for a major upset.

  67. IDK if the British were as clueless about their empire ending as we are w/ours. JMG, as you mentioned, the Brits had a longstanding policy dating back to the 1800s of conciliating the Americans and doing an all-out charm offensive diplomatically to prepare to hand off the empire once the crisis hit, and get a cushy position as 2nd closest client state (closest client state being that other Commonwealth realm Canada, who pursued the same policy even more aggressively)

  68. @DFC,
    wow, what you said just sheds a whole lot of clarity on why the US, as a nation, is having such a problem being a collectively poor and unsuccessful nation. I’d never thought of it in those terms, but, according to Puritan logic (scratch under the surface of any American and you’ll find a Puritan underneath.), if we’re collectively poor and unsuccessful materially, then it would be a sign that we’re collectively damned and receiving God’s disfavor, if not outright punishment. No wonder our egregore is so totally fracked right now, if that mentality is what underlies it!

  69. @David by the Lake
    Regarding USA hegemony & ‘ecology’ as ‘future history’ & much head-shaking

    I pretty much take the same view iterated by JMG a number of times that the inflection point for European civilization was 1914. This civilization by that time had taken on a global structure which included the rapidly industrializing USA and its trading requirements and markets.

    It seems that as a collective geopolitical structure the modern version of this civilization remains for a while pretty much ‘top dog’. As well as requiring diverse global resources our evolved mass societies and their industrial underpinning depend on a global trading complexity. Britain handed over geopolitical dominance to the USA after WWII, about the same time it eventually squared its differences with its other chief global trading rival, Germany. The USA had it seems already become the leading world trading / financial operator well before the crunch time of WWII. Roughly this situation still exists, despite the rise of other powers with substantial industrial power and requirements. One can see then why Europe especially must support the US hegemony.

    Jim Kunstler takes a dim view of what the US has evolved in the way of daily life. I take his point. I for one doubt whether the ‘upsides’ now outweigh the effort needed to continually cope with ‘downsides’. In as much as modern life elsewhere has taken on many of the structures now characterizing your country, we can all of us join you in much shaking of heads.

    Phil H
    PS Question for anybody. Why except perhaps for Russia, is the USA compared with much of the rest of the world so popularly resistant to accepting the well attested study of climate forcing?

  70. JMG

    “The often-frantic rationalist insistence that there can’t possibly be any kind of afterlife”

    Any kind of afterlife except, of course, a purely technological, man-made one in which the soul (I mean, mind), is uploaded into heaven (I mean, a virtual-reality paradise).

  71. @JMG – thanks for the response. I see a religious revival ahead of some sort, and if nature religions come back more into style, if you will, then that’s a good thing. I see the recent trend toward “mindfulness”, adopted by many to deal with stress, naturally progressing along spiritual lines, and trying to grapple with how each of us fits into the Cosmos. I think it’s safe to say that as the decline continues and the Religion of Progress washes up on the rocks, there will be many seeking a way to fill that vacuum.

    @Rita – I share some of your concerns, and am personally hoping our freedom of religion and speech, as protected under the 1st Amendment, survives. However, some of the progressive gains made in the last 100 years or so may go by the wayside for some areas anyway, as they may have been a positive side effect of fossil fuels and the “higher” standard of living afforded to so many more people. And unfortunately, the personality types that are attracted to say, the Mormon Church versus a hippie commune, are going to result in more stable communities, and quite possible less “open-minded”, if you will.

    Perhaps the sheer numbers of people believing in the concept of treating all other humans with dignity and respect will win out over other methods of organization, and I’ll be trying to promote those ideals. But unfortunately history seems to have more examples of the weight of the unthinking masses spiraling down social structure to the lowest common denominator – and that means slavery is a distinct possibility.

  72. The fact that a certain sort of traditionalist loudly insists that the end of the industrial era means we, by necessity, must go back to the way things were in the preindustrial West, says more about the traditionalist than it does about any legitimate reading of trends and the diversity of human civilization. By all means, not only are we entering a dark age, but also a post-Christian, neo-polytheistic age, and the mores in effect when Christianity was at its zenith in the West just aren’t a good guide for a polytheistic future. There’s a whole range of possibilities from matriarchal to patriarchal and everything in between when looking at non-industrial societies, as well as the most sexually repressed to the most sexually liberated, and they all exist and existed in pre-industrial societies.

  73. There’s also another issue with “traditional gender norms”: they are traditional to an already industrial society. Based on my understanding of it from people who study history of gender relations, the 1950s was an unusually bad time to be a woman, since the resources to enable half the population to be relegated to non-productive tasks was never there before. In all previous societies, women worked, at least at the household economy, by necessity, and thus were never dependent on husbands in the wholly one sided way that was the case then.

    I can see plenty of other ways for gender norms to go wrong, but I don’t think traditional gender norms are possible in a society without the luxuries of fossil fuels.

  74. David, true enough. It’s interesting that tragedy, which used to be a standard kind of story in our culture, has dropped so thoroughly out of its pop-culture modes.

    Yorkshire, I’d be interested to know where you got the notion that I consider humanity “a standing wave of misery,” because that’s not even remotely close to my view. Rather, humanity is the point in the great chain of being at which happiness and misery are more or less in balance. It’s also a stage through which each soul passes; each of us has been in less complex and reflective forms of incarnation before now, and when we’ve finished with the lessons of the human level, we will each move on, leaving the peculiar form of incarnation we call “humanity” behind and moving up to the next rung on the ladder.

    Nietzsche didn’t get that. Nietzsche, having rejected religion altogether for personal reasons, did as many other avant-garde thinkers of his time did, and patched together a vision of human transformation out of various cast-off scraps of Christian symbolism, all the while convincing himself that he was doing nothing of the kind. I find his work endlessly stimulating and endlessly frustrating.

    Jon (if I may), I’d be interested in having that conversation, perhaps in one of the open posts. I’m quite certain, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly here and elsewhere, that many Christians are worshiping a god who actually exists, and who can be counted upon to provide the benefits that gods do in fact give their worshipers; nor do I find any reason to object to their following the injunction to revere no other gods — deities have their requirements, and if you’re going to enter into a covenant with one it’s going to be on the deity’s terms, not on yours. Of course I don’t believe that yours is the only deity that exists, but from my perspective (although, of course, not from yours!) that makes surprisingly little difference.

    CR, thanks for this. As I have next to no exposure to Spanish, all this is new to me.

    Patricia, fascinating. Okay, that’s also a data point. As for the song, no question, there’s some serious wisdom there.

    Hammer, depends on what you mean by a “black swan.” Remember that if you expect it, by Taleb’s definition, it’s not a black swan! We’ve actually got two major news stories in process that nobody expected at the beginning of the year: first, the dramatic movement toward peace on the Korean peninsula; and second, the steep increase in the cost of oil, as peak oil raises its unwelcome head. Those certainly fit my definition…

    Shane, based on what I’ve read, a great many Brits had the notion that the US would always be the rambunctious junior partner, and were taken aback in a big way when that equation reversed itself after the Second World War.

    Valenzuela, true enough.

    Drhooves, historically, that’s what happens; the Second Religiosity is Spengler’s term for it.

    Shane, it’s absolutely standard in the waning years of a civilization for romantic reactionaries (i.e., “Traditionalists”) to insist that the outcome of the troubles will be a return to the supposedly timeless values of that civilization’s medieval period. They’re always wrong, but the temptation is perennial…

  75. Will, you’re quite right, and the same argument can be generalized further. The heyday of the supposedly “traditional” gender role system in the English-speaking world, with women confined to the household and excluded from other economic roles, was the Victorian era — that is to say, the zenith of the first great wave of fossil-fueled industrialism. Go back before the industrial revolution, and women had more legal rights and a much more extensive involvement in economic life outside the household than they had once the industrial revolution got its claws embedded in the social order. A very strong case can be made, in fact, that “traditional” gender roles are a product of industrialism, with women being forced into the role of unpaid support staff for men whose lives are fed into the cogs of the factories…

  76. @Will J,
    and that’s why so many Silent women are so damaged. Their working class husbands treated them like “ladies”, and waited on them hand and foot, like they’d seen upper class people do w/their women. But most people, when spoiled and waited on hand and foot, become horribly spoiled people. You can’t really understand why Silent women turned out the way they did until you read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique

  77. And yet, oddly enough, we always consigned the diplomacy and actual understanding the rest of the world to the Brits, even after becoming hegemon. Ever notice how most foreign correspondents have British accents?

  78. In Spanish culture proper, ie Iberia itself, the archetypal ‘winner’ is the Conquistador, winning an empire against huge odds, and in some ways, the near-suicidal soldier.

    Running alongside is the strange, deep love of death and blood, an Iberian cliche perhaps but true, often needlessly courted. In at least one instance in the 16th century, German and Italian troops refused to fight alongside Spaniards ‘who didn’t seem to want to survive the battle.’ The Italian historian couldn’t quite believe how they behaved.

    The (in)famous regimental song of the Legion, ‘Novios de la Muerte’ (‘Fiances of Lady Death’) exemplifies this!

    Anyone interested in this strange psychosis can find lots of parade performances on Youtube, just enter ‘Novios de la Muerte Legion’, and look at the great parades, with the venerated life-size wooden effigy of an agonized ‘Christ of the Good Death’ carried on the shoulders of the troops.

    Sado-erotic-militaristic religiosity at high intensity. Government ministers joined in enthusiatically at the last Easter parade.

    Now, what kind of god is being worshipped there?

  79. Perhaps the problem with Nietzsche is that he was a solitary genius shouting into the void, had no Tradition, and hence spent a lot of time in re-inventing, as it were, the spiritual wheel?

    A living Tradition is a wheeled wagon, in good repair, loaded and ready to go (or, if it has outlived its usefulness, over-weighted and stuck in a ditch, the driver dead drunk….)

  80. I thought a standing wave of misery was a resonable description of your view because you’ve repeatedly stated that any attempt to significantly improve the lot of humanity is a utopia doomed to fail. When I asked if humanity is like an intensive care ward in that as soon as someone starts to improve they are sent somewhere else, so you never see anyone get better, you said yes. Maybe I overstated the case because I just like the sound of the term ‘standing wave of misery’.

    On the question of women being disenfranchised by the industrial revolution, it wasn’t like that where I live. The textile mills of Yorkshire and Lancashire were staffed almost entirely by women. My grandma actually did one of the few jobs in the mill that had previously been considered a ‘man’s job’, and got paid very well for it. The high number of women who were independent wage earners had a noticable effect on the culture of the North of England and commentators noted how different the ‘mill girls’ were from the stereotypes of women at the time. Things were different in the South Yorkshire coalfields where there was a far greater division between men and women. But even that wasn’t always so. Up until the 1840s, men and women had worked side by side at the coalface.

  81. Well I think I’ve got a little story to contribute as well that fits to our weekly topic here.

    A long time acquaintance whom I meet now and then came to visit, some time before Christmas last year. He works at a university institute for climate research and conducts studies that assess the impact of this and that measure in order to reduce CO2 emissions in Austria, and studies that kind of try to make forecasts in the matter,

    I revealed my thoughts on how the fossil fuel bonanza is faltering, and I also commented that I see no way to replace the current infrastructure with wind and solar. So most of the points which have been discussed around here and other selected internet venues.

    This irritated him to the extreme and led to an emotional outbreak of his that I actually had not anticipated. Were my acquaintance not such a mild natured and mannered person I am sure his demeanor towards me would have become quite bad at that point.

    It became an unexpected, lengthy and uncomfortable discussion. As he prepared to leave, I borrowed him my copy of Nafeez Ahmed Mossadegh’s excellent study “Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence”.
    This March he returned it to me and I requested his thoughts on the study. “I am depressed. I am not unhappy that I have read it, but it leaves me very sad. It is a great and interesting book actually, and I have started to see so clearly how resource based perspectives explain so well what is going on in Syria and other countries”.

    I can see how people often instinctively resort to sharp denial, because some conclusions, or even only the consideration of some assumptions, leaves them in an emotional trauma.
    After all, the notion that there may after all be no solution that keeps all the skiing holidays, airplane trips to exotic countries, computer gaming and so on going and in the course also alleviates the problems associated leaves many people in sever distress.

    I often get from other people that I am “negative”, “pessimistic” and other things for making that claim. People like to attribute the assumption that infinite growth on a finite planet and a benign total destruction of our ecological environment aren’t possible simply to emotional problems or a bad character of mine.

    It also reminds me of the idiotic discussions with US-citizens on the Internet in around 2010 and before, who claimed that invading Iraq was good for the country and the rest of the world and all the bad consequences are simply due to the bad attitude and character of the country’s citizens.
    I for my part have had the privilege of talking to academic people who have fled that country, experienced the war first hand and told me what goes down when a war goes down like that.

    One individual from the US even had the nerve that “all over Europe there’s protests and violence!”, all the while I AM in Europe and no, I don’t solely visit the touristy places or talk to middle class people.

    But I understand; those people from the US cling to their flag, their local church and society, because they have nothing else actually. The mere thought that there might be something wrong…is just too much to take.

    Before this becomes too lengthy, one last thing: I am depressed to see everything that is discussed here or described by John Michael Greer to materialize in my real life; I have to be so goddamn careful in literally any discussion, because what ever I say gets people to already browse their mental catalogue, trying to find out which political corner to put me in, and once they have found their phantom, they’re not talking to me anymore, but to someone they think I am, and think they know.

  82. John–

    Germane, I think, to the topic of human ecology and change in history (and certainly the idea of the “magical universe” giving us goodies). My boss, quite excitedly, was showing me a clip from Google’s AI demo, discussed in the article here.

    Among other things, they did a live demo where the assistant called and booked a hair appointment, “conversing” with the unsuspecting human on the other end of the line.

    The implications of this technology are worrisome. Even though I know such things will not survive the resource constraints of the Long Descent, much damage could be done in the meantime. This atomization of society and cultivation of artificial realities cannot end well.

    These things do induce me to spend more time in my garden and to interact with actual human beings, though!

  83. Thanks for your insightful reply, JMG! Thirdly, I think the reluctance to let dying people die is a symptom of what James Howard Kunstler calls techno-triumphalism. Meaning, there are many who believe extending the life of a moribund patient with technology somehow validates that technology, despite the abject suffering of the patient.

    @Rita Rippletoe: Do you mind if I use the quote from you below, with proper accreditation, of course? I find your thought process to be noble and powerful. It’s a great quote.

    “Assume that sexism, racism and oppression are inevitable and they will be. If someone says, “working slaves to death is the only way to get the silver out of the mine”, you have to reply “Then we close the mine, silver is not worth a human life.”

  84. JMG,

    I’ll have to mull over your analysis of gender norms. Based on what I know of history, it is interesting that women did have more legal and social rights before the 1800s, but I never made the connection. Hmm….

  85. JMG,

    “It’s interesting that tragedy, which used to be a standard kind of story in our culture, has dropped so thoroughly out of its pop-culture modes.”

    It makes perfect sense though: who would want to be reminded that tragedy is possible while living out one?

  86. On the subject of gender roles and their relation to what Marx would have called the means of production, etc. A large part of the untrammeled growth of capitalism is the conversion of every possible human activity into a source of profit. Working in a hospital as a nurse is real work, with a real wage and makes a profit for the corporate world. Soothing a toddler’s fevered brow at home does not. Same for sewing in a clothing factory vs. home sewn clothing, factory canned peaches vs. home canned, beer, herbal remedies, a CD vs. a lullaby or a fireside sing-a-long and so forth. Whatever brings in money is valued. Whatever does not bring in money is scorned. So a woman with a desire to be valued wants a job in the real world–leaving aside practical considerations of security, independence, etc. A title and a paycheck, maybe some stock options or becoming a Supreme Court judge mean a lot more in the long run than a Mother’s Day card–sentiment to the contrary.

    In addition, fossil fuel has made some former household production impractical. My grandmother made all of my clothing, except socks, shoes and panties. I was well into adulthood before I could buy store bought clothing without feeling guilty. But in practical terms, making your own clothing in the US doesn’t make sense. By the time you purchase a pattern, yardage, notions, etc. you have spent more than a blouse or dress would cost at the discount store. Unless you have a difficult to fit body or are making a costume or a special outfit, forget it. And that is without putting any value on the seamstress’ labor. Now Hopefully we will be able to keep some of the earlier technologies that reduced labor. I don’t think a future in which virtually every woman spends all her free time spinning or in which women’s shoulders are deformed from grinding the masa for hours each day would be a good one.

    As for women being needed as mothers. Well yes. But even without modern medicine the human race had no problem filling the earth to carrying capacity. If we go extinct it will be from loss of habitat, not from a shortage of fertile females (barring some sci-fi “all the women become sterile” scenario).

  87. Xabier, “now what kind of god is being worshiped there?” One worshiped in one form or another all over Mexico time out of mind. The Aztecs would have been right at home with Santa Muerte.

    Shane W: “spoiled rotten, patted on the head, told “stifle, Edith,” told “Your mother isn’t very bright, but …. well, I guess she’s bright about little things….”

    Don’t believe everything you saw on sitcoms of the period.

  88. I just wanted to drop this out there for those interested in old astrology. Robert Hitt is planning to do some astro training, looks like in August. Details are on his site under section “What if AI Understands Astrology?” He is accessible via mail on-site

  89. Shane, also a typical imperial habit. Think of the number of British diplomats who prided themselves on their fluent French and stayed obsessively au courant with the latest trends in European culture…

    Xabier, that was certainly part of it. Nietzsche’s tragedy is a familiar one in the Christian era. A young man, raised in a household of more than usual Christian piety and planning on a career in the ministry, goes off to college and falls in love with another man. His culture insists that that can’t happen, that homosexuality can never be anything but the most depraved sort of corrupted sensuality, but there he is, faced with the full emotional experience of youthful love in all its purity and incandescence — for another man. The explosive cognitive dissonance that results turns him against his faith, and against the entire cultural tradition in which he was raised; it sends him (typically for the time) back to classical Paganism — and yet he can never let go of Christianity; it’s still the center of his intellectual and moral world.

    So all he can do is carry on a perpetual war against Christianity, against the Christian idea of morality, against God, until he cracks. The “revaluation of all values” he called for was first and foremost meant to overturn the orthodox insistence that the highest and most meaningful experiences of his life could only be seen through the filth-colored filters of Christian sexual morality. (This also was typical of the time; Lord Alfred Douglas’ once-famous poem The Two Loves makes the same outcry in less veiled terms.) The shrill hysteria of the last pages of Ecce Homo — note the double entendre of that title! — is the despairing cry of a profound and sensitive mind that can’t find its way out of the trap that nineteen centuries of moral double-binds have laid for it.

    There are less self-destructive ways out of the trap, but it never occurred to Nietzsche that since Christianity grew up in the context of classical Paganism, it was booby-trapped in ways that made a simple return to classical Paganism cycle you right back into the same set of double-binds. What ultimately shattered the deathgrip of Christian sexual morality on the Western world was the West’s confrontation with the cultural traditions of south and east Asia, against which the Christian tradition had (if you will) no antibodies at all. It’s struck me more than once that if Nietzsche had taken up Sanskrit philology instead of the classical Western languages, he’d have had a much happier destiny; with Krishna to guide him in place of Dionysos, he’d have played an immensely important role in introducing Hindu spirituality to Europe, and launched the West’s great Morgenlandfahrt a generation or more in advance. Still, that’s forever in the land of might-have-beens…

    Yorkshire, humanity is a standing wave, no question; it’s simply the “of misery” to which I object. As for the role of women in the industrial revolution, you’ve pointed to a crucial element, of course, which is the factor of class. It was primarily women of the middle classes who were condemned to a life of domestic captivity by eighteeenth- and nineteenth-century legal and cultural changes; women of the working classes were treated as disposable industrial equipment, just as the men and children were. That said, look into the changes in British law sometimes over that period, governing the legal rights of women; it’s an unnerving spectacle of disenfranchisement.

    Labor Case, thanks for this! Yes, and I’ve had the same experience depressingly often.

    David, no question. I wonder if anyone’s thought of what will happen when most of the internet is full of machines pretending to be human talking to other machines pretending to be human, and all those glossy ads are rarely if ever being seen by a human eyeball…

    Kimberly, that also plays a role in it, of course.

    Will, I encourage you to look further into the way that “traditional gender roles” were constructed in the early modern period. It’s really a fascinating spectacle.

    Rita, no question, that’s also a major issue in all this.

    Oilman2, thanks for this.

  90. Re: to “deserve” salvation (in calvinistic faith)

    Under the doctrine of the “Total Depravity of Man”, of course the salvation of one especific soul is a total arbitrary choice of God (this is the doctrine of “Unconditional Election” of the chosen from eternity), due to this, which is a kind paralyzing principle, on the pastoral level, two developments occurred: it became obligatory to regard oneself as chosen, lack of certainty being indicative of insufficient faith (this is related to the doctrine of “Irresistible Grace”); and the performance of ‘good works’ in worldly activity became accepted as the medium whereby such surety could be demonstrated (the “Certitudo Salutis”, the certainty of salvation through secular “Calling”); and then with this approach thanks to the success in business one could be seen oneself as part of the few of “chosen”, and many others as “losers”, sorry, as the crowd of “doomed” (this is the doctrine of “Limited Atonement” that show the death of Christ was to save only the chosen from eternity)

    All of this is what economist call a big “incentive” to hard work and to economic success, and also to frugality, avoiding any temptation to sin (so the name “puritans”), that is the reason to the drive to the accumulation of money for the sole purpose of accumulation of money to achieve the “Certitudo Salutis” (to belong the Caste ot the Winners in recent times), not to expend it for pleasures, which is the main feature of the northern modern capitalism from XVII century onwards (on the opposite side is the luxury and sensual “waste” of money of the Medicis or others italian capitalists in the Renaissance or Baroque)

    One can see all of this as a process of “decriminalization” of Greed, that was one of the more dangerous sins in the theology of the Middle Age, but then enrichment became licit “at Maiorem Gloria Dei”, and in another step further we have the ideas of Adam Smith where greed is, in fact, not a sin but the main requirement for a prosperous civilization thanks to the “invisible hand” of God, sorry!, the Market. Now unrestrained greed is the main virtue of those who want to make progress happens (entrepreneurs)

    On the other hand in the Weber’s book “The Protestant Ethic….” there is one complete chapter to discuss the concept of laic “Calling” that does not exist in the catholic countries or in the classical Antiquity. He said (chapter 3):

    “Now it is unmistakable that even in the German word Beruf, and perhaps still more clearly in the English calling, a religious conception, that of a task set by God, is at least suggested. The more emphasis is put upon the word in a concrete case, the more evident is the connotation. And if we trace the history of the word through the civilized languages, it appears that neither the predominantly Catholic peoples nor those of classical antiquity have possessed any expression of similar connotation for what we know as a calling (in the sense of a life-task, a definite field in which to work), while one has existed for all predominantly Protestant peoples.”

    So the words and concepts of languages have changed to accomodate this change in the mythical narrative

    I think the way societies works has a profound theological (mythical) roots if we scratch the painture of the surface, as our host JMG has shown in multiple times

  91. When you have a society like the 1950s when the goal was to have all women as “kept women”, the consequences are going to be ghastly. Granted, many women rebelled, but way too many conformed.

  92. JMG,

    One other thing I find fascinating: the Great Reform Act of 1832, which is considered to be the foundational act of British democracy, disenfranchised women, who until then had been eligible to vote in parliamentary elections where they qualified.

    Of course, the notion that the male franchise could be expanded (warm fuzzy), while women were being disenfranchised (cold-prickly) at the same time is something a lot of people can’t grasp, and the ways to avoid accepting that that’s what happened is amusing. I think the most common one is to insist that prior to the act, women couldn’t vote (records indicating they did being ignored), and thus the fact the bill needed to spell it out was progress.

    As for gender norms being constructed, I’ve found a little bit, but too much of the works on history I can get are filtered through the myth of progress. My personal favorite example is the study of the Victorian Era that insisted that the declining employment rate among women and their relegation to the domestic sphere was progress, since they were being removed from dangerous work conditions. This was published in 2014, and arguing, essentially, that the creation of the horrible, backwards 1950s gender norms was progress.

  93. @ JMG

    Re the AI perpetual motion ad machine

    I doubt anyone has considered that, as I’m sure that everyone thinks that the next guy is the “greater fool.” Who’d have thought that the much-vaunted Singularity would most likely manifest as a self-licking ice cream cone? 😉

  94. Kimberley – Regarding obsessively prolonging life when the end is in sight… I think that what’s going on is simply drawing a sharp line in the sand. Once you can accept acting to end life, say, one month prior to its inevitable end, just because the end is in sight, why not two months? Why not a year? Why not twenty? Who is to decide? The paradox is that a patient healthy enough to make an “informed choice” is not yet at the actual decision point. In our debate over health insurance reform (which led to “ObamaCare”), merely suggesting that health insurance should cover psychological counseling for end-of-life decisions led to much hooting about “death panels”, as if patients would be counseled on how to avoid causing excessive expenses for the insurance company by taking a quick exit.

    On the other hand, how much do we really know about how people die? The only death that I’ve been personally involved with to a meaningful extent was that of my ex-wife, who died of cancer. She specified that heroic means were not to be taken to extend her life. She put her financial affairs in order and was lucid when our teen-aged son and I visited in the hospital. I think we all knew that it was time to say goodbye, and she died the next morning. Either the hospital staff had excellent powers of prediction, or they gave her a nudge over the threshold. I would want the same for myself.

    End of life, end of empire, end of oil … some topics that are taboo in modern culture.

  95. Packshaud,

    Thank you! That was an interesting and informative read.

    And I can only imagine what you felt encountering the Cos Doc with English as your second language! It is daunting enough for a native speaker.

  96. That is an interesting analysis of Nietzsche, I have read biographies of his that didn’t mention homoeroticism. It goes to show how things have changed… Many suffered over the centuries, and now I know plenty of homosexual Christians who are deeply engaged in their churches.

    Could you elaborate a bit more on the booby traps set with regard to a return to Classical paganism?

  97. Will J,

    Thanks for your response. I can empathize to a degree with the overdeveloped senses–my friends and I joke sometimes that I’m like one of those morbidly sensitive aesthetes that occasionally pop up in Victorian fiction, but all joking aside, I am extremely sensitive to light, sound, color, etc. and often have difficulty functioning in crowds, large stores, etc. I used to get physically sick in shopping malls when I was forced to go with relatives, and had to be carried or escorted out. Of course, I think anyone who doesn’t get sick in shopping malls is the odd one! I also didn’t learn to drive until I was 21 because I could not handle all the rapid sensory input (also, I just hate it), and city driving is nearly beyond me to this day.

    You make an interesting point about the extreme anger and generalized lack of emotional control. I hadn’t considered it from the perspective of neurological disorders, but I am increasingly convinced that most people are emotionally, physiologically, immunologically, and hormonally deranged in ways that at least partially spring from environmental pollution. I would not doubt that there is a neurological component as well, and that it could very well exacerbate many other social issues.

  98. drhooves,

    Indeed, the temporary mitigation of selection pressures due to an abundance of fossil fuels seems to me a rather significant factor that will be painfully felt in the fairly near future. And I think you are quite right in suggesting that maladaptive psychologies/personalities/attitudes will play a role as well as maladaptive physiologies once we feel the dominion of nature more directly than we currently do.

    You are also sadly correct that mentioning this in public usually gets one denounced as a eugenicist and/or sadist, as if by speaking of it one must be wallowing in unseemly delight at the prospect. I myself would probably have removed myself from the gene pool years ago without corrective lenses, so I am not so smug!

  99. > @Dean Myerson – The idea that after my time is up, all that I am will get absorbed back into nature strikes me as natural and I’m fine with it. I have no desire to have a little rectangle of land with a stone monument on it with my name. But apparently many if not most people find this concept scary if not downright appalling.

    I’ve read may people trying to paint themselves brave in this “I don’t care if I die way”.

    But an important distinction is that whether people find this “scary” for themselves or not, they still find it “scary and appaling” for those they love – their children, their parents, their spouses, and so on.

  100. @JMG > Dean, I think it’s more complex than that, but certainly the Abrahamic religions’ fixation on a blissful otherworld on the far side of death hasn’t helped at all.

    “Abrahamic religions”? Jews don’t believe much in an “blissful otherworld”, if at all. And Orthodox Christians don’t particularly place their bets there either:

    “6. God is the Creator of the world. The world as cosmos, i.e. a created order with its own integrity, is a positive reality. It is the good work of the good God (Gen. 1), made by God for the blessed existence of humanity. The Cappadocian Fathers teach that God first creates the world and beautifies it like a palace, and then leads humanity into it. The genesis of the cosmos, being in becoming, is a mystery (mysterion) for the human mind, a genesis produced by the Word of God. As such, the world is a revelation of God (Rom. 1:19-20). Thus, when its intelligent inhabitants see it as cosmos, they come to learn about the Divine wisdom and the Divine energies. The cosmos is a coherent whole, a created synthesis, because all its elements are united and interrelated in time and space. A serious study of the mystery of creation, through faith, prayer, meditation and science, will make a positive contribution to the recognition of the integrity of creation. The daily office of the Church (vespers) begins with a psalm which exalts the beauty of this mystery (Ps. 103), while the Fathers of the Church often comment on the various biblical passages which describe the integrity of the creation.

    7. The value of the creation is seen not only in the fact that it is intrinsically good, but also in the fact that it is appointed by God to be the home for living beings. The value of the natural creation is revealed in the fact that it was made for God (something which is beautifully expressed in Orthodox iconography), i.e. to be the context for God’s Incarnation and humankind’s deification, and as such, the beginning of the actualization of the Kingdom of God. We may say that the cosmos provides the stage upon which humankind moves from creation to deification. Ultimately, however, the whole of the creation is destined to become a transfigured world, since the salvation of humankind necessarily involves the salvation of its natural home, the cosmos.

    (…) 37. The environmental crisis is a sin and a judgement upon humanity. We need to find ways, as churches, to support sound programmes which seek to preserve from pollution air, water and land. To speak of the reintegration of creation today is first to speak words of repentance and to make commitments toward the formation of a new way of living for the whole of humanity. The contemporary world must repent for the abuses which we have imposed upon the natural world, seeing it in the same kind of relationship to us as we see the unity of our human nature in both body and soul. We must begin to undo the pollution we have caused, which brings death and destruction to the mineral, vegetable and animal dimensions of the world environment. We must work and lobby in every way possible to us in our different situations to encourage the scientific community to dedicate the good potentials of science and technology to the restoration of the earth’s integrity. For ourselves, this means a recommitment to the simple life which is content with necessities and – with the Church Fathers – sees unnecessary luxuriousness as the deprivation of necessities owed to the poor. In all of its aspects, concern for the reintegration of the creation calls Christians to a new affirmation of self-discipline, a renewal of the spirit of asceticism appropriate to Christians, regardless of their status, position or condition. In short, we must see the created world as our own home, and every person in it as our brother and sister whom Christ loves.”

  101. DFC, nicely done.

    Will, exactly the same thing happened in many American states around the same time. Some states permitted women and people of color to vote if they owned enough property until the Jacksonian reforms, which gave all adult white men the right to vote and deprived women and people of color of that right. Funny how nobody talks about that these days…

    David, I plan on publicizing it, not least because of the panic that will spread through internet companies as they contemplate that possibility!

    Matthias, I’m glad to hear it; over here, in a lot of denominations, that’s still very problematic. As for the booby traps, I’m far from sure I understand how they worked, but Nietzsche was one of a vast number of figures from the Renaissance through the late 19th century who tried to be Pagan but could never quite stop being Christian. Joscelyn Godwin’s very solid book The Pagan Dream of the Renaissance documents some of the early phases of that complex phenomenon. I suspect a lot of it came from the way that classical Paganism was relentlessly reframed through Christian categories; one of the inestimable gifts that India gave the West was the capacity to see ancient Greece as something other than a prelude to the Christian narrative.

    Pmys, perhaps you’d like to argue with this discussion of heaven by the very highly respected Eastern Orthodox figure St. Innocent of Alaska, who has quite a bit to say about a blissful otherworld on the far side of death. That is to say, yes, I can use search engines just as easily as you can… 😉

  102. Jen – ik the feeling. Of being in a crowded place that makes one sick.

    Last year I had a dream I was in New York city having a meal at a street level cafe with my atheist Uncle X, of all people. It was a few months after JMG suggested I start keeping a dream journal, so I wrote it down the details etc.

    So, I actually went to New York city a few weeks ago to hear my sister’s concert in Carnegie Hall… and I ended up having a meal with my uncle in a street level cafe before hand. The time between the dream and trip may be too large to say anything concrete. But being in the city felt like being sick, like you felt in the mall. That feeling was present in the dream and in my real experience. Also I could had very heightened sense of the other people around me. I felt like my eyes continued around the back of my head…. JMG you often have talked about perceiving nature spirits – While I was in NYC I never have felt such a strong sense of people’s auras. It was like having another pair of eyes on top of regular vision. The anglo-saxons might call it a sense of thrym? The big difference between the dream and the actual lunch was the dream seemed to focus more on the auras of people moving around, not on what my eyes actually saw.

    I’ve had a few other such instances, dream versus reality etc. My current working theory is that a prophetic dream, at least in my dreams, doesn’t actually give the future of the physical plane. It gives the future of the astral plane. JMG any further guidance?

    How is knowing the flow of the astral plane useful?

  103. David & CG–
    It’s fascinating to read that there is much less emphasis on being a ‘winner’ or ‘loser’ in the Latin group of languages!

    David, re: Calvin–
    A long time ago, I was in a church that held Calvin’s writings in high esteem. John Calvin wrote a very detailed theology, and I got the sense from it that in his own mind, he was trying to explain everything about God in a logical, systematic and consistent manner. It was the same sort of treatment that an Animal Behaviorist might have applied to a study of Crocodiles–The Animal Behaviorist would not say that the crocodile was good or evil, or propose that it should change in any way. He would just try to fully characterize its behaviors to possibly be able to predict what it would do in any situation.
    Both Calvin’s and the Animal Behaviorist’s approach come straight out of Enlightenment Thinking, the idea that anything and everything can, through study, be fully known and set into a logical framework.

    This is probably not a good way to get to know persons. It is probably a really bad way to approach spiritual beings when our reality may be only a subset of theirs. It left me completely unequipped to deal with occasional experiences that did not fit into Calvin’s framework. 🙂

  104. The industrialisation of the Soviet Union and the Great Leap Forward in China are known to have been environmental disasters. The New Deal was also a massive national-scale civil engineering project but is generally well regarded by the environmental movement and the left, and many regard their end goal as a new New Deal that converts the world to renewable energy, public transport and sustainable everything. I know elements of the project were supposed to be about conservation but did they work? What were the environmental consequences of the New Deal?

  105. JMG
    “…one of the inestimable gifts that India gave the West was the capacity to see ancient Greece as something other than a prelude to the Christian narrative.”
    Sounds very interesting, particularly in the timing. I would value when and where.

    Phil H

  106. JMG
    Notions of afterlife (reward & punishment) and Christian theology seem to have got complicated.

    The man seems to have tried many time to communicate something translated as the Kingdom of God, or Heaven.

    The King James seems to have hit the essence: “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

    A childhood insight put it for me, roughly this way; if you can find the right ‘place’ you can see. And this is trans-formative of perception; and constitutes what might be ‘realization’.

    The terminology seems poetic rather than literal. I venture a parable: it is like seeing some trees with (re)new eyes after studying, in my case last autumn, paintings by Samuel Palmer, And these were real trees.

    Phil H

  107. Interesting thoughts about the tragic German. If only he could have led the life of the early British settlers and scholars in India, who adopted Indian customs and culture so enthusiastically and without prejudice….

    Turning to women and their disenfranchisement in the Victorian age, I’m often brought rare 18th century pamphlets on obscure subjects (sadly often medical,so syphilis and TB, nasty
    psychopathic experiments on dogs and cats, etc) to re-bind by a bookdealer.

    One relevant to the discussion here which has just come in is on the subject of the drinking habits of women, of all classes: ‘Epistle to the Fair-Sex on the Subject of Drinking, London, 1744’.

    Among the active roles conceived as being possible, in fact normal, for women are:

    ‘Wife of a Tradesman’ (eminent, middling and common).

    ‘Daughter of a Tradesman’ (as above).

    ‘Wife engaged in separate business’.

    ‘A Wife Keeping a Publick House.’

    ‘Left to Carry On Business’.

    So all actively engaged in daily commerce of one kind of another, as they had been since the Middle Ages, and seen as vital to the success or failure of the business, as the author makes plain: if you, being vital to the success of the business and a joint or sole manager, drink too much, you’ll go bankrupt!

    My English great-grandmother was born into an old London trade family (‘middling’) in the 1870s, but by then the girls were not expected to get their hands dirty, and she was forbidden even to learn to cook, being expected to marry a man who could provide maids and a cook as a matter of course, and that she would be ‘a lady.’

    She, wonderful girl, subverted this snobbery by somehow sneaking out to learn cookery at the house of a neighbour, which stood her in good stead when her husband died uninsured and bankrupt, leaving her to struggle through with 9 young children in the cruel environment of the early 1900’s, and of course, with no servants.

    As a result, my mother brought me up on the solid, beef and lamb-based, English cooking of the 18th century – when I repair old cookery books I can look up the recipes.

  108. PS The BBC historian Michael Wood years ago made a wonderful programme called, ‘Christina, a Medieval Life’, about a commercially active woman, he even found the spot in the market square where she had sold her goods. Well worth finding on Youtube, if still there.

  109. G’day John Michael!

    Well, last evening I was reading about the two best selling authors that I’d never heard of before (thanks for mentioning them), and thinking to myself that you are a bad influence when it comes to books, and I need to read me some of those stories when – Bam! The lights went out. For the first time in 10 years, the solar power system that I live with on a day to day basis tripped due to low battery voltage.

    My wife and I were scratching our heads about that failure as it was so out of the ordinary. So after dragging the little petrol powered generator out last night and this morning to put some much needed and very expensive electrons into the batteries, we discovered today that one of the three strings of solar panels had completely failed. And even now, we have no idea why. I thought that maybe the rodents had chewed on the cables, but I saw no physical evidence of that. There is a huge amount of work ahead of me to fix this problem and it is not lost on me that the winter solstice is fast approaching.

    The giant fusion generator in the sky that keeps the house in electricity and all of us fed is falling ever lower to the horizon. A bit of a shame that, but it cannot be helped and it does nobody any credit to whinge about the tilt of this planet.

    What disturbed me the most is that I monitor the system twice per day to keep an eye on how things are going and I misinterpreted the statistics presented to me. That doesn’t look so good for deniers of Peak Oil theory…

    My mind has not been altered one bit – this renewable energy stuff is good, but it is no replacement for fossil fuels. Hashtag Just sayin…



  110. On the booby-trap of paganism leading to Christianity: here’s an interesting passage of Chesterton on this topic. I don’t know if I agree with it, but even if one doesn’t, its tone and the kind of thinking it exemplifies are themselves important puzzle-pieces in this issue.

    ‘The great psychological discovery of Paganism, which turned it into Christianity, can be expressed with some accuracy in one phrase. The pagan set out, with admirable sense, to enjoy himself. By the end of his civilization he had discovered that a man cannot enjoy himself and continue to enjoy anything else. Mr. Lowes Dickinson has pointed out in words too excellent to need any further elucidation, the absurd shallowness of those who imagine that the pagan enjoyed himself only in a materialistic sense. Of course, he enjoyed himself, not only intellectually even, he enjoyed himself morally, he enjoyed himself spiritually. But it was himself that he was enjoying; on the face of it, a very natural thing to do. Now, the psychological discovery is merely this, that whereas it had been supposed that the fullest possible enjoyment is to be found by extending our ego to infinity, the truth is that the fullest possible enjoyment is to be found by reducing our ego to zero.’

  111. Lathechuck, thank you for your reply to my comment. In my opinion, the human race has forgotten how to discriminate in the practical sense of the word. Our temporary glut of fossil fuels and the material wealth it created birthed monsters of entitlement, refusal to draw lines in the sand, and many who cannot gracefully accept the limits of a single lifetime.

    Your ex-wife, may she rest in peace, went against the modern trend. I strongly believe I would behave in a similar fashion if I ended up with a terminal illness — meaning, I would accept it, try to wrap up one or two of the massive number of creative projects I still have planned for myself, and take myself out if absolutely necessary.

    Once again, Through the Gates of Death by Dion Fortune is one of those must-read books. It explains so much.

    Jen and Will, I’m on the autism spectrum too, along with my husband. We are both undiagnosed, classic high-functioning autistics. I have Sensory Processing Disorder and cannot stand loud noise. I sleep with earplugs and an eye mask. Hyper-sensitivity is great when you’re a musician but not so great when it comes to general life. I also am a synesthete, which means that I “see” flying colors when I make or listen to music. Out-of-tune instruments make me batty. I hate shopping and malls for many reasons; the pop music they play there is No. 1. I am easily distracted by musical tones and find it impossible to concentrate on other things while listening to them, even if they are J.S. Bach. My particular brand of autism goes along with trance-like states, so this has been helpful when it comes to discursive meditation as well as music creation.

    As far as autism goes, from two decades of working with children, I think there has been an uptick in autism rates in that time and I believe environmental pollutants are partially responsible. Just like everything in life, an uptick in autism and autistics is nowhere near all bad. The worst thing about autism is that it often begets adults who are perpetually dependent, usually upon their parents, because they cannot function independently in the mundane world. For them, it’s sad there are not better options outside a mental institution or living with mom and dad.

  112. Archdruid,

    You know, I’ve been struggling to put into words the idea that this chapter kindled in my mind until today. There’s another side to the coin of the linear view of history that grew from Abrahamic culture, and that’s the one that grew from Vedic culture. India has gone through so many cycles of history that many Indian’s are stuck in fatalistic mindset, the idea that because the grand patterns don’t change nothing can change. I’ve seen this particular outlook emerge in parts of the collapsnik community, among the near term extinctionists and those who follow Derrick Jensen’s writings for example. One of the gift’s that Druidic theology (may I call it a theology or is it still a philosophy?) brings is that within the grand patterns and limits of nature we are still given a considerable space to make choices that effect our ecosystems. These choices don’t change the grander arcs, but they sure make life more tolerable for us experiencing those arcs.



  113. @Rita – agree completely with the “financialization” of traditional home-based activities, and the corresponding propaganda around definitions of success. Just in my lifetime, I can see the huge gulf of values between my elder aunts who grew up on a farm in North Dakota in the Depression, versus women my age (I’m in my mid 50s) who were influenced by the “Battle of Sexes”, versus younger women today who, at the risk of incurring the wrath of some of the ladies here, are very confused as to what their role should be in today’s world. I would add that the stream of propaganda, especially from television and movies will be replaced by localized streams of propaganda (and values) as the decline continues, leading some potential varieties, of several flavors, to emerge.

    That being said, there’s no reason why the fiction of the future should depict, no matter how bleak it may be referenced to history, shouldn’t reflect a more ideal outcome – without aiming high, humans are satisfied to inflict misery.

    @Jen – I share your inclination to steer away from sensory overload, both in noise and sound, as well as crowds – though large spaces I can deal with, not so much heights. And while my vision needs correction, my hearing is troubled by tinnitus, and a few other minor health-related issues, I also share your view of how “survival of the fittest” may factor in very soon. We’re just one breakdown away from our fragile supply line infrastructure causing chaos as delivery of critical medications, which so many of us rely on, are interrupted.

  114. Austin, yes, indeed it is.

    Yorkshire, that’s a very good question. At least some aspects of the New Deal were environmentally beneficial — a lot of work was done on soil conservation in response to the Dust Bowl, and the Civilian Conservation Corps did an enormous amount of work in state and federal parks — but I don’t know that anyone’s assessed the whole picture.

    Phil, very late eighteenth through mid-twentieth centuries. It was a slow process. As for the gap between what the guy from Nazareth had to say and what two millennia of institutional Christianity has done with his words, well, that’s par for the course…

    Xabier, thanks for this. Yes, exactly.

    Chris, I hope you get everything fixed before winter sets in! That’s got to be a challenge — and yes, a reminder of the fragility of technology…

    Monk, thank you! That’s a crystal-clear example of the kind of boobytrapping I have in mind, and it helped me see the basic structure of thought underlying it. The basic gimmick of Christian moral theory is to take a spectrum of human behavior and insist that one end of that spectrum, pushed to an extreme that no human being can attain, is “good,” and even the least falling short of that extreme is “evil.” All “evil” is then equated with the opposite and equally inhuman extreme, and the existence of a middle ground is sedulously erased, so that people can be convinced that they’re hopeless sinners whose sole chance at happiness is to hand over their lives, their money, and these days, their votes, to the guys in the funny collars.

    Chesterton’s rant is a perfect exemplar of the species. If he’d talked to an actual Pagan, or given Pagan literature an unprejudiced reading, he’d have realized right away that the Pagan doesn’t “enjoy himself” to the exclusion of everything else — nor is the only choice you can make like between extending your ego to infinity, or contracting it to zero. From a Pagan standpoint, the virtue of justice calls for finding the appropriate midpoint between those extremes — the point at which you value yourself and all other things, each to its proper degree. As Aristotle points out in the Nicomachean Ethics, the opposite of one vice isn’t a virtue, it’s another vice, and the virtue is the midpoint between them.

    The exclusion of that insight is the key to the boobytrap. Chesterton presents Paganism as nothing more than a topsy-turvy version of Christianity in which all the signs are reversed — he offers, as the only alternative to the extreme negation of the self, the extreme affirmation of the self. Since neither of these are viable, the person who is sick of Christian moralizing and decides to become a Pagan is trapped into pursuing an option just as unsatisfactory as Christian moralizing, with the additional burdens of social pressure and whatever emotional programming he or she absorbed from a Christian upbringing. This explains the number of would-be Pagans in the nineteenth century who either cracked, as Nietzsche did, or staged a maudlin repentance scene at the end of their lives, thus satisfying everyone’s taste for cheap sentiment. It took the shock of confrontation with a living polytheist spirituality that wasn’t willing to conform to Christian notions of what “the other side” was supposed to be like to punch through two thousand years of this, and help people in the West see Pagan spirituality as not merely a sock-puppet inversion of Christianity, but as something authentically different.

    Varun, good. You’ve set out the binary; now let’s figure out the best ways to resolve the binary into a ternary so that change can begin…

  115. Jen,

    I think a good way to look at it is not people are being damaged in such and such ways, but rather people are being damaged in every possible way by pollution. It’s probably an exaggeration, but not by as much as people seem to want to think: our environment is pretty bad these days, as much as lots of people insist otherwise.

  116. I don’t know we can guess what gender relations are going to look like in our successor civilizations; as Shane W pointed out, there are too many options. One is apt to project ones desires, whatever those may be. (which works about as well for us as the aforementioned gall-bladder cell. “The future will be filled with gall!”) That beings said, I think there is one aspect about relations between the sexes we can predict with some confidence: their attitude towards sexual relations. I can say with some confidence that it is going to have to be much more careful than ours is.

    How can I say this? Don’t sexual attitudes run the full gamut in preindustrial society? Sure, there are preindustrial societies that were by all accounts free-love paradises, and those that made the Victorians look rather lose. The thing is, there seem to be causative factors to that. My reading– and feel free, anyone, to correct me with counterexamples, is that sexual attitudes in society are set in large part by the disease load. If sex has no consequences besides the happy accident of pregnancy (or, if it isn’t a happy accident due to population pressures, you have access to effective herbal abortifacients and/or are permitted infantacide), then its likely society will say “sure, go nuts, kids”. Permissiveness and liberation will likely gain the upper hand. On the other hand, if sex has consequences that include rotting flesh, the loss ones nose, madness and death — well, good luck trying to push free love then! It is not a meme with strong selection pressure behind it in such an environment. And, of course, we are headed back to that environment. Not only do we have to deal with syphilis, which without antibiotics is no joke, but there is still the spectre of AIDS lurking in the background. Right now, antiviral drugs turn HIV into an unfortunate nuisance. As we slide down the peak, though, I expect we’ll lose access to them. When we do, HIV again becomes a grisly death sentence. What happens to the sexual revolution then?

    Does that mean future societies will never be sex-positive? I don’t know; perhaps one can be sex positive under the shadow of AIDS. It does suggest, in my mind, anyway, that in the future people are going to be much more careful in their sexual interactions — perhaps again regulating it, as it once was, into relations between duly licensed mating pairs, locking people into those pairs for life, and criminalizing activity outside of those. (I don’t really expect anyone to care what gender the members of those pairs are, note. Perhaps they shall, but I hope the genie is permanently out of that particular bottle. I’m also not sure a traditional idea of marriage is incompatible with a healthy attitude towards sexual relations between the married pair.) Or perhaps not– perhaps our descendents will buck the sociological trend and just accept a higher death rate from STDs. Or perhaps an effective, natural treatment will be found that can last a dark age. The horse may yet learn to sing– but that’s not where I’d put my money.

  117. Dusk Shine, I’d say one of the best things we could do while we still have an intact medical infrastructure is eradicate as many sexually transmitted infections as possible, the same way we did with smallpox. Test everybody, treat every infection, repeat every three months until STIs are gone. Even the incurable cases would all be diagnosed and steps taken to stop them spreading it to others. New diseases would probably try to fill the void but it would at least give us a head start and a fighting chance after the decline, in addition to being a massive improvement in health and quality of life for huge numbers of people very soon after the programme began.

  118. @Dusk Shine: I think your projections into the future of sexual relations are based on the crowded and aerially interconnected world that Jack Petroleum has built, along with a number of other assumptions. I do not see how you can predict, with any accuracy, what is most likely to occur under changes of climate, food availability, dietary variances, and limited travel. Before modern times, girls as old as 16 or even 18 had not gone through menarche. Abundance of food and especially fatty foods have lowered this to 8 years old in extreme cases in our world. What makes you think that the hormonal drives that are common in the industrial world are going to remain the same? What if levels of fertility drop dramatically due to uncontrolled radioactivity near former nuclear power plants? What if human nature, plastic as it is, responds to the drastic drop in human numbers by ramping up the levels of desire so that former signals of undesirability become irrelevant and people will mate with strangers out of irresistable urges? What if isolated population groups develop immunity to certain disease or environmental factors such as sickle cell responded to malaria? They can mate freely and without fear among a limited set of villages or tribes. Maybe, as the native Americans did, old women will decide who can marry whom, based on geneological reckonings to preserve a distant enough relation to prevent inbreeding. They used to wield great power over younger people by dictating whose mates must come from certain moeities within the tribe. What if people just get used to dying at age 35 or 40 as was common in Elizabethan London? You mate as early as age 12, bear anywhere from 2 to 12 children, one third of whom survive, then you die. What if orphaned children become legal sex workers as soon as they pass puberty so they can earn enough money to apprentice themselves to a less dangerous trade? Disease culls most, but those who survive and mate improve the city stock by their immunity. People in the countryside, not so subject to waves of Plague, on the whole, lived longer than their urban relations. But, what if strange permutations of religion force or permit people to engage in anonymous orgies in a desperate attempt to appease St. Death by putting whole communities at risk of contracting disease or creating a child? And if healthy children are born of these no-name sexual melees, the whole community cares for and fosters them as their own, so the children have a better chance of surviving from being better fed? Participants in the melee could be chosen by lot or by ‘signs’ or by priests who want to get their hands on a particular beauty. What if adultery becomes ‘overlooked’ in the hope that a stranger might give a child to a fertile wife that the barren husband happily rears and trains as one of his own? If you are thinking African village or desert family values, with concubines and fourth wives, what about worldwide estrogen pollution from beef-eating elites that are putting male infertility on the rise? What if marijuana and mushrooms become so commonly and widely used that male fertility is even more reduced? Maybe we’ll have multiple husbands instead.
    These are just a few of the possible scenarios that would disrupt your notion of a restricted access of sex controlled by “society” which is in itself a very loose concept. Whose society? If you are picturing patriarchal clans like the Hatfields and the McCoys, or the Gonzalezes and the Alvarezes, maybe acid rain will get the mountaineers and drought will more than decimate the rancheros. No telling, I say.

  119. What about people who have had gene thereapy for complex diseases? Some types of gene therapy are inheritable and can be passed on to your descendants. In some of his writing JMG has suggested that in a hypothetical post-petroleum society going through a dark age, it might be somewhat unusual to be over the age of 40 and not have cancer, but if there one of your ancestors had some sort of procedure that substantially lowered your risk of developing a complex disease, you might be a VERY desirable mate, which would potentially creat all sorts of social tensions.

  120. @Dusk,
    geez, the sexually repressed are oh so willing to project that onto the rest of us. Geez, condoms aren’t THAT complex of a technology, and sexual hygiene is no more complicated than any other. Supposedly, Roman ruins have giant cocks etched into the pavement marking the whorehouses, and that was preindustrial/pre-antibiotic.

  121. @JMG

    Sorry, but while highly respected (and named a Saint by the Russian Church), St. Innocent of Alaska is hardly the final authority in matters of the otherworld. In fact a lot of the contents of the link you’ve provided, taken at face value, go against the established understanding of orthodox theologians and of the teachings of the Fathers of the Orthodox Church like Gregory of Nazianzus.

    (For starters, heaven and hell are not considered as places, but as states, and in fact, as the different experience of the same state, by people of different disposition). Heaven and Hell, under this understanding are more like health and illness than reward and punishment.

  122. @ JMG Chesterton Reply

    I find you always trying to talk people into the middle and away from both edges of things. I think this is a good thing, mostly, and yet when you mix time and social tide into it, there are times when one has to flee to the edge as counterbalance. Every situation is different, but in our times, there are many loaded triggers at each end of arguments. I don’t know what event will catalyze it, but it seems to me that the tides are moving to some kind of resolution or revolution of understanding. My feeling is it will take an event of equal importance to BOTH ends for things to normalize again. Once that occurs, communication may not be so fraught with pitfalls and loaded with unseen consequences of dialog.

    I may be alone in this, but there is a feeling I get when in groups that all are awaiting something. People congregate in eddies and small pools of like folk, and there are only a few moving between them. Yet they all seem to be waiting expectantly for something to move them or free them.

    It’s just a feeling I have had for several years when atttending gatherings of more than 10-15 people. And (naturally), I am one of those going from sub-group to sub-group…

  123. @Darkest Yorkshire
    I wholeheartedly agree. A lot of unnecessary suffering could be avoided if we do that.

    @Shane W,
    Maybe I am that bile cell yelling “the future has more bile” because I am personally monogomous, sure. For the record, the idea that there’s a relationship between sexual attitudes and disease load isn’t an observation original to me; I was just thinking aloud.

    As to Rome– you’re absolutely right that they had a very healthy attitude towards sex. OTH, what STDs are recorded from the roman world? If there are any I wasn’t aware, and some searching suggests Galen wasn’t either. The disease load changes over time. Remember too that for women who weren’t prostitutes in the Ancient world, their sexuality was totally locked away in pair-bonds, in spite of the apparently healthy attitude to male sexuality. (Though that was probably economic, since they had the silly tradition of patrilinial inheritance, and there was strong incentive to make sure of the father.)

    You’re right again that sheepgut condoms date back to roman days, but as I understand they have pores large enough for viral diseases to pass through. That said — you’re right. Sexual hygiene does effectively lower the disease load. Maybe that makes it a moot issue. Maybe we don’t need to talk sheepgut at all; maybe latex condoms are a technoloy that can be maintained through a dark age, as a luxury good if nothing else.

    Oh, the specifics are absolutely unpredictable, no argument! I’m trying to guess at broad trends. As I mentioned to Shane W, the idea of a correlation between disease load and social attitudes is not unique to me. If you look into it, though, it does seem to hold some merit. It is logical to me: some customs that frustrate the spread of STDs are more likely to prosper than the alternatives if bands/villages/subcultures that have them in whatever form reproduce more successfully than those that don’t. Right now, we have technology for that; going forward, we probably won’t. That’s about all we can say without speculating. Speculating is fun, though, isn’t it?

    You bring up immunities: I would maintain that since cultures change much, much faster than genetics, a cultural change is more likely. Especially since there isn’t just one pathogen scary enough to make people think twice. (Though admittedly the European diaspora has a head start on AIDS, with the Delta-32 mutation of CCR5 acting like sickle cell in your example).

    I’d note that in most of your other examples, sex is restricted in some way or another. You’re right that I had blinders on when I suggested life-long single-pairs and not other options. Polygamous groupings of any size or mix of genders could serve the same social role, with a taboo against extra-group activity. This is looking at couple or group marriage is a sort of quarantine. Old-ladies-ordering-people-around would work, too, if they paid attention to who slept with who (and in a small town or village, who doesn’t pay attention to that?), that could slow or halt the spread of AIDS, too.

    Now, I’m not admitting it’s an absolutely unpredictable free-for-all everywhere. I suspect that future cultures will take their cues on family structure from their antecedents–that is the historical pattern–so I’d not expect to see polyandry anywhere in Dar al Islam, even if it stops being Dar al Islam. Possible, but in my mind unlikely. Current North American culture is fairly permissive, and getting more as time goes on, so it’s possible that there won’t be any antecedent structure for our descendents to inherit. That makes it harder to guess.

    On the gripping hand, we aren’t entirely the antecedent culture; demographics say Latinos are — which, again, implies pair-bonds. Hopefully our descendants can skip the macho stuff; I understand that that is fortunately on the wane.

    Sorry none of this has all that much to do with the book club discussion. I acknowledge your right as host to draw a line under the discussion if you think it is too far off topic, and offer my apologies if you feel the need to do so.

  124. JMG,
    re the “standing wave” comment and your reply:
    The standing wave image of humanity’s place in the Great Chain of Being has a lot to recommend it.
    My view on the human condition is that we humans live in a world of polarity, good/bad, light dark, experiences of extreme joy/experiences of extreme sadness, and all shades in-between, you get the picture. One essential quality of that polarity is that, looked at in the biggest picture possible, it is always in complete balance at any given moment and in the totality of moments. From that perspective its an unmoving standing wave.
    On the human level that means that at any given moment and also in the totality of all moments all human pain and all human joy happening on the planet exactly balance. All of the goodness and all of the evilness that humans are capable of exactly balance. To my thinking, this is also a necessary condition for the possibility of individual humans’ freedom to choose. If the world was structured so the “good” always prevailed (as in the saccharine visions of Heaven in some religions) humans would never have the possibility of messing up and learning from those experiences (if they chose to do so, or choose not to learn).
    Driving down the highway, there is always the possibility that the tiniest flick of my wrist will result in the death of myself and/or a completely innocent other human. That flick could be intentionally suicidal or it could be the unintentional result of my choosing to pay attention to the buttons on my radio. In either case, I caused the death and all the pain that ripples out from that death. If by chance I survive, I’ll have to “live with it” for the rest of my life. In a perfect utopian world that couldn’t happen. But that also wouldn’t be a human world.
    In any given place and time on earth and in any picture less than the totality, there will always be “local” imbalances. Auschwitz in 1944 was a place and time of great imbalance; there was more “bad“ than “good” going at that particular time and place and the outward choices of everyone there, guards and inmates included were limited, but even in the midst of that terrible darkness there were moments of light, joy, and selfless compassionate action and inner choices as to how each individual would experience what was happening.
    Being mortal is one aspect of being human that we all have in common. Every experience, emotion, thought is more or less transitory. Trying to hold on to joy or bliss, denying sadness, imagining one can live a life of pure “spirituality”, or live forever is to my mind a denial of the essence of being human.

  125. There is an article here that is of general interest to the blog, if not so topical. Except, there is the way it illustrates how closely everything is connected, one of the seven laws. Historical events in Europe, for example the Roman collapse, leave their traces in the ice in Greenland… as we leave our own traces in multiple ways, should anyone be fit to read them.

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