The crisis of our age has many facets. All of them have their roots in the basic fact of our time, the head-on collision between the limitless economic growth our civilization demands and the hard limits of a finite planet. From that collision, in turn, come the drawdown of irreplaceable resources and the disruption of the biosphere, and from these unfold a cascade of disastrous consequences that can be read in today’s headlines, and promise to make an even larger and less welcome contribution to tomorrow’s.
I’ve talked at length in my previous blogs about how those consequences can be expected to play out in the years ahead, and no doubt I’ll discuss them at length in posts to come. Just at the moment, though, the facets of our time of crisis that fascinate me most are those that reach down past the realm of visible symptoms into the deep places of the human mind, where unspoken fears and unacknowledged desires rub elbows with one another, and the future takes on a ghostly reality long before it appears in the form of human actions and their consequences.
I’m reminded, as I watch the turbulence of the present, of Carl Jung’s prescient essay “Wotan,” published in 1934—at a time, that is, when most sensible observers dismissed Hitler as an inept Mussolini wannabe and his National Socialist movement as an oddball fringe party that would soon either be thrown out of power or forced to come to terms with reality. Jung rejected that easy dismissal. What was going on in Germany, he argued, couldn’t be understood so long as it was forced into the mental straitjacket of politics as usual. The paired languages of myth on the one hand, and psychopathology on the other, alone made adequate sense of what amounted to an impending psychotic break that would affect not individuals but continents.
Deep below the surface of the mind, Jung argued, in the crawlspaces of consciousness where the oh-so-rational thinkers of early twentieth century Europe never deigned to look, the same forms and presences that shape ancient myths and legends remain a living presence in every human being. Jung argued that these patterns—the archetypes, to use his name for them—were the subjective dimension of human instinct. Newborn goslings look for the nearest large moving object and identify it as Mom, an instinctive mechanism demonstrated amusingly by the famous biologist Konrad Lorenz, who used it to get himself adopted as surrogate parent by newly hatched geese. In exactly the same way, if on a somewhat more complex level, infant humans look for a person who corresponds to an inborn mother-image and identify that person as Mom. The inborn mother-image, in Jung’s terminology, is the mother archetype.
What makes these images potent in human experience is that they don’t go away when their immediate biological usefulness is finished. We all carry around in the deep places of our minds a mother-image, a father-image, a lover-image, an enemy-image, and many others beside these. These images get projected onto actual human beings, in the same way that the Mom-image got projected onto Konrad Lorenz by a flock of goslings—and very often with no better logic. Watch two people fall in love, or talk to somebody who’s in the grip of a fanatic hatred of some group of people he’s never met, and it’s clear that the processes we’re talking about have nothing to do with reasoning or ordinary thinking.
Much of Jung’s work as a psychologist involved listening carefully to the dreams, fantasies, and reflections of his patients, trying to figure out what instinct-images were shaping their thinking and behavior willy-nilly. Thus (for example) he sought to help a patient with a mother-fixation to detach the ordinary human being who happened to be his mother from the overwhelming emotional power of the inborn mother-image, so as to replace the obsessive emotional patterns with an ordinary relationship between two adult human beings. It was a subtle process, and like most things in human life it wasn’t always successful, but it taught Jung to watch carefully when an archetypal image took on a life of its own.
That’s the thing about archetypes: they aren’t passive. They don’t just sit there at the bottom of the psyche waiting for someone to notice them. Pay close attention to your dreams and fantasies, and you can learn to see archetypes stirring into motion long before they project themselves on the people around you. Pay close attention to the dreams and fantasies of a nation, and the same principle applies. That’s what Jung did in “Wotan,” the essay previously mentioned; he noticed that a particular set of archetypal images linked with the old German god Wotan—the Wild Huntsman, the Lord of the Slain, the Glutter of the Crows, the god of magic, madness, and death—had stirred to new life in the German psyche, with consequences that Jung guessed at dimly, and the rest of Europe learned about in a much less pleasant way shortly thereafter.
Watch the dreams and fantasies of a society and you can catch the foreshadowings of its future—sometimes. There’s another side to the autonomy of the archetypes, though. Just as they don’t wait passively for us to act upon them, they also don’t show up on cue. Jung could write what he did, when he did, because the storm was about to break and it took merely a keen eye to catch the flickerings of the lightning on the horizon. Friedrich Nietzsche, half a century before him, recognized that Europe would plunge into a nightmare vortex of ideological warfare after the twentieth century dawned, but he misjudged completely what the ruling ideologies would be; and Heinrich Heine, another half century further back, could only catch a dim sense that the gods of Germanic antiquity were stirring and that war would follow them.
The cultural history of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Central Europe maps out, with remarkable clarity, the process by which one archetype loses its grip on a society and another rises with glacial slowness to replace it. The archetype that was fading out in those years was embodied in the old Ghibelline ideal of the Holy Roman Empire—aristocratic, Christian, shaped by the legacies of classical culture, centered on a vision of human community that balanced intense local loyalties with a commitment to an imperial institution that transcended nations, creeds, and languages.
One of the most striking symptoms of that ideal’s twilight was the number of voices raised in increasingly shrill tones to insist that it was still vital. The Austro-Hungarian Empire claimed, with no shortage of historical precedent, to embody that ideal; after its founding in 1871, the German Empire did its level best to hijack the ideal’s prestige; when crisis hit in 1914, the former quietly imploded, while the latter metastasized into something that had no connection with the Ghibelline ideal at all—so drastically so that the German aristocracy, which clung to the old vision with a fierceness that was only sharpened by its futility, became the spawning ground for the most effective resistance movement Hitler’s regime faced.
Yet the old ideal was as dead as the proverbial doornail long before the First World War pushed it into an unmarked grave. The cause of death was the same thing that normally dooms such ideals, the immense gap that had opened up over time between the archetype and the increasingly sordid and pedestrian realities on which it was projected. In a certain ironic sense, history was doing for central Europe what Carl Jung did for his patients—drawing a distinction between the emotionally powerful image and the underwhelming reality—but of course there was a catch, for the departure of one archetype doesn’t mean the end of the projection mechanism, nor does it guarantee that the one that rises in its place will be an improvement.
All this seems relevant to me just now, because whatever future is stirring in the deep places of the American psyche just now is apparently still far off. As I watch the fantasies and restless dreams of my own culture, what I see looks far more like a death than a birth.
Here again, as in nineteeth-century Germany, among the clearest markers of that death is the crowd of public figures insisting that it just ain’t so. I’m thinking here especially of blog posts by science fiction writer David Brin, forwarded by one of my longtime readers—tip of the hat to Pat Mathews. I’d encourage readers to take in one of his posts in particular, from March of this year. It ran through a list of mildly interesting astronomical discoveries over the last year or so in an attempt to prove that progress is still on track, and then wound up with a peroration that, in its passionate befuddlement, invites comparison with the finest sort of tub-thumping tent revival rhetoric: “If you have any notions of progress, of wanting your descendants to bestride the stars, then reject the blithering-dopey ‘cycles of history’ and ‘The Fourth Turning’ and ‘we’re all doomed’ rants of those who would turn away from science and wonder.”
Try to follow the logic here; I promise you it’ll lead you a merry chase. The Fourth Turning, as I suspect most of my readers know, is the title of a book by William Strauss and Neil Howe that argues, on the basis of a fair amount of evidence, that certain patterns in US political and cultural history repeat over a period of eighty to ninety years. Theories of historical cycles go back long before Strauss and Howe, of course, and here again there’s a great deal of evidence to back them. The notion that cyclic theories of history somehow amount to a claim that “we’re all doomed” is quite an impressive non sequitur, which makes what little sense it can muster only from within a narrow ideological stance—we’ll get to that latter in a moment—and the claim that people who accept the possibility of historical cycles are deliberately turning away from science and wonder is pure ad hominem handwaving. (We can ignore such clumsy outbursts as “blithering-dopey,” which are just embarrassing; Brin used to be a better writer than that.)
The telltale line in all this is Brin’s invocation of “wanting your descendants to bestride the stars.” Behind that line lies one of the great archetypal narratives of the recent past, the dream of infinite expansion into outer space. That’s the narrow ideological stance I mentioned a moment ago. As we’ll see in an upcoming post, the recognition that civilizations have a life cycle—they rise, and then fall, and then new ones rise in their places—is far from a prophecy of doom, and it leaves at least as much room for science and wonder as the rigidly linear notion of history Brin evidently prefers. The one thing it doesn’t permit is the claim that humanity is on a one-way track that leads straight from the caves to the stars.
That’s an issue, in turn, because interstellar travel plays the same role in the secular religion of progress—the established faith of our age—that the Second Coming of Christ plays in Christian theology. It’s the point at which all the unfulfilled promises come true, and all the conflicts between the world portrayed by doctrine and the world encountered in experience are resolved at last. Since the unfulfilled promises of progress have been mounting up dramatically in recent years, and the conflicts between the world we were promised and the one we actually got have become fairly hard to ignore, Brin’s attempt to call backsliders to return to the one true faith in the teeth of the evidence makes a familiar kind of sense.
After all, to borrow Brin’s language for a moment, if our descendants will bestride the stars, it would follow that you and I bestride the planet today. How’s that working out for you, dear reader? As you trudge from one part-time, minimum-wage, no-benefits job to another, or fill whatever other role you happen to have in a society that increasingly treats you as a disposable asset for corporations to exploit; as you cope with decaying infrastructure, collapsing public health, a political system caught in permanent gridlock, and mass media that seems to take each new day as a challenge to top the breathtaking dishonesties of the day before; as you watch, one after another, each year’s grandiose predictions of the allegedly inevitable benefits of progress land with a deafening flop—does the thought of your suppositious mastery over the Earth fill you with a sense of meaning, purpose, and grandeur?
That question, of course, traces out the chasm that’s widening right now between the old dream of perpetual progress and the billions of us who live in the world that progress has made. Has the pursuit of technological progress brought benefits? Of course it has, but it’s also brought a bumper crop of burdens, costs, and problems. In a good many cases, the downsides of new technologies outweigh their benefits, and of course neither of these are equally distributed: the well-to-do minority get the lion’s share of the benefits, while the poor majority has to carry nearly all the costs. For the comfortable and the sheltered, who never stray outside the bubble of their privilege, it’s easy to insist that all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds; in the increasingly mean streets outside that bubble, that illusion doesn’t last long.
What’s more, as I’ve discussed at some length in my forthcoming book The Retro Future, it’s only in the daydreams of true believers that technological progress is exempt from the law of diminishing returns. Look at the history of any technology, and a familiar pattern reveals itself: after initial fumblings and a breakthrough or two, the low-hanging fruit is harvested first, yielding impressive gains at low cost; as time goes on, the cost for each additional improvement goes up, while the relative benefit provided by that improvement goes down; sooner or later, the benefits no longer pay for the development costs, and the technology settles into its mature form, which is often noticeably simpler than the last round of innovations would suggest.
Look at the history of industrial technology as a whole, from the steam engine forward, and the same pattern shows itself—the total investment needed to pay for James Watt’s epochal redesign of the steam engine, even corrected for inflation, wouldn’t cover more than a few days of the world’s current investment in fusion power technologies that may never work at all. As science writer Charles Seife pointed out in his thoughtful book Sun In A Bottle: The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking, the history of the quest for fusion power has more in common with the quest for a working perpetual motion machine than today’s enthusiasts would like to admit; it may be that we simply don’t yet know the laws of nature that make the quest for fusion power a fool’s errand.
Here again, though, if you happen to belong to the comfortably well-off minority, it’s easy to insist that nothing’s wrong and the grand march of progress is on track. The economic burdens of a society in decline are no more equally distributed than the costs and benefits of technology. Just as central Europe in the nineteenth century was replete with intellectuals from the privileged classes insisting with various degrees of airy confidence and polemic heat that the grand ideal of the Empire was doing fine, thank you very much, early twenty-first-century America is replete with equally privileged intellectuals insisting, at various points on the same rhetorical spectrum, that of course we’re still on the grand upward journey from the caves to the stars, and anyone who questions that just wants to turn away from science and wonder, not to mention baseball, Mom, apple pie, and any other feel-good abstractions that happen to come to mind.
The point to keep in mind here is that the archetypal patterns that shape history don’t rise among the privileged. Whether it’s true, as the traditional story has it, that Christ was born in a barn and had a bin of livestock feed for his cradle—that’s what a manger is, in case you didn’t know—the image catches an important truth: it’s among the poor, the homeless, the despised, the neglected, that new realities are born. The gospel that Brin preaches, the grand myth of humanity’s destiny out there among the stars, had its origin in pulp magazines that were considered the last word in lowbrow reading when they first saw print; the broader archetypal pattern from which that myth derives its power, the vision of the self-reliant individual striding boldly toward the frontier to carve out a new world for himself and his family from untouched wilderness, first emerged among illiterate backwoods communities, despised by the wealthy coastal enclaves, at a time when the first thirteen United States looked uneasily westward toward the trackless wilderness of the Ohio and Tennessee valleys.
That’s the vision that’s dying today, the way the old Ghibelline ideal died a slow death in nineteenth-century Germany. What replaced the Ghibelline ideal, as already noted, offers an uncomfortable reminder that the departure of one archetype need not open the way to a better option. There’s always the possibility that it could be something much, much worse. More precisely—since archetypes, as the subjective side of instincts, have no innate moral character—it’s always possible that an awakening archetype can interact with a particular historical context in ways that reliably engender monstrosities.
The vision of humanity made omnipotent through technology—Men Like Gods, to borrow the title of one of H.G. Wells’ drearier novels—is on its way out. The question we face is what will rise to replace it. I plan on discussing that, from various angles, as this sequence of posts proceeds.
Some odd thoughts: I happened to have http://www.solarsystemheritage.com/ (a resource/advocacy site for writing stories in the “Old Solar System” — what SF authors imagined it to be like before science ruined the fun; a link I either got from you or another ADR reader in the comments) open in another browser tab while I read this.
Your discussion of how the vision behind this kind of literature is on the way out makes me wonder if interplanetary SF (either the modern or original kind) will soon be a curiosity rather than a living genre. Just as there’s no longer a great market for the kind of morality plays popular in the middle ages, perhaps there will soon be no great market for the Star Trek kind of future.
That’s when an odd thought occurred to me: has interplanetary SF served as a kind of “spiritual pornography”? A imaginary fulfillment of the unfulfilled promises of Man the Conqueror? Porn is a direct appeal to certain desires; absent those desires, there’s really very little to it. It seems to me that the same can be said about a great deal of SF, sadly.
If so, what does that say about a desire to write and read SF that is no longer even minimally possible — in defiance of one of the great hallmarks of the genre? Is it a subconscious recognition of the death of the vision? And if so, does it express a desire to hold on to the vision, a desire to preserve the body of the genre while giving it a new spirit (as some Jews believe happens to a Gentile who converts), or is it — most likely — simple nostalgia?
Your mention of “watching the dreams and fantasies of a nation” in order to catch a glimpse of its future brought to mind once again an interesting comparison I’ve been mulling over in the past few weeks. Listening to the rhetoric being tossed about by generally left wing advocates for certain ethnic minorities in the US, as well as their mirror images on the white nationalist alt-right, I’ve been struck by the similarity all of this to the rhetoric to the rhetoric of ethnic nationalists in Yugoslavia in the years after Tito’s death. The claim that some other ethnic group is using their allegedly excessively large say in government to opress your own ethnic group, and that the only solution, if they will not give up their alleged power is to violently expunge them from society. This can be seen in certain calls from parts of the “identity politics” left for “revolution” to free the victims of white supremacy, as well as the alt-right’s dubious claim that whites are being “genocided” and that they must establish an ethnostate.
Obviously, this does not bode well for the future of the country. Just like in Yugoslavia, the various ethnic groups are spread out in away that makes drawing the borders of any hypothetical ethnostate a cartographical nightmare. If one were to attempt to realize said ethnostate, the result would be the forced eviction of all people who were not members of the dominant ethnicity, just as happened to the Serbs in Krajina, who suddenly found themselves inside Franjo Tuđman’s Croatia. In some cases, the non-dominant ethnicity might be able to establish a counter-ethnostate, like the Republika Srpska. The distribution of ethnicities also means that in any civil war along ethnic lines, there would be many Srebrenica-style massacres, which obviously should be avoided.
Unsurprisingly, the comparison also works if you shift the focus to the conflict between the coastal cities and the rural interior, which in my opinion, is more of an important divide in America today and more likely to be the basis of a hypothetical near future civil war. This probably means fewer war crimes, but would still be incredibly destructive to the country.
I am extremely worried and frightened that the fact that such chilling similarities are going unnoticed mean that something as horrific as the Yugoslav civil war could happen in America. As you said, nobody thought Hitler was a big problem until he was too big to stop without a world war.
Just read this post aloud to Connie and we both love it (and the direction you’re going with this sequence). Bravo!
On the local cycling blog where I lurk and frequently comment the equivalent of fusion power is the self driving car. For the moment the so called ” shale revolution” seems to have most peoples worries about energy placated so they mostly turn their worries towards traffic congestion, parking, and c02 pollution. Even the folks who have given up cars and only get around by bikes or mass transit ( a small minority) seem convinced that all these problems will be solved by electric self driving cars which will pick you up with a touch of your smart phone. The idea that any kind of oil or electric powered personal transport may be going away soon is a non-starter ,among these folks who have mostly rejected automobiles. Even though they don’t like them, and are aware of many of their problems, they are unable to imagine a future where automobiles don’t exist. The automobile seems to be the chariot needed to complete the mental image of humans as gods of the universe.
I followed the Brin link. OMG! That guy is a raving lunatic! If you look through the comments, any time someone raised the slightest reality check he replied with snarling vitriol and ad hominems. Almost a parody of his March to the Stars! blithering-dopeyness. The article itself was a poorly written embarrassment. Here is a typical example:
” Utterly cool image of the Earth – Moon system taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Amazing. We are still a mighty and scientific people. Fight for that.”
He goes on to repeat the ‘we are still a mighty and scientific people’ trope over and over. Just who is he trying to convince, I wonder?…
I agree with the death of progress as our cherished myth. I also know that the collapse of a failed ideology is no guarantee of its replacement by something better. My thoughts by the end of this post immediately were pulled toward “What’s next?” and “What would I like to see next?”
It is far beyond my capacity to see the future. But I can see certain undercurrents that I will gladly continue to throw my little effort behind. Humility would be a nice change of pace from unbounded hubris. Ecological awareness (by which I mean a basic assumption of deep and broad interconnectiveness on any level we care to consider) I prefer over the wretchedly excessive individualism that is claimed to be so virtuous. Speaking of deep and broad connections, I think we need to adjust our sense of time in at least two ways: we need to practice a more acute awareness of the ‘now’ which is our true place in time, and we need to take a more generous look at the legacies our predecessors left us, both good and bad.
This hardly adds up to an archetype, but then, packing up and crossing the Appalachians hardly foretold dreams of conquering other planets and the conviction that the only human destiny was “more and better everything.”
Dear Mr Greer,
This link reached my by way of a fairly mainstream e-mail newsletter. I thought its appearance was quite interesting. https://medium.com/@Chris_arnade/usa-a-third-world-county-in-the-making-14064ea5c534
That’s the best concise explanation of a Jungian Archetype I have read so far! Here’s a link to Jung’s essay on Wotan. It may be abridged;
While we are talking, is the set of possible Archetypes closed, or do new Archetypes arise? If they do, what is the process?
Dear JMG, what do you think of this prophet of Progress (Yuval Harari)?:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOmQqBX6Dn4
Also do you think that the humanist archetype of loving the “other “(tribe) has any chance of spreading beyond a few humanists like Jung(I don’t mean just secular humanists, but also the judaeo-christian and confucian humanists you alerted me to)? It seems to have also spread to mystics and deep ecologists. Or is the shadow archetype so much stronger?
Also this one” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJ1yS9JIJKs
where he prophesies the rise of “Homo Deus”… And the demise of Homo Sapiens.
I enjoyed the 1950s era sci-fi mags and have a stash of them in pdf format. If there are myths being propagated, they’re not ones I could consider myself a part of. I’m from this era, one that has undergone changes, but not to the extent that I no longer recognize it. It’s also relatively mundane by comparison to most science fiction stories. Ordinary people living ordinary lives doesn’t make for great entertainment.
I would hope the next archetype is ecologically minded. “Ye are the salt of the earth, and this time ye are ecologically minded.”
A warband culture would engender its own archetype(s).
Great post, lots of food for thought. Things that came to mind while reading–
Once I shook off the “bestride the stars” myth, I noticed that there is really no reason at all to think that space travel would be pleasant in any way, even if it were possible. Indeed, everything about the history of the modern world suggests it would be anything but! I’m thinking especially about the enormous damage and rearrangement of ecosystems brought about by transcontinental contact, the inevitable genocides, and the apocalyptic effects of European viruses on native populations. And all that has resulted from contact between continents separated by oceans on a single planet. How much worse would it be, if we somehow established regular transportation between Earth and even one inhabited alien world?
The lack of anything like the convulsions of 1492 onward in the historical record is also the reason I don’t believe that any alien species has ever visited our world in the past.
On archetypes that emerge in the fantasies of a civilization– What do you make of the ridiculous popularity of the Army of the Dead/Zombie Apocalypse archetype? This one is near and dear to me– well, as near and dear as an animated corpse can be– because I have roughly one very intense zombie-nightmare per year and have since 2008.
And on Jung– Does anyone know if Symbols of Transformation is in the public domain, and if so where a pdf copy can be found? The only copy I could find of “Wotan” is on Stormfront, which I won’t link to here (bad enough to have it in my browser history)/
Am I right in understanding that archetypes can be universal, civilizational, national, regional, generational, or even peculiar to the individual?
Since archetypes can also be understood as gods (demons, spirits, etc), that suggests that one can take an active role in invoking– or banishing– the archetypes present in a civilization, especially in a moment of transition…
Here’s another framework for progress from author Yuval Harari. This is the first time I’ve encountered his work.
This is, I suppose, the aim of the new blog sharpened to a point: since we cannot help living on unconscious stories and images, which new stories and images can and will win out?
Still, I have a problem with the equation archetype (subjective) = instinct (objective). As a neuroscientist, I find it very hard to believe that humans have more than a handful of innate “instincts”. Mother, certainly; father, quite possibly (or at least second caring adult); ally and enemy, probably; perhaps a few more.
But the number of archetypes proposed by Jung is much higher, and from this essay it seems that you also consider a substantive number of archetypes. “A particular set of archetypal images linked with the old German god Wotan”; “The archetype that was fading out in those years was embodied in the old Ghibelline ideal of the Holy Roman Empire” – I understand that you are not saying that we are born with a Wotan-instinct and an Empire-instinct, but still, these are very specific archetypes, one would expect that there are tens of such powerful images alive today somewhere in the world, and I just cannot imagine that we are programmed from our conception to have so many specific and separate instincts.
Note that I am not denying the power of narratives and images, I simply wonder if they can be so easily tied onto a biological framework.
One question to ask those who insist that we are the destined masters of the universe, and our place is to bestride the stars, even if it is remotely possible to bestride the stars in the first place, which I highly doubt, is whether or not the things that already bestride the stars want us there in the first place. This is not meant to be tongue in cheek. What happens when something vast beyond human comprehension, that makes its home lurking in the void of space, decides that all of our flying around in spaceships is just as pleasant as so many mosquitoes buzzing about, and decides to perform the equivalent of swatting its skin with its hand?
Also, reading this and then reading Jung’s Wotan, I’m struck by some thoughts on archetypes which may or may not be on topic, feel free to delete if not.
You’ve brought up “Civil Religion in America” here before. I very often wonder if, in the future, what is today civil religion will be supernatural religion. In response to one of your story contests I began a story set among a religious sect called “Americans” many thousands of years from now, who pray to such deities as Washington, Jefferson, and Lady Liberty, though I couldn’t figure out how to right it. But now I’m struck by archetypal patterns that I see especially in discussion of the Founding Fathers– of whom historians apparently identify the rather important number Seven as the most important. Seven planets, seven spirits before the the throne, Seven Fathers watching over us. You could probably apply something like Interpretatio Romano to them, so that Washington becomes the American Sun God, Franklin as Mercury, Jefferson perhaps as the Moon, John Adams as Saturn, Hamilton as Jupiter, James Madison as Mars, and John Jay as Venus (last two are a bit… fuzzy). That way of looking at it casts kind of an interesting light on such phenomena as the recent popularity of a musical based on the life of Hamilton especially among the American Left, or the enduring veneration of Jefferson by the Libertarian Right…
Homo Deus? More like Homo Hubris…
James, it was probably me who mentioned the Old Solar System website — I visit regularly and have posted there, not least because I find the solar system we imagined back in the day much more enticing than the one we actually live in. (In point of fact, once the mess of my recent relocation gets cleared away, I plan on announcing a story contest for tales set in the Old Solar System — more on this soon.) I think there’s another reason to enjoy the solar system that wasn’t, though: accept the fact that it never existed and never could have exist, and you can celebrate it as fantasy, as unreal and delectable as Middle-Earth, and as impressive a creation of the human imagination.
Ezra, I wish I could argue. This is one of the things I’ve been warning about for a long time now.
Michael, thank you!
Clay, I suppose it’s something that they’re not babbling about flying cars…
Sgage, “We are a mighty and scientific people” — yeah, I noticed that. It sounds uncomfortably like something that somebody with an armband and a funny mustache might shout into a microphone. As for “Homo Deus” — sigh. That’s just lame.
Bumblebee, a warband culture would be engendered by some very familiar archetypes — not surprisingly, since warband culture is the standard pattern when a civilization goes down. We’ve had a lot of practice manifesting those archetypes.
Steve, good. I tend to think of living in space, or on some other planet, as resembling nothing so much as living in Antarctica during the southern winter, when nobody can get in or out. People who do that, I’ve read, generally respond to it with binge drinking, frantic promiscuity, severe depression, and other signs of serious psychological stress — not surprising, as human beings did not evolve the capacity to live in so brutally impoverished an environment. As for Jung, the essay “Wotan” is in Civilization in Transition, not in Symbols of Transformation; one of my readers a few comments before yours gives a convenient, goose step-free link.
Bumblebee, I’ve seen his latest book. To say that it didn’t impress me is to understate the matter considerably.
Matthias, one of the problems with the blog post format is that I can’t footnote things to the level of complexity they deserve. The archetypes, Jung argued, are the subjective dimension of the instincts, but like the instincts themselves, they’re deeply entangled with psychological contents from our culture, our family, and our life experience. The archetype of the Emperor, the core of the Ghibelline idea, is what happens to the Father-archetype when you filter it through a particular cultural setting. Wotan is a more specialized archetype, embodying elements of the Trickster and the Shadow, and filtered first through ancient Germanic culture and then through the historical situation of modern Germany. Does that make things a little clearer?
Dan, well, there’s always that! 😉
Steve, one of the things I’ve long noticed is that when people pretend they don’t have a religion, it really is a pretense — something always gets pressed into service and shaped in the usual patterns. Listening to atheist muezzins calling out “There is no God but Man and Darwin is his prophet!” from the minarets of contemporary popular culture is just one example. Madison would definitely be Mars, by the way, since the War of 1812 was fought on his watch, and the White House was burnt by the Redcoats…
Eric, yep — to be followed promptly by Homo Hamartia, and then by Nemesis.
Bestride the stars/Man as galactic conqueror is not the only possible model for human settlement of other planets. There is also man as custodian and guardian of life and nature, in which case our settlement wouldn’t be driven by our desire for the resources that are out there, but by our desire to bring lifeless (if indeed they are – but if we do not go, how will we know?) planets to life.
I read that essay by Brin. The essay itself is just a long non sequitur pointing out pretty pictures taken by mostly decades old machinery as proof of continued human advancement. It does read like a sermon.
The meat of the argument is in the comments, where all reasonable worries about the future are viciously attacked because they don’t offer solutions. Besides the mind boggling idea that we should only talk about problems after we know how to fix them, the tone of the replies from the author suggests he is struggling with his own denial.
So the good news is you have found the perfect stereotypical homo progressus. The bad news is I don’t want to read any more blog posts by him.
Delighted that you are back blogging. Looking forward to the next post.
Beautifully written, as ever, John Michael Greer. Thank you.
I just read Jung’s “Wotan” for the first time: very insightful. If the archetype he saw coming to life in Germany in the 1930s was Wotan, then the one I think is coming to life in the USA now is Thor. Whenever anything opposed Thor, he simply hit it with his hammer Mjølnir until it either broke or died or went away. Yet Thor, too, died at the end of things …
Yuval Harari talks about creating new brains… yet doesn’t mention the experiments that would presumably have preceded this ‘breakthrough’.
In the meantime, how do I find my archetype(s)?
Men Like Gods isn’t it. Men Like Locusts would be more in line with my disposition.
Although I know i could say this of many of your posts, this one really does seem like one of your very best posts! It certainly struck a deep chord within me. This sentence alone was (almost 🙂 worth the wait between blogs: “the facets of our time of crisis that fascinate me most are those that reach down past the realm of visible symptoms into the deep places of the human mind, where unspoken fears and unacknowledged desires rub elbows with one another, and the future takes on a ghostly reality long before it appears in the form of human actions and their consequences.” I really like the idea of the future of humanity working itself out far beneath the conscious surface, in our dreams, emotions, memes, collective fancies, and so forth. And that we could glimpse, very partially, the possibilities of our future, were we as prescient as Jung. How does that work? What is its mechanism? So mysterious a phenomenon. And what about other beings, animals, etc. What part do they play in this deep strata? (These are rhetorical questions, I think, not ones I’m actually expecting you to respond to).
Thank you for the more complete explanation. The ideal emperor as a specific ramification of a Father archetype, changed and transformed through history, is easier to accept both from a biological and from a historical point of view. After all, a biological father is present in the life of most humans, and there was a cultural continuity of the Christian imperial idea from at least Otto I, if not Charlemagne and Constantine, right through to 1918.
Wotan makes no sense to me if one postulates like Jung (I only read the excerpts linked to above) that a very specific mixture of biological and cultural elements was somehow asleep for a thousand years, somehow latent in the “blood” or “collective memory” of one (not even genetically isolated) group of humans and suddenly broke out again. (I am not even pressing the point that the “Trickster” and the “Shadow” seem to me to have much less of a biological fundament than the Father). Historically, I very much doubt that anybody between about 1200 (in Sweden) and 1800 could have identified the slightest Wotan element in any country of Germanic language.
You have sometimes alluded to the land impressing itself on the people who inhabit it. That makes more sense to me than a “blood memory”, but does not warrant, in my opinion, a resurgence of one specific image or narrative after a thousand years.
Anyway, you have usually speculated that new narratives will arise, not that old ones will resurrect, so what I wrote above does not concern your main point about our collective future.
Regarding the uneven distribution of progress, the same rich bloke who warned about pitchforks 3 years ago is back at it: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/07/18/to-my-fellow-plutocrats-you-can-cure-trumpism-215347 He’s made the connection between Trump and working-class suffering, thrown his weight behind the $15/hr campaign and is now trying to convert his fellow elites.
Is there an archetype that he could harness for this purpose? The article details his failures to win over people through logic or their own self-interest, which suggests deeper currents at work. More generally, are archetypes things that people can harness to effect change, or are they mass-psychology beasties beyond the grasp of the aspiring magician?
“the deep places of the human mind, where unspoken fears and unacknowledged desires rub elbows with one another”
This puts “how then shall we live” into perspective, and illuminates the import of magical work: what are we animating if our fears and greed are animating the unconscious desires and the gods that are egging them on? I’ve often wondered who the gods of new thought/positive thinking/’law of attraction’ are… perhaps it is the great god Man, but I have a hunch that ‘Man’ is a mask behind which a likely more meddlesome entity is hiding – Loki? Efnisien?…
This is an interesting line of enquiry and it reminds me of your discussion of Iamblichus (http://www.ecosophia.net/blogs-and-essays/the-well-of-galabes/the-clenched-fist-of-reason/) and the part he played in the emergence of a new Unicorn Age as the Greek Dragon of rationalism was on its way out (http://www.ecosophia.net/blogs-and-essays/the-well-of-galabes/the-unicorn-the-phoenix-and-the-dragon/). \
The new Unicorn Age is something I’ve often thought of since you wrote those essays – what role will I play? How will this transition look? The fact that I left my old house and architecture job and that I now live in a camper van perched on a dry, dusty, and hot hillside on the agricultural fringe enjoying the 1930’s era technology of swale construction, planting trees, herbs and clover and teaching my son to read from Thornton Burgess’s and Ernest Seton’s nature books while sitting under a tree is definitely an outgrowth of meditating on that and on my role in the unfolding future.
I find this the most telling “observation” made in Brin’s post: “By most standards of wealth and thoughtfulness and accomplishment and gradually rising ethics and everything else, (ours is) perhaps the first human civilization. Perhaps the first in the Galaxy to escape traps like feudalism.” The obliviousness here to rampant and relentless human suffering is almost beyond comprehension. Global neoliberal capitalism is actually a step backward from feudalism, a system in which the serf at least had the right to grow food on a piece of land in exchange for fighting the landlord’s wars. Currently, 50% of the world’s population struggles to live on $2.50 or less per day; 80% on $10.00 or less, while a handful of people own more wealth than the combined assets of 3.5 billion people. Not to mention the millions of children who continue to die each year from malnutrition or preventable/treatable disease. Not to mention the planetary rape/ecocide described so well by JMG and others. But hey, a lot of those desperately marginalized people, even some of the starving kids, have smart phones! This kind of denial is not only dangerous but obscene, and the first religion, new or old, that makes this moral outrage felt in our guts will own the future.
You didn’t reply!
Hi JMG: Good to see you back. I once read a very well written critique of Strauss and Howe’s work. I need to re-read that now. I remember that it tempered my enthusiasm for their work and placed it in a different light. I will search for the link and share it when I find it. If you are ever in the detroit area, our guest house is open to you. Jason
One of the most useful realizations that I’ve had is a change in the understanding of the word “myth”. In the modern sense, a myth is a false story invented by ancient, primitive peoples because they didn’t know better and had to make something up to make themselves feel better. The more traditional understanding of myth is that it’s a narrative that a culture uses to explain itself. There’s also legend, which is basically historical myth. Obviously I am oversimplifying things a lot here for brevity, but I hope I got my point across.
Recovering the traditional understanding of myth is something that has greatly clarified my thinking, and increased my appreciation of literature, history, religion, culture, and other humanistic fields. I’m heavily inclined to the sciences; as a kid I found paleontology and astronomy to be quite fascinating. I buried my nose in kids’ encyclopaedias, and spent comparatively very little time reading fiction. Throwing out the modern understanding of myth in favor of the traditional one was very difficult, not just because of my temperament, but because of the way the education system and the media beats the modern definition into your head.
In this sense, myths aren’t true or false in a factual sense, but are true in the correspondence theory sense. Then again, “truth” is another concept that is obscured by modern thinking, which tends to define it towards “empirical facts directly observable by controlled experiment.” Geez, with all these narrow modern redefinitions of traditional concepts, no wonder we got to postmodernism!
Ancient people aren’t primitive at all, they’re more or less exactly like us, and are exactly as brilliant as we are, and we are exactly as stupid as they are. By default, we don’t think terms of empirical observations or logical propositions, but in narratives. This is why myths are so ancient, and why (as I recall JMG pointing out in his old blogs) the logical and scientific methods are so revolutionary. But logic and science did not supplant myth at all, as we can see clearly with David Brin, who the ancient primitive folks would find to be quite stupid.
Please forgive the long quote. I hope it contributes the ideas you are pursuing here.
“The traditionalist mind is a mechanism operating through credulity, for its whole activity consists in its reliance upon the unquestioned wisdom of the past. The rationalist mind breaks these bonds of credulity and replaces them with a fresh imperative: faith in individual energy, of which reason is the supreme instigator. But rationalism tries to do too much – in fact, aspires to the impossible. The proposal to substitute ideas for reality is admirable in its illusive, electrical quality, but is always foredoomed to failure. An enterprise so disproportionately ambitious leaves a historical field behind it which becomes an area of disillusion. After the defeat of all his daring idealist aims man is left completely demoralized. He loses all spontaneous faith and does not believe in anything that works along manifest and disciplined lines. He respects neither tradition nor reason, neither collectivity nor the individual. His vital resources weakened because, definitively, it is the beliefs we cherish that keep such resources at concert pitch. He has not sufficient strength in reserve to maintain a suitable attitude before the mystery of life and the universe. Physically and mentally he degenerates., In these epochs the human harvest is left to wither and the national populations dwindle. Not so much through famine, disease or other similar calamities as because the generative capacity of man diminishes. Simultaneously, there is a decline in typically virile courage. Universal cowardice begins to prevail: a strange phenomenon which appeared equally in Greece and Rome and has not yet received its due emphasis. In times of security man possesses but half the measure of personal valor required to encounter the vicissitudes of life without disgrace. In such ages of waste valor becomes an unusual quality which is only possessed by a few. Its practice is made a profession whose exponents form a soldiery hostile to all public order and stupidly oppressive of the rest of the social body.
This universal cowardice becomes apparent in the most delicate and intimate recess of the mind, and projects itself in all directions. Men are terrified once more by lightning and thunder, as they were in the most primitive times. No one relies on his own personal vigor to enable him to triumph over difficulties. Life is felt to be a formidable accident, in which man is dependent upon mysterious and occult wills, acting in accordance with the most puerile caprices. The debased mind is incapable of offering resistance to destiny, and turns to superstitious practices in the hope of propitiating these hidden powers. The most absurd rites attract the adhesion of the multitude. Rome submits to the dominion of all the monstrous divinities of Asia, which had been so honorably disdained two centuries before.
In short: the spirit of the time, being incapable of maintaining itself in equilibrium by its own unaided efforts, searches for some spar that will save it from the wreck, and examines its environment with the anxious and cringing look of a dog, hoping it may find someone to help it. The superstitious mind is, in effect, a dog in search of a master. Men cannot now even remember the noble gestures of pride they once assumed; and the imperative of liberty that resounded in their ears for centuries would now be totally incomprehensible. On the contrary, they feel an incredible anxiety to be slaves. Slavery is their highest ambition: slavery to other men, to an emperor, to a sorcerer or to an idol. Anything rather than feel the terror of facing singlehanded, in their own persons, the ferocious assaults of existence.
Perhaps the name that best suits the spirit that comes into being beyond the sunset of revolution is the term, spirit of slavery.”
Ortega y Gasset. Epilogue on the Mental Attitude of Disillusion; from THE MODERN THEME. First published in English in 1931. Torchbook edition 1961 pgs 133-134.
Great opening into all sorts of interesting trails!! I do almost daily battle on a couple of “progressive” sites with those who cannot / will not admit their progressivist view of ‘to infinity and beyond’ requires every bit as much faith as the oft belittled evangelicals. “Electric cars!!” they say. “Track cobalt futures!” I respond. Fun stuff.
Due to my own battles with my own demons, I had long ago come to the conclusion that paying attention to every thought my brain manufactured was not working out particularly well. Once I dropped that story and began to explore a more [dare I say it? ] Spiritual connectedness, life became… well…. Life. And within that connectedness was an appreciation for how spectacularly privileged we are to come to consciousness on this ‘3rd rock from the sun’ the like of which we will never see elsewhere. Ever. Might want a bit o’ reverence around this , I believe.
Speaking of stories – Aeon has a discussion of self thats intriguing: https://aeon.co/essays/what-is-the-self-if-not-that-which-pays-attention . The author is a prof of philosophy and cognitive science.
Much of these and many more insights I owe in large measure to your systematic discussions .
We’ve been led like sheep down the path of endless progress, now we’re at the slaughterhouse door.
Eric and JMG,
Homo Hubris? Homo Hamartia? No, no, no!
It’s Homo Superbo and Homo Peccans!
This message brought to you by the Committee Against the Admixture of Latin and Greek.
(Homo Nemesis is fine, since “nemesis” got borrowed into Latin a long, long time ago.)
@Steve T – Columbia as Venus! She was the original symbol of our nation, before Uncle Sam took her place. Abigail Adams as Minerva?
@JMG – I read The Weird of Hali – Innsmouth through a filter on my semesters of Viking Mythology. If I weren’t as steeped in the Lovecraft mythos as Owen Merrill, but rather with my own mindset, and a lean, hawk-faced old man in a broad-brimmed hat, with a reputation for inspiring competent musicians with the Bardic Gift, showed up – and sent a talking raven to guide me, I think you’d know who ‘Id identify him as immediately! For that matter, if a questing hero or one on the run meets a ragged old woman with a rank animal smell, it may be a good thing Owen never heard of Niall of the Nine Hostages meeting with the same lady in the woods of ancient Ireland! Oh, yes, some archetypes are very potent indeed. I tend to think of them as niches to be filled, as in Steve T’s delightful history-becomes-myth picture of the American Civil Religion.
Jung might appreciate how the more shadowy parts of the imagination, the parts writers call upon to supply expressive language, sometimes seem to smuggle honesty past a writer’s conceits.
Brin’s phrase about wanting one’s ‘descendants to bestride the stars’ is an echo of Shakespeare’s, ‘Bestride the narrow world like a colossus.’ Maybe it’s a quote from a sci-fi work that riffs on Shakespeare, or maybe it’s inspired directly, but in either case Brin reaches for it to sound bold and passionate and grand like his vision of the future.
But Shakespeare has the phrase spoken by the sarcastic Cassius mocking the self-importance of Julius Caesar. Caesar is a fool for thinking he can bestride the world, and he dies for it.
A petroleum geologist and a politician walk into a bar. The bartender says, “We ran out of cheap oil, the economy collapsed, so I have nothing to serve you.”
The politician says, “Oh, didn’t see that coming.”
Shortly after reading Jung’s 1936 essay on Wotan, I learned that this painting was painted the year Hitler was born. As a (former) skeptic, I initially dismissed it as coincidence – but really, the synchronicity is just too much. Put blonde hair and blue eyes, like most portrayals of Wotan, on the central figure of that painting, and no big deal. Even changing the mustache, despite it being a popular style at the time, would have been enough to reignite my skepticism. But make Wotan himself look like the man from Austria, on the year he was born, at a time when Norse gods were portrayed as perfect Aryan ubermen? It’s too much for even a generally skeptical person.
Regarding archetypes, well, from a strictly techocratic perspective they make total sense to me. In control systems for aerospace applications you have what’s called a Kalman filter. A Kalman filter could be said to be a model of the air/spacecraft’s characteristics with respect to time, where the distortions needed to fit the model of the flight dynamics of the aircraft onto the ideal model of the flight dynamics are treated as the actual measurements of the aircraft’s trajectory/attitude error.
So the idea that there is an archetypical (social role) makes perfect sense – we measure humans by their deviations from archetypal perfection all the time.
I’ll toss this out for consumption… My kids (25-32, 2G, 2B) are very much in agreement on several things, those being that :ecology should play a large part in things (the word stewardship was used by 2 of them); grubbing after money and owning a McMansion and lots of ‘stuff’ is just stupid (3 of 4 are actually minimalist in practice); there is too much inequality everywhere.
When I first put in solar pumps at the farm, they were agog. When I planted amaranth, same effect. When I actually used mostly recycled everything to build barns, sheds and the house – they were telling all their friends about it. A few weeks ago I asked one of my daughters why they were so surprised. Response: “Boomers always seem to talk good game, but never follow through, never made the changes that ya’ll talked about. I always knew you tried to keep your word, but when you actually went and drug stuff out of the trash, tore down buildings and salvaged stuff to build the farm, it made me excited.”
Maybe some of this will morph into a different dream for them. None of them feel a sense of manifest destiny, and think ‘bestriding the stars’ might be cool, but unrealistic when going to the doctor damn near breaks them. All have a healthy sense of right/wrong with respect to resources and food practices – likely why they are slowly creeping into the farm at planting time and helping out?
My youngest has a firm mindset of technology appropriate to the task with lowest cost and impact. This is even working into soil remediation, and siblings are all in when they talk. I got criticized when I splurged and bought a new rifle – as I have 3 already…LOL
I’m not sure what archetype will arise for them, but I have hopes, as none of them believe in war as an answer to anything. They prefer and migrate towards honesty rather than obfuscation and barrels of bologna. Both of those would seem resistant to a malevolent archetype, yet mine are four among billions. I worry that there is so little history in many young people, such a dearth of critical thinking in many others. This makes for a reactionary society, at least in urban centers.
I look forward to seeing what you imagine as possibilities.
Cassandra, in theory? Sure. In practice? You know as well as I do that human beings love to dress up their greedy cravings in fine sentiments, and the fine sentiments you’ve named would make a typical excuse for the usual loot-and-pillage routine. Fortunately, it’s not an issue, because — for reasons Kim Stanley Robinson has sketched out in a useful essay — we’re not going to the stars: not now, not in the lifetime of our species.
Omnia, I really couldn’t have made up a better example if I’d tried.
C.M. and Stephen, thank you both!
Robert, hmm! That’s been the American way for a long time now — it certainly defines the American way of war from Ulysses Grant straight through to the present — so I think the archetype is well manifested. Maybe the next step involves the faceoff with the Midgard serpent, followed by three increasingly uneven steps and a very loud thud.
Bumblebee, I’d be more impressed if Harari paid more attention to using the brains he’s got. Wildly uncritical enthusiasm for technological vaporware is not a useful habit when it comes to making sense of the future. As to archetypes, you don’t find them — they find you, and they choose the timing. “I waited upon the Lord; He took His own sweet time.”
Lydia, that’s good, because I don’t have a clue about the answers! Glad the essay inspired thoughts and questions.
Matthias, it’s a good question whether these cultural-archetypal fusions sleep, or if — to borrow and repurpose one of Ioan Culianu’s speculations — they’re possibilities that are always present in latent form everywhere, given the necessary cultural input. Thus the Wotan archetype/complex can emerge any time you combine a certain aspect of the enemy-image (which is what the Shadow is, btw) with the necessary cultural input. The thing I’d point out, though, is that Jung’s hypothesis was testable; he made specific predictions on the basis of his theories, and those predictions were borne out by events. To my mind, that suggests that he deserves a hearing even when his ideas seem a bit odd.
On a more serious note, I’m actually excited to hear about the new contest. I think it could be a lot of fun. I won’t formally state an intention to enter, since I did that I think twice in the past and didn’t follow through (one of my greatest talents in life).
By the way, you may or may not remember that for the first After Oil I was going to file off the serial numbers of a fanfiction story I was working on. I was too embarrassed to mention it at the time, but it was Star’s Reach fanfiction. It was about a young man who sold himself into a kind of indentured servitude only to leave early for a woman who soon leaves him. I assumed that a formal rejection of outright slavery remains dear to the heart of Merigan political culture, but that someone who violated a, ahem, long-term work contract would find themselves permanently blackballed from regular employment and civilized society. The working title was “A Dell’s Bargain.”
I never finished it, and by the time the Merigan Tales contest came around my muse for the story was gone. I don’t even remember how it was supposed to end.
Also, I hope my question about the Old Solar System didn’t overly annoy you; I made a mental leap and ran with it.
I have heard Brin interviewed where he intoned much of the same themes, it rings only more hollow as time goes by . . .
I am intrigued by the thought (and you have touched on it eleswhere/ earlier) that “…the archetypal patterns that shape history don’t rise among the privileged.”
I don’t know if you are familiar with the historian Walter Prescott Webb and is seminal work “The Great Frontier” (Toynbee wrote the introduction). It explores the ways that cultures undergo radical transformations when they encounter a new “frontier” and emerge on the other side almost unrecognizable from their initial “metropolitan” culture.
An archetypal story he relates is of an exploration party taking off into the unknown west from the east coast. In the following order of social importance, the party enters the wilderness for a three month trek, the general, the businessman, the academic, the reverend and finally the handyman/ laborer. Six months later the bedraggled party emerges from the woods in precisely the opposite order of importance, this time being led my the handyman/ laborer. The gentlemen of the society were powerless in the abrasive frontier. Only the humble, skilled, flexible laborer was able to keep the party alive an hence earned leadership in the new “frontier” society.
Man the bold conquer of nature ? . . . perhaps . . . but I don’t see it as being the root of the driver of Brin’s progress, only a specific instance of survival. What I do see here is an American archetypal cultural pattern of dealing with the unknown and harsh and surviving/ adapting. If we can draw on these ghosts, perhaps we can make a positive adaptation to the future. This time, the commute will be much shorter, frontier is coming to us.
With luck and work, perhaps our Wotan will be Johnny Appleseed. To shape this, we must make our Der Ring des Nibelungen for the future.
Kfish, you can’t really harness an archetype; at best, you can cooperate consciously with it, and ride the wave of its emotional force. Unfortunately this guy seems to be embodying the familiar image of the Prophet Whom Nobody Listens To…
Migrantharvester, your son is a lucky kid! Unicorn time comes when it comes — you can’t get a unicorn to show up on schedule — but you know it’s coming when people start to walk away from their supposedly perfect (but actually hideously unsatisfactory) lives to live in ways the cultural mainstream can’t comprehend.
Newtonfinn, he’s also demonstrating an astonishing degree of historical illiteracy. Every major civilization has feudalism in its early stages, then gets over it and establishes some variant of the sort of centralized bureaucratic system we have now. When that falls apart, after an interval marked mostly by warbands, feudalism recurs. When he insists that ours is the first civilization ever to give up feudalism, he’s making a mistake on the order of insisting that the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock were the first people in history to discover how to light a fire — and that doesn’t exactly lend credibility to the rest of his rant.
Iuval, you’re quite right — my oversight. As I noted to another reader, yes, I’ve encountered the guy via his most recent book, which made me shake my head and wonder whether he has the brains the gods gave geese.
Jason, I’m not actually a fan of Strauss and Howe; to my mind their scheme is too rigid and requires a lot of stretching and lopping to make history fit their model. The fact remains that they cite evidence, a good deal of it, while Brin does not. That’s common enough in discussions of historical cycles: the cyclic theorists present evidence (in Toynbee’s case, reams of it), while their opponents shout “Pessimist! Doomsayer! Blue Meanie!” at them, as though that proves anything.
Carlos, excellent. Ding! You win tonight’s gold star for a cogent summary of one of the core themes I’ve tried to get across in my blogging and books.
Rcg1950, that’s the same edition I have. Next time, though, please don’t just quote somebody at length — use your own words to show us you’ve thought through what you’re trying to talk about and aren’t just regurgitating something.
Curtis, glad to hear you’ve learned not to believe everything you think — a very useful bit of learning, that. As for the Aeon article, most interesting — so western scientists have finally gotten to where Asian mystics started out thirty centuries ago!
Dennis, who did the leading and who did the following?
James, heh. Fair enough.
Patricia, good. I was wondering if anybody would catch those echoes. Yes, they were quite deliberate, and so were various others — I had, and am continuing to have, a lot of fun with The Weird of Hali.
Jjones, nice! It’s clearly been way too long since I’ve read Shakespeare closely, I missed that detail, and it’s a fine irony.
Justin, good. Yes,I was familiar with the painting; I’d considered mentioning it, but decided that such a mention would be a bit too much for some of my readers…
Oilman2, you’ve got smart kids. Mind you, a lot of young people of your kids’ generation are very well aware of the yawning chasm between the Baby Boomers’ rhetoric and their behavior. (Kudos to you also for bridging that chasm.)
James, no, I wasn’t annoyed at all! I was planning to bring the website up myself in a future post, for what it’s worth. I hope you make the chance to finish a story for the next contest.
Black Birch, but it’s more than simply an adaptation for survival. The frontiersman — not the real, complex, messy phenomenon itself, but the mythic image — ended up becoming central to the American identity, and spawned all that chatter about space as “the final frontier.” Note the difference in our current situation — the frontiersman, in theory, leaves civilization behind and heads out into the wilderness for freedom and renewal; we, in practice, watch the frontier approach with no way to alter its timetable, and simply have to respond. It’s a different consciousness and will create different myths.
An individual is not the same thing as a community of individuals, nor is it necessarily even the same kind of thing. I can see what an archetype is in an individual, but not that it’s necessarily the same kind of thing in a community.
Did you mean to use the term in relation to communities (nations) as metaphor?
Is it the same kind of thing as a zeigeist?
“to live in ways the cultural mainstream can’t comprehend.” Yeah, my Dad thinks I’m crazy. But, we are having fun – even if (or is that because) we are working hard, and hopefully he will recognize that we are happier.
My son will tell you that the only reason you’ve never seen a Unicorn is because they disguise themselves as a simple white mare. He suspects that the old white horse down the road is hiding something…
I wonder if Jung had seen Stuck’s ‘Wild Chase’ before he wrote Wotan, it looks like he wrote about Stuck’s paintings later on in Symbols of Transformation…
I really appreciate that you’re the archetypal influence to the fore.I want to read the post again before I comment. I’ve tried repeatedly to subscribe to the email postings but I never receive a conformation email??
“The only question is whether we’re in for a very bad ride, or a pants-crappingly catastrophic one.”
-Peter Watts, “Why sci-fi can’t be a happy place”
I am in Bosnia Herzegovina at the moment, and what you say of the ethnic wars here and the potential for such a disaster in the US has seemed vey likely to me. I knew Yugoslavia. It was almost a living embodiment of Retrotopia. But 10 years of economic hardship seasoned by virient self serving demagogues and the guns came out. Does this sound like anything happening in the US?
On the plus side, when all hell breaks loose (and before and after that point) everyone gets to choose whether to participate in the “dark side of the force” or resist the hatred and contribute to the light. I saw many Yugoslavs make the choice to be decent even at serious personal cost.
I had the misfortune to hear Brin address a meeting of the planetary society in Pasadena, ~1998. Regarding him writing like a preacher, if you hear him speak you’ll be sure. He ended his sermon with “We have the power of gods”. The room was unmoved, and he mumbled something about “preaching to the choir”; the audience seemed embarrassed and un-moved by it all.
JMG’s ‘Which way to Heaven?” piece on ADR verbalized feelings I’d had for some time. I used to follow those amazing! photo! sites!; the Cassini page’s images of Saturn’s moons framed against the rings, more dead martian boulders, etc. After seeing the 5,000th of these, I said “If you’ve seen one of these, you’ve seen them all – and I never want to see any of them again”.
The projection of human values/potential onto these dead planets (imagining the 1 milibar martian atmosphere as fit for human colonisation!) is standard activity amongst space cadets. But talk to them about the feelings and intelligence of animals, they’d accuse you of naive anthropomorphizing. Yet it’s OK for them to anthropomorphize planets, and project properties onto them which do not exist!
I’m glad you covered the Fourth Turning because even though it’s being used as a propaganda tool to unapologetically promote unconstitutional militarized domestic law enforcement (thanks to trainers like Dave Grossman), the authors do give some some convincing examples that shouldn’t be dismissed outright.
In my observation the USA is that the European god archetypes have been on a long slow fade for a quite some time, while the Old Testament figures like Moses (manifest destiny) and David (slaying Cold War giants) have take a front seat despite long-simmering pockets of antisemitism. The OT gives a lot more permission for a brutal war-like culture to act in it’s own interests, while also appealing to a more ethnically diverse audience.
Specifically I’m thinking of a recent conversation I had with someone where I explained that I’d rather vote for a misogynist con artist than a bona-fide war criminal, and they told me they would rather vote for the war criminal because it served some sort of greater purpose. Doesn’t get much more OT than that!
If I had to guess about the future, the kind of archetype that to my mind has the most promise is Genghis Khan. When the Mexican-American biker gangs started consolidating under the Mongol brand, it was in response to the inflexibility of the Hell’s Angels white supremacist attitudes and their refusal to consider shifting demographic patterns until it was too late. Like young Temüjin the Mongols broke out of their low social status and swept over the continent by exploiting ossified class systems wherever they found them.
It seems to me that, whereas we know, which new archetypes and narratives replaced the old ones in times of crisis like in the 19. and early 20. centuries, today, there ist not much of a hint what will replace the contemporary archetypes, like Thor for America, as one poster suggested. There are a few minority currents like environmentally minded people who walk their talk, or the ideas and ideologies one finds at the Alt-Right, or the people who propagate ideas such as a new New Deal, a basic guaranteed income, and the like. But there is no clear picture, what will emerge, if anything Forthermore, I’m not sure if a civilization in decline is able at all to spawn ideological and/or archetypal reorientations as consequences of failure. Is this the case, and are there historical precedents for such a reorientation?
“And the meek shall inherit the Earth” so says chrisitian scripture. It seems to tally with the change of the Guard as far as archtypes are concerned. To some extent we are puppets in the hands of destiny. Poor humanity!
“I waited upon the Lord; He took His own sweet time.”
For David Brin and Yuval Harari, the wait is over. Nevertheless, I look forward to what may find me at a time of its own choosing.
Thanks for post. I am hesitant to agree with the statement towards the end that the change, the turning is brewing among the disposseded, the poor etc. It seems to me that most other big changes have not been driven by the poor. The shift from feodalism to capitalism which is a major shift in civilization was certainly not a result of the actions of the poor even if they sometimes played a role. The Soviet revolution was also not a popular movement even if it was in the name of the proletariat. While civil unrest etc. might have palyed some role in the demise of the Roman Empire or the Pharaos I don’t think popular uprising by the disenfranchised was to blame. It seem to me that more often there is some other powerful group in the rising, within or outside of the civilisation (Mongols) that take over. Alternatively the civilisation just collapse from its inability to adjust. But perhaps I misunderstand you.
A side note For me the myth of Christ is a bit like the American Dream, it doesn’t matter who you are, rich or poor. And it is as delusional as the American Dream…..
JMG, Looking forward to your discussion of this shift in archetypes as industrial civilization crests and falls. I’m hoping at some point you will explore the subterranean archetypes that lurk in the intellectual class as they learn to assume the role of monastic preservationists, a role you have indicated in passing from time to time. Perhaps a quick commentary on Nietzsche’s Advantages and Disadvantages of History will find its way into your writing!
Happy landings in the Ocean State and congrats on the new blog and format. I’m looking forward to some free time to participate in the discussion of Mystery Teachings.
Nice set of questions. Pretty much every comprehensive philosophy has answers, but none of them seem to match any of the others. I personally prefer the Michael Teaching, in the full knowledge that it’s intended to be useful, not true. At least it’s internally coherent, which many aren’t. Most people are going to prefer some other philosophy.
The way I look at it, there are structures on the Astral plane that serve as frameworks for cultures, generations, political philosophies, reincarnational stages and so on. Wide variety. People chose which active ones to join before incarnating, and then parts of the structure they’ve chosen to join bubble up in dreams and the kind of collective consciousness that Jung investigated.
The purpose of these structures is to experience how they work by living lives within them. Eventually Sentience (or the Human collective consciousness) has explored a particular structure to the extent it wants, and then relegates it to the archives and puts a new one in place.
The outcome of exploring a specific structure isn’t pre-determined. What would be the fun in that? It can be a glorious success, it can crash and burn. Most end somewhere in between when they are’t overrun.
You can explore the active structures in dreams and various forms of meditation.
I’d love to see that critique of Strauss and Howe.
I agree about Strauss and Howe – they try to fit everything into one framework and the situation is too complex for that – there are too many interacting structures/frameworks for that to work. And that’s in addition that their generational analysis in the period from Charles I to the Great Awakening simply doesn’t work.
The big problem is that they tried to fit it into a materialist-rationalist framework.
Yes; though it is curious how some things linger on. Britain did quite a bit of bestriding in its day, with it has to be said, some benefit for the better-off – and even for the medium income urban folk. And Imperial preference staved off some of the worst of the Great Depression. Well, the Imperial reality came to an end when the Royal Navy pulled down the flag in 1946 and handed the keys of the strategic British naval base in Bahrain to the waiting American fleet. We had not heard the last of it of course during the post-war years. And we see the 37-year revival of old Victorian free-market thinking culminating now in the Tory-led attempt to get out of the EU. We should look to the US and China, it seems, for business. There are now 65 million urbanites crowded on what has always been a rather small farming area. Educated opinion has it that global trade, IT and nano-technology and biotech-food and medicine will keep us safe (‘growth industries’). A mostly elderly minority thinks throwing out 3.5 million EU citizens could do the trick – and, less obviously stated, some would include an extra few million other recent immigrants. I tend to believe in windmills! Lop-sided smile.
What our flag-wavers have in mind is anything but clear besides arm waving in the direction of the USA and continued globalisation, free market economics and technological supremacy. In the crawl spaces, however, we have adopted plans apparently from the sinister American play-book – Buchanan backed by Koch et al : see https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/19/despot-disguise-democracy-james-mcgill-buchanan-totalitarian-capitalism Maybe this is just another symptom of the larger complexity falling out of the sky with a lot of unburned fuel still in the system? Bring back Carl Jung!
“The point to keep in mind here is that the archetypal patterns that shape history don’t rise among the privileged…it’s among the poor, the homeless, the despised, the neglected, that new realities are born.”
I somewhat disagree with you on this point. I agree that it is easier for people to seek change when their life is miserable as opposed to pleasurable. After all, why change when life is good? But there are stories and myths about people born to wealth who brought into the world a new reality. The most obvious is Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who was born into privilege and went on to renounce his wealth and started the path of Buddhism. Perhaps I’m unclear on what you mean by “archetypal patterns that shape history” but I assume that Buddhism would be included.
I think people who create new realities can arise among any socioeconomic class of people. The privileged certainly have their illusions, but so too do the poor. I know people who live in squalor and misery, and yet are very proud of their noble poverty. They cling to it as if it’s a badge of honor and would not take lightly the idea that they are perfectly capable of obtaining some comfort in life, or that it might be welcome relief to their soul.
“The vision of humanity made omnipotent through technology—Men Like Gods, to borrow the title of one of H.G. Wells’ drearier novels—is on its way out. The question we face is what will rise to replace it.”
I agree. I’m curious what you and readers of this blog might think of this article by Stephen Hawking https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/01/stephen-hawking-dangerous-time-planet-inequality
I look forward to reading what others think will replace our vision of humanity.
JMG, I live in NYC and it seems like EVERYONE is talking about Yuval Harari’s books Sapiens and Homo Deus. Ugh. I was remembering your essay response to Globalize Liberation and how marvelous it was to read such a lucid, convincing piece and wondering if you may be interested in writing something similar for the Harari fan club?
John Michael, I love your writing and what you do. I am a fan for years now. I am curious about the phrases “glutter of crow” and “god of the slain”. Those rang a bell for me. Are these phrases part of a common linguistic lore?
Such an interesting article (as always)! The part that right now stirs me most is the character of projection. The (collective) projection itself seems to contain an imbalance that rolls things towards chaos, and then it is up to chaos and grace to sort things out. Right now I can’t express this any clearer, but the act of projection itself has something in it. Withdrawing projections was the work that Jung saw humans need to do. But humans only start to withdraw projection when there is immense suffering. When you just have a jerk for a neighbour, be it family, tribe or nation, all seems well. But when the whole world is after you, you start seeking help (or maybe start policing the whole world…).
Steve T asked “On archetypes that emerge in the fantasies of a civilization– What do you make of the ridiculous popularity of the Army of the Dead/Zombie Apocalypse archetype?” That’s a topic that popped up at least twice on the old blog. I saved the comment threads on the zombie apocalypse in two posts on my blog. I summarized most of the reasons in Zombies meet preppers on ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ Season 3: “the rural-urban disconnect, the fear of urban hordes ravaging the countryside, a lack of faith in progress, a not so subtle racism, and a desire to shoot their fellow Americans.” I almost wonder if the producers and writers read those two blog entries of mine for inspiration.
(Pinku-Sensei on the old blogs)
OK – Black Birch said “…frontier is coming to us.” I find that intriguing, as the current and many previous archetypes have us moving forward, into the unknown. It places us in an aggressive and confrontational position vis-a-vis obstacles.
When we look about at the futures that are possible, there isn’t anything new to explore; few (if any) places you can be the first to touch down on; limits approaching and making themselves felt. We can go elsewhere, but we will find others already there, with their own local cultures and rules. This is the first time for our race to physically confront this limitation, perhaps? Maybe something similar occurred before sailing was invented, but that was such a widespread and spontaneous invention that I tend to doubt that holds true. Easter Island history is the only thing that pops into my mind, and that should be lesson enough.
I am thinking this is a large change in worldview, and the current crop of humans has to wrap their minds around it and embrace, well, something. Being overtly aggressive in a confined space only works until you anger enough of your neighbors. It is hard to charge forth and confront much of anything within a well known and confined space, isn’t it?
It may be that the new archetype is one of continuous struggle against an irresistible force? Of making incremental gains and taking joy in them? I am not exactly sure, but Black Birch’s flipping of the paradigm has definitely hit home in thinking about what our progeny have to come to terms with. And from talking with and knowing my kids and their peers, I have a feeling that stewardship may be a very viable and positive option or characteristic for their archetype.
CG Jung is one of the most underrated thinkers of the twentieth century in my opinion. Your post reminded me of some of the concepts from another one of his works, “The Undiscovered Self”, where he discussed the impact of modern society on the collective unconscious and the development of individuals.
He wrote about how religion is one of man’s unconscious requirements, and that even a conscious rejection of religion would only lead to unconscious adoption of religious fervor towards some sort of belief system, oftentimes politics. I think this concept does a good job of explaining a lot of the political happenings right now, with the great hunt for the Russian witch gunman on the grassy knoll heretics while ignoring the possibility that the wage class has its own self-interests as you have written about. CG Jung also wrote about how the Iron Curtain was a metaphorical representation of a cleft in the collective psychology of the world that would bring about strife unless it was healed, another idea that seems appropriate to think about given the current state of geopolitics.
I look forward to reading your thoughts on what paradigm you think will replace the techno-utopianism that is so prevalent these days.
What strikes me is that Brin’s scientific materialism, like socialism before it, is Protestant Christianity with the badges replaced. What would a scientific materialism based on, say, Hinduism look like?
Discussions of archetypes always leave me fascinated and wanting to discover more. I’m sure you and many of the comments are quite aware of the differing prophecies floating about supposedly from the different Native American tribes which state basically that they will return. Is it possible that they understood the idea of archetypes and realized these had a connection with the land? One archetype closely connected with the frontiersman, or pioneer, has always been the Indians. It’d be a short leap.
JMG, please allow me to leap to the defense of Mr. Brin’s perspective.
First of all, the important thing to remember is that the world consists only of nails to the child with the hammer.
This has quite often been the case in bygone years. To the classical physicists of the 18th century, the world is a finely tuned machine, whose occupants need only discover its laws to understand completely the behavior of the machine. To the Darwinist of the 19th century, the world is merely one of constant struggle and competition. Such biases though blind one to the multi-dimensional complexity of it all.
You can see from these examples that the modern-day astronomer would find it very hard to understand how anything can move in cycles.
Well David Brin continues to play his role as some kind of deranged Commander Progress.
I copied a couple of paragraphs from your essay and left a link to the full essay but alas the response was…..
Not very well thought out.
Apparently he couldn’t bring himself to read the full essay and couldn’t refrain from going off.
And he has uncovered your secret life
“Funny thing how Greer’s cult just happens to wage war not just on science, journalism, teaching, medicine and every other fact-using caste — now including intel, FBI and military officers. I’d argue with him, seriously I would. But we are in Phase 8 of the Civil War…
…and I do not have time anymore for confederate trash.” ….. David Brin
He has a really active imagination. And I have notice over the last couple of years he has gotten much more screechy in his responses especially if you question the benefits of “Progress
Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20170720T155818Z
Thanks for this. One feels bad sometimes (especially this morning, on reading the pitiable blog material from Dr Brin to which you have drawn attention – Dr Brin’s posting, and additionally his intemperate replies to some comments). Your own writing resembles philosopher-psychiatrist-Shoah survivor Dr Viktor Frankl’s, as suggesting that the choice for sanity remains at all times possible.
Tom = http://toomaskarmo.blogspot.com
PS to commenter newtonfinn (under timestamp “July 19, 2017 at 11:47 pm”): Yes, bravo! A grasp of facts, like the facts on poverty which you cite, is among the foundations of sanity.
To me for an archetype to rise up to prevalence among the masses it has to be present already in some form in a way that is being disseminated through shared common culture. The archetype I vote for rising up through the mist is that of the extended family ( not necessarily related). This I believe is different from the archetype of the self sufficient frontier family with the father as the stern patriarch, which is central to much republican thinking. In nearly every popular mass culture entertainment the underlying theme that is subtly put in place to draw viewers, readers, fans is that of the large family that accepts you, has your back, and never rejects you. This is the underlying theme of sports teams, the military, police procedural tv like CSI or Hawaii five0 and reality TV. Especially young people crave such a shelter from the market based neoliberal order where you are only as secure as your next paycheck. But as you have pointed out JMG this archetype can move in several directions as it is the dynamic that often underlies street gangs or warbands.
Hi JMG, I really do appreciate you sharing this with us. You know me, I went reading, some more. Would the “self-reliant individual striding boldly toward the frontier to carve out a new world for himself and his family from untouched wilderness” fit Jung’s Archetype, “The Explorer?” Are his 12 types useful for these discussions?
@Steve T – Jean Lamb suggests Dolly Madison for Venus.I agree.
“Watch the dreams and fantasies of a society and you can catch the foreshadowings of its future…”
Regarding the popularity of the zombie genre, I’ve long thought it was due to the ease of life in modern america combined with the post-war morality that made it wrong to think of anyone as ‘the other'(except nazis I suppose). Jack Donovan wrote an essay that captured my thinking on it rather well.
After reading this post though, and that painting from 1889… What if the popularity of the zombie genre has a much more straight forward meaning?
If america cracks up like Yugoslavia, which seems more and more inevitable as time goes on, and the fighting rages on for several years(which, considering how heavily armed we are thats more than possible*), that would cause a severe famine, and not just here in the states either.
Someone can correct me if I’m wrong but my understanding is that the US is the top exporter of agricultural products, with the Netherlands, Germany, and France making up the next three. If the american exports are taken off the market due to chaos at home a lot of people around the world will be going hungry.
And if war breaks out in europe, which also seems more and more inevitable for similar reasons, just those top four countries would mean more than $300 billion worth of food taken off of global markets.
If something like that lasts a couple years, a whole lot of humans will be starving and eating eachother…
Clumsy corpse-like creatures that will eat you given the chance, that used to be people but aren’t anymore… and its oh, oh so easy to become one of them…
Considering america’s short history has never had a major famine, that today obesity is a larger problem here than going hungry, and many truly believe its either progress or apocalypse(usually so sudden they wouldnt have to actually experience it) if many were unconsciously sensing a massive famine coming it’s easy to see them imagining it as some sort of supernatural horror.
Not that Donovan’s ‘training-wheel tribalism’ isn’t part of it, I KNOW thats part of it.
*I once read that if you totaled up the number of rifles produced by every beligerent country in ww1 AND ww2 the total is still less than what american civilians currently own, and that we have an equal number of shotguns and handguns in addition to that… I can’t remember exactly where I read that but, I believe it. https://gunculture2point0.wordpress.com/2017/01/30/more-on-how-many-guns-are-there-in-america-today/
After reading jim’s description of Brin’s response and the reference to “civil war” (which I’m assuming Brin is using as a metaphor for the battle between the forces of enlightenment and knowledge — him, et alia — and the forces of darkness — you, et alia), I had an uncomfortable image of the ranks of scientism taking more and more drastic measures in this conflict of absolutes (as they see it). The more I look at it, the closer Brin’s stance seems to edge toward that of the Radiance as you’ve portrayed in your novels. That something of that nature could actually manifest is a troubling idea indeed.
@JMG & John Roth – No, the Fourth Turning account of the period from Charles I to the Great Awakening does NOT work. Any student of English history could tell them so. Their error was considering the entire Anglo-American timeline to be continuous. It wasn’t. The Puritan migration to New England was a hard reset for the American timeline. John Xenakis in Generational Dynamics (but do ignore Xenakis’ growing cane-shaking sour Old Phart Off My Lawn dogmatism on other topics!) explained it more thoroughly that I can. But it makes good sense.
Recently I attended a sustainability meeting. We’ve all seen the clear-cut, bull-dozed building sites where the parking lot is dotted by tiny islands containing new small trees planted with three-stake supports and low vegetation. The tiny parking lot islands used to count for green certification. Now, they no longer do. The trend is toward bio-swales and rainfall management.
There have been a few flavors to this Men-As-Gods vision – today’s US neocon/neoliberal version, the EU/social democracy version, the old and new model communist versions, others. Do these differences matter for what comes next? I used to think to see these as real alternatives, but now of course they just seem like variants on the same predicament – how to keep a big industrial/financial system going for ever.
Great essay, touching on so many different aspects of our predicament. As to the next archetype in the queue, I’d venture to say that the success of Trump and Sanders’ campaigns give some hints that it will center around economics – and if the poor are a source of such changes, well then there’s more of them everyday to fuel the transition. If history does indeed rhyme, then we’re in for some fireworks, as a charismatic leader or leaders attempt to provide solutions, at the cost of doing business as usual.
As a side note, it’s quite ironic that Brin describes followers of JMG as a cult, considering most here often express the limits involved in understanding many of the issues posted here. Along with the wide spectrum of viewpoints posted here, I’d describe this group more as a herd of cats, with is pretty much the polar opposite of a cult.
I like your post and the way you add some elements of the social change that is not merely based on socio-economic foundation but also in some other influences not easily described in a “mechanistic” or “reductionistic” view as sociology try to do always
When I read “Wotan” some years ago it seems to me that Jung, as Heidegger, falls in love with this kind of “movement”, with its call to the “young” and to the “strong” sense of will and power, that could Make Germany Great Again 😉
About the “Myth of Progress” I think the idea came from some philosophers and thinkers of the XVII century, one of the more famous was (sir) Francis Bacon, with his books “Novum Organum Scientifiarum” and, above all, the utopian novel “New Atlantis”
The illustration page of the “Novum Organum” is a ship passing the Pillars of Hercules meaning that the new scientific discoveries are at the end the same “process” of “conquer” that the european warships that, in his time, were conquering the foreign lands in other continents “for the betterment of the human lineage”
In the “New Atlantis” Bacon describe an utopian society organized around the scientific research, with the Salomon’s House as the institution for organized research by founded and maintained by the state (this idea was the base for the future Royal Society of London), as he wrote:
“The end of our foundation is the knowledge of causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible”
Look the language of the last phrase : “enlarging of the bounds of human empire”. So, as he said also in this book, we will be “the Master and Possessor of Nature”. A language of “conquer” and “domination” which is always the language of the “progress” (as for example the war on cancer)
At the end this “Age of Technocracy” envisioned by Bacon was another elaboration of the “Age of The Holy Spirit” of Joachim of Fiore, where all the suffering and all the tribulations of the human existence will be solved with the triumph of the true faith, now by the Science. The same Joachinist myth was used by the Marxists and other “Milleranians” sects as the Neoliberals (f.e. Fukuyama and others that think the History can “end”)
PD: Bacon was a strong defender of the british colonization of North America, where, in the future his ideas would be followed even more enthusiastically than in any other place as you pointed-out
While reading Brin’s rant about being “a mighty and scientific people,” “a member of a glorious, scientific civilization,” etc. etc, all I could think of was Sandburg’s magnificent “Four Preludes to Playthings of the Wind,” which you quoted a while back on the original blog:
We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation:
nothing like us ever was.
It just says it all, so perfectly…
Re. David Brin, I actually agree with him that a diamond shaped society (dominated by a large middle class) is a desirable thing, and that there are certain powerful forces who wish to do away with this in favour of the classic model of a pyramid shaped society (small elite, dominating a poor huddled mass). However, that’s about the extent of my agreement with him. I think he’s full of cognitive dissonance (calling people conspiracy theorists like it’s a bad thing, whilst believing there’s a conspiracy of the rich elites? Pfft.), and he’s definitely not suited to leading a defence of the enlightenment.
As it seems to be the case when one does “switch off the mind and let the heart decide” (excerpt from “Windpower”, Thomas Dolby) I just came across today with this poem by egyptian greek author Constantine Cavafy
“Waiting for the Barbarians (excerpt)
What are we waiting for, gathered here in the agora?
The barbarians are supposed to show up today.
Why is there such indolence in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting around, making no laws?
Because the barbarians are supposed to show up today.
Why should the senators trouble themselves with laws?
When the barbarians arrive, they’ll do the legislating.
Why don’t our illustrious speakers come out to speak
as they always do, to speak what’s on their minds?
Because the barbarians are supposed to show up today,
and they really can’t stand lofty oration and demagogy.
Why is everyone so suddenly ill at ease
and confused (just look how solemn their faces are)?
Why are the streets and the squares all at once empty,
as everyone heads for home, lost in their thoughts?
Because it’s night now, and the barbarians haven’t shown up.
And there are others, just back from the borderlands,
who claim that the barbarians no longer exist.
What in the world will we do without barbarians?
Those people would have been a solution, of sorts.”
(Translated by Stratis Haviaras)
Though it could look to be slightly at odds with the post’s subject, I remember – if I didn’t miss the correct meaning of what was written – Mr. Greer noting in several of his posts at the Archdruid Report that people were ready to embrace the coming of the Barbarians, embodied in some sort of populist, charismatic leader as a solution for their problems. In fact, this seems already to be underway. What remains unclear is how long people will wait at their homes until they start to demand a more radical barbarian, should the barbarian du jour fail (I’m not assuming nothing: probably I’m just lazy and incapable of doing the right search, but it currently seems impossible to access a balanced and honest assessment of what is happening in the political sphere, at least through the western media). Thank you for reading.
interesting choice of Jung and his writings on archetypes for now – a friend this morning was talking abt “tachyon chambers” approvingly – she’s going to visit one – so I looked them up. Jung also wrote abt people who wanted to believe in or focus on UFOs as our saviours. Remembered my mother in the ’60’s read Jung’s “Memories, Dreams, and Reflections.” this excerpt from another blogger, John Fraim: “For Jung the UFO images had much to do with the ending of an era in history and the beginning of a new one. In his introductory remarks to Flying Saucers he writes about the UFO events …” http://www.cgjungpage.org/learn/articles/analytical-psychology/125-the-symbolism-of-ufos-and-aliens
JMG, thanks for that. But I asked you another question that is far more important (that you might not have noticed, or maybe you are avoiding this topic): do you think that the humanist archetype of loving the “other “(tribe) has any chance of spreading beyond a few humanists like Jung(I don’t mean just secular humanists, but also the judaeo-christian and confucian humanists you alerted me to)? It seems to have also spread to mystics and deep ecologists. Or is the shadow archetype so much stronger? You had said before that we all have not just xenophobia, but xenophilia. History seems to show that xenophobia is much stronger than xenophilia. Or perhaps the tribes that exhibit xenophilia get annihilated by those that exhibit xenophobia?
Forgive me for not waiting until I got all my thoughts together.
This one’s more to the point: I’ve read some of David Brin’s stories – good for him that he’s now living in one of his fantasies. Nevertheless, he’s not alone: here’s some others on the same prescription – here, here and here (through Cassandra’s Legacy.
What’s interesting about Wotan as an archetype is that what Jung noted, filtered through Wagner, seems to have been more prevalent on the Continent. Each of the four variants on medieval Germanic culture saw him in a different light. Mainstream Scandinavian literature emphasized Odin as a betrayer of his followers, with a dysfunctional family. Icelandic lore emphasized him as a seeker of wisdom, close connection to the giants, a touch of Prometheus, a skirt-chaser, and totally unscrupulous, but with a touch of “but he’s OUR rat-fink!” He picked up the souls of those fallen in battle, but so did Freya, and presumably was saving them as troops for Ragnarok.
Woden, like Thunor, had become a shadowy figure in long-Christianized England, so it’s hard to say, but the many titles for God used in Anglo-Saxon literature (I really should have put this in a paper for English 442!) felt like shadowy reflections of the old Gods (Frea, Measurer, All-Father….) so England never fell prey to much of the German view. Though modern American gangsters took it up eagerly.
I think the current interest in Zombies has to do with fear of poor people and of becoming poor or homeless. I see it as role playing of current trends –> a shrinking minority of hyper-clean odorless middle and upper class living in a safe gated communities, and the poor are frightening growing masses of crude and worthless people begging at their doorstep. We learn in zombie shows, there is no shame in killing or tossing aside these dirty monsters. As a life long part time worker with no benefits, I am acutely aware of being treated as disposable. Even as someone who works for idealistic non-profits/natural foods, I have distinctly felt a change in the last few years. I am worried the zombie trope is a prediction of the future for the poor majority.
A thought came to me a little while after reading your Stormwatch post: It seems to me that an ecosophic spirituality would do well to have a strong element of atonement, considering the damage that we’re doing to the biosphere. The sins we’re committing against the planet may not be original, but they are catastrophic, and I think grief will have a big role to play for those of us who remain.
As for watching our society for mythic currents that may be surfacing, two possible candidates popped up in my rumination. One is the Antichrist, which as far as I know is an American creation grown out of Biblical literalism and our obsession with apocalyptic scenarios.
The second candidate might be glimpsed in “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race” by Thomas Ligotti. Ligotti argues that humanity should commit suicide in protest against the meaningless existence revealed to us by science, and the book makes me think that there’s something very terrible bumping around in the dark tunnels below the modern humanistic mindset.
Graeme, one of the more controversial aspects of Jung’s theory is that he argues that groups as well as individuals have distinctive psychologies. He didn’t mean it as a metaphor, either. I’m aware that it’s a challenging idea for many people; I’d point out, though, that it resulted in accurate predictions — always the justification for any theory.
Migrantharvester, when your son is old enough to follow it, you might give him a copy of Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. It has some useful comments about why people don’t see unicorns, which I think he’ll appreciate!
Herbgrower, have you checked your spam filter?
Jesus, please don’t spam the list with quotations. If you want to make your own contribution, in your own words, that’s welcome, but four dubiously relevant quotations with nothing to show you didn’t just google a phrase and submit the top four hits? Nope.
Randy, it sounds uncomfortably like what’s happening here in the US, yes. I’d rather see people be decent to one another without having to go through civil war first…
Dermot, that’s an excellent point. The difference between your anthromorphizing and theirs, of course, is that yours suggests that animals might not exist solely for the convenience of humans, while theirs suggests that planets must exist solely for the convenience of humans…
Mony, the warband and its leader — now there’s something you’ll find all over myth and legend. Sooner or later it’ll come to that here, too — once a civilization starts sliding down the chute marked “decline and fall,” the question is when the warbands show up, not if — but there are other archetypal patterns in play as well. More on this as we proceed!
Booklover, new archetypes always emerge as a result of failure; the old archetypes remain in place until it’s painfully obvious that they really, truly don’t work any more. Think of the way that Christianity emerged in late Roman times as a countervailing pattern to the existing archetypes of Roman society, and you can get an idea of how that works. But you’re right that the next round of archetypal patterns aren’t visible yet — that was, after all, one of the points of this week’s post.
Karim, ah, but if we weren’t puppets in the hands of destiny, we’d be left to our own profoundly limited wisdom — and then we’d be at least as badly off!
Bumblebee, nah, they’re just waiting for a different god to show up. They’ll wait a very, very long time, too.
This may be of interest to the readers here as well as you, John. I happened to take a gander at David Brin’s blog today, just to see what other kind of nonsense he likes to blog about, and today he decided to take on the topic of…Magic! It is really quite hilarious.
Here are his concluding remarks:
“All told, magic has been a horrid sickness that hobbled humans for ages, preventing us from honestly separating what works from what doesn’t. But we are all descended from priests and shamans who got extra food and mates because they pulled off this mumbo-jumbo really well. Their genes flow through our brains, today. No wonder there’s a War on Science!”
All I can do is laugh at this nonsense, and I don’t even practice magic. But this begs the question John; have you been getting extra food and mates all this time and you haven’t been telling us? 😉
On a lighter note than some:
James Jensen–when I read your post on not mixing Greek and Latin roots in the same words I read your coinage Homo superbo as Homo superbro. Momentary vision of planet overrun not just by “bros”, but “superbros.”
Gunnar, if you’ll take a moment to reread my post, you’ll find that I didn’t say that all social changes are the work of the poor. I said that new archetypal patterns first surface among those excluded from the circles of privileged. Rather a different thing, you must admit!
Redoak, I’ll consider that — I’ve got a copy of “Untimely Meditations” on the shelf in my study, so it’s certainly an option.
John, exactly. The pervasive problem with historical theories is that they almost always try to explain too much.
Phil, it’s very common for former empires to cling to the memory of their past glory. Think of how long it took European nations to stop calling their leaders “Caesar” — in local dialect forms, admittedly, such as “Kaiser” and “Tsar”!
Soilmaker, Siddhartha Gautama was one of thousands of itinerant mystics with their own unique visions running around India in his time. His vision caught on, where most others didn’t, because it appealed to those who were shut out by the religious and political power structures of his day. There are always new visions of reality coming into being; what makes some of them different from the others is that the former find an audience who will give up everything they have for it — the others, if they find an audience at all, get the kind of middle class audience who think it’s all very interesting and then go on to the next entertainment.
As for Stephen Hawking, I listen to him when he talks about physics; on any other subject, he’s just another layman.
Richard, hmm. I’ll consider it, if the local library has a copy.
Andy, I took those (from memory) from an essay by JRR Tolkien, who almost certainly got them from Old Norse literature.
Kristiina, suffering’s only one of the things that can teach people to withdraw their projections, though admittedly it’s the most common way.
Vince, thanks for this. I find zombies dreary beyond words, so am probably the last person to ask why they’re popular!
Oilman, that’s a very good point. There have certainly been plenty of times and places in the past where people have simply had to buckle down and deal with things where they were, but it’s not something Americans grasp easily, or at all. You’re right that it will require a huge rethink.
Sub, and of course he was quite correct — the worship of progress is a good example. With regard to UFOs, it’s interesting that the silvery disk — the classic form in Jung’s time — stopped being sighted as the Cold War hit its diminuendo period, to be replaced by other visionary images…
Rudolf, that’s an excellent question; I don’t know enough about Hinduism to suggest an answer, but someone who does might consider writing a bit of alternative-history SF about it!
Prizm, hmm! That’s entirely plausible.
Crow, er, planets don’t orbit in straight lines…
Jim, that’s really quite funny. I’m surprised he didn’t accuse me of being a Communist sympathizer and a Blue Meanie while he was at it!
Toomas, thank you! That’s high praise.
Clay, hmm. Maybe.
Mac, er, I’m not familiar with the twelve types. Do you recall where Jung writes about them?
Jason, hmm as well. I certainly hope not.
David, yep. When I set out to imagine the Radiance for The Weird of Hali, I simply took the most extreme end of the militant rationalist-atheist scene and imagined them having the courage, funding, and organizational mojo to act out their fantasies.
Patricia, that was my sense as well. More generally, their theory only works — to the extent that it works at all — when applied to American history. I think it’s quite possible that other parts of the world have cycles of their own, quite possibly of different length.
Jennifer, do you think there’s any chance that those won’t simply turn into the next set of green bandaids?
Mark, exactly. All of them have riveted themselves to a dying system, and the usual results will be following in short order…
Drhooves, the thing that saddens me about Brin’s rant is how incoherent it is. The guy used to be able to reason clearly.
DFC, exactly. The thing is, the movement that ended up spawning German National Socialism was much more complex, and much more ambivalent, than it’s been made out to be in postwar propaganda. I may have to address that, if only because there are important tendencies in modern American life moving the same direction.
Sister Crow, yes, I thought of that also!
Cassandra, the problem with the rhetoric of a diamond shaped society is that it usually erases the fact that there are still more people at the bottom than in the middle — it’s just that their existence and sufferings are erased. (Listen to any modern American liberal if you want a good example of this in action). I’d prefer a model in which people at every point along the intersecting spectra of class, ethnicity, gender, etc. are encouraged to organize to defend their interests, and settle their disputes using the mechanisms of representative democracy. (It’s called “democratic syndicalism,” if you need a label for it.)
Armenio, good. In most falling civilizations, the barbarians really do turn out to be the better option, when the alternative is a fossilized bureaucratic system fixated on pumping every last drop of wealth and blood into the task of propping up a doomed and dysfunctional system. All in all, supporting a local warlord and his warband is cheaper and less intrusive than supporting an imperial bureaucracy — and down the empire goes.
Thymia17, I’m not quite sure of the connection between Jung and the tachyon chambers. As for his take on UFOs, I’d encourage you to read his essay, and then Patrick Harpur’s excellent book Daimonic Reality, which builds on his insights.
Iuval, xenophobia and xenophilia are permanently tangled together in the human psyche. Look at the number of people of both sexes who are sexually attracted to partners of different ethnic groups — and the more stigmatized the group, by and large, the more powerful the attraction. Trying to peel one of those away from the other inevitably generates a backlash. That is to say, it’s a much more complex phenomenon than any simple formula can summarize.
Extending Strauss and Howe’s work to the rest of the world is what John Xenkais did in Generational Dynamics and the draft of Generational Dynamics for Historians, both of which are free on the web – he put them into the public domain.
He identifies examples of the “80 year cycle,” as I call it, that are a bit longer than 50 years and a bit shorter than 120 years. There are a number of concepts in there that I find quite interesting, including the difference between “crisis wars” and “non-crisis wars,” as well as the supporting idea of “seams,” or fault lines, which are simply the divisions across which a Crisis War can occur. There are at least six seams in the US that the next Crisis War could occur across, although some of them seem to be quiescent.
As Patricia Matthews said, reading it is an exercise in separating the wheat from the chaff.
JMG: thank you very much for clarifying the nature of science/technology “advances”
……A.”technology settles into its mature form, which is often noticeably simpler than the last round of innovations would suggest….”
B. “the archetypal patterns that shape history don’t rise among the privileged…..it’s among the poor, the homeless, the despised, the neglected, that new realities are born.”
A. This is so true. As a scientist/engineer/lawyer watching the unfolding of “new technology!!!!” over the last 30 years it is very clear that later “innovations” often are completely unnecessary and at best, expensive hindrances that ruin the consumer experience. I have learned to live without TV many years ago but enjoy benefits of instantaneous communication on MY terms, same with the “smart!!!” phone, which gets pulled out of a seldom used drawer only when I have to visit a city to meet someone and need my own wifi for the computer on a train.
B. So true but not recognized. In my present role I am developing radically new, cheaper and more efficient solar energy distribution/use technology that merely goes back to basics and avoids unnecessary and expensive “innovations.”
I have had to abandon America (too sophisticated and desiring complicated expensive innovations that are completely unnecessary) and am building advanced (but too cheap) systems in Africa and India. Maybe after I (presumably) succeed there, Americans and other advanced areas can copy my retro technology.
I did not realize the significance of this latter concept until reading your essay. thanks.
“it’s among the poor, the homeless, the despised, the neglected, that new realities are born.” This seems to be true not only in politics but also in adoption of technology.
Why is this I wonder? It occurs to me that this is a consequence of the necessity of “reality check.” The “poor, the homeless, the despised, the neglected” deal with physical reality and get their reality check constantly. The golden ones are lost in a contrived forest of make believe comprising their televisions, cell phones, and fake mass media narratives. This is a fundamental contradiction that potentiates A and B above.
Armenio, there’s a whole industry of people out there trying to pretend that the rocketship future is still on its way. The mere fact that it’s not economically viable, and never will be, has no power over the faith of the true believer.
Patricia, no argument there. Gods take on very different characters in different places and times — think of all the different Jesuses that have been worshipped by one or another brand of Christianity, all the way from “gentle Jesus meek and mild” to the pale, wrathful lord of the dead at war with biological existence you get in Calvinism and the like. The Wotan of early twentieth century central Europe was a very distinctive figure, heavily influenced not only by Wagner but also by the Brothers Grimm and the Romantic movement’s fascination with the Wild Hunt et al. — he wasn’t simply a carbon copy of a dark age original.
Radha, that seems uncomfortably plausible to me.
Cliff, I’m not sure I’d agree about the Antichrist — he’s been trotted out and waved around to frighten crowds for a long, long time now, and the Left Behind series of a few years back may just have been his jump-the-shark moment. Ligotti is another matter. I’ve said more than once that I expect the Boomer generation to pup one last heavily mediagenic fad on its way out, and once it’s lost its grip on power, stage fashionable suicide parties in which everyone sits around listening to the music from their high school years and reminiscing before downing the vodka and the pills.
Dan, hmm. It honestly sounds as though he’s jealous.
Rita, that’s really funny. Thank you!
John, so noted. I’ll consider it when I have plenty of free time!
Marvin, I wish you the best of luck with your solar systems! I remember the very simple and efficient solar technologies that were common back when I was in my teens and twenties, when basement-workshop stuff coming out of the appropriate tech movement was the cutting edge, and compare it to the clunky overly complex offerings today, and I can only agree with your analysis. You’re likely right about the reality check, also — but there are other dimensions, too, which I’ll be exploring as we proceed.
“Funny thing how Greer’s cult just happens to wage war not just on science, journalism, teaching, medicine and every other fact-using caste — now including intel, FBI and military officers. I’d argue with him, seriously I would. But we are in Phase 8 of the Civil War…
…and I do not have time anymore for confederate trash.” ….. David Brin
Wow, just wow! I have noticed that Brin’s rants against those he disagrees with have become more and more shrill as of late and sometimes downright bizarre. Phase 8 of the Civil War? Greer as Confederate trash? WTF has he been smoking?
To me, this is a sign of just how defensive the high priests of the Holy Church of Progress are becoming, which is usually a sign of desperation. Eric Hoffer observed in The True Believer that as a belief system becomes increasingly untenable, its defenders tend to become increasingly strident and irrational in trying to defend it. Brin’s recent screeds are a classic example of that phenomenon in action. They remind me of nothing so much as the little boy who sticks his fingers in his ears and yells “I can’t hear you!” at the top of his lungs when someone tries to tell him something he doesn’t want to hear. Brin and others who are still preaching the Gospel of Progress are whistling past the graveyard.
@ Arnemio and Greer:
Elon Musk just announced he is abandoning plans to send an expedition to Mars due to high costs and technical difficulties. Instead, he is now pitching a lunar mission, saying “To really get the public real fired up, I think we’ve got to have a base on the moon”.
In other words, more bovine scatology from Musk, whose companies have never turned a profit and whose business ventures depend almost entirely on government subsidies and investment capital from the suckers who buy into his marketing hype.
Oops, meant to say Armenio…
You have beaten historic cycles into smithereens at your old blog. I never got involved in that, mainly because it seemed obvious to me. I have traveled a LOT, and been to most countries a time or two at least. In many, I stayed off the beaten track due to work (drilling for oil) and there were only locals to deal with for many things.
What it taught me is that most of humanity lives at the bottom and just above it in most countries. Most governments are hated (Libya was an exception, as was/is Malaysia) and people do their best to ignore them. I just finished reading Malazan Book of the Fallen, and there were lots of scenes and characters that fit into that view of government and even empire.
My question is, since you already stated that warbands might be preferred over declining empire – is everything else an eventual climb towards empire? Historically, that seems to be the norm.Yet we ‘commoners’ only really have a say when we revolt against the current oligarchs, aristocracy or whatever overclass gets too far into our pockets and happiness. Only rarely is there a benevolent overclass or monarch, and then he/they are pulled down by corrupt, envious others.
Even now, in this country, we are faced with having to wait until it collapses of its own filthy weight or outright revolution. But then we are back to warbands or fiefdoms and then on to another big government and then to empire – either our own or another.
You have read things I haven’t, as have others. But to me this seems the cycle of things in this world. Has this chain ever been broken?
The archtype is Avatar. Shiva coming to turn the age, or vishnu to keep it? Sorry that’s an incomplete thought that’s been buzzing around in my head since I read this article.
Is there anything we can do at the ground level to keep the worse archtypes from manifesting in our localities? All this talk of violence and civil war has me uncomfortable.
I can’t help but think of Shelley’s “Ozymandias” as well.
The main use I got from the Harari book “Sapiens” was the explicit tie that capitalism has to needing to believe in a “better” future in order to exist, specifically the existence of credit as the tool for growth. Having read TAR for many years I would be puzzled by the vitriol that referring to “progress” as a myth would encounter. You have talked about it in so many different ways and it makes sense to me, so I couldn’t understand the anger it encounters. Reading his book reminded me of how much our society depends on the myth in order to function on a daily basis.
If people don’t believe in a better or growing tomorrow then debt and all of its attributes becomes untenable.
@Migrantharvester, I’m so glad I wasn’t the only one to think of the Dragon, Unicorn, Phoenix essay! Had I the resources, i would arrange for our host and Jordan Peterson to have a long discussion kicked off by that essay. As it is, I’ll settle for sharing how I think Jordan’s interpretation would begin, and how I think it relates to the discussion at hand.
Where stories about dragons involve overcoming an impossibly dangerous enemy, stories about unicorns involve catching an impossibly elusive quarry. This archetype certainly seems to be entering popular culture – unicorn hunting is a popular pastime among Silicon Valley investors, where ‘unicorn’ is the popular name for any private company valued at a billion dollars. Even the Harry Potter books put the ‘seeker’ in a central role to the setting’s main diversion. If we are living through a transition from Dragon to Unicorn, I would guess our heroes would become more Percival and Galahad, less George and Lancelot. The central challenges of our times would become less about defeating its villains and more about solving its riddles. I see this blog as one answer to that call, a sturdy lantern in a forbidding forest. Given the nature of the challenges before us, an obsessive search for solutions seems like a much better response than bashing whomever might be to blame.
Of course, given that hunting unicorns requires going unprotected into the dark wood – or sea – the lure of the final frontier is likely to become stronger, not weaker, as the transition progresses. I do not think though, that even the bulk of the blame for this urge can be laid at the feet of the god progress. Despite his infuriating fanatics, corrupt priesthood, and two-edged gifts, progress is a god I’ll still happily burn a stick of incense and a fist of dollars for. I hope my pantheon always has room for a god of better tomorrows, even – nay, especially – if it requires a rethinking of what we mean by ‘better’. I would still call that progress.
When I visit the forums frequented by the acolytes of Progress, I see a sizable minority nailing protests to his church-doors. A far more inviolate assumption seems to be the belief in economic growth. To many progressives, moving beyond Earth seems no more than an answer to the question of how the economy can grow indefinitely on a finite planet. That the problem lies with the ‘grow indefinitely’ rather than the ‘finite planet’ is the kind of rethinking I hope comes out of an age of the unicorn. But of course, that is just a starting point – if how to live well within our means is an easy first question, why we’re so bad at finding an answer may be a worthy second.
With regard to Brin’s inability to reason as of late, I’ve noticed the same thing with a large number of people. There are times when it almost feels like the believers in the myth of progress have acquired some form of collective insanity….
The really weird part is looking at his older work, where a lot of things seem to be well thought out, nuanced, and nothing like what he’s like now. It’s almost like he became a whole different person.
Patricia– The thing is, I didn’t come up with the Seven– they’re from a list commonly used by historians of the Seven Most Important Fathers. It struck me that they picked the rather significant number seven, not six or eight, though I’m sure they’d all tell you that it was a purely rational decision… So to fit them into the planets, some shoehorning has to be done. So none of them really work as Venus.
Of course if you open it up, then there are all sorts of possibilies– Aaron Burr as Loki, arranging the death of Hamilton-Baldr, Tom Paine as Prometheus…
I often think that if you come back to North America in 500-1000 years, the stories of the Founders, plus a number of additions real and fictional, will somewhat resemble the Court of King Arthur– And every American sub-nation will have its own preferred Founder and its own unique spin on the myths, in the same way that the Welsh Round Table is different from Thomas Mallory’s.
Eric, yeah, that was kind of my impression, too. “In the Graveyard of Progress” would make a nice title for an upcoming post, too! With regard to Musk, if even he’s backing away from Mars, I think the graveyard in question is going to be sporting a new tombstone soon, labeled “Man In Space.”
Oilman, empires rise where they can. Before the industrial age — and thus, in all probability, after it — that meant rather less than half of the world; the rest tended to be left to its own devices, and to modes of social organization that were, all things considered, less expensive for those on the bottom who always have to cover the costs. The thing is, human beings are a very mixed bag; they behave toward one another, no matter what the social system, with a mix of caring and callousness, kindness and brutality. It’s fashionable to suggest that this can be changed by putting the right system in place, but I have my doubts…
Varun, we’ll be talking about that in some detail in upcoming posts.
Candace, that’s a very good point. Of course you’re quite right; capitalism only works in a growth economy, because otherwise the parasite (the financial economy) kills the host (the productive economy). The thing is, it’s already ending. I know a lot of people, and the number increases every year, who are bailing out of the mainstream economy, going underground, being paid under the table, etc; in a failing capitalist economy, that’s a very good way to maximize the benefits you receive, since you’re no longer being squeezed to keep the system propped up — and as that accelerates, it could bring the system down (or see it stuffed and mounted) all by itself.
Will, I know. His earlier writings are very cogent. I suspect the cognitive dissonance is just getting too extreme.
My bad, JMG. I am going to have to do real reading. As to the 12 Archetypes, I think I got taken in by a New Age site. Let the “surfer” beware, eh? Mac the embarrassed
Dear Patricia Matthews, About Strauss and Howe and their knowledge of English history, I was startled to see that murderous intriguer Henry VII described by them as a “brave young monarch”.
Things to note:
Some of us astrologers have taken note of these kind of generational archetypes. You might have in your wanderings come across general observations of this being a function of outer planets, i.e. “time lords”. For instance, I believe astrologer Jem Neal made an interesting post on how types of horror movies reflect images which arise out of the subconscious of those born in a Pluto placement since it has a generational effect, such as the Libra in Pluto generation being responsible for the popularity of such fare as Twilight, in the image of the romantic vampire (given that Libra is ruled by Venus.)
Also, Brin’s post might need greater context. Everything you’ve mentioned is correct, but to those not enmeshed in the writing community Brin circulates in, one might not be aware that there has been a large number of battles waged between writers divided along socio-political lines, so the underlying assumption of his argument is anyone subscribing to things like The Fourth Turning must by default be conservative, which in literary circles these days is more often than not conflated with Republican/white/male/misogynist/racist. I find it somewhat ironic as Brin’s excellent book “The Postman” is hardly a portrait of a civilization sitting bestride the stars, and is a must read in post-apocalyptic fiction. (Of course, one may muse that the “progress” Brin commends puts his postman out of business, and would instead become “The Email Server.” I’d like to see Kevin Costner make a 3 hour epic out of that!)
Which locations would be susceptible to climate-induced mass emigration?
CS Lewis addressed the rise of scientism and their association with the demonic powers in That Hideous Strength. Without spooling the plot for those who haven’t read it, let me just say the planetary intelligences are ultimately involved In defeating the transhumanists.
Esteemed Archdruid, you wrote: “As I watch the fantasies and restless dreams of my own culture, what I see looks far more like a death than a birth.” Woahh, this thought and several others in the comments led me to realize the disconnect between what many of my associates & neighbors have said and what they have done. Central, in my thoughts at least, to the American Dream is the notion of, as mentioned in the comments, “the mythic image of the frontiersman.” This seems to oftentimes express itself in the dreams of numerous Americans to retire to a Mythic Isolated Castle in the least-populated crannies of our fair land. Both the retired cop across the street and my flight project supervisor aspire to moving out of California to uninhabited regions of Arizona (think 80 miles from Flagstaff for an image.) Where the “woahh” came from is the reaction by many people over the years to my various activities. For many decades, I’ve journeyed out into various wildernesses (Sierra Nevada, Mojave Desert, American Southwest, just for examples) and, as John Muir put it, to “Climb[ed] the mountains and [gotten] their good tidings.” Almost without exception, people have greeted my journeys as being dangerous, risky, and downright baffling. “Why do you go out for days and sleep on the ground?”, they ask. My wife, quite an adventuress in her own right, gets the same sort of quietly-disapproving or astonished comments when she tells co-workers about our latest bike tour or hike. Even if people don’t overtly point out how dangerous and uncomfortable our travels must be, they are oftentimes bewildered why we would do such things. When she rides her bike to the grocery store, people are dumbfounded: “Don’t you get sweaty? Isn’t that dangerous?” It’s as if all those American Dreamers dreaming of life on the Wild Frontier don’t realize that the Wild is right under their noses!
I never quite realized I’ve been actually DOING what the Mythic Frontiersman archetype seems to embody. All these years, I just saw myself (and more recently my lovely wife) as a quirky oddball who liked to do strange edgy stuff. To think that I may be a rare example of what many people say they aspire to causes me to pause and ask myself just what causes such a powerful disconnect between people’s aspirations and their actions. Hiking, meditating, bike riding, yoga: these are all things available to every American to practice. How come so few do? It’s almost as if practicing the things people say they want to do is forbidden by some mysterious social rule.
@radha: “We learn in zombie shows, there is no shame in killing or tossing aside these dirty monsters”.
A friend recently shared a link to a story from 2011, about a Dubai-based company offering cruises off Somalia. The selling point that the customers could outfit themselves with all kinds of advanced weaponry, with which to mow down any pirates who attacked the boat (the yacht was designed to look attractive to pirates, who are of course mostly impoverished fishermen in that part of the world). Who knows, perhaps the business model will spread to other parts of the world? See gadling.com/2011/04/01/dubai-tour-company-offers-pirate-hunting-cruises-off-horn-of-afr/
Also @radha, JMG and others, re: zombies. Like many popular tropes, zombies reflect the fears of their times. The rise in popularity may of course be a response to the rise in the number of the poor. Recently, though, I’ve been wondering whether it isn’t about the dramatic increase in mental illness throughout the Western world. People in all kinds of jobs, professional as well as low–income, are trapped in jobs which give no satisfaction or autonomy, knowing their employer puts no value on them apart from their productivity, but which they don’t dare leave. Add that to social isolation, and life truly becomes a joyless curse. Add to that that – as I’ve seen – if someone suffering from acute stress or depression tries to talk about what they’re experiencing, even long-term friends will avert their gaze and stop calling: they’re afraid of ‘infection’. There are many, many zombies among us today, desiring and/or resenting others who are enjoying the fullness of life which they themselves are denied.
Brin’s idea of the triumph of science seems to involve spreading Manichean Apocalypticism to the galaxy.
Funny idea of progress, eh?
Hope Sara and your good self are settling into your new place? Is anyone brewing any good dark ale in your neck of the world?
In some ways, I have been rather fortunate that as a child the adults around me were so busy with their own lives and dramas that they forgot to indoctrinate me. Good stuff and I wonder if all of the “busy” parents that I see around me now realise what the consequences of that particular policy may be? Fortunately for the kids, they seem to be plonked in front of screens for hours and hours.
Interestingly enough, I did mention to you after the Brexit and then again the Trump results that the pollsters and media pundits should be sacked – all of them, because they got it so wrong. And I have been rather disturbed of late, that that particular message doesn’t quite yet seemed to have gotten into their heads.
I will definitely purchase a copy of your new book when it is released, and I look forward to reading your interpretation of any potential new beginning. And yes, you don’t need to convince me that the opposite of one bad idea can be another bad – or even worse – idea. I hear you! I see a lot of apathy leading to corruption and I find that to be particularly worrying. Oh well.
Anyway, I’m no activist and am too busy (there is that misused word again!) getting this place together. I hope you are not missing your quince tree and garden? There is hopefully always time to plant more trees and start a new garden.
I’m considering writing about population pressures this week as I spotted a rather disturbing news item about our most precious resource of all down here – water.
JMG, of course the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire is a good example. I didn’t think of it at first. And ist a good example of the situation, in which we are now: During the time, in which the Roman Empire was at its height, around 150, there were many new religious cults of which Christianity was only a small part. Nobody at this time could have foreseen that it would become the dominant religion of the Dark Ages.
This essay is very insightful and reminds me of the basic insight of phenomenology: “From what rests on the surface one is led to the depths” (Edmund Husserl, 1859-1938). I am also familiar with Jung’s work on archetypes. I certainly hope that “the vision of humanity made omnipotent through technology” is on the way out, and look forward to hear your perception of what might be a new culture of improved human relations.
Apparently Musk was tweeting about building an underground “hyperloop” (whatever that is) between all the major east coast cities, promising NYC to DC in 29 minutes. (Obviously it will take 45 minutes to get through security, but I’m sure that’s just nitpicking!) Anyway, the reaction seems to be a bit bemused by various transportation officials and mayors, as if they clearly understand that this is never going to happen. I see that as a pretty serious shift. A very wise professor once told me, “the gods are what we will not laugh at.” Musk appears to be mortal after all.
NB: whenever I hear someone pontificate about the Tesla I insist that they call it a coal powered car and one that energetically compares very poorly to a Civil War era locomotive.
“As for Stephen Hawking, I listen to him when he talks about physics; on any other subject, he’s just another layman. “
Lay person or not, I found Stephan Hawking’s article to be very thoughtful and insightful. I think he made some excellent points that relate to this week’s post and the idea of creating “new visions of reality.” I particularly agreed with his comment that “We need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations. If we are to stand a chance of doing that, the world’s leaders need to acknowledge that they have failed and are failing the many. With resources increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, we are going to have to learn to share far more than at present.”
I think this is a very important idea that must be shared if our world has any hope of avoiding catastrophic collapse.
I think a new vision of reality must be a shared vision of reality, and this requires effort to communicate with people having different viewpoints. This week’s post brings up the issue of the myth of perpetual progress, and how people close their mind in denial rather than opening to new solutions. How do we find a way forward towards a future in which people come together through shared ideas, stories, and myths, in order to create a new vision of what our future might be?
I am reminded of the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11:1–9. Stephen Hawking’s article discusses the ivy tower based on science and technology, believing that we are invincible, and what problems this has created for the ‘many’. I think about how the internet has allowed more people than at any time in history to communicate information across the globe, yet the drumbeat of dissident voices are becoming increasingly strident, and there is talk of war because people cannot tolerate the differences. So many voices vying to be heard creating ‘babel’ of confusion that assails us at a time when we need more than ever to be quiet and listen.
Stephen Hawking also launched a website (https://www.unlimited.world) in which he asks others to consider what we should value as a society, why we must question what we mean by wealth and what we must retain to be inherently human. He wrote: “We need to develop maps to help us explore this uncharted territory, in which humanity could take a great leap forward, and be thrust back into a darker age.” What a prescient statement! Yes, he is clearly a member of the ‘humans are God’s’ tribe as he goes on to say “I am an optimist, because I believe that the capacity of the human species to explore and discover and question is truly Unlimited. That if we work together there is nothing that we cannot understand or achieve.” I can’t agree with that statement, but none of us are perfect in our perception!
I consider myself an optimist that is tempered by realism. I understand that Homo sapiens are well adapted to explore, discover, and question; however; I don’t believe there is “nothing we cannot understand or achieve”. I understand that like all life forms we have limits. II often think of the Serenity Prayer because it reminds me that serenity is found in balance, knowing what we are and are not capable of changing, doing what we can, but recognizing and accepting our limits.
I’d like to think it possible for us to stretch our limits, to “reach for the stars”, surely a metaphor for reaching for ones dreams, not a reality that means we want to live on Mars! I think our strength and beauty as a species is our ability to imagine and to share our imaginations with each other. Fiction of all genres is an expression of our imagination and should be encouraged not limited or discouraged. I’d like to believe everyone can have the opportunity and freedom to dream, to love, to laugh and to live without fear of starvation and violence. I would like to believe that our innate curiosity and sense of adventure can lead us to explore and discover the mysteries right outside our front door. I’d like to believe humans will learn to cherish the beauty of this amazing world in which we live, and to become better stewards before it’s too late. This is the vision of the future I’d like to believe is possible.
I’d also like to believe that Homo sapiens will still be on the planet 100,000 years from now, but I’m willing to concede that it is entirely possible we won’t be, and that none of my beliefs will be the reality that unfolds. So even though I disagree with Hawking on some parts of his article I’d give his efforts a solid B+ for attempting to get his tribe, the elite scientific minds, to think about where our civilization is heading, and suggest a course correction. I admire his effort to start a conversation that may very well plant the seeds of a shared vision for the future that will benefit the many not only the mighty.
PS. John, I still can’t get your tip jar to work!
Bestriding the stars sounds decidedly uncomfortable. Even with an asbestos saddle blanket: it gives new meaning to the term “hot rod.” Presumably, one mounts a star like a pinto pony and rides off into the west. Oh, wait a tick–which way is west? Sunset just ain’t a happening place out here in space. Which is exactly the point. No sunset-drowning of the evening lands, right? Sure hope that sun-spotted pony eats dark matter and other roadside trash. Otherwise, it’s going to be a short ride. Space cowboys eat space beans, then burn the methane effluents as forward propellents. Eco-Logical! Space plants supply the necessary oxygen, of course. Fusion meets confusion with scientifically predictable results. Now, where did I put that banner with the strange device? And why doesn’t it ripple bravely in the gusts of solar wind? Alpha Centauri Ho! Excelsior! I said, Excelsior, you mangy two-toned son of a lop-eared mule and a backward buffalope! Giddy-up! Still, no? Houston, we have a problem here.
I am fascinated not only by imperial likenesses harking back to the Romans, e.g. Continental Europe’s now disappeared Czars & Kaisers (JMG’s comment), but also by the lingering theologies embedded in European Christian authority – each interpretation contending for a dominant ‘world view’ from 5th century onwards; salvation, predestination, original sin and so on, and latterly Calvinism. (See the different Jesus gods as eloquently sketched by JMG in a comment.) Arguably, America has more of these anachronistic, contentious but flourishing artifacts still embedded in the group psyche, assuming such a thing exists. Which Jesus lives?
I look to Scotland as a European example where we might expect similar powerful if conflicting interpretations of human and gods. Scotland got Calvin via John Knox and converted violently enough, violating previous decent norms amid great dereliction and loss. I think we can fairly describe this as a prototype ‘modernisation’. What was left, however, seems to have evolved a bit. The continental Germanic Wotan wind passed us by, although forced migration (mostly into urbanisation) and participation in war, and latterly de-industrialisation leave indelible marks and there is a faint resemblance in the nationalist myth. NB Thank you Patricia, if I have understood you correctly, for the notion of diluted Germanic archetype where Christianity long had indigenous continuity in the British Isles. The old languages contributed their continuities to the English Christian literature. I live close by where Ebba (Eva) founded her monastery / nunnery with the help of Irish monks who had cared for her and her royal brothers in exiled childhood in the Western Isles of Scotland. See also both Latin and runes carved a little later on the same 7th C Anglian stone cross: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/scottishhistory/darkages/trails_darkages_angles2.shtml
In Scotland, despite a common Germanic inheritance including the majority language and a Protestant / Catholic conflict, there are examples where Knox (originally a violation?) has been an aide to survival of decencies. Seemingly the religion has been internalised into a spiritual promise integral with the survival of a small community. The violating god in this case was 21st C invasive corporate power. Such a Scottish example has been likened to other threatened indigenous communities in North America and elsewhere. My guess is that in the Scottish situation, theology is subsidiary to ‘practice’; one example given is Gaelic protestant church liturgy and psalm singing and Sabbath, holding a community together. (‘Place, Ecology and the Sacred’, Northcott, 2015)
JMG’s insights suggest the 20th Century Wotan wind took energy from 19th Century narratives: quote; “Wotan of early twentieth century central Europe was a very distinctive figure, heavily influenced not only by Wagner but also by the Brothers Grimm and the Romantic movement’s fascination with the Wild Hunt et al…” I would like to add to this list; what Churchill called ‘the lights of perverted science”..Just a thought on ‘perverted science’: I think America and probably the rest of us (in my case the grandchildren) can really fear some of this during the next century. There is still a lot of fuel and I mean the actual stuff, left in the industrial machine whether or not it crashes and burns. ‘Science’ has every propensity to turn round and bite if cornered. Climate engineering, for example, might be the least of it.
“…because interstellar travel plays the same role in the secular religion of progress—the established faith of our age—that the Second Coming of Christ plays in Christian theology. It’s the point at which all the unfulfilled promises come true, and all the conflicts between the world portrayed by doctrine and the world encountered in experience are resolved at last.”
Very perceptive, John. I like that comparison. In other words, the obsessive belief that we are destined to go to the stars is simply another form of Millenialism.
I always enjoy your very thoughtful blogs, John.
John Michael, “when your son is old enough to follow it, you might give him a copy of Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn”
I think the time is just about right for this now – thank you!!
when I first read your post and tried to process it, I thought that what you were getting at is that we have an opportunity here to ‘inject’ a new archetype into our cultural consciousness, as we are at a bit of an inflection point here with the old one on its way out. But upon further reflection, that may be oversimplification at best. I don’t think that is your point at all, or how archetypes even operate.
The situation right now seems to resemble what you have discussed previously on one of the old blogs: a double bind. On one hand, the cultural voices of authority are still claiming that shining “Progress” is still available for all interested parties. Yet the daily experience of many is the complete opposite – poverty, loss, disintegration. The emotional stress of trying to obey the command to progress, and being completely unsuccessful at every try, has resulted in debilitating anxiety in many people. We can see from the increasing levels of depression and medication for so-called mental illnesses that there is a very unhealthy situation playing out – a breeding ground for resentment, jealousy and anger. We have already witnessed the rise of a populist leader who took advantage of this situation, but when he (more than likely) fails to bring about any significant changes in the day to day lives of the people who supported him, what then? If this powerful disaffected emotional energy is what will be responsible for bringing about the birth of new archetypes, it seems unlikely that it will be a better or more positive one at all; in fact just the opposite. You can see the path, bumpy thought it may be, from here to war bands. Still stuck in those cycles of history…
I think it is only from a position of considerable privilege that we could expect to see anything better emerge. It would in all likelihood be highly desirable and beneficial to see a new archetype based on nature, stewardship, sustainability. But for the people whose lives right now are consumed by the harsh realities of survival – getting enough food, affording medical care, avoiding being shot at etc. – to assume that they will be motivated by such things seems foolhardy at best.
So where is the middle ground here? I suppose localized pockets of different (better?) archetypes emerging in different regions, dependent on how affected they have been by the process of collapse. Subcultures based on archetypes which have been derived from more positive emotional energy? From what you’ve said, that doesn’t seem to be the way archetypes work. Sigh. May not be that brighter of a future ahead. I’m interested to hear your views on the shape of the new archetype(s) which will emerge.
I had a weird thought, but now I’m wondering if our society’s inability to address issues on Earth are related to the dream we will go to the stars. After all, what’s the harm in damaging the Earth? It’s just one world out of billions. We’ll get a replacement if things get too bad….
I don’t think it is that people are poor or have a crappy job. There are many poor people and many people in crappy jobs and they are not mentally ill. Poverty has been part and parcel of human existence since civilization began. Crappy jobs have always been and will likely always be – but you do get to walk away from a job after you get finished, even if you go back the next day and do it again.
While I don’t think this is an American-centric thing, I do think Americans have a proclivity towards depression, escapism and fantasy.
Americans have some very unrealistic expectations inculcated in their psyche, including many of them amalgamated in the frontier and explorer archetypes. We have been indoctrinated in school, home and via Hollywood with these expectations. Unfortunately, we live in a world where there isn’t much new “under the sun” to explore or conquer – we live on a finite, well known, watery ball in space. As JMG indicated, we have been heavily brow beaten into believing in self reliance and independence, which is not always a good thing when facing change and collapse. We do better in social groups, as that is how we evolved and did the entire civilization thing.
Equality is another dead end, as we are not born equal in any sense of the word, other than we are born of sperm and egg and on this planet. One look at the average IQ scores for each country will allay that misconception. One look at the variance in musculature or stature among all populations will further disabuse it. When we toss birthed social status into the mix, innate equality is decimated as a rational concept. Yet in America, this has been quite literally beaten into the consciousness. You can see this today, run to the extreme, in the social justice warrior tribe.
My gut says there is a lack of spirituality or else a spiritual void that many Americans can’t seem to fill. Many have abandoned western religion and adopted the religion of atheism. Others espouse Christianity and yet are disenchanted in the extreme with the church being just another business model. Most are agnostic, and people living and thriving in agnosticism are also completely materialistic, as that is what is left when you do not believe in anything.
I think mental illness, drug dependence, fantasy escapism, sexual addiction and many other ills can be laid at the feet of agnosticism and/or atheism. If you believe in nothing more than what is in front of you, then you are left with the material world only.
I am not trying to offend anyone, or to hold up any religious belief. What I see is that without any belief in something other than the immediate physical world, then you are left with one thing – the physical world. And that is materialism.
I don’t think that is working out so well for humanity. And that may be why Americans are having such a tough time. Unrealistic expectations, no faith in anything or faith collapsing as they realize their religion is actually a business. And now their world is revealed to be made predominantly of bovine excrement every time they read or hear any news. I would say that could drive a person to drink or edge over into some aberrant behavior, if that is all one has in their world.
Regarding the search for the cat, perhaps scientists are following the Drunkard’s Principle (aka, the Streetlight Effect) or are willing victims of the McNamara Fallacy?
After following ADR for a few years I’ve started to listen to audio books about dead empires while doing farming chores. So far I’ve gotten most of the way through Ed Gibbon, while finishing Napoloeon (a life), and GK (making of a modern world). Any suggestions about which civilizations to tap into next? I also thought you had a reading list somewhere, but maybe that went away with the old blogs.
BTW I really liked Dark Age America, Decline and Fall, and Ecotechnic Future on paper. On audio book they go way too fast, though. I generally try to go for 15 hours minimum length that will keep me busy at work for a few days without searching for a new title. I do reload them every once in a while as a reminder for why the lifestyle changes are important. Living in an urban liberal bubble means signs of collapse are more easily ignored, so occasional reminders to stay focused are very valuable.
While ‘Mending Wall’ was ostensibly questioning the existence of that fence, in the poem the neighbor says, “Good fences make good neighbors” twice. It is the only thing repeated in the poem. I have always felt that the heart of the poem was not the questioning part, but the insistent persistence of that line, to pass on the wisdom of an elder.
I don’t want a singular culture, and I don’t think it is healthy for our species. That does not mean we cannot cooperate and share, but as in a good, working marriage – each needs their own ‘space’. Genetics teaches the same lesson – too closed is bad, yet too open is as well – a balance is needed..
From where I sit, much of the stridency is from those either wanting a complete miscegenation of world cultures and those who believe that their own cultures are good and deserve to be maintained. This may be a facet of the resistance to globalism – so be it.
The issue with science, in general, is that it is closed. It is almost like a separate kingdom, and one where secrecy is maintained behind pages of code-like double-speak. And within the science kingdom, you have diplomats like Tyson and Nye, who are very poor representatives to the outsiders.
Some of this is basically that a large segment of the populace just doesn’t have the capacity to digest the science, much less extrapolate the ramifications – and the Tyson-Nye diplomats “break it down” for them, but not always correctly or honestly. Another is that many people honestly “don’t want to hear the science” of things. They are content to have some official tell them what it means.
Both of these are problematic for science, and for intelligent cooperation.
Which is why I think good fences make good neighbors. Gates take care of the rest, but it’s good to see Hawking unlocking one.
Does anyone remember the fad for biorhythms? In brief, the theory was that each person had cycles of physical, emotional and intellectual energy of set lengths. In its most popularized form, back in the 80s, you entered your birth date and could then calculate where you were in each cycle–up in the physical, a good time to exercise; down for intellect, try to reschedule that math exam, etc. It seemed obvious nonsense to me since it did not allow for any outside events to reset a cycle. Since, as a woman, I was aware that the menstrual cycle is easily affected by outside events, such as stress or illness, not to mention pregnancy, it seemed unlikely to me that one’s other cycles would chug merrily along regardless of illness, accident, nutrition, etc.
When I read The Fourth Turning I had the same reaction. Even if one accepts that cultures undergo cycles, which I do, it seems unlikely that the cycles would be rigidly predictable. After all, the Incas and Aztecs presumably had their cultural cycles going on when, out of the blue, men with horses, guns and small pox appeared and completely altered the natural course of their history.
this is most interesting.
It would seem that in the past the combination of dominant archtypes first manifested itself in pop culture.
I wonder if the current wave of dreadfully boring and formulaic zombie and vampire novels and films
and the obsession with death in low brow music like a lot of heavy metal, have anything to say about our future.
Can’t wait to find out where you will take us with this series of posts.
Matthew, would you care to expand on that a little? 😉
Mac, don’t worry about it. I was wondering if Jung might have given a list of twelve archetypes somewhere that I’d missed. (The only such list I recall, and it’s partial, is in the lyrics of Donovan’s song Atlantis…)
Junco, yes, I’m familiar with the roles of outer planets in shaping popular culture, especially when combined with inception charts. As for the recent brawling among writers, yes, I follow that from a distance; one of the pervasive problems, there as elsewhere, is the kind of frankly totalitarian logic on both sides that insists that there’s only one set of beliefs, opinions, reading material, etc. that is acceptable for any given political viewpoint, and if you vary from the acceptable list, you must be a Blue Meanie or what have you. In a post on the Well of Galabes some time back, I critiqued that sort of thing as McCarthyist guilt by association; I may need to discuss it again.
Dazhuang2, all of them, including the place you live right now, and any place you might decide to relocate. The sooner you get over the fantasy that you can escape the consequences of our civilization’s decline and fall by moving somewhere else, the sooner you’ll be able to start pursuing options that matter.
Cookie, yep. I should probably do a post about that one of these days! (Anyone who’s read that novel, and also turned the pages of The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth, will know why a certain organization in the latter book is based in Belbury Hall…)
Bryan, ding! We have a winner; you get tonight’s gold star for pointing out one of the crucial unmentioned realities of our time. The gap between what people say they believe and what they actually do, huge as it is, isn’t simply hypocrisy — it’s based on a far deeper disconnect. The next time you get that reaction, you might consider pointing out the mismatch to the person who’s talking, and seeing what kind of reaction you get!
You’re welcome. You may find the American media conception of zombies boring, but I was converted years ago to paying attention to the phenomenon, enough that I have an entire category of posts devoted to the zombie apocalypse on my blog. Your readers seem to be interested in the topic, too. Just like the two other times I documented conversations in your comments section, once the subject came up, your readers ran with it. I am very tempted to respond to them, but I think I will learn more by reading (listening) than I will by typing (talking). In particular, the connections to poverty and famine are new ones to me. Instead, I will merely note that the person most responsible for the idea of the zombie apocalypse, George Romero, died on Sunday. May he rest in peace and not rise from the dead to eat us.
Greetings, Aloysius Snuffleupagus. Please give my regards to the huge yellow ratite, as well as to the Pointer Sisters, who taught my children to count. I recommend The Great Wave by David Hackett-Fischer, for a somewhat different take on the same material. Hackett-Fischer charts prices and relates the fall of civilizations to that variable. Mostly, he concerns himself with Europe and North America, but on that ground, his arguments and observations are quite interesting. I believe he was the person who pointed out that the day the Bastille fell was the day bread reached its’ highest price ever. (Balzac seemed to think there was a conspiracy of flour merchants, see Pere Goriot for details). There are those now who are speaking of the “Hackett-Fischer/Sen” moment when a starving populace revolts.
I decided to do my own work JMG. I got a copy of “Archetypes and the Collective Unconcious.” What an eye opener. Jung was not your typical psychiatrist, eh?
Good to hear!
I’ve had sometime to flesh out the rattle of thoughts floating around in my head regarding the archetype of the change. In Hinduism Shiva is often associated with vagabonds, mendicants, and beggars. He’s often looked upon as strange for the kind of company he often keeps.
In one story Shiva is marching to the house of fiancée Parvati, the daughter of Himavan and Mena. The procession following him is comprised of ghosts, goblins, monsters of various kinds, mendicants and beggars, all celebrating their masters upcoming wedding. Himavan, king of the mountains, and Mena are quite put off by this sight, but still cordially greet Shiva and throw him a grand feast.
Anyway, Shiva is the destroyer and regenerator of cycles. His avatars are plenty, and Hindu scholars have spent endless hours debating on which figures in the vast mythos of India are his avatars. An avatar is the embodiment of a god or goddess, a being that manifests physically, but what is psychical really? Could the violence that swept over Europe not be considered the physical embodiment of the archetype, that is the avatar, of that era? Each era has several different archetypes, all competing to become the dominant one. We don’t create the archetypes anymore than we created the gods, however we are the soil into which they grow. That is to say that they manifest, at least partially, through us.
Then there exists the Gurus who also don’t create the archetypes, but who may have a special bond or connection with one or more of the avatars trying to manifest. The guru then seeks understanding, through meditation and prayer. In some cases the, such as with Buddha and Christ, the guru themselves become the embodiment of the archetype, they become or are avatars. In most other cases, such as with Abraham or Mohammad, they simply became the transmitters of the archetype to the masses. In some cases the masses successfully help the avatar manifest, in others the avatar may only become a minor manifestation, and in still others the avatar fails to manifest because it is out-competed by another.
Whatever the case, the birth of an avatar may not necessarily be pleasant.
From the discussions on your blog we can see that there are multiple avatars starting to manifest. We all fear that the soil is most suited to the most unpleasant of the manifestations.
That the new archetypes would manifest among the poor seems to fit with your talk about norse paganism potentially playing a large part in the cultural future here in america. I’m not sure if its a data point you’ve considered on the issue but the ‘metal’ genre of music does seem relevant.
A good number of my friends are metalheads(all working class) and if you tell them something like:
“Wotan is the Wild Huntsman, the Lord of the Slain, the Glutter of the Crows, the god of magic, madness, and death…” or similarly that Odin’s name can be translated as “Master of Ecstacy” or “The Furious”, that he is the patron deity of outcasts, berserkers, AND kings, that “as a war-god Odin is principally concerned not with the reasons behind any given conflict or even its outcome but rather with the raw chaotic battle-frenzy that permeates any such agonism.”(to take a quote from Dan McCoy’s norse-mythology.org)
The response you’re likely to get is some variation of, “F—ing Metal!”
Used the same way others might say “Hard-Core!”
The more I learn about the norse and germanic heathenry(and I am very drawn to it personally) the more I think the majority of the metal sub-culture is channeling the deep unconscious feelings that led their ancestors to worship Odin.
Some of the bands seem pretty obvious about this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARnBgW5XgSo (look at the view counts)
Plenty other bands dont explicitly use viking imagery but there seems to be a familiar undercurrent.
‘Mosh-Pits’ for instance? Drinking and fighting(en-masse) for fun doesnt seem out of place:
The nature of the music itself too.
The guttural vocals were always what kept me from really getting into the genre, but they also seem to fit. The growls, screams, and squeals seem to go pretty well with Odin’s connection to the berserkers: “He maintains particularly close affiliations with the berserkers and other “warrior-shamans” whose fighting techniques and associated spiritual practices center around achieving a state of ecstatic unification with certain ferocious totem animals, usually wolves or bears, and, by extension, with Odin himself, the master of such beasts.” (also from norse-mythology.org)
It could be I’m wrong but it seems similar to the worship of Santa Muerte in mexico, only instead of a poor country filled with violence from the drug trade we’re a rich country thats mostly peaceful(drug related violence being condensed in certain areas). The fact that america has been the center of ‘Faustian civilization’ up to the present, whereas the former colonies of spain have been on the periphery for a long time now might also be why this is being expressed in a subculture and music genre, rather than shrines to Odin.
This might be unrelated but I started reading some articles by NN Taleb. They are fragments of a new book called “Skin in the game”. They are very well written and surprisingly critical of the mainstream culture. “Intelectuals yet idiots” seems to match your view on politics, Trump and the corruption of intellectuals.
What is shocking to me is that this comes from a successful millionaire former trader (that comes true though in places, he seems to blame the poor). I don’t understand yet some of his ideas but I am curious if you think his attempts to make our society “antifragile” is a way to preserve some knowledge for the future or yet another wasteful fight to support the unsustainable?
Bogatyr, an interesting hypothesis.
Dermot, I really do have to put a post into discussing the purely religious nature of the myth of interstellar travel, don’t I? When people (Brin included) talk about it, their language shows that they’re not thinking of what the realities would be, if such a thing were possible; it’s all grandiose mythic imagery. More on this soon.
Chris, I’m delighted to report that the microbrew revolution is alive and well in New England, and ale as dark and uncompromising as road tar is readily available here. I do miss the garden and the quince tree, but there will be other gardens, and we left a great many hardy perennial herbs in the yard — may they propagate themselves all over the north central Appalachians.
Booklover, exactly. That’s the situation we’re in right now — one to three hundred years before the dark ages arrive in earnest, and it’s still anybody’s guess what the religious framework for the dark age society will be.
Luis, I wouldn’t pretend to guarantee that the next culture will have improved human relations. It could have equally messy ones. The one thing we can be sure of is that it won’t be quite as stupid when it comes to coping with ecology.
Redoak, hah! That’s great — a coal powered car, much less efficient than an 1860s locomotive. True, too.
Soilmaker, obviously I disagree. The notion that breaking down barriers within and between nations is a good thing is contradicted by the history of the last dozen centuries; all that happens is that you get bigger tyrannies in place of smaller ones, not to mention bigger wars. Every human society defines itself by the people it excludes; when you make one big nation out of a bunch of smaller ones, the usual result is pogroms, as people go hunting for someone to exclude, usually feet first. When Spain became a unified country in the late 15th century, it immediately turned around and started persecuting Jews; when the other western European nations came together in the early modern period, the immediate result was witch hunts; when Germany became a single nation in 1871 — well, you know the sequel just as well as I do. None of that’s accidental; it unfolds predictably from well-known factors in human sociology.
Nor is it particularly helpful to manufacture “a new vision of what the future might be.” That’s been done over and over again, and every time, the future rolls its eyes and does something else. Finally, of course, “preventing a catastrophic collapse” at this point is closing the barn door when the horse has not merely left but mailed back a forwarding address from Brazil. We are not going to avoid a catastrophic collapse. We’re already in the opening stages of the Long Descent, and picking up speed every day. That’s why, in place of another round of overfamiliar feel-good rhetoric, I’d like to suggest instead that it’s time to grapple with the reality of our predicament, and talk frankly about how we got here and what practical steps might still help to make the future less dismal for our descendants than it will otherwise be.
GKB, funny! Okay, I don’t usually award two gold stars in a single night, but you’ve earned one for raucous humor at the expense of ideas too often taken far too seriously. Thank you.
Phil, no argument there; we’ve already got plenty of perverted science, and it’s getting kinkier by the day. 😉
Fred, exactly. We’ll be talking about that at more length shortly.
Migrantharvester, I still remember vividly the otherwise boring family Christmas when I got my first copy of The Last Unicorn, and annoyed everyone by holing up in a chair in the corner in rapt silence, reading it from cover to cover, instead of taking part in the ersatz cheer of the season. Delighted to hear your son is in for an equally vivid experience!
Stefania, good! But your vision of subcultures cultivating less toxic archetypes is right on the money. While the old order decays, while the warbands rise and fall, while the cities turn into tumbledown ruins, it’s the subcultures who see past that and fling themselves into a newborn vision of human possibility — often at the risk of their lives, and always giving up their status and wealth in the old order as the cost of admission — who lay the foundations for the successor societies of the future. What Christian monks and nuns did in the aftermath of Rome, and their equivalents have done in many other places and times, someone can do this time as well.
Will J, you’re getting warm. Yes, they’re related, but as I see it, it’s not a cause and effect relationship. Both are symptoms of a deeper pathology.
Will1000, a neat analysis!
Aloysius, I’ll put some thought into a new reading list. In the meantime, glad you’re enjoying some serious thinking while hoeing weeds!
Rita, I do indeed. I knew people who seemed to get good results from them, too — but in general you’re quite right; they took a far too rigid view of cycles, with unproductive results.
DropBear, my take on zombies, for what it’s worth, is that they may have already peaked, On consideration, I think they were an expression of the fear the privileged classes had for what has now happened: the working poor lurching out of the economic grave to which neoliberal policies confined them, and shambling to the voting booth. As soon as the Left faces up to the fact that the Trump phenomenon was in fact a backlash against policies they supported — offshoring and automation of jobs, mass immigration to force down wages, not to mention the endless sneering putdowns the privileged 20% direct toward the people whose lives they’ve embittered — then it won’t be necessary to fantasize about zombies any more. (My guess is that that’ll happen in 2021, after the Dems go down to another self-inflicted electoral defeat and Trump begins his second term.)
Vince, oh, I know. I just find them so very dull! I was amused by the response to George Romero’s passing, though. It was reminiscent of what happened when Christopher Lee died — I heard a lot of jokes about how he’d be back from the grave in no time flat, having done so all those times before…
Mac, excellent! That’s certainly diving into the deep end — but there’s much to be said for that approach. No, Jung was an original — and his school of psychology is the only one in which I’d like someday, funds permitting, to do a course of analysis.
Varun, do I recall correctly that Shiva is the god who destroys, where Brahma creates and Vishnu preserves? If so, he’s a likely source of avatars for the present age.
Jason, fascinating. I know very little about metal — it’s not a genre I enjoy much — but your data points make sense to me. Valhalla as the ultimate mosh pit — yeah, I can see that. No question but there’s an immense amount of power in the Norse tradition; I’ve poured ale to the Aesir and Vanir from time to time at blot and sumbel, in much the same spirit that any reasonably devout polytheist in ancient times would pay respect to the deities of whatever land he or she visited, and felt the response. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find Asatru becoming a major force among working class Americans in the generations ahead — and yes, shrines to Odin will follow in due time.
Omnia, good question. I’d have to take a very close look at the practical dimension of his work before I’d be willing to venture a guess.
Bogatyr, social isolation is one of several elephants in the living room. It is, in my opinion, one of the more important factors driving people into insanity. One other, very important factor, is the stark difference between the narratives about success in many fields which people encounter in books, movies and the like and the reality on the ground and the experiences people have, if they try to follow the advice the above-mentioned narratives give.
Over the past few days, I have been considering the question raised here, of what archetypes may be stirring. I recently watched “The Hunger Games” – a film I would not normally watch, and whose story line appals me. But the manner and deep intensity with which it was being discussed by certain young people – especially young women (I’m talking 12-13 years old) – of my acquaintance piqued my curiosity. I wonder if Medea eating her children, the Minotaur, or even Tezcatlipoca, are among the archetypes that are stirring. These young people understand at a deep level that this film is true. They are resonating strongly with the film’s message that they (their generation) is the sacrifice that has been offered. And that their lives will consist of ordeals and tests with little chance of success.
Re: “While the old order decays, while the warbands rise and fall, while the cities turn into tumbledown ruins, it’s the subcultures who see past that and fling themselves into a newborn vision of human possibility — often at the risk of their lives, and always giving up their status and wealth in the old order as the cost of admission — who lay the foundations for the successor societies of the future. What Christian monks and nuns did in the aftermath of Rome, and their equivalents have done in many other places and times, someone can do this time as well.”
Hmmm…that sounds a lot like a former Archdruid I know! That’s what you’ve been doing all along here, and many of your readers too it seems. I have picked up the gauntlet in my own small way, long ago ditching the corporate job and any notion of status it may have conferred, to raise a family and start a small farm in rural Ontario. I’m still hopelessly tangled in the old order but working to slowly learn how to do things differently, grappling with the monster of all learning curves. But it is possible. This year, if the weather conditions hold, it looks like we will have a ridiculous bumper crop of all sorts of melons, which we will need to sell or give away in some form. I figure a roadside stand, as we are on a busy road, with the proceeds going to charity, will do more good overall at this point than actually selling them…
Thanks for all your work, JMG.
What a delightful image of dark ale you have left me with! Many thanks. And it is particularly heart-warming to read that people have taken up the challenge of recovering the lost brewing arts in your part of the world. All that heavy handedness with the preservatives used these days in brewing so as to produce a consistent brewing result would never have happened in the past (due to the lack of copious quantities of preservatives that people seem to enjoy these days). Incidentally I should add that our recent experiments in the world of sake (rice wine) which produced an exceptionally tasty sake (and as an interesting side story, my wife who is the brew master here, and I, in a strange and unexpected twist of fate cornered a real life sake brewing master at a party many months ago, where they both swapped brewing notes for hours) turned to rice wine vinegar. Unfortunately, our lack of use of preservatives in this occasion has caused the batch of sake to turn into rice wine vinegar – which is still a very useful product, just not as tasty. There is always next sake season. The alcohol content is not high enough to generate a natural form of preservation as is the case in wines.
I’m training my palate to enjoy dark ales, and the most recent effort went into a pint of chocolate chilli stout, which tasted far better than you would expect. Good stuff. Although I acknowledge that tastes may vary and differ.
The whole alternative narrative thing really baffles me. All I attempt to do every single week is just show people how much fun we are having partly turning our backs on the dominant narrative. Sure it is hard work, but the alternative appears to be quite painful for people – and they’re noticing that pain.
Poor Dr. Brin. People do not take well to the loss of their god. It is acutely painful. That spiritual void can swallow a man whole — is it any wonder that Brin is holding on with his fingernails and his teeth to the high temple as Atlantis sinks? He might not want to live in a world without the god that held up the island. Those of us who really gave ourselves to the Saganist end of Anthropolarty can recognize the desperation. Who is he trying to convince? Everyone, himself most especially. I was an acolyte in that priesthood, but Brin sees himself as Pope. Apostasy nearly killed me; I can only imagine how much worse it must be for him.
“I think mental illness, drug dependence, fantasy escapism, sexual addiction and many other ills can be laid at the feet of agnosticism and/or atheism.”
Yes, yes, yes. Without the opiate of the people to justify (or at least ameliorate) the suffering that is this life, well– what have you? Suffering. For which one will turn to any opiate on hand, or simply go mad. As the fetid stench from the rotting corpse of the progress god becomes ever more difficult to ignore, expect the opioid and suicide epidemics to deepen, and start climbing the social ladder. JMG’s prediction of suicide parties seems spot-on to me.
On the other hand, some might escape. Has anyone noticed a tendency for middle class white women to becoming cultural lampreys, latching themselves onto whatever authentic cultural tradition will reluctantly have them? They buzz like flies around Native Americans in these parts, which has lead me to wonder if I’m not a Roman Briton in some new proto-Wales. If that culture offers a genuine spirituality, is raised up in our education system while ours is simultaneously torn down, and gets tax breaks to boot–! I think all it would take would be a decent assimilationist faction (perhaps not even a majority) amongst tribal elders to achieve a ‘cultural victory’ from the old Civilization games.
On the gripping hand, they don’t seem to like us enough to want to assimilate us. Which points back to Yugoslavia when the pain of rejection sets in. As JMG says, though, it is far too soon to tell. Someday it is going to make a fascinating history, though.
Oh, and a belated BROHOOF to Sister Crow from last week. Thank you for the tips. This isn’t the venue to describe my practice, so if you want to discuss more you can contact me at: email@example.com
(yes, that’s a real e-mail. It forwards to my personal account to help keep me anonymous here.)
I want to thank Jason for the link to norse-mythology-dot-org. Already bookmarked; need to check the reading recommendations against what’s already in my library and fill in the rest. When Dr. Lindow was teaching at UNM, he went out of his way to de-romanticize and de-sanitize Odin for the Asatruar among us; the potential for that backfiring among metal-heads never occurred to me! But it is so logical.
A gold star! An unexpected honor. Allow me to offer in return the Bronze Bell / Temple Gong People’s Award for the poetic heft and resonance of your translation “the sunset-drowning of the evening lands.” It struck a solemn note that is still ringing in my ears.
@Stephen Hawking, JMG, et al.
Neither feel-good rhetoric, or frank talk about our predicament will do anything to make the future less dismal. The challenges of the future and their mitigation have been discussed at length in a variety of contexts, yet precious little action has resulted. If this chatter were really about the welfare of our descendants, then practical steps would have been implemented as a matter of policy. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that running talk shops to make ourselves feel better will do nothing to ameliorate the future we claim to be invested in. Noble intentions, along with practical solutions, are not in short supply.
Our efforts are about making our own lives more tolerable, full stop. Rest assured that our descendants will carry on this behavior.
My mother in law saw Hitler in 3rd grade in Poland, and she says he did have blue eyes.
Here is one interesting example of a contemporary counter-cultural movement that draws upon the more radical/authentic elements of the Christian tradition, which have bubbled up intermittently over the centuries. One need not buy into the theology to appreciate the integrity and determination of this group of people attempting to make the City of Brotherly Love more than an ironic moniker. If Christianity is to have a future worth having, I think it lies in this kind of new monasticism, in which one lives one’s faith in an intentional community instead of merely “believing” it. While it’s crucially important to understand how and why things are falling apart, it’s also helpful, at least to me, to take notice of new things that are coming together and pointing in a different direction.
Omnia mentioned N N Taleb – a good introduction would be his Interviews on Econtalk which include transcripts.
Well, Mr. Greer, how does it feel to be anti science and anti teaching?
JMG – about paying respect to the deities of the land – I find myself spontaneously making reverence to images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, although I am not Catholic. And back in San Francisco where I lived as a child, to St. Francis of Assisi.
I think part of our disagreement rests on misunderstanding. In your post you wrote: “The vision of humanity made omnipotent through technology—Men Like Gods…is on its way out. The question we face is what will rise to replace it.” I understood this to mean the old vision was on its way out and a new vision would arise (in the future). I referred to this as a “new visions of reality”. I was not trying to suggest that we could manufacture a new vision of the future, only that a new vision would arise as the result our shared stories and myths. I, too, am very interested in what myth will replace the old ones.
By breaking down barriers I’m not talking about homogenization of culture or suggesting that we “make one big nation out of a bunch of smaller ones”. I used the term ‘barriers’ to mean the things that prevent us from understanding each other. It is my belief that polarization is a barrier that results from an inability to understand others. I think we have a better chance of surviving the challenges we face if we can communicate with others and learn to respect each other’s differences. We have a better chance of survival if we can cooperate and share limited resources as opposed to fighting over them.
I quite agree that we are already in the long descent, but I make a distinction between long descent and catastrophic collapse. I think of a long descent as what would happen when your house slowly falls into disrepair over years of neglect; the roof starts leaking and you set a pot on the floor to catch the rain. Overtime, as the structure weakens, the roof will eventually sag but still provide shelter. But one day a strong wind storm will cause the roof to collapse. You’ll survive if you happen to be out of the house. This long descent may take years and even decades depending on the construction of the original house. At each stage of descent the occupant is forced to adjust to new realities.
Catastrophic collapse is when your house burns down and no help is available.
I don’t think the ideas I expressed were “feel-good rhetoric”. Rhetoric implies insincerity. I sincerely believe that communicating in positive ways helps reduce fear and confusion when searching for solutions and not finding any. I am not blind to the problems. Yes, we are certainly already in the long descent facing the stark reality of a collapse. But I don’t think it’s too late to avoid escalation to violence and destruction that represents a catastrophic collapse. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I benefits not harm in such thinking. Maybe helping people feel good and encouraging them to listen and share is what will pull them back from the brink of despair and give them the strength to keep going. If nothing else, it is better than dying in despair.
No one knows the shape of the future. We won’t know what we can do until the moment arrives that we need to act. All our preparation could still come to no use, but if we stop trying then what? Feeling hope in the face of impossible adversity is a choice.
Has anyone noticed that when either selective breeding or genetic engineering of humans comes up in science fiction, it always works? It’s often done by the villains and shown as horrible idea, but the scientific aspect always works. Even for things like intelligence or personality which have huge environmental components, and where the genetic portion is really complicated? It’s not realistic.
It would be nice to read a story where the villians try to create Superman and FAIL miserably in some variety of the following ways. a) the humans with the changed genes aren’t noticeably smarter, b) funding proves inadequate over the long term, c) the kids have no interest in cooperating in either their choice of mates or in more artificial methods, d) wider society disapproves and shuts the whole thing down, e) there aren’t adequate volunteers, f) changing the targeted genes makes some non-target changes which make the children ill. Epic fail, genetics and sociology edition.
I’m just thinking that the assumption that creating a superman is feasible is another example of hubris. Both supporters and opponents of genetic manipulation keep under-estimating how hard it is. It would create a horrible mess if someone tried, and I don’t think it is likely to produce anything that impressive.
You know what would actually bring up the average IQ of humanity with much less expense or violation of human rights? Preventing childhood malnutrition. Malnourished children who survive childhood tend to have lower IQs than children who aren’t malnourished. Simple, ethical, seems like a no-brainer.
“Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that running talk shops to make ourselves feel better will do nothing to ameliorate the future we claim to be invested in ”
Bumblebee, thank you very much for your comment. You are absolutely right in that feel good discussion of the problem is not solving it. We dont need “more good ideas!!!” because we have enough ideas, courtesy of the internet. This problem is analogous to the explosion of completely unneeded “new and improved!!!” idea laden yet useless products in any particular technology area following a major advance that had originally improved our lives, which JMG referred to last time as technology matures and the low hanging fruit has already been picked. We need disciplined action, hard work, the old values which mostly left America. (how about a future story that explores this, maybe include concepts from the Fourth Turning?) but I digress…….
This “I talk (or keyboard) about it, therefore I am solving the problem” attitude is the biggest obstacle in modern times, but is a rather American phenomenon (the notion that sitting around and making creative thoughts solves all problems). One reason I enjoyed leaving America for Asia (I am at http://www.yugeshima.com ) is that Asians, and Japanese in particular are impressed by actions and not the creative words of the self centered N. Americans. I worked as a scientist in the US, and then in Japan for 4 years and found that they are not impressed by the (I have a new thought in my head therefore I am great!) attitude of Americans (including scientists in my case) and consider such expressions unnecessarily egotistic. Usually, the response is “just do it, and get back to me with results” or something like that. Hard work (long hours in the lab generating real data to prove a point) generally was greatly respected but not the goofy ideas or even the new goofy products of the Americans, which never work reliably until an Asian copies it and makes it vastly better in a hundred different ways through hard work.
This leads to the bigger issue of the mirror in front of us. Much of the pessimism found in America (in my opinion) is a result of a unique American narcissism where we tend to identify as Albert Einstein and so many of the other smart people who got rigorous educations in Math and science in other countries before coming to the US, to out-compete and out-shine American educated natives and solve our problems for us. Albert Einstein and his brethren from India, China etc are not solving our problems this time. They are not building the new technology companies of the future but instead going home.
Although Japanese also are pessimistic (maybe tied to the American empire and expectations too closely?) the Chinese I have talked to are very optimistic and look forward to the future. Chinese outnumber the Americans by something like 4 to 1 and represent humanity more than Americans do based on sheer numbers. Americans are involved with “running talk shops to make ourselves feel better” as you term it, but such is not the case necessarily elsewhere. In particular, sustainability is carried out in innumerable small steps by many optimistic future focused individuals both in America, and elsewhere but such is not subject to mass media titillation reporting so we dont hear about it unless we look hard.
I disagree with your comment: “then practical steps would have been implemented as a matter of policy ” about the solution(s) to the dark ages problem. In my opinion, the dark ages will not be avoided because all institutions have a primary purpose of short term survival and will not implement “practical steps… as a matter of policy.” Instead individuals with resolute action based on a careful and disciplined study of their surrounds will survive and thrive. In fact the best part of JMG’s contribuition in the optimism arena (in my opinion) is the offering of the Archdruid religion, the discipline of which is the answer you and I are looking for: resolute action, practical steps for living in our local environment based on a careful scientific study of our immediate environment. We should all become Arch Druids. Seriously, I mean it.
I can see why people would make those jokes about Christopher Lee, but my friends were hoping that his war record would finally be unsealed so they could find out all the operations against the Axis in which he participated. No such luck — still a secret.
Changing the subject, all this talk of Wotan reminds me that he’s been appearing in American popular entertainment first as Odin in the Marvel Thor movies and most recently as Mr. Wednesday in Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods.” The latter is more germane to the discussion here, as Mr. Wednesday is organizing the Old Gods (not the ones of Lovecraft) such as Anansi, Czernobog, Anubis, Thoth, Eostre, and Loki to fight the New Gods of Media, Technology, and The Market for supremacy. That might make for a useful metaphor. I expect that, as “an eccentric with a taste for old things” as well as someone seeking a nature-centered spirituality, you might sympathize with the Old Gods in their struggle against human creations turned into deities. On the other hand, the New Gods might just fade away when the civilization that supports them collapses.
Although magazines like The Economist cheerily discuss the possibility of switching to renewables, the IPCC estimates that 15% of the world’s energy can be generated by 2050. This shows that even non-collapsitarian institutions recognize to some degree that replacement by renewables is largely impossible.
Almost forgot to mention, and I should add that I have not checked the original source text, but the quote attributed to Mr Brin that a few people here have quoted, appears to me to as: Strange; Very Strange; Outright Kooky; and then back to just plain old strange. That of course is merely a statement of opinion.
Now, my brain is whispering to me curious things about that really outright kooky bit where the text apparently is reported as saying: “Phase 8 of the Civil War”. Surely he could not have written that? Maybe? Anyway, if he had, my brain is whispering to me that that appears to be some sort of scientology speak. I have no idea where that idea came from, but if it is true then I suggest to you that you approach Mr Brin from a completely different angle in future as that group may be looking for a scapegoat to blame when their glorious revolution comes to naught. Certainly his response to you that is part of that quote above is highly unflattering.
You know, for a long time I suspect that us humans travelled into space, even touching down on the moon, and then discovered that there was no profit to be had in undertaking that journey. It was all costs. The previous journeys of exploration that humans had undertaken turned a tidy profit, but we found to our horror, that that particular mode of exploration is subject to diminishing returns.
Incidentally, the cover art on Mr Hubbard’s books, just like the Harry Potter books, always ensured that I veered away from them.
@Rita– Yes I DO remember biorhythms! Haven’t thought about them in years, but it brought a smile to remember the serious discussions and calculations. 🙂
Like the rules for pirates in the “Pirates of the Carribbean” movies, Strauss and Howe’s material is probably “More like guidelines” than a rigid 80-year cycle. “The Fourth Turning” at least gave me a mental model of recurring crisis that helped me think in unorthodox ways about the crisis we are undergoing now– Ten years ago, I did not understand that we were living in an age of American Empire; that oil enabled everything that this global empire does; that the empire can fall, and is falling. With a mental framework to interpret events, I have been able to take steps in advance to adapt to what is coming…
Your main point is critically important– Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s book, “The Black Swan” is about this exact issue– That in history, the most important events are the unexpected crises that seem to come out of nowhere, and which were not predictable by the rules and conventions that were established wisdom until the Black Swan Crisis appears and sweeps them all away….
Bumblebee , Dusk Shine & All…
Why is the future dismal? Some might escape? From what – the terrible future?
JMG and many here have read a lot of history. The fact that you can do that is amazing, as most people couldn’t read just a few hundred years ago.
We have antibiotics, antiseptics, basic first aid and many basic small surgery skills in a pinch. A century ago, none of this was available, especially antibiotics.
Al Gore gave us the internet (/s), and for that he should be enshrined. Who dreamed of that in 1925?
Until the advent of oil, electricity was destined for cities only. Now the world has it. But prior to 1850, nobody had it.
We are living in the Petroleum Age, a roughly 200 year bubble of immense prosperity. Every long term reader should know this instinctively.
The knowledge we have gained in this burst of energy likely will not simply disappear. Other tech exists that will work just fine. Slowing down life works even better. Yes – things will be different! We are likely to watch as things slip, lurch, lockup, fail, restart and fail again.
Rome wasn’t built and didn’t die in a day or a week – and we have a lot more inertia and smarts distributed now to ameliorate with.
Has anyone here collapsed to avoid the rush besides me? Because that is a mindset as well as a simplification process. Opportunities are already appearing if you are now at the bottom or near it as I am. Maybe I have already kissed insane hypercomplexity and Religion o’ Progress goodbye enough – I don’t know. But there is quite a lot of fear of losing “stuff” and BAU in these comments which I guess I see because I don’t share it.
And no, my horse wasn’t high – just really rank and sweaty because I just got back from the farm!
Scotlyn, most interesting. The question in my mind is what they choose to do about it.
Stefania, good. Yes, that’s basically the plan. Good luck with the melons!
Chris, clearly your sake needs to be guzzled down quickly — though good rice wine vinegar also has its place. 😉 As for narratives — exactly. The most subversive thing any of us can do right now is to have a great time without the latest technologies; that’ll undercut the dominant paradigm more effectively than just about anything else.
Dusk Shine, no argument there. Especially when your religion promises you vicarious immortality and omnipotence bestriding the stars, coming back down to earth has got to be a rough descent.
Gkb, thank you!
Bumblebee, if you really think talking about how to improve the lot of our descendants is useless, then why are you commenting on this blog?
Newtonfinn, if that catches on, then Christianity may have a future ahead of it.
Onething, I’ll let you know how it feels if I ever do become those things. At the moment, I’m having the familiar experience of being accused of something absurd by somebody who’s too hysterical to be rational.
Patricia, like any good polytheist!
Soilmaker, people have been rabbiting on for centuries now about how we need to tear down the barriers that divide us. Have you noticed how much good it’s done? That’s one of the reasons I castigated Hawking’s comments as feel-good rhetoric. More generally, I’d point out that historical examples of the long descent in practice generally include a lot of events that could reasonably be described as catastrophic collapse — to use your metaphor, a lot of houses burning to the ground when there’s no one anywhere who can come to help. If you convince people that there’ll always be someone who will come help them when their house catches on fire, are you really doing them a service?
Corydalidae, as it happens, I do know of one novel along those lines — John Brunner’s novel The Shockwave Rider has the ongoing failure of attempts to manufacture superintelligent humans as a plot element. There’s a lot more to the story, but all of it apropos; you might want to consider finding a copy and reading it.
Vincelamb, the old gods have seen all of this before. They’ve watched Roman emperors declare themselves divine and the Empire immortal, and smiled to see sheep grazing in a pasture that used to be the forum. The “new gods” are not gods but idols, empty images meant to reflect humanity’s supposed omnipotence back at us for our entertainment, and as they sit there grinning idiotically at the ruins of our civilization, the old gods will smile again and continue their timeless lordship…
Dazhuang, now if they’d only factor in the hard reality that you can’t extract infinite resources from a finite planet, they’d almost have a clue!
Chris, I’m not too worried. My best guess is that they’ll go the way that American Marxists did for so many years, and take refuge in make-believe, convincing themselves that the Space Age is still on its way long after space travel becomes something you read about in history books.
Two minor points. First, how long is the pre order deal on The Arch Druid Report collection available for? Second, I just want to say that the idea of doing a fiction in the old romantic solar system sounds very interesting, I am eager to hear the rules of that contest.
Increasingly I see the same patterns in Life’s colonization of the mineral surfaces of the Earth as I see in the colonization of a culture. The pioneer is a very lichen like creature indeed. And at the centers of power, great wealth of nature allows extraordinary extravagance in the form of a vast herd of bison, or the construction of a fine opera house. Bison, Coyote, Raven, Mouse, Wolf there are many other arch-types in nature that act on a land, making use of the species at hand to manifest. Certainly meerkats and Prairie Dogs are influenced by something self same; that is my meaning.
Our Arch-type, the Pusher Back of Frontiers, is the same as other invasive species. There is an imbalance, an opportunity to rush in, fire like, consuming and freeing bound potential. But, this niche requires and only thrives in that imbalance; too much oil, coal, un cut timber, dry prairie grass and rainless lightning; accumulation. It is it’s nature to create the conditions that end the rush, the boom leads to a bust, thistles once rampant over grown by brush, just like our machines will give way to rust.
In my eye’s a Spirit took hold of our people, and we because this rushing conquering flood, but as that phase is now ending, the pattern of life is breaking down. What happens after the peak of an invasive species? The species around it adapt to it’s presence, and influence it transforming it into an integrated member.
When the thistle takes over lands, Nature selects those seeds which destroy the imbalance which made way for the thistle. When that work is done, nature is done with the thistle, and their children are devoured by birds, those that put down a root are over shadowed by perennials, and only the lucky and patient wait, they wait to be needed again.
Yet the Great Civilization of Life, the many species project of collaboration to make the land surface sufficiently tame for the most extravagant forms of life has be dealt a great blow. Do Ecosystems act like civilizations, collapsing in mass extinction, but on a much greater scale of time? Will the very arch-types of other species which we must live with be in turmoil even as the survivors of our Human explosion look for a new meaning? What new Gods will be born, for humanity, and for the Earth as a whole? It is like guessing which tribe of mice will one day sire an heir to the niche of the Elephant in 50 million years.
Here is a scene from Deep Space 9 that explores the concept of genetically enhanced people coming out, not as intended. One of the main characters was modified, and had to face legal problems because of it, here he encounters others with resequenced genetics, where the side effects were more problematic.
Corydalidae – Heinlein’s Beyond This Horizon made that point as well They practiced a very mild form of genetic engineering aimed and weeding out known flaws from the parents’ original eggs and sperm and nothing more. The narrator was shown around by the self-styled ‘supermen’ – the Genetics Wars’ equivalent of neo-nazis – and was sickened by the failed experiments he saw there. One of Nuala trilogy books made that point about the Nualans trying it and having nasty failures and reverting to the old-fashioned method exclusively.
@Dusk Shine and Sister Crow (because I missed what you said last week and only now looked back, found and read it):
You know, after last year’s Bronycon, I was reflecting on how many smartphones I’d seen at the convention, how clean and polished the convention center and the area around it had looked… and how quickly the light rail started sliding past run down building after run down building (along the route of a street-running public transit system), how worn parts of Baltimore Penn Station looked, how I met a man begging for food there, and how on public transit later on the trip home how I met a veteran begging for money for a place to sleep. The juxtaposition was kind of hard to escape. After getting home, I looked to see if there was a peak oil brony group or the like, but I didn’t find anything. I’m glad to see that it is at least a bit more widespread than I’d feared. 🙂
I’m also quite interested in your religion, and how widespread that sort of thing actually is. I know that the idea occurred to me some time ago, but I was already worshipping a pair of goddesses (and didn’t end up adding Celestia and Luna in large part due to concerns of conflicts). If you, Dusk Shine, came to it from a place of no religion, though, and Sister Crow is interested… how many other people might be doing or open to doing this? I imagine it’s not something that would be widely talked about even within the fandom; far too many people would laugh at, or worse, someone who says they worship a cartoon horse.
(JMG, sorry if this comment comes up for approval multiple times; I had some technical difficulties with my browser.)
Just wanted to chime in on the conversation on metal and archetypes. YES.
Metal (and punk) clearly reflected problems with the religion of progress. While many of its adherents are not exactly introspective, quite a few were and are. Some of these bands are adepts of some stripe or another, invoking/evoking, with a full awareness of the power of archetypes. As a general rule though, you can ignore most of the bands that actually sold a lot of albums, particularly the “hair metal” variety. Note also that metal often crosses over into Goth and Ethereal territory. Often the European bands draw heavily on local tradition.
I have my own historical thesis on this that I have never committed to full research and writing- at one point in my recent academic career I was actually directly discouraged from doing so! The rise of heavy metal in the early eighties was a response to declining prospects for our generation. Growing up in a (mostly) White, middle-class, suburb of NYC, it was apparent that few of us would achieve the “standard of living” of our parents. For instance, the house I grew up in cost $29,000 in 1965, but would cost more than ten times that by 1985. Yet wages were already stagnating. The recession of the early Reagan years clearly correlates to the rise of metal as a genre.
At that time, my studies in anthropology (the only place in college where occult practices are explicitly taught!!!) also convinced me that heavy metal was clearly a cult of the disenfranchised (much like early Christianity etc, etc…) and many of my metalhead friends were intelligent enough to see this, and to see that “Hail Satan” was also a political and economic statement. Granted it was also fun annoying the religious fundamentalists, scaring our parents, and jumping into the mosh pit. The word “archetype” was part of our vocabulary at certain times, but we could also enjoy the sheer stupidity of it all; a lot if the imagery was/is often over-the-top-to the point of self-parody, and we knew that.
Note I have also worked in the music business for 30 years: most metalhead occult/pagans I meet are ignorant posers/attentionseekers, BUT an increasing number of people are seriously taking up Norse worship practices in some form.
“Floating pointer” in my comment on metal. “Its” points back to metal, not the religion of progress!
@Patricia Mathews, you’re very welcome. It is a pretty awesome site.
I’d also recommend McCoy’s new book ‘The Viking Spirit’ to anyone looking for a quality introduction to the Norse tradition.
I quite agree that convincing people someone will always be there to help would be a disservice, because obviously there will be many times when help is unavailable. I generally try to encourage people to help themselves. Whether we believe someone will be there to help us may not be as important as knowing if we will be able to help others. I was once a lifeguard. Our teacher taught us that before we attempt to save someone who is drowning we need to decide if we can swim out to them and get us both back to shore. I believe post collapse we will be faced with situations in which we have to decide to help or not, perhaps knowing that without help people will die. I find that a difficult prospect to imagine.
“Noble intentions, along with practical solutions, are not in short supply…Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that running talk shops to make ourselves feel better will do nothing to ameliorate the future we claim to be invested in.”
It’s true there are ample descriptions of practical solutions available (permaculture, homesteading, living off grid, growing food, composting toilets, etc.) and stories of people with noble intentions. But talking both ameliorates the future and makes us feel better. As social animals we developed forms of communicating because it we enjoy talking to others, and because our sharing helped us survive. We bond with others by haring stories and ideas. Communicating enriches our life and makes it less dismal. But I quite agree that we need to do more than talk; we need to act on the information we share. Ultimately effort in life is required if we want descendants to have the opportunity to carry on.
I think my son will be similarly enthralled when he receives his copy of the Last Unicorn!
As the mismatch between the archetype of progress and concrete experience of reality widens, is the wisest thing to do to focus on the experience, without the archetypes getting in the way? Which begs the question – can we see without archetypes? If the mother-image in your hypothetical patient is replaced with the adult-peer image that’s just another archetype right?
Perhaps the goal is not to continue to allow the progress archetype to dissuade us from taking the archetypes that call to us seriously and following them. People will be inspired if you are passionately engaging the archetypes that call to you. Even if we can’t see the archetype that will take over the next dark age, we can seed and foster the archetypes we find more beneficial into the ecology of archetypes from which the next great one will arise to give them a better chance.
Its interesting to contemplate the relation of the archetypes to the gods. For example Images and sculptural depictions of Christ drew on the archetype of Apollo up until Constantine when the archetype of Isis suckling a child reemerged in the Mother Mary, allowing the effeminate and beardless Apollo-Christ to be replaced with the judicial Jupiter-archetype Christ with beard. So although from seed to fruition (or obscurity to dominance) Christianity took just a few centuries, the archetypes it drew from had been in the collective consciousness for an age or two…
@ Oilman 2
I hadn’t read the poem ‘Mending Wall” before and I enjoyed it. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. There are lots of meanings in that poem. I suspect that if one were to reread it over the course of their life they would find new meaning each time. I agree the repetition of the line “Good fences make good neighbors” is about an elder passing on wisdom. It reminded me of the inter-generational makeup of my early years living in a small agricultural community. I have felt for some time that our current culture seems to be missing the voices of elders.
With regard to science being “a separate kingdom and one where secrecy is maintained behind pages of code-like double-speak.” I completely agree. Learning the language and methods of different fields of science was like learning several new languages. I had the added ‘disadvantage’ of being a generalist by temperament, not a specialist. Unlike most scientists I did not specialize in one field, but instead changed fields as I advanced. Unfortunately the trend in academia is to hire specialists, and there seems to be a distinct prejudice towards non-specialists. I describe the phenomena of specializing as “knowing more and more about less and less”.
I love reading books written by agricultural scientists in the early and mid 20th c. They were generalists that understood a broad view of the world that included plants, soil, insects, weather, crop rotation, cover crops, animal husbandry, and manuring. Their writing style was much richer and accessible, reflecting a lifetime of study, their philosophical as well as their technical understanding. They were better able to communicate with farmers because they saw themselves as part of the farming community.
I have met many scientists notoriously bad at communicating, and frankly proud of it, as if it made them superior when others couldn’t understand them. Personally I consider it a valuable skill, making science understandable to any audience. If it wasn’t for the T.V. series “the Big Bang Theory” I doubt many people would think geek speak was all that cool. I think the imperative of climate change has required scientists to broaden their views, to occupy somewhat less rarefied air or specialized tunnels, and to communicate with the public because they realize what’s at stake.
The internet has made it possible to access a great deal of information, yet we are seeing too many people occupy an echo chamber. Too many people think of themselves as ‘experts’ yet are dangerously misinformed and anti-intellectual. There has never been a time I can remember when information was so accessible yet resulting in so much confusion. I still recall having to search literature the old fashioned way, in the university library. Although I find the internet valuable, I still prefer the feel of a book in my hands, the hushed sounds in the library book stacks, and the voices of ‘dead people” (nod to JMG) speaking to me from the pages of a book. For me, intellectual pursuit is one of life’s great joys.
Yes indeed, collapse and avoid the rush! We are living in a wondrous and dangerous time, a narrow window in an historic period. We can choose to live a simple life yet we still have access to technology like solar panels and the internet. We can love to read books and build our own library from the abundance of inexpensive, out of print books on Amazon.
I am reminded of Dickens’s famous opening sentence in the book, “A tale of Two Cities” describing the French Revolution:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”
Greetings, JMG – I’ve finally caught up to you in your new home, so have had a bit of catch-up reading to do.
And then of course, that led to some digressionary reading too, but more of that later.
I’m beginning to think the current collective psyche – in the UK and the US alike – is turning towards the ‘enemy’ archetype, which of course as Jung tells us is our own darker half. What more fitting a model for the two societies that seem to be so evenly split over immensely emotional faultlines? But maybe that’s too obvious/open? If we “know” that our worst enemy is the other half of our society, then does that preclude the ‘enemy’ archetype being the active projection of our inner darkness? hmm, maybe I need to mull that over a bit, away from the keyboard….
Anyway, the digressionary reading was more of Jung’s work, after the Wotan piece:
His look back at the previous twelve years from the perspective of 1945. Some of the things he mentioned in this essay gave me some shudders of recognition:
On the state of society:
“… such a state of degradation can come about only under certain conditions. The most important of these is the accumulation of Urban, industrialized masses- of people torn from the soil, engaged in one-sided employment, and lacking every healthy instinct, even that of self-preservation. Loss of the instinct of self-preservation can be measured in terms of dependence on the state… . Dependence on the State means that everybody relies on everybody else (=State) instead of on himself.”
On the leader of that society:
“This spectacle recalls the figure of what Nietzsche so aptly calls the ‘pale criminal,’ who in reality shows all the signs of hysteria. […] He will stoop to every kind of self-deception if only he can escape the sight of himself. […] This condition can easily lead to an hysterical dissociation of the personality, which consists essentially… in wanting to jump over one’s own shadow, and in looking for everything dark, inferior, and culpable in others. Hence the hysteric always complains of being surrounded by people who are incapable of appreciating him and who are activated only by bad motives; […] all hysterical people are compelled to torment others, because they are unwilling to hurt themselves by admitting their own inferiority. But since nobody can jump out of his skin and be rid of himself, they stand in their own way everywhere as their own evil spirit- and that is what we call an hysterical neurosis.
All these pathological features- complete lack of insight into one’s own character, auto-erotic self-admiration and self-extenuation, denigration and terrorization of one’s fellow men…, projection of the shadow, lying, falsification of reality, determination to impress by fair means or foul, bluffing and double-crossing-
all these were united in the man who was diagnosed clinically [in 1918 at the psychiatric ward of the Reserve Hospital IV in Pasewalk by a Jewish doctor, Dr. Karl Kroner] as an hysteric [suffering from ‘hysterical blindness’], and whom a strange fate chose to be the political, moral, and religious spokesman of Germany for twelve years. Is this pure chance?”
Now maybe I’m projecting my own biases, but that does seem to describe quite well the modus operandi of someone who currently holds a prominent position on the world stage…
Finally – I too am disturbed by what has become of David Brin – as you say, he used to be a good writer, and capable of cogent, rational argument – but “blithering-dopey”??? He seems to have progressed from High Priest of the Religion of Progress to its crazed Inquistor General.
I really liked reading G.W. Carvers books about soil remediation, as they use common materials like manure and lime and simple mixing of soil types to improve your local ecosphere. Have you come across a book concerning the soil generation they used in the ancient Amazon basin?
I concur that elders have gotten a really bad rap here in the west. Part of that is the religion of progress, where the baby and grandparents are often tossed out with the bathwater. What older humans can provide, with respect to archetypes and mythos, is the inter-generational reality. They can cry “BS!” and have some facts available that younger humans are only cognizant of as some chapter or footnote in a history book. Elders have more time accumulated in their perspective on everything, and yet in the west, older people are “pastured out” more often than considered a resource. As a prospective old codger, I am trying to avoid that particular fate…
I will say this about specialization – it is good to have a few, but the time involved in becoming one precludes their ability to educate themselves about much beyond their core focus. Thus while they may be a good ‘go-to’ for some specific nugget of information, they rarely understand what it may actually mean outside of their peer group.
Further, generalists are normally the guys actually putting into practice what the specialists dream up, and thus tend to be a bit more skeptical. I use solar power at my farm, but don’t convert it to AC, as grid tie is inefficient and unwanted. DC is better for working loads anyway, so we just tie batteries in locally where we need more amperage. When the “solar specialist” visited our farm, he was stymied by us only using a very few panels and no inverter. When I showed him what we do for pumping water with all DC, he was mystified until he thought about it for a while. He had just one way of solving every problem, because he was specialized.
As a practicing generalist (many oilfield types are, as we use several technologies to drill for oil), I can say that finding another is refreshing – glad to have encountered you here.
Re: David Brin, and the 8th phase of the Civil War… His analysis of the 8 phases of the US Civil War (https://davidbrin.wordpress.com/2014/09/19/phases-of-the-american-civil-war/) may be worth a read. It looks to me as though he has conflated our host’s acceptance of ideas rejected by the current institution of Science (magic) and respect for sustainable technology, with a “Southern” disdain for the scientific method in favor of an irrational nostalgia for archaic Southern cultural institutions.
It’s an issue that’s come up here before, in various comments. “If you approve of manual labor, then you must be welcoming the return of slavery, right?” Of course not! Time after time, we’re invited to review the technologies and institutions of the low-energy past, and preserve the ones which make sense for our low-energy future. The alternative is to expect high-energy technologies to just keep working when energy becomes scarce.
As an electrical engineer, I feel the gaze shift my way when someone says “They’ll think of something.” If I am one of the “they”, I’ve got bad news for them…
Onething, I stand corrected – he did indeed have blue eyes.
It wouldn’t shock me that the reason I thought he had brown eyes was because of a holdover of propaganda about Hitler which attempted to highlight the supposed contraindications in his belief in a blonde, blue-eyed ‘master race’ while he himself was not of that stock.
JMG, do you see the racial overtones of modern day Asatru going away? It seems like Asatru is kind of the white version of Santa Muerte (I’m not sure if Santa Muerte has racial overtones, but I think there’s overlap between the ‘La Raza’ set and the Santa Muerte set) or the religious beliefs of some black nationalists.
The only two SF epics I read these days both involve genetic manipulation to some degree, and neither has it turn out perfectly the first time. I regard genetic manipulation programs that just work the same way I do space travel using extensions of current technology, telepathic cats, honest politicians and military procurement programs that just work as plot devices, nothing more or less.
For the record, these are David Weber’s Honorverse military space opera and the Whateley Academy stories of transgendered mutant teenage superheroes (with some tentacles – it’s down the road from Dunwich). I don’t recommend getting involved with either one unless you’ve got too much time on your hands – they’re huge.
Ray Wharton, I’ve seen that scene. I do note that even if they had no social skills, the attempt to create super-intelligent humans worked. For a given value of ‘intelligent’. I’m far from sure an attempt would work even that well.
Pat, I haven’t read that particular Heinlein book. I may have to correct that. I’ve started a list of books I should really read.
JMG, I have added ‘The Shockwave Rider’ to my list of books I should read. Jung’s books are ahead of it on the list on the ground I’ve already put two of them on hold at the library.
Concerning Wotan, Lord of the Slain, god of magic madness and death and his emergent visibility from the collective unconscious into popular culture, he seems to reign supreme in Hollywood which continues to spin out one superhero and super villain fantasy after another. A big part of the allure is a world where being the self designated good-guy and having technopowers in line with the latest fantasy weapons guarantees success against all comers. The parallels to political machismo and media beliefs in the invincible triumph of human technology is disturbing at best.
When he mentions ‘Phase 8 of the Civil War,’ he is quoting his previous (also somewhat wacky IMHO) essay on the phases of American civil war.
Here’s a link if you want to read the whole thing;
Here’s a quote;
” Phase 8 – …the Nixonian, southern-strategy “flip” leads ultimately to today’s full scale New Confederacy effort to finally destroy the United States of America.
Not by force of arms, but by ending the effectiveness of politics as a pragmatic, open-minded process by which undogmatic citizens negotiate a mix of experiments and find out what works — the methodology behind all of our successes. Replacing all of that with dogma more intense than communism ever was….”
“Run through a long list of social ills… tell us clearly that outcome metrics do not support any claims that salt-of-the-earth types are better at life or raising kids than ‘decadent’ university-city-folk. Indeed, by all of those measures… and countless more… they get spectacularly worse outcomes.”
So congratulations to JMG et al. for ‘ending the effectiveness of politics’ and replacing it with a dogma more intense than communism.’ 🙂
Hmm, Farm skills and working with your neighbors–Who knew these things could be so evilly evil with evilness?
I have to wonder if this writer for the Tyee, (a BC left-leaning newspaper) has been reading your blog. Or possibly Catton’s Overshoot. I didn’t expect a frank discussion of population overshoot as something that has already happened in this or any local paper, yet here it is. I don’t think he realizes how far into the process of collapse things already are, but I’m impressed it could get published. I’m going to email the paper and let them know I was impressed by the article.
Speaking of the Net, the philosopher Alexander Bard argues that the Internet can collectively become God, an ideology known as syntheism. Bard has also argued that Netocracy, governance by those who know the smart people online, will replace traditional national forms of government.
To get a grasp of what modern day narratives of progress, infinite human expansion and transcendence to Godhood look like, I highly recommend checking out Jason Silva youtube videos.
I’m a data scientist by trade and came across this speaker at a recent conference, and the thing that shocked me was, everyone in the audience should have known that he peddles fantasies, but, as far as I could tell, nearly everyone was enthralled.
Mr. Greer — Thank you for your interesting thoughts and reflections, regarding cycles and decline of civilizations. I wonder if you are familiar with John Glubb’s essay on this theme? It’s called “The Fate of Empires” and was published in Blackwood’s Magazine back in the 70s, as well as in a booklet form (which also contained a follow-up essay) which his estate has seemed to want to suppress, preventing its republication. (There are a few PDF copies maintained by some, such as: http://bit.ly/218HQcd)
In Glubb’s view, the history of civilizations describes an arc that starts with an Age of Pioneers (or conquests), movingly successively through Ages of Commerce, Affluence, and Intellect before terminating in an Age of Decadence. Two forces propelling this movement are: first (and somewhat similar to ecological succession), each age creates socio-economic conditions favorable to the emergence of the next; second, each new generation grows up in altered circumstances that foster a changed way of thinking and acting. The outcome is a kind of feedback loop in which changed material conditions engender mental changes which determine still more material change and so on, until the society declines.
Glubb offers a list of Western civilizational cases which some might necessarily think limited in scope, nevertheless he finds a 250-year period to loosely constitute the life of an empire — although each cycle or period could be determined by the succession of several generations, while the duration of the aforementioned Ages might play out in less predictable time spans temporally. As for generations, Glubb says: “One of the very few units of measurement which have not seriously changed since the Assyrians is the human ‘generation’, a period of about twenty-five years. Thus a period of 250 years would represent about ten generations of people.” — that is, the time for the cycle to normally complete its trajectory.
An interesting aspect he points out is that, in the age of intellectualism, cultural saturation reaches a kind of limit, wherein the quantitative increase in intellectual output tends to bring about a decline in quality. The excessively rational approach to life characteristic of this age also fosters the unconscious growth of the idea that the human brain can solve the problems of the world, by a relentless cleverness, without effort, dedication or — perhaps most importantly — any real sacrifice on the part of individuals (what Nicholas Nassim Taleb today terms as not having any “skin in the game”).
I think Glubb had enough presence of mind (as well as his own personal experiences in foreign lands), to prevent any forced projections onto the histories he examined, especially since he was presenting considerations that were (and perhaps still are for many) rather unpleasant to consider. I think he was well aware that many of us in the West still tend to think of ourselves as among the great “victors” in world history, and that victors tend to write up their narratives in tribute to their own vanity. For what it’s worth, I think Glubb’s provocative essay is designed to prevent such expedient viewpoints.
It makes me feel better to express my thoughts and get them off my chest.
I agree. By that measure, Stephen Hawking’s website is a useful venue. It will facilitate discussion for those who are curious and in need of that kind of exchange. There are many ways to influence people, and an online ‘talk shop’ is an effective one. On the other hand, if your measure is based on generating results, such as action to address the current crisis, then this is an endeavour that is being put forward too late. It depends if you look at it with a single purpose in mind, or accept that it can serve other purposes. This blog is no exception.
I’m more impressed by actions than words, because the former usually requires more effort than the latter. That’s not to say that thinking out loud or criticism is not a needed first step. I’m not familiar with Asian culture, what I do know of American culture is that it seems oriented towards hero worship. Steve Jobs this and Steve Jobs that, without nary a mention of the diverse talent and teamwork required to make “his vision” a reality.
As for institutions, not all operate on the short term. Academia is supposed to ask interesting and tough questions, including our assumptions about the future. The military engages in contingency planning and forecasting. City planners focus on the mid to long term in order to minimize bad decision-making. Then there are organizations that carry out basic scientific research (cataloging), conduct censuses and maintain depositories, such as seed banks. I’m not sure that civilization can plead innocence in its failure to act, even in piecemeal fashion, during its existence.
The fact that the future is uncertain makes it dismal, promising, exciting, and scary. This is the Archdruid’s blog, so I tend to use his forecast model. If I were on Ray Kurzweiler’s site, my reply would be different. I’d also have an insulin shot ready.
DS9 was a better sci-fi series than its been given credit for. The tendency of our species to make comparisons and nurture supremacist beliefs would leap at the chance to re-sequence our genes. What could go wrong?
@Chris at Fernglade
The Google monster says that Phase 8 is a phrase of Brin’s own creation. That’s as far down the rabbit hole as I care to venture… for now.
The practice of modern Druidry seems to offer an open and adaptable framework. It has lore and it has things you can do, both symbolic and practical. Hidden gems are always overlooked, aren’t they?
“I think mental illness, drug dependence, fantasy escapism, sexual addiction and many other ills can be laid at the feet of agnosticism and/or atheism. If you believe in nothing more than what is in front of you, then you are left with the material world only.”
It takes quite a leap of faith to correlate abnormal brain chemistry, something one is born with and has no natural control over, with the spiritual outlooks of agnosticism and atheism. When it comes to ills as you’ve described, I would argue there is no correlation between bad habits and faith, or lack there of, especially bad habits resulting from mental illness. It’s been my experience, as a card-carrying agnostic, that people with significant problems are just as likely to be born-again Christians, Catholics, Muslims, atheists, or any flavor of spiritual outlook under the sun.
Lack of belief hardly means that only the material world exists – it means, at least in my case, that my brain can’t make the same mistake in logic that a die-hard deist or a die-hard atheist makes, and I chalk it up to the limitations we all have in understanding the universe. While I’m of the opinion that for many deists their beliefs are founded in replacing the father-figure from childhood as they grow older, I know many who take their faith well beyond that – and while I don’t agree with them, I do have respect for their views, and maybe some day will share them (but probably not).
With the Long Descent picking up speed, it will become more likely that a person’s religious views will come into play to determine status, and history shows us that’s a dangerous place to go – at least for those of us who may not be on the “right” team.
It is funny to hear mention about David Brin. Remember I said “Enlightment Romanticism” before? David Brin is a fine example of that kind of romantic. You may find the below criticism of Brin’s bashing Star Wars interesting.
Also, while not relevant a fanfic by Mike Wong.
“Has the pursuit of technological progress brought benefits? Of course it has, but it’s also brought a bumper crop of burdens, costs, and problems. In a good many cases, the downsides of new technologies outweigh their benefits, and of course neither of these are equally distributed: the well-to-do minority get the lion’s share of the benefits, while the poor majority has to carry nearly all the costs.”
That would be a bit hard sell when one looks at news like this:
And the faithful of progress always use that our time is the most peaceful on and prosperous compared to the past as declared by people like Steven Pinker (which you probably already know more than me):
“The vision of humanity made omnipotent through technology—Men Like Gods, to borrow the title of one of H.G. Wells’ drearier novels—is on its way out.”
Unfortunately for that to happen our level of technology has to quickly fall to stone age level and stay there. Otherwise what you get is the Golden/Dark Age of Technology. Because, as Ijoke inforums, humanity has been transhumanist ever since the carving of Bear Totem.
Sorry forgot to put the link:
Thanks to the link to Sir John Glubb’s articles. They look like interesting reading once I get to them.
There are arguments to be made that certain religious practices can alter brain chemistry. There are plenty of proofs that drug and sexual addictions alter brain chemistry. If you want to delve deeper, then pathways within the brain are also altered. Perhaps the best explanation I have heard is that agnostic/atheist brains tend towards the visualization of every issue, while the deist brain tends towards empathy, yet both exercise logical processes. There are two sides to each brain, and they are mapped differently. We need both to function most effectively in civilization.
Inherent in your comment is that mental illness induces bad habits – so while we may not agree, let’s just say we both have some points that likely deserve exploration.
Perhaps, as usual, the truth lies between two or even three viewpoints.
I do have a question: Have you ever had anything remotely resembling an inexplicable event in your life? One you could in no way explain logically? If so, how do you reconcile that, or do you simply cast the experience out?
I never saw the future as dismal reading this blog – just as different. Kurzweil’s future I view as dismal and tragic and supremely scary…
I may have missed it in 200 comments, but I didn’t see mention of the archetype I think may be rising… Loki
P.s. I should clarify I mean Loki in his older more complex presentations, not the version in the most widely known and heavily Christian influenced version of Ragnarok, where they just needed someone to play the part of Satan.
The salt-of-the-earth types that David Brin disparaged in 2014 went on to help Trump into the White House two years later. That must smart.
This discussion is absolutely fascinating! I need a good starting place for studying the archetypes. Thanks in advance for any suggestions (if there are others not mentioned in the discussion already).
Now to my comment, question. As a member of Homo narrans (or, as one Zen master called us, a member of the two-nostril tribe–definitely more inclusive), I’m finding there are different levels of narrative. There is the high-level “zeitgeist” (say, at the national or transnational level). However, at the next levels, in one’s environs and below that, in one’s circle there are what I’m going to call the “genii loci” (until someone thinks of something better for me!) The genii loci is shaped by the zeitgeist, in various degrees of consonance and dissonance with it.
Finally, there are our personal narratives. This is what I’m knee-deep in now. I am studying Zen with a teacher, and much of the early work is the breaking down of the narratives that we build around ourselves in order to define ourselves. And, like the narratives at the higher levels, this personal narrative is in various degrees of consonance and dissonance with the narratives above it. (“Narratives all the way down!”).
I’m finding it freeing, frightening, disorienting. Apparently, these are all expected and positive reactions to my studies. Is anyone else working on personal narratives as they “Collapse in place/collapse now, avoid the rush?”
It seems that my personal archetype (I *am* flattering myself, but life is short) is “Lao Tzu journeying to the Western Gate.” And my quest is to leave something behind that will help those that come after to live a gentle, humane, human-scale life.
Chapter 15 of the Tao Te Ching describes this archetype (the old masters):
I can only say what they seemed like:
Cautious, oh yes, as if wading through a winter river.
Alert, as if afraid of the neighbors.
Polite and quiet, like houseguests.
Elusive, like melting ice.
Blank, like uncut wood.
Empty, like valleys.
Mysterious, oh yes, they were like troubled water.
(Translation by Ursula LeGuin, 1998).
Has anyone considered that Brin may be engaged in shadow projection when he claims we’re science deniers? After all, science has clearly shown how hard, likely impossible, space travel is…
I wonder about what happens when it becomes too dangerous to help as well. Personally, I think we’re already there in some circumstances, but just won’t admit to it, but it’ll be a lot harder once it starts happening at a personal scale.
It’s been a pleasure meeting you here as well. I agree that specialists are useful. Heart surgeons come to mind, or almost any surgeon for that matter. I admire scientists that follow a trail to the edge of the unknown and push further expanding our understanding of the universe, large and small. Specialization requires focus. In some ways it reminds me of discursive meditation, following a train of thought to see where it leads, where it originated, and where I might have gone off topic along the way. It’s definitely a skill.
The value of generalists is that we also carry a map of the broader picture in our mind, along with the ability to dive into details when needed. The phrase “it depends on your perspective” comes to mind. Specialists seem to have limited ability to change their perspective; whereas generalists are very good at changing perspectives.
I’m really impressed that you use DC solar energy, and you are correct, converting to AC is a significant waste of energy. But it comes in handy when you have a grid tied system. We run our house on a grid-tied 11 k Watt solar PV system with inverter and back up batteries. In Indiana net metering is still allowed, although the utility companies are lobbying hard to do away with it. Net metering allows us to exchange electricity on the grid at the same rate, with the meter spinning backwards or forwards. It allows us to ‘bank’ energy by spinning our meter backwards during most of the summer months and then forwards as we use it in the winter. We are only billed for the amount exceeding the highest previous meter reading. This means that by winter time we have spun our meter backwards about 3,000 kWh and we get to use this energy for heating during the winter when we use more energy to power our geothermal (GSHP) system. GSHP heating uses more energy than cooling. We also have a central double-sided fire place that allows us to burn wood for supplemental heating in core of our home, which is an earth-sheltered home that has excellent heat storage in the walls. For us, this works well.
I’m familiar with the Terra preta soil found in the Amazon Basin. I’ve experimented with using something similar, a carbon black by-product from corn syrup processing where they use it to remove impurities. I’ve used this ‘carbon black’ in a composting recipe and then blended soil with the finished compost. The soil was excessively droughty. Perhaps the carbon black fell into the silt-sized range thus aiding permeability without the surface adsorption of humus and clay. Either way, really droughty soil can be a problem. My only conclusion to date is that a little goes a long way. I’m aware of the recent marketing campaign to get farmers to buy into using carbon black on their fields. I think the cart is way before the horse on this one. We need to collect lots more information before I’d agree it’s a good soil amendment. Much better soil amendment to compost the organic matter and add it as humus. I think the carbon black craze might just be a fad, but that might must be my BS meter going off.
@ drhooves and Oilman2
God, atheism, agnosticism, morals, and ethics…why do we behave the way we do. I do not blame “mental illness, drug dependence, fantasy escapism, sexual addiction and many other ills” on agnosticism and/or atheism. I’m very spiritually eclectic, following mostly Buddhist, but admiring Taoist, Jain, Hindu, and Christian beliefs and being a member of the local Unitarian Universalist Church. For much of my life I believed in God, because of a personal relationship with a deity that I encountered early in life. Somewhere along the line I encountered atheists and Buddhists, neither of which believe in a deity, and after much discussion I realized that ‘God’ was a personal archetype. Some people connect strongly with a father in heaven, or a divine mother as an archetype for father or mother, and honor that image..
But the question is “How would we behave if no “God” was in charge, if we were responsible for right and wrong behavior?” I admire atheists and agnostics because they are usually people of conscious, who accept responsibility for their behavior, not because of a fear of hell, or reward of heaven. I think atheists and agnostics are the independents, believing that they are the ones who decide right and wrong behavior..for themselves.
But I also think I see what Oilman2 is seeing…people with no belief in anything flounder adrift. This can lead to a society without moral and ethical values. Morals and ethics are the rules we choose to live by, not just the laws society or religion imposes upon us. If we think there is no God, we might decide that there are no consequences for our actions. We might decide that money and power are the only value in life.
I don’t believe that the only people who have values in their lives are those who believe in God. Morals and ethics; how we treat others, how we live our lives, can exist in the absence of a belief in a deity, a spirit that guides you. In fact, it is even more impressive when they do; because this means that they take individual responsibility for their life and actions. I’ve known far too many people who claim to believe in God, yet still act immorally; and atheists that act very morally.
I’m interested in what the Confederate archetype is. As the nation’s scapegoat/shadow/other, I’m interested in guiding a new, post-American Confederate archetype. First off, convincing Confederates that they never were, and never will be, American. That the American Dream, the “shining city on a hill”, the “classless society”, and “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps” were Yankee mirages, and that were never meant for Confederates to ever achieve, that were always Yankee lies beyond our reach. Of course, you can ask any Yankee if the South is “another country”, and most often, they will vigorously agree. So, if we can finally agree that we never were American, than it’s on to creating a new Confederate identity/archetype. Here I’m thinking of modern day examples of former plantation societies in Latin America, like Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, that the Confederacy could emulate, with panracial national identities, strong class structures, and laid back, well mannered cultures. I could easily see the once and future Confederacy being closest allies of the up-and-coming scarcity industrial powers of the New World, if only she can shed her foreign, Yankee, American identity fast enough. I’m very interested in what the Confederate archetype is, tho. What archetype motivates us here in the once and future Confederacy?
The leaders pretend to have power, though they really don’t. The followers have power, but don’t realize they do.
Ray, I’m not sure how long the offer will be good — you might click through to the Founders House site and ask. As for the Old Solar System contest, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. In the meantime, by all means hop a rocket ship over to http://www.solarsystemheritage.com for some lively discussions of the future we didn’t get.
Berserker, fascinating. Yes, that makes a great deal of sense.
Soilmaker, good. Work on it until you can imagine it vividly. Then you can ask yourself, “what can I do right now to make it more likely that someone will get the help they need”? — and just maybe you’ll be able to come up with a viable answer.
Migrantharvester, of course — we think with narratives, and therefore with archetypes, as inevitably as we eat with mouths and walk with feet. The reason it’s time to give Man the Conqueror of Nature decent burial is not that he’s an archetype — it’s that he no longer gives us a framework for useful thought and constructive action in the world we now inhabit. Thus careful attention to archetypes more generally is called for, to allow us to observe which ones are rising — and how we might deal with them less disastrously than central Europeans dealt with the archetype Jung tracked.
Mike, not at all — it’s because we project our shadow on the people we dislike, rather than recognizing that we are our own shadow, that the projection has such power (and causes such destruction). It’s when we realize, to borrow a phrase from the old comic strip Pogo, that “we have met the enemy and he is us” that the shadow stops being a hated Other and reveals itself as our own unacknowledged identity with everything we claim we can’t stand. As for the “pale criminal” in today’s America, the same pattern’s all over the place — and for good reason; no political system will ever produce leaders better than the people they lead…
Lathechuck, it’s typical political dualism — “If you disagree with any one thing I believe in, you must also disagree with everything I believe in, and I bet you hate me personally, too!” That’s the level to which public discourse has sunk in much of the US these days.
Corydalidae, delighted to hear it.
Joseph, true enough.
Corydalidae, I don’t know, but he’s been writing some excellent stuff for some years now.
Dazhuang, yeah, netheads get giddy notions like that. Consider the dismal quality of information on the net — is that the kind of governance you want?
Amber, a classic example of telling people what they want to hear. Gah.
Peter, yes — I haven’t discussed Glubb as much as, say, Spengler, but he’s definitely worth reading, and he makes some solid points.
Bumblebee, fairly answered!.
Berke, er, do you realize that there’s a difference between the statements “progress harms more people than it helps” and “progress doesn’t help anyone”? I proposed the first; the news story you quoted would only be relevant if I’d proposed the second, which I didn’t. Pinker practices the same kind of dubious logic, so I doubtless shouldn’t be surprised to see you do it too.
Bill, there hasn’t yet been a lot of discussions of rising archetypes here. Loki — hmm. Maybe.
Bumblebee, yep. He’s not the only one feeling that particular burn, either!
Mark, it’s one thing to unconsciously project an archetype, and quite another to deliberately embrace the example of those who you admire — the latter is much healthier, not to mention more useful. That passage of the Tao Te Ching has always appealed to me, too!
Wil, zing! Good. Very good. In fact, you get tonight’s gold star for pointing out a delicious irony.
Shane, archetypes aren’t like hound dawgs, if I may borrow a Dixie-ism; they don’t come when you call. Nor are they the same as self-images, or publicity. Listen for them, and see if one shows up…
Dennis, true enough!
@ Soilmaker –
Muchas gracias for plopping out that third perspective I was wondering about with Drhooves. You are correct in that I see quite a lot of floundering, but (between the lines here) thinking on it, a good deal of the flip-flop is people that refuse to take responsibility – someone else or something else is at fault for . And as you also pointed out, those eschewing religion or deities tend to be more cognizant of their decisions than many deists.
Absolutely no qualms with anyone pointing out hypocrisy – it’s part of daily life, and useful for sorting out who you wish to befriend further or steer clear of, in many cases. I am sure it contributes to the cognitive dissonance of many, confounding their consideration of religions. I know it certainly disabused me of many churches in my youth.
Yet the fact remains that there are very many people, more than I remember in my life, that seem to be twisting in the wind in terms of morals and ethics. And having no compass means getting lost in many cases. Where does that moral compass appear from? Or are we in the midst of an epidemic of sociopaths and psychopaths?
Carbon black is a no-no. This gets into your lungs and causes black lung, just like graphite dust. I don’t care what the MSDS says, as I have familial experience with the refining end of it. I have no idea what it does to your kidneys or liver, but most anything refined to concentrated purity from other things isn’t as good as natural – so I try to avoid. Well, maybe gold and silver?
Not exactly on topic, but I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm in recommending a book: Conflict Is Not Abuse, by Sarah Schulman. It doesn’t have the Olympian perspective of JMG, but it the first perspective from the Left challenging the Rescue Game. and offering a more humane and practical alternative to dealing with conflict at all levels (from a romantic relationship to inter-tribal or inter-national).
Thanks, JMG for pointing out the example of xenophilia. Yes, I can see how both xenophobia and xenophiia of the sexual variety are intertwined–they are both related to our reptilian brain! But the xenophilia advocated by humanist type philosophies (including confucian, mystical and deep ecology) seem to be originating more in the frontal cortex. The question is a practical one–what mechanisms exist to deal effectively with inter-tribal conflict before it degenerates into war, rape, pillage and genocide? Is the limbic, sexual attraction to the other tribe going to be enough to prevent further escalation or even be present after they have raped and pillaged your tribe? Or are we going to need something else? Or even before the rape and pillage begins, maybe trade (without the one sidedness of empire) or coalitions of tribes with enforcement power could also help prevent escalation.
JMG – As a southern who has owned many a hound dog, I can guarantee they tend not to come when called either!
A dismal future for me is one where violence is a common or everyday occurrence. I believe that would be the most difficult thing to adjust to.
Shane – this seems quite off topic and I wont waste space here with protracted debate. But honesty the notion that the confederates were never Americans is bizarre. Many of the most influential founding fathers were slave owners from slave States. They hung together with the north so they would not hang separately. George Washington was not an American?? Absurdity. Even with secession the CSA constitution was closely modeled after the USA constitution except for some procedural things and of course a strict prohibition on any State attempting to restrict slavery. As I said totally off topic so I will have nothing more to add.
Please forgive the long, rambling post in advance, but my thoughts lately have taken a bend, and your latest post and the comments in response have provided some fresh compost to fertilize them. I would appreciate your insights on my train of thought.
I have come to see the universe as nothing more than energy flows. Laugh away, but the point is not that the universe is pure energy, but that this is what I am seeing. Or rather I’m sensing a swirling mass of energies with some other organ not named. Looking at everything from this lens, archetypes, personifications, gods, every object in the universe, including humans and our self identities, etc, are simply energy flows picked up by our senses, filtered through our brains, and explained by the stories we tell ourselves. Our senses and our brains are also stories.
A narrative, or story, is simply the mind creating a cause-and-effect link between two events in such a way that it makes sense to us. Simplifying the function of our minds, we can argue that our minds are pattern recognition organs. We sense the energy, we see a pattern, and create a story. The patterns we see are things like creation, destruction, change, movement, growth, exploitation, etc. The “images” you describe, the “subjective dimension of the human instinct” are flows of energy interpreted by our brains as patterns.
I feel like I am badly explaining back to you something you’ve been trying to explain to us since the beginning, but I need to understand this clearly.
Could “the deep places of the human mind, where unspoken fears and unacknowledged desires rub elbows with one another, and the future takes on a ghostly reality long before it appears in the form of human actions and their consequences” be where energy flows in the universe are picked up by whatever subconscious sense our minds are capable of? That archetypes do not begin in humans, in the images you describe, but have their origins beyond, as energies flowing through the universe? Are our “unspoken fears and unacknowledged desires” the (subconscious) stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the patterns the energies create? Or rather, that the mind creates.
As you may recall, in the last open post I asked a question regarding elementals. I did as you suggested, asked and received an answer, but they are not presenting themselves as personifications. Rather they identified themselves (or my mind created their identity) as functions of energy.
The north entity identified itself as “Order”, making possible matter in the universe, a healthy ecosystem, a healthy society, a healthy body, financial prosperity, a comfortable home life, and so on.
The east entity identified itself as “Light”, illuminating, the spark that provides understanding, knowledge and wisdom, insight and inspiration.
The south entity identified itself as “Prime Mover”, the will, courage and determination, the force that begins flows of energy, the force that moves energy from the mind to the physical, etc.
The west entity identified itself as “Flow”, the movement of energy from one place to another, from one person to another, emotions flowing to touch others, sexual energy and the flow of genetic material from one to another to the life of another, connections with the whole, making the whole possible.
They look suspiciously like a rehash of things I have read and are not very original at all, but who is to say they haven’t identified themselves to others before me? ;-/ In any case, they make complete sense to me in terms of the overall picture of the universe, and I can work with them as entities.
One last word. I think we don’t create the archetypes because we don’t create the energy flows that trigger the pattern recognition in our minds, nor do we create the inherited culture the image gets filtered through. The options I have in regards to the energies of the universe then can’t be to control these energies (using magic) because they are vastly more powerful than I am, like trying to direct the sun to go and position itself in another part of the galaxy. But I can choose to open myself to a particular flow of energy, personified as an archetype, and close myself up to another one, thus directing how the flows of energy that surround me will shape me and, somewhat, my life.
I suspect that is what you have been entreating us to do.
Am I right in thinking this, or have I taken a wrong turn in my thinking somewhere?
There are definitely holdouts, but I have pretty much washed my hands entirely of the idea of America as a coherent polity. I don’t think Germanics and Latins should share a country at all, the gap between our respective time-preferences are too high; Latins seem perfectly content to bankrupt themselves on a regular schedule while it drives Germanic stock berserk. I find excessive familiarity to be the most reliable source for fanatical hatred. Good fences make good neighbors, and I share the opinion we’re probably going to have to renegotiate the playground on the North American continent and likely rather messily, the way things look to me.
Do you happen to have a link to Jung’s Wotan essay? The only copies I’ve been able to find online are typo-ridden and terribly translated, to put it charitably.
I would view any type of religious practice that alters brain chemistry could be pretty dangerous, if the participants are not aware of what’s going on. Physical stress or ingesting drugs or other means to elevate (or depress) one’s spiritual perceptions doesn’t seem to me to get a very accurate picture of what’s going on with a supernatural component. I would point out that numerous people I’ve known who “found God” or became born-again experienced it at an extremely stressful point in their lives – precisely when the brain chemistry is at a point in which the sensory input is being scrambled with reality or the ability of the brain to comprehend what’s happening. This doesn’t mean, of course, there isn’t a supernatural explanation for what’s happened – but it does cast some doubt on the validity of one’s conclusions if experiencing abnormal mental conditions.
As for “mental illness”, I don’t want to play too loose with that term, as it comes in all varieties, but the point I was trying to make is that “bad” behavior is sometimes the result of a person being wired wrong, and I just don’t see any correlation between that and a person’s spiritual outlook. I could possibly see that certain personality types are more common with certain views, but only in the most general of terms. Stalin was an atheist, Hitler was raised a Catholic and appeared to be a deist, and Mao and Pol Pot had Buddhist backgrounds, and all of them appeared to abandon any moral compass in their actions, which is what sociopaths do.
I’ve had several events in my life that might fall under your definition of inexplicable, and all were experienced in times of stress, though not always severe stress. So it’s easy to toss out an hallucination or delusion in that case, but not so easy to explain the feeling of presence or sudden thought coming “from the blue”. I don’t necessarily attribute a supernatural explanation to these things, but I do maintain the possibility – mainly because I can see where my lack of understanding or ability to perceive that “next” level or plane of existence. However, that’s tempered with the basic human need to come to grips with these kinds of experiences, and the supernatural is a handy, though hardly verifiable, method of doing so.
Agree with the substance of your last post in that one’s morals are not directly tied to one’s religious beliefs. I believe there is a certain level of “law of nature” which lays down the basic morals, and helps the species survive, and are not necessarily traced back to religious practice. But when an individual begins to stray from those morals and commit crimes or deviant behavior, having a religious practice to assist with returning to a better path can be quite handy (i.e., AA orgs and their 12 steps).
A naive question: How many different archetypes are there? And does anyone has a list of them and their respective attributes?
Whoops, sorry, grammatical mistake!: Does anyone have a list of them and their respective attributes?
How do you listen for archetypes John?
For JMG, re “will bioswales and rainfail management turn into the next green bandaids” Yes, I do believe that’s possible. As of now, my justification is all green principlies, all sustainability principles, are man-made. What entity has The One True Green? I haven’t found it yet.
I have an exam prep book to review for green certification. Some sections are marked Mandatory, but the categories grouped underneath them are worth 0 points. The practice exam for green certification lists a ringer question: “Oh, we’ll ask you obscure factoids because we want you to learn time management: mark an answer quickly, move on, then return to it if you have time [groan], I wan an exam to promote rote recall, certainly, but also concept and principle synthesis; I already know time management in exam taking.
In a sustainability course, I asked my favorite question: can a city, say Detroit, suffering urban blight, be torn down and rebuilt smaller? The instructor said no, because once used as structural support, the uprights, the framing, cannot be re-used per building code. No engineer would sign off on it. You can take derelict residences, tear them down, and rebuild smaller pieces of furniture from them, but from what I know now, you cannot tear down, reuse, rebuild with a smaller footprint. Go Buy New, but at least young spruce and young yellow pine are considered sustainable for now.
New to these discussions (though not to your writings, JMG – many thanks for those). I am one of those Asatruar that have come up in this discussion, though not a particularly “metal” one. JMG said of archetypes above, “Listen for them, and see if one shows up”. Bill suggested that Loki may be one who is emerging. In my personal practice, Loki is showing up a lot lately. For what it’s worth, so is Heimdall, who provides a balance to Loki in many ways.
I don’t share your alt right take on it by any means, but I understand the phenomenon you’re describing. May I offer an alternate take?
I have almost no Latin ancestry, insofar as that means “Hispanic”. However, the bulk of my ancestors consist of the Mexicans of last century and the century before that– that is to say, Italians and Irish.
A few years ago I was working at a tech company and became good friends with another guy my age who was of 100% California Mexican ancestry. We found that we got along and “got” each other intuitively. Despite having grown up in different on opposite ends of the country and continent we had similar experiences of the world, similar attitudes toward work and leisure, religion and family life. One of our favorite topics of commiseration was the families of our respective girlfriends, both of whom were American Protestants of the Anglo-German variety. Both of us found holidays with the bland, formal, sober in laws unbearable, and both of us laughed at the stunned reactions of our partners to our own big, loud, affectionate and emotional families.
So I understand what you’re talking about when it comes to these divisions, though I’m very much on the other side. What I don’t understand is your belief that we “can’t share a country.” Because again– I have one Hispanic ancestor who I only recently discovered through genetic testing. My earliest ancestors that I can locate arrived in America in time for the war of 1812. We have been sharing a country for a long time– really from the beginning.
I will grant with most of the commentariat here that the US as currently constituted is ungovernable, and will probably balkanize at some point in the near future. But there are few regions of the country where the Anglo-German/Celto-Latin divide won’t be found, given how intermixed we are, and I don’t see any reason why we won’t be able to establish a modus vivendi, as we have since the 1700s.
@ Dr Hooves — Have you ever read the first chapter of James’s Varieties of Religious Experience?
all the states were slave states at founding and when the Constitution was written, and I think almost all of the founding fathers were slaveholders. The only difference was the number of slaves owned–I think maybe the Northern founding fathers only had house slaves, as opposed to a plantation full of them. Yes, I guess one could quibble about when the South/Confederacy ceased being American, though I would like for the meme to spread that the South/Confederacy stopped being American in 1865. JMG, sorry about my misunderstanding about archetypes, I will narrow down my question: what was/is the Confederate/Southern archetype(s) in the past and present?
Thinking back to Nietzsche predicting the “death of God” in Europe, and then all hell breaking loose. I know, JMG, that you’ve said that Christianity is shallow in the US, but we are colonial outpost, and our Western roots are very shallow, so shallow Christianity is all we’ve had. That being said, do you think the “death of God”/collapse of Christianity in America foretells the same thing in the early 21st century as it did in early 20th century Europe?
Talking of the cat in the dark room.
Science gives you a source of light that is not a torch but a laser pointer. Using it, you can scan the dark room and build a robust map with astonishing precision while everything is kept where it is. At the same time there is no way to see anything bigger than a (close to infinitely) small dot the laser points to. And if anything moves even a little bit – the area needs to be rescanned and remeasured to adjust the map.
As for the cat. It loves playing with the red dot jumping at it and attacking it from different angles. The observer scanning the room with the laser pointer, unable to see the whole cat, filters it out as noise.
Myriam-what you are saying about energy reminds me of Timothy Leary’s last peer-reviewed article, published in Etc magazine. The funny thing is, he influenced a number of today’s psychology professors, including one department head (no pun intended) that I know. But I sense that you are running into the same problem he did-a problem he might have avoided had he seriously studied philosophy- when you attempt to describe the ineffable, you come across as mad instead…Nonetheless I think any physicist would grant that from a certain perspective it’s all energy.
@Berserker and JMG, regarding metal and the dispossessed and rejection of omnipotence and the mythology of progress: my musical tastes tend towards symphonic metal, and I can’t help but quote the following two pieces (not my favorite group but certainly relevant):
“What about us, Isn’t it enough, no we’re not in paradise
This is who we are, this is what we’ve got, no it’s not our paradise
But it’s all we want and it’s all that we’re fighting for
Though it’s not paradise”
“We lived our lives in our paradise, as gods we shaped the world around.
No borderlines we’d stay behind, though balance is something fragile.
While we thought we were gaining, we’d turn back the tide, it still slips away.
Our time has run out, our future has died, there’s no more escape.”
I apologise for not expressing myself, I don’t agree with Pinker’s view, on the contrary I think we simply better (but not invulnerable) safeguards in the place. I linked it to give the view of progress worshippers, that if you look at the pure statistics the world has been getting better for a pretty long stretch. But I don’t follow it. Secondly I know difference between the statements “progress harms more people than it helps” and “progress doesn’t help anyone”. But “progress harms more people than it helps” leads to “the benefit progress brings isn’t worth the harm progress causes” and that is a hard sell for people like the kid who clearly benefit from it.
I meant no disrespect.
It would appear that human hubris knows no limits. Even a short reflection on what we might find if indeed we ever venture out to the stars will likely be a big wake-up call.
Let’s see, we are a species who evolved late in a star that is ~4B years old, in a universe which is ~11B years old. That means the majority of the life forms out there are BILLIONS of years older than us. What are the chances you would sit down over a cup of coffee and discuss technology or philosophy with an earthworm? Yet that is evolutionarily less time than likely separates us from life which evolved on other star systems. At best we are likely to be viewed as a annoyance (especially if those aliens have any clue about how we’ve managed our own planet), and treated to the equivalent to a spray of RAID.
Conversely, why should we have to? Why does everyone have to be invited to our party? Oh right, because when we’re left to our own devices, we create the richest, strongest, and most culturally powerful societies in the world that everyone demands to be a part of. Well, it’s time to shut off the music and send everyone home, I’m sick of seeing my living room trashed and all my booze disappearing. When I see Latins in the streets protesting that we put any legal limit whatsoever on how many are allowed to pour over the borders and avail themselves on our social safety net… I’m done. I’m just done. Civic Nationalism will always collapse under the weight of competing racial groups trying to seize the levers of power and use it to boost the interests of their tribe at the expense of all others. Well I’ve had enough of my tribe being the one at whose expense yours has been allowed to stick its hand out until my state government is bankrupt two or three times over.
The wall won’t just be to protect me from you, you know. It will also exist to protect you from me.
Shane: your observation/comment
“Thinking back to Nietzsche predicting the “death of God” in Europe, and then all hell breaking loose. …………………………………………, do you think the “death of God”/collapse of Christianity in America foretells the same thing in the early 21st century as it did in early 20th century Europe?”
is extremely interesting and valuable as a possible diagnostic of the times we live in. I am very interested in this potent question (and answer). Our religion(s) and practice thereof are really at the heart of and dominate our culture and living practices, without our realizing it. We are undergoing a tremendous paradigm shift/transition in human life on the planet, and getting a handle on this change is valuable in the context of most (families/lineages) will not survive but a few who “get it” will survive and thrive in the future. I cant speak for others here but this is a big motivation for me to assert my energy (mind/time mostly) here.
Which leads me back to Archdruidry. I really think that Archdruidry is the best religion for making the transition to a good future. I asked JMG about details of this last year and realized from his kind response that I already had accomplished many of the requirements for membership on my own, perhaps because of an innate desire for this path founded on an extreme respect for finding truth ind reality (thousands of hours studying and becoming an expert on natural science (Molecular biology, nutrition, physiology, and also electronics), combined with focus on study of my immediate environment (local plants, local sources of water, energy, and construction of tools/devices and systems to harvest local sources for living etc)
We discuss the negative implications for a dystopian world. I think that Archdruidry offers a very deeply enriching and happy future and is the answer for those who want to know how to have a better future, better than the past, actually.
long time no hear, hope you’re doing fine and the move to Rhode Island works for you!
I just happened to stumble across Matthias’ remark:
“Historically, I very much doubt that anybody between about 1200 (in Sweden) and 1800 could have identified the slightest Wotan element in any country of Germanic language”
In fact, all you need to do is rummage through one of the collections of folk tales that were compiled in droves in 19th century Central Europe, with Grimm’s “Teutonic Mythology” in the fore. It’s not like those tales were INVENTED after 1800, and If you can find a collection that doesn’t feature a story about the “Wild Hunter” riding through the sky with his posse of ghost warriors and prestering local peasants, I’ll buy you a beer… Pretty much like the 20th century pulp magazines you mention, I guess.
As for the upcoming archetype, maybe the Bad Mother? The one who gets really annoyed at what her children are doing to her? It would explain all those “angry women” in the movies lately…
Thank you for correcting my hyperbole. I wouldn’t in fact believe without further investigation that anything a 19th century “collector” (very much including the Grimms) wrote down was truly part of an old oral tradition versus heavily redacted by themselves, but I do admit a high probability that some of the “Wild Hunt” stories are pre-1800 and some probability that they have pre-Christian roots.
What I was trying to say is that the presence of one such story among thousands of legends about saints, the Virgin Mary etc. doesn’t prove an archetype was present during those centuries. Who are the people who really cared about the Wild Hunt, for whom it was a matter of existential importance, who felt it mattered in their own lives? The Icelanders who wrote down the Edda and transmitted it over the centuries seem to have regarded Odin as an antiquarian matter.
Excellent diagnosis. I was recently reading the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder with my daughter and was surprised at the central theme of a self-reliant family moving on when the population density got too high for them (i.e. the resources their self-reliant fantasy depended on started to be overtaxed). They also contain hints of the techno-utopian and consumerist archetypes that were later modifications of the self-reliant pioneer archetype.
The summary as ‘human technology standing astride earth’ is a good description of the modern America Archetype and it is crashing. I am looking forward to your vision of what emerges.
@Mattias: the earliest accounts of the Wild Hunt I have encountered are medieval Christian ones (I can’t think of a single example in either Edda, unless you want to count a couple of vague references to “night riders,” which IMO are talking about witches). In the early stories, the hunt can be led by a variety of figures, male and female, of whom Odin/Woden/Wotan is only one. The stories involve souls in purgatory and those of children who died before baptism and seem mostly to express a lot of Christian anxiety about the fate of the unsaved after death. It is true that today Odin is very strongly associated with the Wild Hunt in the modern imagination, and that is enough to make the myth powerful, but I am not convinced it is a pre-Christian myth at all.
It is kind of funny how the military everywhere is aware of collapse. Here is a link to a report on the waning American influence. Too bad that it boils down to “we need more money,” but they recognize the situation.
At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World
“In brief, the status quo that was hatched and nurtured by U.S. strategists after World War II and has for decades been the principal ‘beat’ for DoD is not merely fraying but may, in fact, be collapsing.”
Dear mr. Greer. I miss you. I love your thougjtful, original writing and will try again to take in the new posts. Why have I not done so yet? My eyes are 74 years old and are having a hard time reading the new format. I dislike the font but that is a matter of taste. De gustibus etc. More importantly, the characters are pale, do not show up well and worse of all. The new format does not allow me to magnify the letters like I can on blogger. BOOOOOO.
Regarding pre-Christian myths (Ann Groa: I find your remark interesting that the Wild Hunt might not be pre-Christian, even if Wotan clearly is), I have just read an account of what seems another interesting interaction of a pre-existing belief with Christianity in Europe, . Ronald Hutton has a book out: ‘The Witch: A History of Fear from Ancient Times to the Present’. Hutton actually roams world wide in his history. Kathryn Hughes in a Guardian review mentions that fear of the bad side of the craft is not found so much among nomads, nor curiously in Christianized Europe on the Celtic fringe where there are fairies. Free-floating anxiety (genuine causes in uncertain times) is not it seems projected onto witch women in those areas..
Phil H. .
@Ien in the Kootenays:
Your browser might be able to handle the magnification on its own; I don’t know what you use, but try looking around the “View” options for a zoom option. Mine (Firefox) will go up to 300%.
(JMG, my apologies again if this shows up multiple times for approval; I haven’t solve that problem yet.)
@Ien: Using ‘Control +’ works for me to zoom in on my Windows laptop, here as elsewhere.
@Phil: I wonder if the fear of witchcraft has something to do with the shift in the feared supernatural other from fairies/trolls/etc. to demons? Demons are different in that they don’t just do nasty things but seek to corrupt and enter people – it’s a small step from imagining that your own soul is under perpetual demonic threat to seeing a disliked neighbor as having succumbed. That things got worse in the Reformation could be explained by the fact that the Protestantism deprived people of the magical protections that Catholic rituals and holy objects had provided. I’m just speculating here, but it’s interesting to know that that fear of witches isn’t universal. I’ll have to look up Hutton’s book – I’ve enjoyed some of his other works and appreciate his willingness to re-examine received wisdom.
– Ann Groa
@ Ann Groa and anybody else
Here is the review of the new Hutton that I read. I will try to get it from the library at some point.
Nobody in my recent lineage seems to have believed in fairies, nevertheless I am happy my local world is populated with non-human what I call ‘hedgerow’ personages. I find the ways they go about their business and sometimes interact with me/us very helpful. I wonder if this relates to fairies? I remember once a chance visitor remarking of our ancient apple tree bent with fruit, that the fairies must bless us – something to do with gifts I think.
Demons? There’s a thought. I would have been tempted if I had not known of the world-wide phenomenon, to think of them as concentrated sin, in the Christian sense. (As in: ‘Sin is in the DNA, even if it has been defeated’ – unsteady smile.) Maybe blow-back from transgression is a more appropriate description? There was a Sci Fi film way back called I think ‘Forbidden Planet’ where the more energy the travellers put into fighting off the attacking entities, the stronger the latter became. The idea was it had something to do with projected human energy, if I remember. Hmmm … just an idea. At least two persons on Well of Galabes list talked about being personally attacked by demons. For myself, I am not sure: although I would much prefer an alternative where fairies were integrated into my personal ecology.
True, but the “thousands of legends about saints, the Virgin Mary etc.” were normally written down by people who had a vested interest in preserving them (i.e. clergy), while they certainly did not have much interest in preserving old pre-Christian folk traditions. In other words, we don’t really know what the common folk really believed in back then. My university days are long gone, but if I remember correctly, some scholars think Christianity was just a thin veneer, while others think everybody was a true believer and all those apparently pagan leftovers (like Carnival or the Christmas tree) were really just degradations of some obscure Christian tradition. Considering the scant amount of evidence we have, that did not seem like a fruitful discussion to me. However, there are indeed a few mentions of the Wild Hunt between 1200 and 1800 (see https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilde_Jagd#Geschichte) that treat it as a demonic force that has to be warded off (cf. Münchner Nachtsegen). If one accepts Jung’s interpretation, that certainly didn’t work.
Thank you, yes, I can read the blog on the laptop. But I prefer the iPad. Blogger worked fine on it.
JMG, Here’s a personal experience I had over 50 years ago.
My “experience“ happened in 1963 on a 6 lane LA freeway when I was 19. I was home from Berkeley for the Summer and working at my dad’s furniture factory. Driving to work early in the morning, the freeway was almost deserted, one car out in front of me and another 2 lanes over…
Ever since I was a very young, I’d had this ability to put myself in a kind of trance and experience myself as having two bodies which were normally fused together, one in front of the other. The front one was my “normal” body. When I felt in the mood, I would let my eyes un-focus and after a while the two bodies would start to un-fuse. One body would vibrate against the other; they would still be “joined”, but sort of shimmering. It was like putting your two hands together prayer fashion and then rubbing them slightly against each other. Then gradually, one body would separate from the other and “float away.” The sensation was strongest at my head where I would feel the other body’s head moving out of and away from the back of “my” head.
When I was little, I sort of “played” with this on a sensation level; it was very pleasurable. I never let the other body get more than a few inches away, and my consciousness always stayed in the front body. By the time I got to my early teens, I had pretty much given up this practice. I certainly never thought about it in any “spiritual” way and had never told a soul about it.
So here I was driving along at 65 mph and completely sober when the “mood” just sort of came over me. Maybe I was still a bit sleepy, but anyway, I just let my eyes un-focus and I started to feel that shimmering of the two bodies and the little “tug” at the back of my head as the other head moved away. I think I was aware at that moment that this was a very crazy thing to do, but somehow I had complete trust that it was OK.
At that moment, my consciousness jumped into the “other“ body and I let myself float free and up. I looked down, saw the car on the freeway, then as I moved upward faster I saw L.A., then California, then the whole of the U.S.A., and finally the Whole Earth floating in space exactly like those beautiful photos taken by the NSA astronauts.
As all this was happening, I gradually became aware of a kind of rope or cord that was connecting me to the Earth. It was attached to my navel and I could see it extending down to the Earth. As I pulled further and further away, this “cord” stretched tighter and tighter. I felt like some gigantic bow that was being drawn back by an invisible hand. Finally the cord got so tight it felt like it couldn’t stretch anymore and it turned into a shinny steel rod. It felt like the bow was drawn back as far as it could go without breaking. The tension was extreme.
At this instant, I knew that I had a choice: I could choose to cut myself loose from the cord/rod and leave the Earth and my life permanently, or I could return to earth and resume my life there. If I chose to return, I knew that my entire life was predestined to happen in a certain way. I “knew” that my life was a “story“, not just a collection of random events. I also knew that this story was one of an infinite number of possible stories that my life could have and that I would “tell” the story through the choices I made. I didn’t know any of the details of the story I was choosing if I chose to return, but I definitely had the feeling that whatever happened was “supposed” to happen, and that it was OK. I also had the feeling that there would be no blame or sadness if I chose not to return to my life on Earth.
I made my choice, the “bow” was released, and like an arrow I shot down the shining rod and landed back in my car. I had no sense of the “time’ I was out of my body, but it seemed like several minutes. When I looked around the freeway, it was obvious that I’d been gone for no more that 3-5 seconds as the two other cars were just slightly shifted in position relative to mine.
For some reason, I didn’t tell anyone about this for years, and it was several years before I read descriptions of out-of-body experiences which featured the “silver cord” connected to the navel.
After that, I had a few other out of body experiences, but they were all under the influence of either pot, LSD, or DMT and were quite different in feeling, much more “psychedelic”.
I’d describe myself as an agnostic who knows that “reality” is infinitely more complex than I can ever comprehend. The experience I’ve described didn’t answer the question “how am I supposed to live“? Rather it I provided a context or container, a bigger picture for my own small story. I gave me the belief that my life has an internal coherence and meaning, a “story” that will play itself out until its over.
I have no idea what happens after that. I can imagine all sorts of possible “afters” from nothing at all to sitting on a cloud strumming a harp to re-incarnating for another lifetime on Earth. I prefer NOT to live my life based on what might happen after death, but to attempt to make all the millions of choices that shape my life moment to moment (is this the WILL you speak of) with consciousness and awareness of consequences, and in accordance with my own inner feeling of what is right, what does the least harm. As I get older, the “shape” of my life gets clearer; I’m a bit more accepting of my inevitable defeats and grateful for the small pleasures.
Your story is intriguing. Are you familiar with Anthony Peake’s work? He’s a British author who is trying to explain various phenomena, mostly considered unrelated by science, including out-of-body and near-death experiences, deja-vu’s, schizophrenia, epilepsy, entheogens, etc.
I have read only his first three books so far, and I have somethimes found his theories not entirely convincing (but he’s the first to admit that his is a work in progress), but I recommend them nonetheless.
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