Book Club Post

October 2017 Book Club

This week’s post is the fourth of a monthly series of open-discussion posts focusing on books I’ve written. Our theme for the present is Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, and this week we’re discussing “The Third Law: The Law of Balance” (pp. 35-43). I’d like to ask readers to keep their questions and comments focused on that chapter and the ideas it contains; we’ll have another Ask Me Anything post later this month, and of course a substantive monthly post or two in due time.

In place of an outline, here’s the Third Law, as it appears in the book:

Everything that exists can continue to exist only by being in balance with itself, with other things, and with the whole system of which it is a part.  That balance is not found by going to one or the other extreme, or by remaining fixed at a static point; it is created by self-correcting movements to either side of a midpoint.

The rest of this section of the book expands on the concept this definition sketches out. Questions? Comments? Discussions? Have at it—subject, of course, to the usual rules.


In other news, I’m delighted to announce that another translation of mine is available for preorder and will be shipping in four months. Many of my readers know that I’ve long been interested in the Art of Memory, a system of mind training developed in the ancient world and refined in the Renaissance, which basically allows you to upgrade your own memory, and store and recall information much more effectively than the untrained mind can do. Giordano Bruno, the greatest master of the art of memory, published a guidebook to his version of the art in 1582 titled De Umbris Idearum—in English, that works out to On the Shadows of the Ideas. I’ve translated it from Latin, and added a foreword, extensive notes, and a guide to using Bruno’s methods, and it will be released in January in two editions. Details? Here’s the link to the over-the-top amazing edition with all the trimmings, and here’s the link to the merely gorgeous edition.

Fans of my quirky epic-fantasy-with-tentacles, The Weird of Hali, will also be pleased to know that the third volume, The Weird of Hali: Chorazin, is slithering its squamous, rugose way into print as well, and is scheduled for a late winter release. I’ll post the details when I have them.


  1. The law of balance reminds me of the concept of homeostasis in the human body. Take temperature as one parameter. The body needs to remain in a certain range of temperature to continue living and constantly adjusts other physiological parameters to stay in that range. If suffering from a dangerous infection, the body will often push that temperature up to try and destroy the infecting organisms. This can be effective, but is also dangerous because other systems can be irreparably damaged. So in some sense, an imbalance in the biotic community we call the human body leads to an imbalance in the temperature of that community. It reminds me of the current circumstances in the biotic community of the whole earth.

  2. I have no profound comment here, just wanted to thank you for the insight, which is good to keep in mind (I have a whole possible rant about how D&D got the whole “balance” thing wrong in re: alignments, but perhaps should not cross the streams of geekery there) and also to squeal like a badly-dubbed anime schoolgirl about that last announcement, which should make late winter in New England *far* more bearable than usual for me.

  3. Another thought about this law. Could the diversity of species in a community be viewed as a form of balance?

    It has become fashionable to eat certain foods or take dietary supplements with the aim of increasing the number of “beneficial” microbes in the body. Given that we cannot directly control what creatures actually thrive there, it’s sort of like seeding your lawn with large numbers of wildflower seeds. You will certainly get an immediate increase in wildflowers, but after 10 years, there may not be so many of them. Without ongoing intervention, it will depend on those species’ abilities to fit into the community that already exists. So the relative numbers of the species present tends toward a balance.

    Nature (absent deliberate human intervention) doesn’t seem to produce monocultures. It also doesn’t produce botanical gardens with a single example each of a wide range of species. It tends toward a moderate number each of a moderate range of species.

  4. Earth’s ozone layer is a fine shining example of this third law. The ozone layer blocks ultraviolet light penetrating the atmosphere; but ozone (O3) is an allotrope of oxygen (O2) created by exposure to that same ultraviolet light that it blocks in the atmosphere.

    The rate at which the ozone is produced is a function of the depth to which the rays penetrate the atmosphere. Thus, as the rays penetrate the atmosphere, they turn molecular oxygen into ozone; the ozone blocks the rays, so they no longer penetrate as deeply; the rate of ozone production is reduced. As winds and various natural reactions carry away or destroy the ozone, it no longer blocks the rays so efficiently, so they penetrate the atmosphere more deeply, thus increasing the rate of ozone production. Thus the system is held in a dynamic balance.

    Then along comes human industry, manufacturing ozone-depleting chemicals by the truckload; the ozone layer is thus made thinner, allowing ultraviolet light to penetrate more deeply into the atmosphere; the rate of ozone production increases, making the ozone layer thicker again – and thus the balance is maintained, albeit at a less-ozone/more-ultraviolet level due to the altered atmospheric chemistry.

    Notice that although the ozone layer gets thinner, it is never totally destroyed, as the workings of the system render that impossible within the scope of an atmospheric chemistry that will allow human life. (Of course, an atmosphere polluted enough to curtail human life will, by curtailing human life, eliminate the production of pollutants, thus allowing the ozone to begin replenishing itself. Third law again.)

    Admittedly, I’ve oversimplified things a little here, but good scientists doing good science would have chosen to observe this fact and its implications – rather than launch headlong into panic mode over premature conclusions about the role of CFC’s etc. in the environment.

  5. Well, again I will comment on this law by exploring some of the ways it applies to classical ballet. Some might think it is obvious: of course classical ballet requires “good balance”! And that is true, and especially true for female dancers performing on pointe, where the balance must be extremely refined. However, I think there are more subtle, but no less important ways in which this law functions in classical ballet.

    Regarding this sentence, for example: “That balance is not found by going to one or the other extreme, or by remaining fixed at a static point; it is created by self-correcting movements to either side of a midpoint.” Let us say that a dancer is balancing on pointe (tips of the toes),on one leg, with the other leg bent at the knee and raised so that the toe of that leg touches the knee of the standing leg with the knee facing side, a common pose in dance. The experience of actually doing that balance (or any other) is most definitely not static, you don’t “find that pose” and stop moving. In fact, the dancer’s body is constantly making small adjustments side-to-side, up and down, forward and back–self-correcting for as long as the balance is held.

    Another, broader way in which this law applies, on both a physical and psychological level: some dancers are naturally quite muscular and strong. They are very comfortable with fast, aggressive movement requiring strength and stamina, but they are often less naturally flexible, and must stretch frequently to avoid being “muscle-bound”. They may often struggle with movement that is slow or sustained, and emotionally expressive. Other dancers are the opposite: highly flexible and comfortable with slow sustained extensions of the legs and arms, they need strength training to build endurance and physical power. Truly great dance artists combine both of these apparently opposite qualities, and can convey a wide range of physical and emotional expression.

    And for a yet broader view, including the spiritual: because classical dance is such a highly demanding profession, nearly all dancers I have known struggle with bringing balance into their lives as a whole. Read any biography of a professional dancer and you will encounter such struggles–and often it is very difficult. One can become completely absorbed by the profession to the point that personal relationships suffer or are non-existent, body and self image become grossly distorted leading to severe eating disorders or drug issues, and so forth. They need to find balance within themselves, within the profession, and within the larger world in which we all dwell.

    There is a real spiritual dimension within classical ballet that most dancers will acknowledge, thus I suppose it is not surprising that these laws apply so well to it.

  6. Your work has given me so much to think about- especially this chapter. I teach a yoga class, which is mostly attended by people north of 40, and I used the theme of balance as our intention last week. Both in a literal sense, actually balancing our physical bodies, and in an emotional and mental sense. It is so important to remember that we are moving about a center, not staying rigid.
    One question I have for you, JMG, as well as anyone else with an opinion: you mention that swings in one direction can give benefits through a swing to the other direction, for example the discipline of fasting can give rewards when the fast is over. I have too much history with dieting craziness to want to try this with food. What other activities can be used to sling-shot myself in another direction? What dangers are there to watch out for in experimenting?

  7. I’m very glad to hear about the translation of Shadows, I remember you talking about it in an ADR comment years ago and have been waiting for it since. I have a copy from a different translator but never got very far with it, I read some reviews that said it may not have been the best translation.

    Have you heard of Lynne Kelly’s new book, The Memory Code. Its a popular version of her PhD thesis that investigates the knowledge systems of oral cultures, and how many Neolithic stone structures might be memory spaces, encoding the knowledge that was located at sites dispersed throughout a wide landscape. Visualization and spatial referencing were used, along with song, dance, myth, ritual and drama in nearly all the systems she investigates.

    I think the book adds a lot to the literature on the Art of Memory, and places it in a very long historical framework. It has a lot of ideas that could be adapted in ones own memory practice, and she talks about her own adoption of these techniques in her daily life. She is a natural science writer among other things, so she uses these techniques for remembering a lot of information about plants, animals and insects, as well as history and natural science.

    I find a lot of people who come to the Art of Memory through “memory championship” route spend a lot of time focused on memorizing random numbers, words, playing cards, and really don’t expand from there to the long term memory of useful knowledge. I thought her account was very good at showing a way that these systems can be very beneficial in daily life.

    She has some detailed presentations on her work on youtube: (among others)

    Anyways, very much looking forward to your translation, and especially the guidance in using Bruno’s systems ourselves.

  8. The most significant aspect of this law for me — and equally, the most significant challenge — is the emphasis on dynamic, rather than static, equilibrium. The solution space is itself a function of time (and other variables). Or, perhaps, the journey is the goal?

  9. Greetings all!,

    From a biochemical point of view, chemical life processes are thought to be in perpetual off balance (if I remember correctly). Furthermore, complexity is thought of arising only when things are off balance. How to you reconcile this with the law of balance?

  10. With regards to new translations, you mentioned on the Well of Galabes a while back that one of your readers was working on an English translation of Josephin Peladin’s work Comment on devient mage (How to Become a Mage). Any word on this project and when it might be published?

  11. Jeremy, exactly. Homeostasis, in a living thing or an ecosystem, is precisely what the Law of Balance is talking about: the constant process of self-correcting movements around a midpoint.

    Isabel, hah! Not at all; geekery begets geekery, and if you want to have fun with D&D alignments — and they richly deserve it — have at it. (Me, I tend to prefer alignment labels such as “Neutral Hungry” and “Neurotic Good.”) As for the final announcement, trust me, I’m also delighted to be able to make it; I’m giving The Weird of Hali: Chorazin one final go-through right now. (Readers who don’t mind being tantalized might find it entertaining to read the story on which the setting is based, The Diary of Alonzo Typer by H.P. Lovecraft and William Lumley, and try to guess in advance what kind of fantasia I’ve composed on ol’ Howard’s themes this time. For extra credit, a major character is named Justin Martense…)

    Jeremy, yes, diversity is also subject to the Law of Balance. Wherever there’s such a thing as “too little,” there’s always such a thing as “too much,” and vice versa.

    Nancy, it only needs awareness before it becomes habitual. When you walk, you don’t need to be constantly aware of the shifting of weight from one leg to another, and the constant self-correcting movements that keep you from toppling over to one side or the other; you’ve done it long enough that it’s habitual, and takes care of itself. A person or society that makes a consistent habit of living in balance with the environment reaches the same comfortable condition, in which maintaining balance requires no conscious attention at all.

    Steve, true, though the Third Law doesn’t mandate that a given balance be maintained forever — the balance point can shift, and the shifts can be detrimental to, say, human beings. Thus getting rid of CFCs was arguably a smart move, since it allowed the point of balance to remain more or less where it was when we evolved, rather than moving over toward the ultraviolet end of things and creating conditions we’re not well equipped to survive.

    Lydia, fascinating. Thank you for this; one useful test of a set of abstract teachings of this sort is to apply them to a subject about which their author knows absolutely nothing, and see if they fit. Apparently they do — which is welcome news to me. 😉

    Katsmama, I’m delighted this was of use! Since the Law of Balance applies to everything in life, anything can be worked in a pendulum mode. There are, however, two things to keep in mind. First, you can mess yourself over with this sort of thing good and proper — as you’ll have discovered with diets! — so it’s wise to start very small, and pay close attention to the effects you get. Second, because every part of your life interacts with every other part of your life — the First Law, remember? 😉 — back and forth movement along one set of variables can kickstart more or less chaotic movements among others.

    One thing that very often works is to start on the imaginal plane, rather than the physical one. If there’s something in your life that doesn’t work for you, make a mental image of it, as clear and strongly felt as you can. Then make a mental image of its opposite, just as clear and strongly felt. Then, when you’re not in the middle of crisis — this last is a crucial point, by the way — go into the mental image of the thing that doesn’t work, wallow in it, feel everything unsatisfying about it, get to know it intimately. Then let go of it, and let yourself swing to the other extreme, without using the other mental image. At another time, go into the mental image of the opposite, wallow in it, feel everything you want about it, get to know it intimately — and then let go of it and see where you end up. It may not be where you think, since very often what you think is the opposite of the state you’re in, isn’t actually its opposite, and may be helping to hold that state in place! Rinse and repeat, trying different visualizations, and when you’re good at doing this on the imaginal plane — and only then — try it on the material plane.

    Alacrates, hmm! No, I hadn’t — thank you for mentioning it. It sounds like Kelly has done a fascinating job of building on earlier research on the way that landscapes become the frame for cultural memories. I’ll have to take a look at it as time permits.

    David, exactly. There is no static goal. There’s only balance.

    Karim, er, that’s why I specifically said the kind of balance I’m talking about is not static, but consists of dynamic movements around a midpoint. The earth’s atmosphere, say, isn’t “balanced” if by that you mean in a condition of static equilibrium; it is in balance if by that you mean in a state of dynamic homeostasis maintained by constant change.

    Erik, it’s currently being considered by a publisher. Once it finds a home — and it will — I’ll be announcing that here and elsewhere.

  12. It seems that many of the problems with our current human civilization stem from us trying to replace a constantly changing homeostasis type of balance with a predetermined static state. So instead of relying on a mix of food crops who’s yields rise and fall in relationship to each other based on changing weather patterns we attempt to lock down the production of a couple of given crops using massive inputs of chemicals or energy. Or to avoid the changes in climate that our bodies must shift and adapt to we have attempted to climate control all our buildings to the exact same temperature year round. The same can be said of our economic systems, our transportation systems and our healthcare. Such striving for a “locked down” static state only leads to brittleness, maladaptation and the eventual return of the “Law of Balance”. Except when the ” Law of Balance” returns to the scene, the corrections needed to get back to the balance point are extreme and painful.

  13. I’m reminded of a post in The Druid’s Garden a while back. Dana wrote about how kayaking down a river made the laws of flow and balance manifest. It’s one thing to contemplate these aspects of the universe, it’s another to experience currents directly. You have no control over that river; it’s your task to feel your way down it without losing your balance or smashing into rocks. She made some good points on the fundamental interaction between balance and flow.

    In fact, as one looks closer at these 7 mystery teachings it becomes more apparent how fundamentally interconnected they all are. It occurs to me for the first time that this stands as a contrast of sorts with the law of the planes, in which discreet, clearly delineated separation of realms is observed. But we haven’t gotten to that law yet, so I’ve got some time to mull that over.

  14. Hi JMG,

    I think I was acting in exactly the way you described in this section of the book when I was recently considering starting a market garden. My ego has been feeling in need of some gratification lately – I have been at home busy raising my kids for the past few years and not in the workforce doing something which society deems to be more ‘important’ (not that raising kids isn’t one of the most important jobs out there, but it is not always recognized in that way by our society.) So in the attempt to run from and counter that feeling, I was going to the other extreme with the whole farming business – wanting to do something that might be viewed as being important. Luckily, thanks to some somewhat painful self-reflection and the very useful feedback here on this blog, I think I have arrived at a third option of just continuing the gardening/homesteading/Green Wizarding for ourselves and our friends/neighbors. This actually feels like a balanced decision.

    I had mentioned another issue related to this – is it possible to take action with integrity since these types of emotional needs are always present? I can re-frame that question now in light of the Law of Balance – since one may not always be aware of the center and thus vulnerable to swinging from one extreme to the other when deciding on a course of action, how to act? For me, at least, I don’t always feel the presence of the balancing force. It has started to make a somewhat more reliable appearance of late, but more often than not, I am just going from one extreme to the other. Perhaps since I’m becoming aware that there is a tendency for that to happen, I can keep a better eye out for it when deciding on a course of action. Will all of those emotional needs which can often pull us off balance – ego gratification, seeking affection or attention etc, which as you mentioned are normal human desires, ever stop being such powerful forces in our lives? No, but I guess the difference, once we become initiated into these Laws, is that they stop leading us towards blindly taking potentially damaging and unbalanced actions – we become better at recognizing their presence in our lives and can constantly work at taking those little corrective actions to stay closer to a more balanced position in the center.

    I think the reason we might have the tendency to swing between extremes is that we try to escape from what we perceive to be bad, shadowy feelings instead of just accepting them as part of the whole being which we are.

  15. Liked the statement “either side of a midpoint.” Reminds me of balancing on a bicycle, a pair of ice skates, or a tightrope–all human activities. However, what hand guides us as we ride planet earth into global warming? How do we define “midpoint?” sustainability?

  16. Katsmama, another example is bicycling, or, I’m informed, motorcycling.
    When approaching a turn, it’s common to turn slightly in the “wrong” direction first, to destabilise your centre of gravity and quickly achieve the lean required to execute the turn properly.
    Mostly it becomes automated and you don’t notice yourself doing it, or even remember learning it.

  17. Ahhh… back to the feral hogs…

    We killed over 75 of these animals this summer. At this point, it seems that lead poisoning has thinned the local population enough that they either have learned to avoid our baited kill zones or we have simply emptied the immediate area. Time will tell.

    As we (farmers) talked about this, we don’t view this as unnatural or aberrant, but rather as humans replacing bears, panthers and other apex predators we have pushed near extinction. We view it as a responsibility to reduce populations of large animals running in “overdrive” due to lack of predation.

    We don’t mind the occasional pig platoon meandering through the woods. When pigs are so plentiful that walking is hazardous and riding a horse dangerous – things are obviously trying to balance out unsuccessfully.

    I view this as similar to the 100 year drought we had 5 years back. During that, mice and rats were crazy in abundance. By the end of that summer. they were hard to find. The following spring, we were overrun with snakes. Our guess is that the rodent burst fueled the snake burst. And lo and behold the hawk eagle populations seemed to balloon as well, likely due to lots of rodent fare.

    This is dynamic animal equilibrium in action. For plants, one has to slow the clock down or it is hard to see. Yet it is still visible. And herbivores enter into this equation in big ways.

    It’s all around nature, and thus this is a really visible law to watch in action.

  18. Clay, ding! We have a winner. Yes, exactly; that’s why I included the caveats that balance doesn’t consist of going all the way to one extreme, or becoming fixed at a specific point; those are the typical misunderstandings of balance these days. The pop-spirituality believer tries to achieve balance by being happy all the time, the manager tries to achieve balance by getting exactly the same results all the time; both of them succeed instead in achieving imbalance and various kinds of chaotic perturbations then follow.

    Ynnothir, nah, the Law of the Planes also integrates neatly with the others. You have to understand the relations between the planes to understand how wholeness, balance, flow, limits, cause and effect, and evolution all affect the different modes of being we all experience all the time — to understand, for example, that mental causes have material effects only in particular ways and under particular circumstances, or why evolution isn’t a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card for the mess our civilization has labored so long and hard to create for itself! We’ll discuss this in more detail when we get to that law.

    Stefania, it’s a little more promising than that! The desire for ego gratification isn’t a Bad Thing; it only becomes a problem when it’s pursued clumsily. You can learn how to pursue it gracefully, in a way that doesn’t get you clobbered by the unintended consequences of your actions. If I may insert a personal note, that’s part of what writing is for me; it’s profoundly gratifying to me to find, say, that a book I’ve written has made a difference in someone’s life — and I can harness the natural desire for ego gratification, and use it to motivate me to write better.

    With regard to raising children, to my mind there’s literally no more important task, and the people who look down on full-time parents have their heads so far up their backsides that they’ve got to part their hair to swallow their lunches. I admit to being prejudiced on the subject; I didn’t have a pleasant childhood, and a lot of that was either caused or made worse by absentee parenting. What you’re doing is profoundly worthwhile, and your kids will thank you for it.

    Jenniferxyz, the hand that determines what the climate is going to do isn’t ours. It belongs to the planetary system as a whole, and does not care what we think! The midpoint of sustainability we could have aimed for is the point at which our actions as a civilization are having a neutral effect on the planet, but we flubbed that test and it’s way too late to retake it. Now the midpoint we can aim for is the one that measures just how much can be saved from the wreck of industrial civilization, and we don’t yet know where that is…

    Oilman2, yep. Predator-prey relationships are a great place to watch all of the laws in action. I hope those feral hogs have graced your dinner table many a time!

  19. One of the insights I received from reflecting on this principal had to do with the tendency among some eco/green-types living in urban or suburban areas to naively pursue rural living/off-grid fantasies. I realized that even if I could achieve it from a financial standpoint, it might actually prove counterproductive.

    That’s because in leaving one whole system for another, I lose many of the adaptations I’ve accumulated over time and throw various aspects of my life out of balance (i.e. family relationships, job opportunities, etc.) I realized that it actually makes more sense to make a series of modest adjustments over a period of years where I already live (a mid-sized city); because I’ve built credibility with my friends and neighbors over the years they are more likely to listen when I talk about my garden projects and eco-spirituality. I’m more likely to be able to maintain those changes over time and I help change the whole system of which I’m part (the city) rather than trying to escape it and leave it to others to “fix.”

  20. Hi John,

    Balance makes me think of trade offs. Consider designing a passenger car that has mass appeal. I want it to be fuel-efficient, but not at the expense of being so light that I’m at risk for losing control in a high wind, or at risk for a fatal fender bender. I want it to be roomy, but not to the point of being boxy; or if I did like the boxy shape, I nonetheless don’t want to pay too high a penalty in fuel efficiency. You can probably think of a dozen or more important trade offs, and that’s not even considering the car in relation to fuel resources, the environment, etc. Not easy to have a car that’s at least acceptable along all the more important dimensions, and excellent along at least a few of them. It’s a tough balancing act.

    What we do imperfectly and clumsily, even with manufactured goods, Mother Nature has been doing a lot better for aeons.

    I’d like to share my own definition of “extremism” which has devolved into a swear word. To me, extremism is favoring one or two factors at the expense of other factors that are also important for a successful result; if you will, over weighting some factors and under weighting others so that we find ourselves off at an extreme rather than near a (dynamic) balance point. (There are circumstances where extremism in this sense may be appropriate: designing a special-purpose race car is not the same as designing a car meant for a mass market.) Partly, this is based on a desire to simplify: a virtue, perhaps, when getting to the heart of a new principle in physics, but often a vice when it comes to detailed engineering of a policy or a product that needs to take into account many competing factors. Partly, it’s a function of how many of bad consequences can be pawned off onto groups perceived as powerless. In the sense I’ve defined extremism, mainstream politics merits the “extremist” label to the extent it has systematically underplayed the effects of its policies on the environment, long-term resource management, long-term health, etc.

  21. JMG, do you think biotech could play a part in remedying the unbalancing caused by fossil fuels in nature? E.G. Genetically modifying animals and plants to be more heat resistant of better able to survive chemical poisoning.

  22. Graeme Bushell: I’ve noticed precisely what you are describing: to turn right you pull back slightly on the left handelbar, which puts your weight over to the right of the wheels and you “fall into” the turn you wish to make. I hope that this is not too far off-topic.

  23. This past summer I began work as a tour guide on a small boat (~24′, 18 guests). I spent 4 to 5 hours per day, several days a week on the boat, on my feet the whole time. By the end of the summer, I found I was more limber, stronger, all my pants were loose, and friends told me I looked better. I realize that all those hours I spent keeping my balance on the boat had strengthened my body.
    I also found that the tales I told on the boat were better integrated. Had the stronger body led to (slightly) clearer thinking, or was it just the practice? Regardless, it’s been a very concrete demonstration of the value of balance.

  24. According to William Powers’ Perceptual Control Theory, human behavior and cognition are basically balance-seeking, negative-feedback-producing systems. Powers, in “PCT for the beginner,” gives the example of driving a car: you try to keep the car between the lines by compensating not just for the curves in the road, but for your previous compensations. You’re constantly overcorrecting one way or the other.

    The ultimate goal is to get our perception of the environment to match our desired or expected perceptions. Sometimes that means changing the environment, and sometimes it means changing our desires or expectations to be more realistic.

    A kind of pathological case would be ignoring the world entirely in favor of our expectations; i.e. delusions and hallucinations. In those cases, a normally balance-seeking, negative-feedback process degrades into a balance-destroying, positive-feedback process where all information from the outside world is folded, spindled, and mutilated to reinforce the subject’s expectations; any information that can’t be so warped is ignored as irrelevant.

  25. MJ, excellent. The other thing I’ve found very consistently about the whole back-to-the-land fantasy is precisely that it’s a fantasy — the vast majority of people who like to rabbit on about it aren’t actually making any concrete preparations to do it, and so they can sit back and fantasize about living a green life while continuing to wallow in the same energy- and resource-wasting lifestyles as their Republican neighbors. Actually making changes in your own life here and now, where you live at present, requires doing something, not daydreaming about doing something. This may explain why it’s less popular…

    Greg, it’s a useful definition. Thank you.

    J.L.Mc12, no. When you’ve got a system in chaos because too many changes have been imposed on it, do you really want to impose even more changes on it? When we’re hip deep in problems caused by the fact that we don’t understand the way the things we’ve done impact whole systems, piling more changes on top of the ones we’ve already made is a fantastically stupid idea. The thing that has to be grasped is that human beings just aren’t as smart as we like to think — and the tendency to try to deal with deep-rooted problems using symptomatic “solutions” is important evidence for that.

    Peter, fascinating. A lot of the value of practices such as t’ai chi comes from the way they work with balance, and with the tiny “stabilizer muscles” that keep the body balanced in motion. T’ai chi certainly makes the mind clearer, so it wouldn’t surprise me if balancing on a boat did the same thing!

    James, Powers clearly knows his way around classical cybernetics, where this sort of thinking is standard — and works very well, by the way. I notice with some interest that your “pathological case” is in fact taught by many New Age teachers; “you create your own reality” in current parlance amounts to permission to ignore everything you don’t want to see, with the results you’ve sketched out.

  26. Is it really possible for anything to live in balance? It seems that it is in the nature of all living things to grow, and reproduce as much as possible. There may be the appearance of balance, as different organisms coexist simultaneously, but it seems that underlying that coexistence is a push and pull, and a striving for same nutrients.

    On a completely unrelated note, I thought you might find this recent event from my workplace amusing. My office recently purchased a new printer. There was nothing wrong with the old one, besides being old. All it needed was a new toner cartridge. Instead they decided it was time for a new printer, one that had “new, improved features.” Almost immediately the new printer stopped working, and produced an error message that confused the IT guy. The printer was new on the market, so there wasn’t any documentation on how to fix this error. He spent a great deal of time researching the problem, and was eventually able to fix it. In the meantime several of us wished we could just have the old, more basic, printer back.

  27. Hi JMG,

    A tightrope walker has a wide pole to help balance. The longer the pole the easier it is. I wonder whether a longer spectrum helps balance in other areas, i.e. if the variation is greater does that make the overall balance easier?

    As someone who doesn’t do subtleties, I find it easier to see larger movements around a centrepoint, i.e. the balance in a system is easier to understand if the system has greater variation overall. Obviously there is a huge link with the law of limits here!

    I would be interested with your view on the above, i.e. does / can greater variation help overall balance? I suspect the answer is that it depends on the system – I doubt someone with bipolar would agree but maybe that is where the law of limits is being exceeded?

  28. Yes, I was not referring to a static or even a dynamic balance. It appears that many biochemical reactions are perpetually off balance in the sense that as long as energy flows into the system the reactions are never completed and it is that state of being off balance and never reaching equilibrium (dynamic or static) and indeed never even making self-correcting movements to either side of a midpoint.

    For instance respiration which is the burning of glucose with oxygen to give off energy + water and CO2 is never completed but keeps on going relentlessly, there is no balance nor correcting movements either side.

    For if this equation ceases, you have cellular death.

    But overall the law of balance is worth of study!!!!!

  29. JMG, “That balance is not found by going to one or the other extreme, or by remaining fixed at a static point; it is created by self-correcting movements to either side of a midpoint.”

    This recalls to me the manner in which Chen Xiao Wang (Grandmaster of the style of Tai Chi that I practice) describes the learning process. He says we all start with large “deviations”. (A misalignment of posture or movement). Our teachers will help us discover our deviations (one by one), in which case we often respond by making a self “correction” which is as large, but in the other direction. Over time and with deeper practice and good teaching, the “deviations” we find are smaller, and therefore the corresponding “corrections” are smaller, too. At a very advanced stage, we find ourselves making truly tiny corrections to tiny “deviations” (ie approaching the centre, but never reaching it.). And in “moments” we find ourselves rewarded by the apprehension and awareness of being in “balance” (which we are always in, at every point in our learning).

  30. Just to add to the discussion, in living systems, there are many things that respect this law. One can think of any particular ecosystem in which the community of living things all interact and dance around a state of dynamic equlibrium that is unstable in itself. The different components seem to orbit around some sort of equlibrium state, rarely reached but never far off.

    However at the cellular level, things could be somehow different, it is as if life is falling off balance but only crashing at death! A long fall, so to speak.

    I am making reference to the work of Ilya Prigogine concerning dissipative structures. From wikipedia:

    ” Prigogine is best known for his definition of dissipative structures and their role in thermodynamic systems far from equilibrium, a discovery that won him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1977. In summary, Ilya Prigogine discovered that importation and dissipation of energy into chemical systems could reverse the maximization of entropy rule imposed by the second law of thermodynamics.”

    I have read a bit about these systems and I must admit that they are counter intuitive. This is what made me think that at a certain level being perpetually off balance could be an important part of life systems. Of course it does not negate the law of balance. At one level things could be perpetually off balance whilst at another level things balance out dynamically around a rarely if ever reached equilibrium.

    Life is much more complex than we’ll ever know I guess…

  31. I have experienced this law in a very obvious way when I have tried to start and maintain a Nature Aquarium (aquascape or aquarium garden). A aquarium like this is not something that will be sustainable in the long run, but I have chosen to have a small aquarium (only 60 cm wide) for the moment and for a near future when we still have cheap and reliable grid power. This is relay a small ecosystem on steroids since it is too small to be able to get in balance by itself. The biomass is extremely high for the small water volume so I need to balance the light, co2, nutrients, filtering etc. for the selected plants and fish. The plants and fishes will grow and be healthy if I succeeds to have a good balance can I see how the plants produce oxygen and the tank is pristine without algae (since the plants is stronger than the algae), but the algae will take over the tank very fast if I don’t have balance and the plants suffer and give room for the algae. I see this as an learning experience where I must learn to “read” the plants and understand what they need in form on nutrients (both NPK and micro) balanced with the right amount of added CO2 for the selected light and plants.

  32. Hooray for the Peladan translation! I’ve been thinking about that book occasionally since the post on the ADR. Looking forward to finding out how to avoid living a life of second-hand emotion.

  33. Hi JMG

    We are out of balance in so many aspects that is difficult even to mention

    To talk about some of them:

    a) The GMO’s companies produce plants (maize, corn, soybeans) resistant to glyphosate, and then, after some years, the weeds develope resistance to the glyphosate, and then the EPA have to increase the MRL’s (Máximum Residual Levels) of glyphosate from 10 to 2000 times depending of the product, this increase have been made in 1999, 2012, 2015, exposing the people in USA to increase levels of this product even if the IARC said in march 2015 that it is carcinogenic

    b) The GMO’s companies want to continue the “war on weeds” now focus to new transgenic plants resistant, at the same time, to glyphosate + ammonium gluphositane + dicamba + 2,4-D (this last used with “success” in Vietnam as 50% of the orange agent) but right know there are weeds resitant to all of them, because the immense adaptability of the Life. The result is a turbo-charge of toxics in the food people consumo with the expected effect in the helth

    c) Again the same thing with the “war on worms” and the “stacked events” of GMO plants that produce 5 toxins of Bt, like Cry1A.105, Cry2Ab2, Cry1F, Cry3Bb1, Cry34Ab1 y Cry35Ab1, not “natural” toxins, but truncated and abnormals. anyhow, there are now worms resistants to the five Bt toxins. You cannot “beat” the Life, but you can destroy the health of your fellow humans in the process

    d) The antibiotic resistance will be a huge nightmare for Humanity after some decades, as the American Society of Microbiology says “we are aproaching an antibiotic apocalypse” (this is not a prepper or colapsist group of people), and the WHO say the same thing. The reason is that we are using the antibiotics in trucks to sustain the industrial livestock, and in China they are using thousands of tons of Colistin, the last resource antibiotic, to feed the pigs (they have also affeted by multi-resistance bacterias and people do not want they die), and now the resistance to Colistin is spreading faster

    We declare the “war on cancer”, “war on drugs”, “war on germs”, “war on weeds”, “war on worms”, none of them can be “winned”, as many others these are unwinnable wars, only us are who can lose the health and the life in this fight, because we are part of the web of Life and we have to act “with” the Life not “against” trying to “conquer” it


  34. What about the situations where a compromise seems to be more dysfunctional than the extremes?

    For example, the US has policies about who can immigrate, but in recent history hasn’t always enforced them much. This looks like taking a middle position in the conflict between wanting to protect the living standards of existing Americans and wanting to help some of the poor and oppressed of the world. This leads to more exploitation of the working class than either fully enforcing current laws, or giving the illegals a path to legal residence with the same worker protections as citizens, the main poles of the debate.

    Are divergent problems an exception to the law of balance?

    Also, do you have any advice on choosing the boundaries wisely? The extreme boundary of a idea space can be set too narrow (“how many seconds should I strangle my neighbour?”) or too wide (“how far from here to Alpha-Centauri should humans travel?”).

  35. JMG
    As usual it is comments that can trigger a thought.

    Perhaps we are not always aware that as individuals and probably forever as human and hominid societies, we rely on choosing and following, (perhaps in instinctive obedience) paths that are themselves self-correcting. That can even apply latterly to our own inventions. A critical design in the motor car for instance is the steering geometry that takes care of much of the constant feedback needed to center direction on the move. Our ability to ‘correct’ would be in serious trouble without that element of dynamic self-stabilization restricting the chances of extreme feedback.

    For a more general example, I understand that hunter gatherer people living in forests rely on the forest to look after its self. They seem to regard ‘the forest’ as a vaguely benign ‘presence’, even vaguely as having its own ‘language’. There are in such circumstances lots of things to learn to do and not to do. Memorizing the recognition of 5000 different plants, their growth stages and what you can and cannot do with regard to them seems an essential and gratifying part of the deal. (I am looking at the work of Lynne Kelly who shows that such memory can be normal; h/t Alacrates).

    For a society with our successful toys, however, you are right enough about our loss of direction. In modern Britain we have built on flood plains. The motor car has allowed ‘choice’ of location for housing and encouraged of course out-of-town retail hubs. It had its humorous aspects when a Superstore was built a few years back on a flood plain adjacent to an ancient town in southern England. The engineers understood floods and built an effective ‘bund’ to protect the Store. The island they created was sufficiently large, however, when they had a Super flood to divert the water through the middle of the ancient town and its modern suburbs, something not known before in history.

    Phil H

  36. For the law of balance, I would like to introduce a few examples. In human life, the change between different activities for example, the change between activity and rest, or between different leisure activities, would be an example of balancing out between diverse activities without remaining in unchanging stasis. Sometimes one is interested in a certain activity, and at other times one is not interested in pursuin it for the time being. The same goes for different stages in one’s life.
    Another example would be the balance between emotional and rational factors in decision-making. The healthiest way in this regard seems to be the mentioned mid-point; neither pure emotions nor pure rationality lead to a healthy lifestyle.

  37. A succinct passage from Rousseau’s 2nd Discourse concerning the origin of inequality follows. The entire text is a study of the profound impacts of our relatively recent experiment (5000 years more or less) in imbalance know as political society. In general, the admonitions of philosophy or mystery teachings seem to me to arise from the recognition of the downsides of this experiment. Roger Masters translation:

    “Things in this state could have remained equal if talents had been equal, and if, for example the use of iron and the consumption of foodstuffs had always been exactly balanced. But this proportion, which nothing maintained, was soon broken; the stronger did more work; the cleverer turned his to better advantage; the more ingenious found ways to shorten his labor; the farmer had greater need of iron or the blacksmith greater need of wheat; and working equally, the one earned a great deal while the other barely had enough to live. Thus does natural inequality imperceptibly manifest itself along with contrived inequality; and thus do the differences among men, developed by those of circumstances, become more perceptible, more permanent in their effects, and begin to have a proportionate influence over the fate of individuals.”

  38. Interesting. My understanding of this law comes mostly from martial arts; good Aikido teachers spend a lot of time on dynamic balance. I actually had an insight I’d like to share about our current situation while watching the training regiment of one of my favourite modern martial artists, Fedor Emilianenko.

    Fedor was an extremely dominant heavyweight champion despite usually being at a significant weight disadvantage. I came across a documentary of his practice and noticed much of his conditioning involved sprinting while towing a parachute. Once I’d seen this movement practiced in isolation I began to notice that most of his fights began with it – he would sprint at his opponent at an extremely low angle. It’s impossible to maintain that kind of angle without an opponent or drag chute to balance against, but also extremely hard to stop or duck under.

    It occurred to me that the growth-dependent economics we’ve had since the industrial revolution is extremely similar – it worked very well while there was an India or a North America to lean into, but now that most of the world has adopted the same strategy, everyone is overbalanced at once with nothing to balance against. I suspect much of the desire to colonize other planets is a desperate attempt to pivot towards something outside of this paradigm that could absorb its momentum.

    Unfortunately, the agility to sidestep this kind of opening is rare even among heavy humans, never mind societies. That brings a strong disincentive to the major players to get their feet back under them, since an outsider to lean on is exactly what this system depends on. Perhaps the best approach would be a kind of camouflage – “Nono, we’re good recession-fearing capitalists… we just do our accounting a little differently, would you like to see? Are you sure? Deep time supply chain analysis is actually quite fascinating…”

  39. Understanding the point about balance being a constant process of returning to the center, but never to stay there, has been very important for me to learn. And I’m still learning it. I’m quite a sensitive and emotional person, up and down and round and round all the time. I have various techniques to keep me balanced, but am always in motion. Understanding this movement as a constant process of mean reversion, rather than as a sign of failure, is very freeing. It does raise questions though of what range of motion between two extremes is appropriate for a person, because it’s in that range that you find your balance. But I suppose that question needs to be worked out for each individual.

    I’m a musician and hear balance working itself out in music – sIlence is one side of the road, and constant noise is the other. The interplay between silence and melody (or rhythm or tempo) is music.

  40. Hi JMG. I have been considering balance and oscillation since reading your chapter. I must admit that this is mostly while walking the dog. Walking seems to stimulate the brain.

    Anyway, I was walking the other night and considering this while alternating between looking at the dog, the path and the night sky and I wondered. The mid-point about which we oscillate also moves, much slower than the individual oscillations. The dog runs back to me and away while I progress along a path more slowly. The moon rotates around the earth, but its orbit steadily gets farther away- e.g. the moon was noticeably closer 100 million years ago.

    Which made me wonder. You can control your oscillations somewhat, but can you, mage or non-mage, with the proper training urge that mid-point in a direction? Should you?

  41. Gavin, and the push is balanced against the pull — the striving of one organism for nutrients is balanced by striving of others. There’s your balance. As for the printer, that’s utterly typical — and of course nobody thought to tuck the old printer in a closet somewhere until the new printer turned out to work!

    Stuart, it really does depend on the specific system. A tightrope walker benefits from a long pole, but there’s such a thing as too long — and yes, there’s the law of limits coming into play. You can also think of it as a balance between too short and too long…

    Karim, ah, you’ve forgotten the second law, I see. If all things flow, then what we’re discussing when we talk about balance is a balance between flows. Respiration, to use your example, is in constant balance — you’ve got an inflow of oxygen and glucose which must always be balanced by an equivalent outflow of water and CO2. The rate at which respiration takes place, similarly, rises and falls around a midpoint, decreasing during sleep, increasing during physical activity. There are many other balances at work in the respiration process, and they’re all dynamic balances, balances of flow. Of course it never stops or completes — stopping and completing would involve a static balance, which is the kind I’ve already said isn’t involved here.

    Scotlyn, a very cogent example, and applicable to many things other than t’ai chi. Thank you.

    Karim, good! The Prigogine equations help define the relationship between the third and seventh laws, the law of balance and the law of evolution. Note, however, that a dissipative system of the sort Prigogine describes is always in a condition of dynamic balance between energy input and energy outflow; the Earth, for example, takes in heat from the Sun and gives off heat to outer space, and those two flows ultimately balance out exactly — but it’s what happens in the meantime, in the delay between inflow and outflow, that makes evolution happen.

    Jonny, a good example — and a good way of learning just how tricky ecological balance can be.

    Kfish, stay tuned! I’m also very pleased to see the Sar on his way to print in English.

    DFC, bingo. The entire approach of industrial civilization to living things we don’t want — weeds, bugs, gerns — will long be remembered as the most stunningly self-defeating strategy in the long history of human idiocy.

    Kalek, the point of current US immigration policy is to facilitate the exploitation of the working class. That’s not a bug, it’s not even a feature, it’s the goal. So, yes, it succeeds in achieving that goal more effectively than most other options would. Is it actually a midpoint, though? I’d argue that it’s actually an extreme position that masquerades as a compromise. An actual compromise — say, enforcing immigration laws by slapping employers of illegal immigrants with fines that actually hurt, then using democratic process backed by informed discussion to decide, right out in public, how many immigrants per year this country can afford to let in, and then letting them in legally — would be much better for everyone but stockholders in sweatshop corporations.

    As for divergent questions, good. The balance there is between individuals rather than within them — “you go your way and I go mine” is the midpoint between “we both go your way” and “we both go mine.” Choosing boundaries — why, here again, you need to find the balance between too much and not enough, and that’s done by self-correcting movements that center around a midpoint…

    Phil, that’s an excellent point. One of the advantages of history is that it allows some kinds of self-correction to become habitual.

    Booklover, good. Those are solid examples.

    J.L.Mc12, depends on how you define that slippery word “good.”

    Redoak, it’s been a long time since I’ve read Rousseau. It’s always seemed to me that the analysis you’ve quoted leaves out the largest single factor in inequality, which is coercion — the fact that the strongest guy isn’t limited in his options to working harder, he can also bully the weaker guy into handing over some of the products of the latter’s labor. Remind me — did Rousseau also cover that?

    Christopher, fascinating. And in modern political economy, as in martial arts, overreliance on a single gimmick works very well until somebody evolves an effective counter to that gimmick…

    Mark, exactly — the range of the self-correcting movements, and also their pace, are things that depend on the person, the situation, and all the other variables in play. It’s like asking how wide a scale or how fast a tempo a piece of music should have — depends entirely on the player, the instrument, the style, etc.

    Gavin, yes, you can — but you need to keep in mind that your movement in one direction will generate a corresponding movement in the other direction, and take that into account. Since each of us is part of many larger systems (the law of wholeness), and each of us is constantly moving and changing (the law of flow), it’s possible to let the wider movements of the cosmos move us in the direction we want to go, or to redirect the course of our current flow — but there’s always going to be a balancing movement, and that has to be taken into account. It’s also a very good idea to know what you’re doing…

  42. I’m loving this discussion of balance, and especially the example of bicycling, and hope that our host does too, even though he may not be a bicycle geek. The lessons on bike balance with deep implications that I see include at least the following (many of which have been discussed in earlier comments unrelated to bicycles):
    – Balance is almost impossible when stationary, but gets much easier once under way.
    – Balance seems hard to learn, but quickly becomes intuitive.
    – Maintaining balance often means a correction in the opposite direction from the one that seems obvious (the counter-steering thing).
    – The more stable the balance, the more robust the counter-force needs to be (compare bikes with sloped vs vertical fork angle).
    – Balance is not one point; there are multiple balance points that can be maintained (a stable turn).
    – Remaining in balance can keep you on the same course, or it may turn you around completely, depending on the balance point.
    – Moving between different balance points is necessary and feels good.
    – Small inputs help maintain balance, and moderate inputs may change the balance point, but large sudden inputs lead to a crash.
    – Maintaining balance doesn’t actually need you most of the time, so long as you don’t care where you’re going.
    – Any 3 year old can learn to ride a bicycle, yet more than a century after the safety bike was invented scientists and engineers continue to argue about how and why bicycles balance.
    I’m sure this list can be extended.

  43. @JMG: Hee! And I tend to agree. I can see uses for alignment if playing a beer-and-pretzels kind of campaign, but there mostly for the straight-up demonic and/or people who’ve gone real far down that road; most beings fall into Neutral Hungry, IME, or Neutral Kinda Tries to Do Good Stuff Sometimes, But Also Really Likes Sleeping In, So Hey. 🙂 And if the game setting assumes the objective existence of evil (not just “predatory”* or “entropic” or whatnot) then needing to balance that with objective-good is like saying that there have to be five people who torture puppies for every great philanthropist Because Reasons. Which I guess *could* be a campaign setting, but is a pretty horrible one, and one in which heroes have little motivation once they realize that’s what’s up with the universe (like, even bleaker than Chaosium-canon Lovecraft mythos RPGs).

    (Non-supernaturally, I get some use out of alignments as what people value: I describe myself as Neutral/Chaotic Whatever, because I’m a very “rules are there to make you think before you break them” kind of person. Good and Evil get trickier and split along, I think, altruistic/merciful. Maybe.)

    I think in part this is because I see personal evil as willfully ignoring the larger world/balance (from “hey, if I embezzle this money, my co-workers will suffer” to “this person would like to retain her liver in an unstabbed form, and has the right to do so, and I do not need to stab her in the liver in order to survive”) and impersonal evil as an expression of an out-of-balance force, with most non “balance” attributes themselves fairly neutral morally. (Love is just as destructive as hate, applied badly.) So the evil/balance combo sort of breaks my head.

    On a more serious note: how do you perceive the Third Law interacting with a different Second Law–that of thermodynamics, vis-a-vis the heat death of the universe? I’ve been having some thoughts lately along the lines of how maybe our assumption that wide dispersal and/or inability to perform what we think of as actions equates to loss or nonexistence is coming at things from a very particular perspective. Could be entirely off base, though; I’ve been eating a lot of candy corn lately.

    * Which gets weird because D&D’s “ecosystem” is…odd bordering on nonexistent at the best of times; like, letting a bunch of people run around with completely unflayed minds has not, in most worlds, been shown to have dire consequences. Although now I’m having horrible campaign ideas.

  44. Yes, Rousseau has a precise understanding of how to most effectively leverage these inequalities. A couple more passages make the case below. The broader point, however, is a similar sentiment can be found throughout the philosophical tradition. The balance I point at here is on a larger temporal and cultural scale, a balance between so called civilized humanity, and every other human experience.

    “Thus, as the most powerful or most miserable made of their force or their needs a sort of right to the goods of others, equivalent according to them to the right of property, the destruction of equality was followed by the most frightful disorder; thus the usurpations of the rich, the brigandage of the poor, the unbridled passions of all, stifling natural pity and the as yet weak voice of justice, made man avaricious, ambitious, and evil. Between the right of the stronger and the right of the first occupant there arose a perpetual conflict which ended only in fights and murders. Nascent society gave way to the most horrible state of war.”

    “The rich above all must have soon felt how disadvantageous to them was a perpetual war in which they alone paid all the costs, and in which the risk of life was common to all while the risk of goods was theirs alone.”

    “…the rich, pressed by necessity, finally conceived the most deliberate project that ever entered the human mind. It was to use in his favor the very forces of those who attacked him, to make his defenders out of his adversaries, inspire them with other maxims, and give them other institutions which were as favorable to him as natural right was adverse.”

    “‘Let us unite,’ he says to them, ‘to protect the weak from oppression, restrain the ambitious, and secure for everyone the possession of what belongs to him…'”

    “Such was, or must have been, the origin of society and laws, which gave new fetters to the weak and new forces to the rich, destroyed natural freedom for all time, established forever the law of property and inequality, change a clever usurpation into an irrevocable right, and for the profit of a few ambitious men henceforth subjected the whole human race to work, servitude, and misery.”

  45. JMG,

    I like how Ken Wilber once put it: “You don’t create your own reality. Psychotics create their own reality.”

    (Of course, there’s an irony in this since Wilber does essentially the same thing with the various theories he folds, spindles, and mutilates to reinforce the creed of his particular sect of the religion of progress.)

    PCT does help explain why that belief could become so popular: even being false, it allows us to fulfill a fundamental psychological/neurological drive.

    That said, there’s another—in some ways similar—theory, the predictive processing model (PPM), that actually suggests that schizophrenics are in principle the opposite of the “you create your own reality” type of person. In that that theory, schizophrenics have difficulty excluding irrelevant perceptual data (hence why they aren’t fooled by optical illusions as easily; they notice the conflicting data that most people ignore), and so they come up with elaborate explanations that treat mundane things like the color of the shirt someone is wearing as if it had vast significance.

    Conspiracy theorists (an overlapping group, I realize) do the same thing: contrary to popular assumptions, conspiracy theories are usually backed up with tons of evidence; it’s just that none of it proves what they need it to prove.

    (If you have time for one of his signature epic blog posts, Scott Alexander’s synopsis of PPM at Slate Star Codex is well worth the read:

  46. On the topic of your book “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” It might be a best seller in China/Russia, if it were translated into Chinese/Russian.

  47. @JMG “The pop-spirituality believer tries to achieve balance by being happy all the time, the manager tries to achieve balance by getting exactly the same results all the time; both of them succeed instead in achieving imbalance and various kinds of chaotic perturbations then follow.”

    @Clay “Such striving for a “locked down” static state only leads to brittleness, maladaptation and the eventual return of the “Law of Balance””

    OK, I’m going to venture into the field of nutrition, “balanced diet” and the striving for “standardised” foods, seeds, recipes and, especially food labels.

    I have mentioned before that I have a part-time job as a ticker of bureaucratic boxes associated with the processing of fish by-products into petfood. What we produce, as an intermediary, contains 100% fish, more or less as nature has produced it. When tested for macronutrients such as protein, fat, ash, we find there is a huge range of variation, as happens in the natural world. However, our suppliers commonly wish us to supply a product that has “x” amount of protein, or “y” amount of fat (as if we were adding protein and fat to the product from vats, rather than grinding fish by-products).

    As with people generally, who rate their food by what it says on the label, such customers find it hard to picture that nourishment can come from “food” as nature presents it, with natural variability, as opposed to the achievement of a standard, repeatable set of “nutrients” which are nowhere naturally to be found in the standard “balanced diet” mix currently in vogue.

    Usher in a food industry which is now geared around the division of foods into nutrients, which are then re-combined in pre-set quantities, in order to ensure the label is legally correct. Remembering that if the label is incorrect, this is called “food fraud”. (For some reason, the whole system of rendering food into nutrient profiles is *not* called “food fraud” – I am unable to fathom why).

    In terms of the post, having some faith in nature to “balance” our diets (rather than a “locked down” diet plan) may reduce our drive to count calories and or grams of protein or fat or sugar.

    Just eat food. Naturally variable.

  48. PS – my previous comment mentioned “standardised” seeds, only in passing. Here I am referring to the legal frameword that mandates seeds to fit a standard genetic profile in order to be legal to sell. In my humble opinion, this deprives both plants and gardeners the ability to play improvisations on DNA which, in the long run, may grant future plant generations the boon of having among their members those capable of adapting to new conditions.

  49. I forget another famous unwinnable war: the “war on terrorism” that fails for the same mechanistic idea of “killing, conquest and control”

  50. OK! Overall convincing arguments! In the end it seems we ought to be able to see all the laws as an intricate machinery with one law feeding into the other.
    One thing struck me as I read MTLE, it is the absence of any transcendental dimension to those teachings. Is there a reason for that?

  51. Hi JMG,

    thanks for your reply. As far as raising children goes, I couldn’t agree with you more. I suffered through a similar-sounding childhood as yours, and I know the damage that can be done as a result. So I chose to stay home and be more available for my kids. I feel a strong sense of personal responsibility towards them and their development. The nay-sayers do sometimes get to me though.

    As far as the ego goes, I definitely need to learn to work with it more gracefully as opposed to clumsily, but am not quite sure how to do that. Is there a book for that? Healthy ego gratification 101?? I’m guessing that maintaining a regular spiritual practice could only help that cause, as in the past when I have gone off the rails a bit in trying to fulfill some unmet emotional need and been whacked with the unintended consequences as a result, it has been when I let the spiritual practice fall by the wayside. Trying to discover the underlying factors motivating me to act would probably be a good place to start as well, instead of blindly and wildly reacting to emotions.

    I am struggling a bit though (maybe a lot!), trying to understand the relationship between the different states of consciousness that start to become available through a regular spiritual practice. In my ‘regular’ awareness, I feel separate and incomplete, and am motivated to take actions in the world at least in part to try to remedy some of those feelings. But once certain energies become active, a completely different type of awareness presents itself, one that is characterized by feeling connected to everything else, fully whole and complete. In this state I feel no motivation or reason for any type of action at all. Obviously this isn’t a practical way to go through life, and those states of awareness do come and go, but I’m grasping at trying to figure out how this ‘whole’ state is supposed to inform the more regular everyday state. I have tried to get at this idea before, but I’m afraid I still can’t really articulate it very well. Perhaps, er, a balance between the two? I appreciated Scotlyn’s example of the deviations and corrections in Tai Chi – could that apply here?

  52. If I may refer back to Isabel’s comment on the D&D alignment system, I tend to be suspicious when anyone (in a game, book, film, real life conversation, etc.) talks about the importance of maintaining a balance between good and evil. A balance between order and chaos I can understand, as I see how too much of either can cause a great deal of misery.

    I can imagine what an excess of evil would look like, but I have difficulty imagining an excess of good. Now, we might not all agree on what is good and what is evil, so my pursuit of good could lead to evil results for someone else. However, is my good still good, if that happens?

    If a good character helps old ladies cross the street, an evil character shoves them into traffic, and a neutral character does a little of each, I think I aspire to be the good character.

    I tend to play lawful good Paladins, for those familiar with D&D and similar games. Not lawful in the sense that even unjust laws must be obeyed, but lawful in the sense that a well-ordered society is best able to lead to human happiness. Not too much order, of course, and this is where balance matters.

  53. Re “The entire approach of industrial civilization to living things we don’t want — weeds, bugs, gerns — will long be remembered as the most stunningly self-defeating strategy in the long history of human idiocy. ” …. see also Harry Harrison’s novel Deathworld.” The settlers started a war on the local wildlife and vegetation, which got into a very nasty arms race …..

  54. @katzmama and @clay dennis–
    KM, if you can pick up a copy of Nicholas Taleb’s book “Antifragile…” (available now at most libraries), he has an extensive discussion of the practical health benefits of partial fasting (for example, no red meat for a month) in the Eastern Orthodox calendar. You may find it interesting!
    CD, Right you are! There is some medical literature that small decreases in room temperature, seasonally, converts regular fat to more healthy brown fat–and improves glucose metabolism. This link is one example;

    Our bodies seem to be designed to go hungry intermittently and feast intermittently, and also to be cold for a while and hot for a while. Of course it’s possible to freeze and/or starve, but some stress along those lines is likely very healthy. The modern balanced diet and year-round controlled temp are probably helping to kill off a lot of us…

  55. JMG,

    The law of balance, when applied to humans, reminds me a bit of biorhythms – where physical, intellectual, and emotional cycles affect our well being. I’ve noticed that when people gravitate towards an extreme of some sort (steroid hopped athletes, PhDs in astrophysics, blissfully ignorant Kardashian watchers), it’s often at cost to some other facet of balance in their lives. It also makes them more vulnerable to life’s little surprises, since something out of balance is easier to topple.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if “balance” was a consideration for new laws or businesses? Other than the oft rubber-stamped environmental impact study, it seems many changes are made with no consideration for balance or long-term impact. That’s when another law, that of unintended consequences, can raise its ugly head.

    @Graeme, Phutatorius

    With motorcycles, the concept you’re referring to is called “counter-steering”, where if a rider wants to go right, you’re taught to push on the right hand handle bar – which is counter-intuitive to slow speed bicycle riders, which believe that will turn the bike left. A good skill to master to avoid accidents….

  56. I tend to see balance as an ongoing process of dynamic equilibrium, not a static state. A static state is fundamentally unattainable since the universe is always in flux. Stasis implies stagnation and eventual self-destruction.

  57. @ J.L.Mc12 & JMG…

    I am and currently have done a lot of complex engineering modeling, specifically CFD (computer fluid dynamics). Before CFD, we actually did high-speed camera studies, slowing down fluids while dropping colored pellets into the system to see where the fluid was actually flowing and at what velocity.

    In doing drill bits for the oilfield, and in most cases of propeller design, some grand assumptions were made by engineers. One of them was that if the velocity of a fluid was high enough, most of the particles ‘went with the flow” and behaved as you see a water hose behave with a nozzle on the end.

    During the studies of nozzles flowing, I was amazed to see that a particle exited the nozzle and then promptly went BACK INSIDE THE NOZZLE – with nozzle exit velocity of 1000 fps. Was quite the holy crap moment for me, and my first real glimpse of hypercomplexity and the chaos inherent in highly complex systems.

    I always use this example when I am discussing CFD and often during seminars involving chaotic patterns and hypercomplexity. The reason I use this singular example is that hypercomplex systems have an operable range. When that range is exceeded, they rebalance in nonsensical ways. They also will often simply ‘go nonsensical’ for short periods of time, then revert to pattern, without ANY external influence. It is simply part of a non-linear, unexpected pattern.

    Bear in mind that a nozzle is a very simple device, water is very simple fluid and we all know what a nozzle is ‘supposed’ to do – yet what is actually happening when using a nozzle is nonsensical until YOU SEE IT with your own eyes. The complexity of even this simple device, in slow motion action, is unexpected.

    If we extrapolate this to living organisms, cellular chemistry and their interactions at ANY LEVEL, the complexity of the system is too massive to even begin to model what is happening with any accuracy.

    By our own established physics, DNA and RNA should not even exist.

    Biotech as the answer is sort of like science fiction is the answer – both are simply fantasies. Seeing things like this makes me revolt when I see the moniker genetic “engineering”, because it is actually better termed ‘genetic hoping’ or ‘genetic crapshooting’. Even more upsetting is that these alleged ‘genetic engineers’ almost universally decry epigenetics as a valid science.

    Tampering with these type of chaotic and hypercomplex systems is NOT at all intuitive, not even rational. And the sad thing is that only now, during this period of abundant energy and compressed time, are these things even possible. We could wreck a lot of things doing it the “high tech” way, when the way Mendel did it was working out just fine – it just takes longer to work within the confines of natural heredity.

  58. @Redoak:

    (quoting Rousseau) “thus the usurpations of the rich, the brigandage of the poor, the unbridled passions of all, stifling natural pity and the as yet weak voice of justice, made man avaricious, ambitious, and evil. Between the right of the stronger and the right of the first occupant there arose a perpetual conflict which ended only in fights and murders. Nascent society gave way to the most horrible state of war.”

    And here we are. Perpetually, it seems…

  59. @ J.L.Mc12

    Genetic engineering, proposed geoengineering projects and the like to counter the destructive effects of climate change and other problems we created is a classic example of a “cure that is worse than the disease”.

    As it is, we have already seriously unbalanced the environment we live in through the reckless use of fossil fuels, monocrop agriculture and other short-sighted practices and caused immense damage in the process. We have only a very limited understanding of how complex natural systems, including living organisms, ecosystems and the Earth’s climate and weather cycles, work to begin with. Why would we want to risk screwing things up even more through poorly understood “solutions” that will almost certainly have unintended consequences? To me, the fact that people are seriously proposing this sort of thing shows just how off-the-rails and lacking in wisdom our civilization really is.

    There is a useful word in German, “Schlimmbesserung”, which means a supposed solution that actually makes things worse. Genetic engineering, geoengineering and other such “solutions” for global warming and the other problems we have created for ourselves and the rest of the biosphere are a classic example of that phenomenon in action.

  60. Vesta, I know only slightly more about bicycling than I know about ballet, and that’s mostly because I rode a bike fairly often in childhood. So it’s good to know that the principles I covered in the book work when applied to subjects with which I’m not familiar!

    Isabel, the problem here is of course that “good” and “evil,” as those terms are generally used, presuppose a binary form of morality that doesn’t really work in practice. As Aristotle pointed out a long time ago, the opposite of one kind of evil is another kind of evil, and the good is usually found at the midpoint between them — for example, it’s one kind of evil to be completely uncaring toward other human beings, and another kind to be so obsessive about them that you constantly try to control them, “for their own good” or otherwise. Good is the point in the middle at which you relate to them in a balanced fashion.

    Those two kinds of evil get confounded all the time. Think of Lovecraftian fiction, where the Great Old Ones supposedly are totally indifferent to human beings, and yet someday they’re going to rise up and enslave us. If they’re really indifferent to us, why should they bother? It would be far more in keeping with the Lovecraftian philosophy of indifferentism to have them simply ignore our presence on the planet — it’s not as though they have any reason to concern themselves with what those funny little ape things are doing with their little technological toys, after all!

    With regard to the heat death of the universe, I tend not to worry about top-level cosmological issues, since the cosmologists will change their minds again in a few decades, and an eight-inch-long lump of meat labeled “human brain” is not going to have the capacity to understand a universe trillions of light-years across anyway. The laws that concern me are the ones I can observe.

    Redoak, fair enough.

    James, interesting. I didn’t know about the optical illusions.

    Section 31, if you know any Chinese or Russian publishers that might be interested in buying the translation rights, please let me know!

    Scotlyn, a fine example of the worship of stagnation! Thank you.

    DFC, yep. I appreciated the comment — though I’ve forgotten who made it — that noted that we went to war against a terrorist movement with five thousand members, we’ve killed ten thousand of them, and now there are only twenty thousand left…

    Karim, depends on what you mean by a transcendental dimension. The laws as I’ve written them focus on patterns that you can see in everyday life, in an attempt to show that everyday life is a reflection of spiritual realities — “a moving image of eternity,” in Plato’s deft phrase. I didn’t go into much detail about the spiritual realities in question — the appendix directing people to mystery teachings more generally is meant to point that way.

    Stefania, exactly. The balance between the world of the spirit and the world of everyday existence is a tricky one, but that’s a core part of learning to be human. As for a guide to the healthy care, feeding, and discipline of the ego, hmm — I don’t know of one. The thought of doing one and making it read a little like a manual for pet care is rather enticing…

    Christopher, the idea that good and evil are opposites is a common misconception. Each kind of evil is the opposite of a different kind of evil, and good is the point of balance between them. The miser and the spendthrift have opposed vices, and prudence is the virtue that holds the center of the balance between them; cowardice and recklessness are equally far from courage, which is the midpoint between them, and so on. To use your own example, a good character helps old ladies across the street, one evil character shoves them into traffic, and another evil character stops them from crossing the street “for their own good.”

    That’s why our current pop-culture notions of evil are so incoherent — they’re trying to lump together incompatible opposites in a single package. I like to imagine a would-be Dark Lord who decides to practice all seven of the Seven Deadly Sins; he quickly finds that being slothful gets in the way of being avaricious, being lustful doesn’t leave him with a lot of spare energy for being wrathful, being proud gets in the way of being gluttonous, and so on. By contrast, you can practice all seven of the classical and theological virtues without any of them interfering with any of the others — being courageous makes it easier to be just, being temperate and prudent means you have the resources to be charitable, and so on.

    Patricia, now there’s a blast from the past! I’ll have to reread that one of these days.

    Drhooves, no question, a society that took balance seriously would have a lot less trouble with unintended consequences! Maybe our distant descendants, drawing the logical conclusion from the self-immolation of the industrial age, will be able to do that.

    Erik, exactly — that is to say, the second and third laws always interact.

    Oilman2, thank you — “genetic crapshooting” has just earned you tonight’s gold star for inspired coinage.

  61. That’s why our current pop-culture notions of evil are so incoherent — they’re trying to lump together incompatible opposites in a single package.

    That observation reminded me a lot of one of your early Archdruid Report posts, where you pointed out that people on the leftward end of the political spectrum tend to equate feudalism and fascism with one another as interchangeable, all purpose boogeymen, when in fact as political systems, they are about as far apart as one can imagine.

  62. I see it in plastic. We’ve made so much of it, where do you put it….the dump, the ocean, littered far and wide to the remotest of regions. Now we drink it in the water. We eat it. We’re becoming plastic ourselves. Balance as irony

  63. I have to admit I haven’t read the book, but I have enjoyed the comments. I do have a question of my own: would you consider that an immutable frontier is bound to fail because it does not permit dynamic readjustments? I read Toynbee’s complete study of history twenty years ago and don’t remember all the details, but his quip that strong and healthy civilizations have a limen (a doorstep), while ossified ones have a limes, would seem to fit. I do know without consulting Toynbee that Germanic tribes breached the Roman frontier again and again, in spite of any limes, and only caused terminal damage when the empire was weakened from within. In the same way, the Chinese suffered incursions again and again in spite of their Great Wall and overcame them, but most dynasties (certanly Han, Tang and Ming) fell because of interior problems and rebellions.

    I leave it to others to think about the dynamic readjustments necessary at each point in time to maintain a healthy commonwealth in the face of foreign and possibly inimical neighbors.

  64. Erik, yes, I well recall the hissy fits that resulted from that post! “Feudal-fascist” was simply an attempt by some people on the left to come up with an all-purpose political snarl word that sounded really baaaaaaaaaad, and had so little content that it could be applied to anyone. Such things inevitably happen when people start insisting that the entire world can be reduced to A and not-A, with A being what they believe in and not-A being an imaginary unity composed of everyone who disagrees with them.

    Dennis, yep. “What goes around, comes around” is one of the great laws of magic.

    Matthias, nothing is actually immutable, of course; a wall, be it Hadrian’s,Ch’in Shih Huang Ti’s, or Trump’s, is always and only a temporary measure. The dynamic adjustments happen anyway…

    Jimmy, are you asking for more Schopenhauer, or pointing out that this post contains ideas lifted from the old grouch of Frankfurt?

  65. The law of balance is central to how I think about intelligent processes in the most general way. Consider the thermostat, and know that Bateson influenced me so strongly a few years back that it was by way of you referencing his work that I was at first won over as a follower of TADR; Bateson awoke me from my dogmatic slumber of simplistic materialism, of the sort which hurries to explain past all intelligent processes in fear of God, and being woke I was willing to see the points you made, which were beyond the reach of by previous center of balance.

    Yes, the fear of God, that is the next inroad to the point I am narrowing down on. The God which the materialist fears, is not like the living divinities which increasingly inhabit my world view, who are in an important way like us, living in dynamic balance. Not at all, the dread God of the materialist is not balanced, but claims to be stable, fixed, eternal, and to hold all intelligence inside of its locked structure. Any thing that seems to be intelligent, except the human soul and in limited cases those things man creates in his own image, is a source of fear which makes then turn away their gaze; it is the long en-cultured fear of God.

    What we fear, we feel to be powerful. Intelligence’s power is, I think, vastly overestimated in our culture. If intelligence is a process involving balances, and response, learning and synchronizing with those surprises which could crash it, even cases vastly beyond the range of human possibility would still be dealing with the cussedness of chaos, complexity, and discord. But, intelligence is too often assumed to be in the final case, not limited by balance, but eternal and fixed (frankly one must question how much Faustian civilization suffered as a pseudo-morph under the weight of our own captivation with the fixed classical.) Thus the illusion that out of itself intelligence should be able to think of something to over come any circumstance limiting it. Truth, so figured, is eternal, and the eternal could never bend knee before the merely circumstantial or accidental. “2+2 is 4, it always has been, and it eternally shall be so.”

    So it is obvious that They will think of something, or that an Artificial Intelligence would near instantly invent a greater intelligence forever amen; resisting the possibility that they may find there is no solution, or that an AI would discover that there are no means around its own limits. Even in pop culture there is the trope of the intellect that can create out of nothing.

    The capacity of intelligence is bought at a great cost from entropy, and beyond certain dimensions becomes cost prohibitive. Looking at it with the assumption of an eternal backing removed it is a constant dance with oscillations balancing in many dimensions. Even the most purportedly eternal truths of mathematics and logic can be seen as growing up out of the seeds of their axioms, limited by the environment in playing through their possibilities.

  66. Regarding The Third Law – I am reminded of Gurdjieff’s “Law of Three”. Probably a stretch but it is usually explained as follows:

    The law of three means is that every action requires three forces. When three forces are present, things happen, actions are actualized. But without three forces—with one or two forces—nothing happens. There are different names for each force. The first force is called the active or positive or motivating force. The second force is called the negative or passive or denying force. The third force is called the neutralizing or facilitating or invisible force.

  67. JMG and OILMAN2
    I see now that biotech would be problematic for healing the environment, but surely it could still be a way towards a more sustainable post-oil future?
    I know we already use GM bacteria to make insulin and rennet, but other things could gradually be done to replace more energy intensive and fossil fuel based things, such as improving crops or new ways to make chemicals.

  68. JMG, Matthias’s comment is prompting me to think of boundary cell membranes, tissue and organ membranes, and skin, each of which is engaged in containment, exclusion and dynamic, but selective, flow. That is to say, the extreme “deviations” for these membranes would be either to contain/exclude nothing or to contain/exclude everything. The desirable midpoint that a healthy dynamic flow is “correcting for” is a situation in which what is selectively contained is useful and what is selectively excluded is harmful, and yet there is perpetual non-random movement and flow across the boundary.

    I notice that the deviation of illegal immigration (which as you point out is actually facilitated by the wealthy and powerful to produce outcomes good for them, bad for everyone else) gives an appearance to the ordinary person of no exclusion going on at all, to which the obvious correction, which is growing in popularity, is to exclude everyone.

    My vocation (as opposed to my job) is clinical, and I have been wondering why it is, and if it has any connection to this social and economic anxiety about immigration, that the incidence of autoimmune diseases is rising so precipitously. It seems that our very physical bodies are now frequently beset by this inability to distinguish between what is worth containing (often under attack) and what is worth excluding (often finds the back door in), and how to maintain flow (often sluggish and stagnant).

    Part of the answer may lie in our medical establishment being slow to identify friends that we should cultivate (eg commensal gut bacteria), in its haste to destroy enemies with killing strategies.

    But I wonder if there is a “harmonic” component, or a sort of “as above so below” form of resonance. That as our societies find it increasingly difficult to foster solidarity and friendship between people whose interests may well be common, our bodies also find it more difficult to distinguish friend from foe. Instead of cultivating friends, it cultivates enemies, instead of attacking enemies, it attacks friends.

    This is certainly balance, but it is not health.

  69. Hi John Michael,

    Spring is bouncing along nicely here. It is actually a very normal and average season so far – whatever that means. Last evening a fox killed one of the Australorp chickens and that was a bit of a pain for me and more especially the unfortunate chicken. I managed to stop the fox from dining on the Australorp after chasing it a good distance into the forest, so neither of us has won that round, but the game is long and sometimes you are ahead and sometimes you are in arrears. Balance pulses and is definitely not consistent, but that is what nature looks like.

    Speaking of which, I invite the wildlife onto the farm here and they turn up for a feed and drink. Every year there seems to be a more diverse range of critters and I have to add to the balance discussion that I have observed that sometimes a greater diversity of players can actually improve the overall stability of an ecosystem. In those conditions, the various critters tend to keep each other in check in terms of consuming the local resources – as they themselves can become the local resources.

    You know most people want to fence all of the wildlife out of any productive area delegated to human activities, but I feel that is an unproductive response. There is a tendency to make natural areas look like factories in that they are simple and predictable, but far out, nature is nothing like that at all. And I always laugh when I get told off by folks about my land management techniques here when they themselves live in completely fenced off properties. It happens. Well done them.

    Anyway, I was sort of wondering as to your opinion of my thoughts that I reckon the addition of more and a more diverse range of wildlife here will also be subject to the inverted bell shape curve that talks about diminishing returns? Dunno. I haven’t yet hit that point, but tonight there were six wallabies and two kangaroos and who knows what else roaming around the orchards. I have no idea really, and simply watch them and see how they cope with the arrangements.



  70. Hi John Michael,

    Almost forgot to mention. Thanks for the heads up on the book Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. Awesome! I can barely put the book down, but alas life intrudes. Hey, you know I suspect the author is writing about us! Isn’t he clever?



  71. Mary Carruthers writes about Ars Memoria as a discipline with which the human is trained to make herself into a “living library” for Soul instruction, meditation and other creative purposes. Do you see this happening in the distant future, where these kinds of rhetorical tools and skills might be taught, perhaps as a science, perhaps as humanities? Is this superior to mechanical means of information storage because it forces us to end our reliance on digital technologies? I ask because it is a common exercise in clairvoyant training to “walk through” mental structures called light temples, which might be similar to the biblical sites, halls, churches, mazes and gardens that medieval Christians used for their devotional memory and recall practices. I acknowledge that it is a useful skill, but I lack the “imagination” to see what it might be useful for right now. Heh. Made a pun

  72. @ J.L.Mc12 & JMG & Oilman2 & others
    It is more than 20 years ago now but in an odd outcome to a modest career in applied science I was involved for a decade in biotechnology regulation and risk assessment both in UK and to an extent globally. The latter meant, in passing, alignment (wrong word!) with both the USA and EU. Mostly I was involved with crops, but usually only as a witness among the background crowd of functionaries.

    Just as I was leaving I wrote most of what I had gleaned in a chapter in a pretty obscure book as a kind of snapshot record. I used almost entirely data and analysis and pronouncements of an ‘official’ kind. Times move on but much of what I learned seems still relevant enough. I called a chart I inserted of unfulfilled prospectus: ‘The Impossible Promise”. Mostly the corporate hopes were shown to be hype: ‘PR’ obscuring a main strategy of securing ownership of the World crops inventory – essentially a variant of securing recurrent monopoly power within a corporate oligopoly. This tampering with genetic diversity is still a huge and dangerous issue, and has already narrowed the prospects for future agrarian societies. Bridging the discontinuity in the next century – loss of agrarian systems and their previous legacy of crop resources – in my opinion is going to be hit and miss.

    Crop biotech is where chemical and pharmaceutical corporations were judging they might make enough return (money) to justify a very expensive set of projects. Nobody at the time I left (IIRC) had made any serious money yet – it had already been a heavy ‘investment’ – though I daresay Monsanto has since recouped on glyphosate and I guess BT-insect resistance has been a tidy earner especially in USA. Needless to say US government was intent on helping project US corporate competitive interest globally.

    I got involved because a quirk in history meant that I was at the front-end applying what we called DNA-technology to diagnosing a very tricky crop pathogen embedded in global plant breeding resources. In those days detection was very laborious but the technology did help. Critically I had other even more laborious methods to check the accuracy of the new DNA method. What has since changed dramatically is that given the ‘promise’ of direct returns from health care systems, tools have been innovated and automated. This innovation is valuable for R&D and occasionally it seems in direct intervention. Thus, tools can aid pathogen description and detection and augment work with safer vaccines and the narrow targeting of, for example, aberrant cells and signaling molecules.

    Having said that, ‘the tools’ are a bit like the invention of the personal computer – anybody can have a go. And they do. I doubt though that there is any new economic model available. Those corporations I described above were looking for the ‘next step’ as a basis for continuing the industrial and so-called ‘green’ revolution. Oh well …good luck with that! They drew explicit support during regulatory discussion I remember from parts of the scientific diaspora who bemoaned the failure of the nuclear industry ‘breakthrough’: (I paraphrase: ‘we was betrayed!).

    I went on to do other things after leaving biotechnology behind. I wasted a lot more time even then, however earnestly I tried. But I feel many of the ADR and current crowd are doing a bit better! I value your words.

    Phil H

  73. While some laugh at the idea of “creating one’s reality” or (better yet, building one’s reality) this is what creative forming using memory arts allows. We organize the pictures on the mental plane (3) but it is still “real”. When when perfect our technique we mock up these mental pictures and activate them by embodying them, so to speak, using emotion (plane 2) and physical grounding (plane 1) to bring them to life. Is that delusion?

  74. You’ve made it clear the phenomenal level of stupidity, irrationality and thoughtstopping that exist in American culture, but you also say Trump voters acted on a rational calculus. How do these positions coexist?

    Does any of your fiction feature a world where magic and spirituality have become a significant part of society, a sort of Druidtopia? If not, are there any writers you think do a good job of portraying it?

  75. I bring up Rousseau because perhaps no other political philosopher better expresses the imbalance effected by industrial civilization on a temporal and cultural scale appropriate to the subject. If your suggested law of the balances is correct, we should expect the pendulum to swing all the way back to the opposing apogee, though it is quite a puzzle to explicate the balance point we move around.

    A quick note concerning the question of temporal and cultural scale. If the human species is only 100,000 years old, and only the last 5000 years have seen the existence (and now complete domination) of political societies, then the species has spent the vast majority of its existence, 95%, living in the absence of complex political society. The significance of this view increases as we allow a longer history of our species. When we speak of imbalance we must understand that the most significant one is this uncontrolled experiment in political society. From a biological perspective, we have no idea what we are doing.

  76. Hi again

    There are a lot of people, even in the mainstream, who see the huge risks of Biotech:

    a) The “colapsist” Stephen Hawnking said “most of the threats humans now face come from advances in science and technology, such as nuclear weapons and genetically engineered viruses”….” The human race faces one its most dangerous centuries yet as progress in science and technology becomes an ever greater threat to our existence”. Me, as good luddite, I fully agree with Hawking

    b) Nassim Taleb wrote an interesting article about the GMO’s and his conclusions are very somber: he thinks biotech is far more dangerous than nuclear power:

    Of this last article, as luddite, I like the discussion around “top-down” and “bottom-up” technology in agriculture (and the rest of fields)


  77. Ray, good. Very good. The fetishization of thinking as an omnipotent superpower, instead of what it is — a useful trick our species has learned to play with its subjective representations — is indeed at the root of a great deal of our present predicament.

    Anthony, he got that from older French occult traditions, which were fairly widely circulated in the Russian Empire in his youth. Papus in particular covers the threefold pattern of reality in great detail.

    J.L.Mc12, and what are the downsides? Every technology has them, you know. As long as you focus solely on what a technology can do for you, and neglect to pay attention to what the same technology can do to you, you’re skipping blithely toward a six-lane freeway with your eyes tightly shut.

    Scotlyn, what a fascinating point. Of course you’re quite correct — as above, so below, or in this case, as in the social mesocosm, so in the biological microcosm. I hope to Hannah we don’t start getting the same sort of boundary issues in the planetary macrocosm…

    Chris, the law of diminishing returns applies to everything else, so it ought to apply to that as well. Still, your efforts to attract more wild animals also face diminishing returns, so it ought to balance out.

    Y. Chireau, why wait for the distant future? Those practices can be taken up right now — and indeed there are people who have in fact taken them up. I may have to do a post one of these days — probably when the Bruno book hits the bookshelves — on the point to such activities.

    Phil, fascinating. Thanks for this.

    Y. Chireau, you can certainly create experiences for yourself that way, and those have one kind of reality. The kind of “creating your own reality” that’s a really bad idea is the kind where you insist that you can ignore the consequences of your own actions, because you’ve created a reality where they don’t matter.

    Yorkshire, a rational calculus says nothing about the quality of the facts on which rational judgment is based. If you believe that the moon is made of green cheese, then it’s perfectly rational to insist that astronauts should bring wine and crackers with them! But there’s another factor at work. For reasons I’ve discussed in several previous posts here and in the old blogs, the higher up the ladder of privilege you go, the less of a clue you have. The most extreme forms of idiocy in American society today are found at the top, among those who preen themselves as the smartest kids in the room; down toward the bottom of the pyramid — whether we’re talking about inner city ghettos or small farm towns far from the interstates — you can still find a surprising amount of common sense, though it tends to be expressed in crude and socially unacceptable forms.

    With regard to a Druidtopia, no, and I don’t know of a good example — the attempts that I’ve seen all bog down either in the tropes of cheap fantasy fiction or the even shoddier tropes of Utopian authoritarianism — or occasionally both. Hmm. In fact, hmm! I’ll have to give that a thought. If I went to Adocentyn, the legendary city founded by Hermes Trismegistus far to the east, what would I find there?

    Redoak, I find the claim that human civilization sprang into being out of nowhere 5000 years ago increasingly implausible, but that’s an issue for a very different post.

    DFC, it’s always struck me as a fantastically irresponsible technology, and I hope it goes away before it sets off too much in the way of mass death.

  78. Complex societies in deep time (greater than 10,000 years BP) would certainly change my perspective! Can you recommend any sources on this possibility?

  79. In the interest of better discussion about the value of biotech, please consider tabooing the scary word “biotech” and instead replace it with the description “being really effective about making things using fermentation”.

  80. To take Ray’s point about intelligence in another direction, I am often amused by the efforts of some materialist philosophers who try to put forth their pet models of consciousness which all inevitably try to explain away consciousness as an illusion, a series of post hoc rationalizations, etc. This seems extremely unbalanced and unrealistic to me, and can be seen in my opinion as the act of thinking as an omnipotent superpower taken to its opposite extreme; the inability to consciously think at all.

    -Dan Mollo

  81. Tangent to your reply to Redoak, I would like to say that a post on your thoughts concerning the possible age of human civilization would be very much appreciated by this reader, for one.

  82. Stefania, there’s definitely pressure for women to be in the workforce, even if we’d rather be home with our children. If I worked in a daycare taking care of other people’s kids for a paycheck, that would be fine, but staying home and taking care of my own kids out of love is somehow a problem and I’m letting women down. Who are they to tell me I should value money over love? Do they honestly think it’s liberating for a woman’s value to be reduced to a paycheck?

    It’s just as bad to push women into the workforce who don’t want to be there or into a particular career they don’t want in order to make some sort of gain for feminism as it is to keep women out of the workforce because they’re women.

    True story: a teacher in high school tried to convince me to go into a STEM career because “we need more women in that field!” OK, whatever. I wasn’t willing to make myself miserable just to get one more woman into a very boring career in order to meet some feminist quota. I don’t care what percentage of any given industry is women. I don’t care about glass ceilings. I don’t care about “manspreading” or about men urinating standing up. I just want to be left alone to live my life how I want.

    Feminists ought to try learning about balance. They’re going to extremes, and they’re going to provoke a huge backlash.

  83. Please note: in my previous comment I wasn’t talking about every single feminist out there. Of course, there are some ordinary, everyday feminists who truly believe in women having a choice, including the choice to stay home with the kids. Unfortunately, that’s not typical of feminism overall, especially the leadership.

  84. Redoak, let me look around and see what current materials I can find. That one really does deserve a post of its own. The one book I’d recommend for starters is Charles Hapgood’s Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, which covers one of the most intriguing bodies of evidence for Ice Age civilizations.

    Synthase, no, I’m not going to replace the word “biotech” with a deliberately deceptive euphemism, which is what you’re asking for. Biotech isn’t just fermentation, and it’s frankly dishonest for you to claim that that’s all it is — on a par with insisting that nuclear fission is just another way of generating heat, no different from ordinary fire. Shame on you.

    Dan, no argument there. It’s fascinating that so many people in the materialist end of things are drawn to such a self-refuting argument.

    Justin, exactly.

    Ray, I’ll consider that!

    Stefania (if I may), no argument there. I know quite a few women who have chosen to be full-time parents, and who got endless amounts of nasty treatment from certain kinds of feminists. I’m old enough to remember when feminism was about women making their own choices — now a significant amount of it has turned into women being required to make certain choices because that’s what the prevailing ideology demands. In what way is this an improvement on the situation that feminism was supposed to fight?

  85. @Garden Housewife,
    “manspreading”, umm, maybe you meant “mansplaining”, “manspreading” sounds like something certain gay men are into. 😉

  86. The examples of balance which I mentioned are rather trivial. But there are others which in their consequences are anything but trivial. There is, for example, in main sequence stars the balance between the powers of radiation and heat due to nuclear fusion in the core of these stars, and the gravity, which prevents the star from flying apart. Some stars with the right temperature and mass even pulsate around a midpoint in size and luminosity. Climate i another example. The balance which makes the climate of Earth habitable is due to the carbonate-silicate cycle: Too much carbon dioxide, and temperatures increase, rainfalls increase, and the carbon dioxide is washed out and put into carbonates. Not enough carbon dioxide, and there is less rainfall, so that carbon dioxide accumulates, so that it gets warmer again.
    Regarding civilizations prior to a few thousand years, I, too, would be interested in that subject. The problem there is, that I know of no traces of monument-building cultures before 10000 years ago, or of traces of the agricultural resource base which such cultures would presumably have needed. I wondered myself why there were no civilizations in the Eem Interglacial, but what I’ve read indicates that Europe at that time was densely forested, so at least in Europe, there didn’t seem to be complex societies at that time (That doesn’t necessarily apply to other parts of the world). And then there is the cator that there seem to have existed in Europe’s past complex societies which invested their surpluses not in cities, but in megaliths and the like.

  87. Hi Stephania and Garden Housewife, I’m a feminist old enough to recall the amazement of undergoing “consciousness raising” in my own life. It was a kind of eye-opening that relocated me into a path of my own choosing, not one I was herded** into by virtue of others setting up blocks or barricades to leave me no choice. Possibly because of the powerful personal nature of his process, I still consider myself a feminist, but I do not conceive of there being “feminist leaders”. Here, as in every other area of life, I distinguish between those who aspire to the power to rule over others and those who aspire to sufficient power to ensure others do not rule them. I am a feminist of the second kind, and resist those of the first kind.

    **As a sheep farmer’s wife and companion, I often help to “herd” (that is to move the sheep from one field to another). When we are moving sheep, we do not give them a choice. Ideally, they will “self-move” but only in the direction we wish them to go, because we have carefully put barriers in every possible alternative direction they might have chosen. I am conscious that in relation to sheep, we are acting as “rulers”. And I often think those who rule over people, try to exercise THIS kind of control most of the time (because actual violence is energy-intensive and once you resort to it, you can never turn your back again). They don’t tell people what to do, but set it up so that people find out for themselves that there is a barrier here and a barrier there (many of these are cultural or psychological, some are further enforced with consequences).

  88. Further to my last, I would like to point out that capitalism itself placed gigantic barriers between domestic dwellings and productive enterprise, to the immediate detriment of women. There was a time when saying “a woman is in a home” was equivalent to saying “a woman is in skilled charge of craft, production and her finances” – since the domestic sphere was the source for all of society of spinning and weaving and the making of clothes, the brewing and preparation of beers and wines, the production and administration of herbal medicines and midwifery, and many other enterprises in which the primacy of women lost out when capitalism transformed them into factory enterprises, and separated them from the spheres in which the care and production of people had a central place.

    It seem to me that capitalism is in its late stages, and its last “resource” to plunder is our very relationships with each other. We must “make” a living outside our homes and so, it seems to make so much sense, to entrust our children, our elderly and our disabled to the care of profit-making institutions, to entrust our worries and cares to therapists instead of friends, and to entrust the care, nutrition and nursing of our sick bodies to for-profit hospitals.

    In the face of all this, it is not easy for woman or man to find a way to “balance” their own needs – for family and mutual care/support, for expression of talent and fulfillment, for sustenance for body and soul – in ways that bring a life together into a single whole, rather than splintering it into many disparate-seeming parts. I am continually amazed by the utterly diverse and creative ways people DO find, despite it all.

    That applies to the many people who share something of their personal stories here in the comment pages. Thank you all!

    Balancing IS a dynamic process, and we are all doing it, often amazingly!

  89. A personal computer is a huge calculator, digesting 0/1 at incredible speeds. It has to be inherently balanced or it does not function. This balance is achieved by the OS being able to elicit correct responses from the chip and RAM. You have memory addressing, storage types and locations, buffers, clearing – there are myriad things to maintain and hold separate in memory, and then fed into the CPU in correct order to get intelligible results out.

    Would you, as a user, decide to go into your machine and insert changes into the machine language, irrespective of what it meant to the ability of the machine to function normally?

    Genetic engineering assumes that altering a single gene sequence is the end of their work. It ignores epigenetics entirely. Why? Because there is no set codec for epigenetics – not yet and unlikely to be decoded soon. This is the system that controls gene activation or suppression of genes, and it is environmentally sensitive over generations and in some cases within a few years.

    Genetics is simply not ready for deployment as a science. I am quite sure that cancer survivors from leukemia therapy and others would disagree, but as the father of a survivor, there are always downsides to any treatment that is radical enough to squelch cancerous growth. The reason for the mandatory long term follow-up studies asked of every cancer survivor and their siblings and parents is to try and see what happens AFTER the treatment with gene therapy and high-powered, lethal drugs.

    Gleevac is less than 25 years old – and epigenetic suppression or activation can be multi-generational – hence their interest in following survivors. Cisplatin and other lethal drugs cause immediate changes – how are those reflected epigenetically?

    The biotech madness assumes that altering genetic sequencing and inserting genes is the end of it. That is a complete lie just based on what we knew 25 years ago. The industry is flirting with and dabbling in a hypercomplex, dynamic system that operates OUTSIDE of a single generation.

    Look around – there is no authority for that on this planet because nobody looks beyond the next year or two. At best, they are concerned during their lifetimes, and this system is designed to operate well beyond that.

    We are, intentionally or not, inducing imbalance in a system that has worked for millions of years. It will rebalance, but what we do may make the rebalancing act one that produces a lot of unintended change or outright harm.

    I think that this essay is most appropriate, and biotech is a screaming example of short term thinking run amok. Gregor Mendel, while amazed at what we are capable of doing, would be likely to turn around and vomit at the hubris and disregard it shows for natural systems.

  90. Booklover, those are also good examples. With regard to civilizations before the beginning of currently accepted history, the major issue seems to be that most of the real estate in question is now underwater — during the last ice age, when sea level was up to 400 feet lower than it is now, much of what’s now dry land was barren uplands when it wasn’t actually covered with ice, and the really warm, fertile areas close to the sea have all been full fathom five since the glaciers melted. It’s a curious fact that so many old traditions claim that the oldest civilizations all sank beneath the sea a long time ago…

    But more on this in a future post.

    Scotlyn, to some extent it’s the natural working out of late capitalism, but there’s the broader process traced by Vico — the way that everything that was once local, personal, and governed by local custom and personal inclination gets drawn into the machinery of centralized, collective, and rationalized life as a civilization moves through maturity to decadence, and then collapses completely as the barbarism of reflection comes into play and the centralized, collective, and rationalized systems fall apart. The effort to maintain personal autonomy becomes as difficult as it is necessary in such times.

    Oilman, a very good summary of a very bad situation. Thank you.

  91. Scotlyn wrote: ‘Further to my last, I would like to point out that capitalism itself placed gigantic barriers between domestic dwellings and productive enterprise, to the immediate detriment of women. There was a time when saying “a woman is in a home” was equivalent to saying “a woman is in skilled charge of craft, production and her finances” – …’

    Are you familiar with Wendell Berry’s classic, The Unsettling of America? The theme you mention here comes up in a number of places in that book. Chapter 7 in particular draws some thoughtful connections between gender issues, ideals of nurturing & exploitation, and the destructive impacts of turning the household economy from complex productive system into a mere instrument of consumption.

  92. @Stefania, Scotlyn:
    As a father I think one has, again, to consider dynamic readjustments to the situation as it is. Our daughter has no siblings to play with, and since all the other children her age are in daycare, she doesn’t encounter them on the street or at their homes during the day. My wife and I both strongly reduced our working/studying hours in order to alternately care for her until her second birthday, and during the holidays we stay and care for her all the time, but we are very glad, both for her and for us, that she can usually stay in daycare for as many hours as we want (we want less than the maximum amount available).

    In the current situation, that is the only way she can learn from other children, and she is more balanced and speaks better when she has daycare than when she hasn’t. I would even argue that a daycare with two adults caring for ten children during the day is nearer to the long-term human “natural” situation than a nuclear family with one or two adults looking after a single child.

  93. JMG –

    I hate that I even felt the need to write that last comment. The gods of technology are false ones, and they need to be torn down. I weary of having to read and see their acolytes trying to recruit and even build new gods. (yes, there is a complete intention NOT to capitalize that pronoun in this context)

    I’m looking fwd to that post you elude to regarding civilization.

    It’s most interesting to see these changes, but to save you some time, this one goes negative from today:

    Most sea level maps out there do not, as they are tilted towards global warming rather than cooling. I find it interesting, in that the record shows warming before each glacial period, but where we are on that timeline is a complete guess. However, what I love about this is that it is all a question of balance – planetwide and across time, but balance and rebalancing and buffering – the dynamics are mind boggling due to the many variables.

    It pretty much explains why weather forecasting is limited to probabilities and just a few days out – too many variables that bump and nudge each other in chaotic ways that are not easily intuited. Microclimes that fall out in generalizing to make the forecasts, and my farm is dead in the middle of one.

    Since most civilizations congregate around water, and specifically coastlines for travel and food – the old ones are likely all there under late marine sediments. 70% of US population is coastal, and other countries are similar. What isn’t coastal is tied to rivers, lakes and other water sources or former water sources. And this has been true forever.

    So…. when? The geologist in me is impatient. LOL

  94. @ Justin –

    Nice find considering how both government agencies and corporations have tried to “forget” that incident. Also interesting is that the woman who outed this research by one of her grad students was castigated for other reasons and forced to make apology. It is entirely as interesting that the actual sponsor and owner of this organism is only mentioned as “a German biotech company” in all of the literature – like, for example, Henkel?

  95. Re: Lynne Kelly’s “The Memory Code”

    I’d be interested in what you think of what she has put together, particularly because she is (by her own admitting) at a bit of a loss to make sense of the magical and spiritual aspects of these systems, and focuses mainly on their survival value. She was a physics teacher who was very involved in the ‘skeptical’ community, as well as doing writing on natural history subjects. It was her book on crocodiles where she came across aboriginal Australian peoples who had detailed knowledge and classifications of all the species, which lead her into the question of how they managed to memorize so much in oral cultures.

    To her credit, she began practicing memory training while studying these things, which of course a lot of great scholars in this area have not done. She noted how the practice of these things opened up her creative side and loosened somewhat her skeptical outlook.

    I think someone who had some knowledge of ritual and magic, and some thoughts on Neolithic stone structures like Stonehenge could draw out some useful insights from this work. If you’re comfortable in sending out a mailing address/P.O. box, I’d be happy to get a copy of the book to you.

    Side note: do you know where I could find some detailed information of Ioan Culianu’s memory practice? I’ve just read small asides about it, and wondered if it was outlined in any detail in one of his books or in a book about him?

  96. Erik the Red, the correct substantive would be “Verschlimmbesserung” and the verb “verschlimmbessern”. This is something which one can best see when websites are modernized and at the same time become less usable, or when a new version of software comes out, which cannot be used on older machines, which may be slower, and whose newer features aren’t really needed.

  97. Since the Mommy Wars seem to be gong strong here, and since I lived through a lot of this, let me offer some insight. The early feminists did indeed emphasize the need for women to make their own choices. But they also, for very sound historical reasons, urged women to have some sort of paying trade or skill because Bad Stuff Happens. Death, disability. Divorce. Everyone has forgotten, though I have not, that Men’s Liberation via Playboy etc, began before Women’s Liberation did – the culture of Mad Men, though a reconstruction 2 generations down the road, illustrates it quite nicely.

    Also because historically – and any novel written in the mid-to-late Modern period will back this up – the usual alternatives for women to whom the bad stuff happened, without a strong family willing to back her up, were genteel starvation, with or without a paycheck (see, frex, Valjean’s sister in Les Miserables, who had a full-time job and was still starving!) prostitution, or being a drudge in someone else’s house.

    Also historically, the work on the domestic economy was widely seen as necessary, but not by that token necessarily honored. My own ex-husband believed – was raised to believe – that the person bringing in the paycheck was the only one earning a living, and that anything the housewife did as the very least she could do in return for being supported, for which she should be grateful. And the money needed to run the household (she WAS the purchasing agent for the household!) was seen as “her allowance, as if it were pocket money for lipsticks and comic books.” [As a side note: when I said “very well, then, I’ll go back to work and start paying my way, he answered ‘Don’t BE like that!’ Reason, cause & effect did not enter into it; just hard-wired reflex.]

    And from, again, the novels cited above, this was a very common mindset throughout recorded history. Exceptions being in the “barbarian” (i.e. never Romanized) Celtic and Norse cultures, so perhaps this was a Mediterranean meme that spread from ancient Greece throughout most of Europe.

    Where there were social institutions whose business it was to look after widows and orphans, such as the medieval Church, the fraternal and charitable orders mentioned in many of JGM’s posts, kinship networks, guilds, burial societies etc, this was a lot less of a hardship than I just described. But urbanized life and the growing cash economy left a lot of people stranded. Throw in periods like the Enclosures in the Tudor era and beyond, or the Victorian workhouse, which began in the post-Napoleonic Wars economic crash, and yes, the ability to earn and manage her own money was, in many cases, a veritable lifeline.

    So it never was as simple as “We are downgrading motherhood and forcing women to prefer careers,” though that’s a very common mindset today! There was at least 500 years of hard economic history behind it.

    BTW, my youngest daughter, now 49, and her husband agreed that she should handle the home front while he worked as an anesthesiologist. It is working out very well for them because my son-in-law’s attitude (and that of HIS father) is far different from the one her father has from HIS father. And because she is now the track & field coach for her children’s’ school, work that she loves. And there is a very notable baby boom going on in my neighborhood right now. Mothers with tiny children of even babies, proudly showing notable baby bumps. Delightful to see.

  98. @ oilman2

    All the GMO project, from the inception, was based in the flawed hypothesis of one gene = one protein, but this was fully debunked at the end of XX century and even more by the genome project, where the relative small amounts of human genes cannot explain the differences, for example, with the chimps

    It is like an alien from other galaxy trying to understand the double and triple meaning, the richness of ideas and sense of humor of the “Quijote de La Mancha” only knowing the letters of the alphabet
    There is a wholeness in the genome and not only in an epigenetic way, if you affect a part, you affect the whole

    My skin is bristling when reading some “scientific opinions” of the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) when they accept “Bioinformatics” as a way to “assure” there will not be a problem with the new genes and rearrangements of the genome of the GMO, so there is “unlikely” to have quimeric proteins or other alergenic, toxic or carcinogenic substances. This is well beyond a lie
    So forget about safety test (with lab animals, for example) in the future, for the new GMO, only put the description of the genes in the program and it will say you what proteins the cells will made and then what the risks are

    Really they think we are all imbeciles?

    On the other hand all the production process of GMO is a gene scrambling process, and the “real” genome is not what the corporations declare it is, because the process is extremly imprecise. Take for example this comparison, made by public laboratores, of what the companies declares is the genome and really what they found in some samples

    But they use the “declared” genome in their flawed “bioinformatics” simulations, all this pretense of knowledge only cheat themselves, but when you read a lettter signed by 110 nobel laureates declaring Greenpeace is a kind of “mass murderer” for preventing the development of GMO that could save hundreds of thousands of children from starvation, then you know what “Science” is about

    When I was a child I thought Science was “the best way to make skeptical inquiries”, but a long time ago I know what science is about, because it is not by chance modern science was born with capitalism, in fact it is a by-product of it, with the same project of concentration of power and control, in this case through the pretense of knowledge, and the mindset implicit in it

    May be we (humanity) could survive modern Science (me, as S. Hawking, doubt we could) and then start to see the world with other eyes

  99. JMG, thank you for prompting me to do a rapid skim for information about Vico and his thought. In doing so, I came on this quote, which raised hairs on the back of my neck:

    “Vico spends the majority of the work criticizing the modern instruments of learning in favor of the ancient ones. The modern Cartesian method teaches the method of philosophical critique which concentrates on teaching students how to find error and falsity in one’s thinking. The emphasis is on critiquing ideas by finding weaknesses in their foundation. The ancient instrument is the art of topics. This is the art by which one uses the imagination to find connections between ideas. This art shows students how to make new arguments rather than critiquing the arguments of other people.”

    Thanks to Alacrates, who commented at the beginning of the thread, I had previously spent a day skimming through the work of Lynne Kelly, who lays out intriguing discoveries about “orality” or the ways in which non-literate societies organise learning and storing huge amounts of information. Specifically they do this by perfecting “the art by which one uses the imagination to find connections between ideas.”

    Obviously, I must spend time doing more than skimming, both on the work of Vico and the work of Kelly. If there is a way to de-emphasise our, by now deeply entrenched, emphasis on critiquing ideas (together with their holders, who may well be potential friends, supporters and companions, and not enemies) by “finding weaknesses in their foundation”, it would be good to discover it soon.

    On a quick appraisal, I am not certain I find the “barbarism of reflection” idea as persuasive as it might be. But that may be because it is apparently a term coined to describe a sorry state of affairs, whereas, the word “barbarism” increasingly denotes positive qualities to my way of thinking. (If perhaps he had called it a “civilisation of reflection”?) I probably need to think on this some more.

  100. Since quitting my job and devoting much more time to drawing, I’ve given a goodly number of hours to studies of various masterpieces. Basically I do my best to freehand copy a piece, as to understand it more richly. Sometimes I’ve focused on details, other times the entire composition. Special attention has been put into the great canon of ukiyo-e prints, as I find their extended contemplation more inwardly harmonizing than those of the great Western artists, although I am quite fond of Durer and am excited to study Velázquez in much more depth.

    I have very little formal training in any of this, and have yet put on my boots and gone studying art theory or criticism. Nonetheless in doing my own studies of composition, I find much truth in your definition of balance, which I hope to explore point by point:

    “Everything that exists can continue to exist only by being in balance with itself, with other things, and with the whole system of which it is a part. That balance is not found by going to one or the other extreme, or by remaining fixed at a static point; it is created by self-correcting movements to either side of a midpoint.”

    In a composition the subjects represented have their own balance; humans, animals and plants tend to be more or less symmetrical on at least one axis. Buildings and other human artifacts also tend towards patterns of symmetry, as does ornamentation. This means that within a composition there are subjects balanced against themselves. Furthermore the subjects balanced against each other within the frame. In a piece with multiple human figures for instance, they form their own balance and this balance contributes greatly to the compositions meaning.

    The backgrounds, subjects and ornamentation are both balanced as individual entities but also are details, but then they also function abstractly as lines, shapes and colors and degrees of darkness and light. This creates an emphasis within the composition, and the lack of symmetry, the points of imbalance are what gives a sense of movement. It is interesting to note that if one stares at a very long time at perfectly straight parallel lines they begin to appear to undulate like waves; even some perfectly balanced compositions our brains create ” self-correcting movements to either side of a midpoint.” The relative points of imbalance in a composition are which make it dynamic and lively, I like to think they are what allows the composition to “breathe”.

    Lastly, it may be fair to say that an individual piece of art is balanced against the traditions from which it arose. Art constantly references other art, myth, history, literature current events etc. All of these references provide “meta” points of balance as well, midpoints of meaning that are used almost like a volleyball net to play with the larger sense of meaning. A theme in much of the art I’ve studied is the depiction of myth in what were then the fashions of the age. This represents an interesting mythic balance between the ancient cultural substructure and the present tense. Put rather differently; within great art there is a balancing of symbols.

    Altogether, a given piece of art is balanced against at least a half dozen different axes, the aggregate of which gives the final piece’s balance. Of course an interesting aspect of art is that it itself can only balance upon the experiences of the viewer. Thus art is an immensely rich place to study balance, both outward and inward.

  101. You know, I’ve heard of forms of biotech that either do not transmit a gene from parent to child, and also something called RNA interference, which is only temporary in the sense that it can’t be transmitted either.
    I’ve personally wondered if medicine that worked through epigenetic modification was possible, but that would be transmitted from parent to child would it not?
    I guess you guys are right about biotech being very problematic at its present state, I do hope sustainable uses are invented for it at some point though, kind of like in that book “last and first men” by olaf stapledon.

  102. At JMG- thank you for the advice of working in the imaginal plane first. Wallowing around in the idea of an extreme situation seems safer than making big changes in “real life.” Thanks to others that chimed in about cycling, temperature changes and wildlife gardening. Lots to think about.
    At Scotlyn- wow- what an interesting connection between auto-immune issues and security. Do we let everything in, or nothing? Is it really our choice? Very interesting idea.

  103. I’m no expert in finance or banking, but I’ll mention that the term “balance” has an obvious connection to bookkeeping. We “balance” our checkbooks to verify that our prior assets plus income minus expenses are equal to (balance) our current assets. That’s as true for our banks, as it is for us. However, the “assets” of a bank (that is, the loans on which they earn interest and the collateral that backs them) can lose value in ways that are beyond the bankers’ control. A mortgage borrower can default, and the real-estate that reverts to the bank may be worth less at that time than the outstanding balance on that mortgage. The “liabilities” of a bank, though, are mostly the book value of its customers’ deposits, which are guaranteed not to lose value. Obviously, when the liabilities of a bank exceed its assets, the bank is “rupt”.

    So, what happened here?

    As of June 30, 2017, The Farmers and Merchants State Bank of Argonia had approximately $34.2 million in total assets and $29.6 million in total deposits. … The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) will be $2.6 million. (a press release from the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, October 13.)

    This little bank in Kansas had $3.6 million more in assets than liabilities (four months ago), yet the FDIC had to tap the insurance fund for another $2.6 million to arrange a takeover by a healthier bank. I think that implies that the $34.2 million in assets was actually worth just $27.0 million, which is to say that the bank was over-stating the value of these assets by about 25%. Has balance been restored by the forced merger of a bad bank and a good one, or (as I fear) are there greater imbalances yet to be revealed?

    This is the seventh bank seizure in the US in 2017. There were only six in 2016. There’s something especially poignant about a “Farmers and Merchants” bank going down.

  104. Hi John Michael,

    Thanks and I appreciate your thoughts on that matter.

    I was thinking about balance and was wondering how people will cope when they discover that their gains are someone else’s loss? Dunno. Do you reckon most people even understand that aspect of their lives? Do you ever wonder what sort of situation would force our culture to accept the limits that are part of the law of balance?

    I suspect that as you have written before it may have to take a Dark Age to knock the stuffing out of the less functional bits of our culture.



  105. Oilman, thank you for this! It’s not too hard to find maps of sea level at the peak of the last ice age, but it’s good to have something more interactive. As for when the post will appear, I have a lot of reading to catch up on — it’s been a while since I’ve read extensively on the evidence for civilizations during the last ice age, and there’s been some very good recent work in that field.

    Alacrates, Thank you! Put in a comment marked “not for posting” with your email address and I’ll reply with my PO box address. As for Culianu’s memory system, I don’t know if the details of that have ever been made public, but he studied Bruno closely, so it’s probably a safe bet that he was working with Bruno’s system or some close variant of it.

    Patricia, oh, I get that, and there’s certainly a good case to be made for that. The problem is that in at least some circles the rejection of the household as an option has been turned into a rigid orthodoxy, as destructive as the notion that every young person ought to go to college rather than seeking some practical trade.

    Scotlyn, remember that Vico grew up in an age that revered the memory of classical civilization and feared the resurgence of anarchic violence; “barbarism” was not a compliment in those days! Vico’s point is that the end state of a civilization has much more in common with its initial state than the cheerleaders of progress like to insist, and that this doesn’t happen because civilization falls back — it happens because the consequences of the normal trajectory of civilization, as it “progresses,” result in the return of barbarism. As example A, may I suggest today’s world?

    Violet, excellent. When you decide to begin reading works of art theory and criticism, may I recommend two authors to begin with? The first is Gyorgy Doczi, in particular his book The Power of Limits; the second is Kenneth Clark, in particular his book The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form. I think you’d get a lot out of both of them.

    J.L.Mc12, my guess is that we’ll never be smart enough to make constructive use of it, but that may be just me.

    Katsmama, glad to be of help.

    Lathechuck, yes, and that’s also a very good example. I wonder whether the bank had been lending heavily in the oil shale industry…

    Chris, here in America, if you suggest that one person’s gain is inevitably someone else’s loss, conservatives generally scramble around looking for some reason insist that the person who lost deserved to lose, while liberals melt down completely. It’s not something people can deal with at all.

  106. My Reaction to your quoted passage brings to mind how I’m trying to bring Edmund Burke much more into my legal thinking (I’m doing a couple of assignments at the moment and basing them on Burke!). A “self correcting movement” is at least in theory what any legal doctrine is meant to do, hence legal systems working best (or at least working in the ‘least worst manner’) when they are grounded in a clear tradition (like the common law here in NZ, the USA Cananda and Australia. I confess I don’t know enough about civil law to apply any kind of burkean conservative critique). I Love the idea too of poltical instutions, and by extension laws being a kind of ‘organic’ creation, therefore a pull law away from some cold hard dense abstrat project to something more ‘viatalistic’.

    Brings Spengler to mind too. culture to civilization.

    Anyway just a few ramblings from me


  107. @Violet re art: a beautiful analysis! Thank you!

    Pardon any tupos – the cat si s between me, the screen, and the keyboard, tirnng me into an online dyslexia poster child. No offense to those who are – my ex-husnand was, in an age where the alternative explanations were “lazy, stupid, or deliberately disobedient.” He escaped the latter by being visibly a hard worked. I escaped the middle alternative by being so dreadfully verbal. We’re talkig the late 1930s/early 1940s here. The past, as I noted in that long screed above, is another country. And you have to treat any real card-carrying senior citizens like time travelers.

  108. @ J.L.Mc12…

    My thinking is that epigenetics allows both evolution and adaptation. The initial discovery of epigenetics was through body type, metabolism of individuals from lean years versus normal years. This, in and of itself, indicates that in a single generation epigenes function.
    If mankind maintains the knowledge, then there is every reason to expect someone to begin to experiment the same way Gregor Mendel did.

    When the entire perchlorate thing was discovered on Mars, some simple research shows that here on earth certain bacteria can handle more perchlorates than others. Archaea actually metabolize it and release oxygen. There is a reasonable assumption that acclimation over several generations might produce better metabolism of perchlorates, but biologic science does not do that type of research anymore. If it isn’t a result that satisfies the sponsor or is a potential patent, then there is no or minimal research.

    @ DFC…

    My feeling is that as long as the worshipers of technology have the center ring of this circus here on Earth, then we should expect exactly what we are seeing. There is little research done today for the sake of knowledge, at the professional level. Few sponsors out there exist to fund research, as was common in previous centuries. My guess is that fully 90% of research is geared towards providing the backing and support for the answer that is desired, no matter how the facts must be twisted, ignored or skewed. This is all caused by money and the drive to garner more of it.

    In past centuries, gentlemen of means (wealthy) supported science, and many of them participated in it. There were wealthy patrons of science, just as there are patrons of the arts today. Now, science is a business and failure is simply not allowed. Which is a very troubling issue, since more is derived and learned from failures than from successes.

    Science has become infested with very closed minded, defensive individuals, many outright liars and charlatans. There is little to no pure exploratory science because everything is now monetized. Due to this, I have been seeing many more tiny little labs cropping up in peoples garages and in little rented office spaces. There are people who simply no longer believe what science publishes, and are looking for their own answers. One of my friends is currently doing this today, in a small lab 20 miles from a rural city.

  109. Hi JMG, I have been looking forward to this chapter. A couple of questions on how I can use the law of balance in my own life.

    First, on p40 you mention the crux of these teachings – self knowledge – “if we stop trying to make the universe cater to our unexamined desires and fears, and instead take the time to understand what we really want and why, it becomes easier to recognize that more is not better and too much is just as damaging as not enough”.

    It strikes me I cannot clearly articulate what I really want and why. Do you have any tips for how to unravel these desires and fears and get clear about what I want?

    My second question is about use of the Rebound. p 42 “Decide what you want to achieve , and then deliberately go and experience the opposite state for a time; you will find it much easier to ride the movement of the balance toward your goal”.

    I want to improve my mental focus, to stop being distracted at work and really focus. The goal is more focus. Is the opposite state less focus? Do I deliberately get even more distracted?

    Similarly, if the goal is to eat less, do you spend some time eating a lot more?

  110. lathechuck,

    on another forum, i posted to a thread about bank failures starting after the housing crash. i was posting information from the fdic website about the assets and liabilities and the losses by the deposit insurance fund (d.i.f.). also, the name of the bank that would take over the failed bank. there is a website (if it is still doing so) that gives much more information. (search ‘banktracker’ for a link) there would occasionally be a bank that was so toxic that the fdic paid out all the deposits because no other bank would take the failed bank over.

    too often, it seems that the financial industry is all about the bottom line with little attempt at long term balance.


  111. Another question of balance in terms of society is the emasculation that many human males feel these days, of which much has been written by zimbardo and that favourite website of mine The art of manliness.
    Do any of you believe balance has anything to do with this?

  112. I’m very glad to see you recommend Kenneth Clark’s writings on art. His great virtue, apart from his extensive knowledge as connoisseur and scholar, was that , being a very wealthy man (Victorian/ Edwardian industrial fortune) he wasn’t involved in any of the clique-ridden and speculative games of the art world, and never wrote to curry favour or with a view to promoting an artist on whom he could later cash-in: this is rare in a now very corrupt environment. He was, dare we say, very balanced.

  113. PS On art, balance and composition, something that Violet (or anyone else) might find interesting is to study the works of JMW Turner and Canaletto from the point of view of the changes which these artists made in a vista in order to create an effective painting -and their manipulation of light and perspective. It’s very instructive!

    The compositional developments in Turner are particularly interesting, but no, he was not ‘progressing’ towards Impressionism or ‘Abstract Expressionism’ as became the fashion to say. 🙂

    As I say to friends, when they exclaim ‘This is beautiful, you should paint it!’

    ‘It’s lovely to be in, but there’s no painting in it!’

    They just think I’m being temperamental, but it’s just a plain statement of fact.

  114. @Justin @Oilman @JMG Re:Klebsiella

    I think GMOs are a bad idea, and I am open to the possibility of a grave GMO incident. But this Klebsiella thing wouldn’t have been one. There are ethanol-producing microorganisms, they are called yeast, and as far as I know, they have never turned a whole orchard into a lifeless ethanol-drenched desert. In general, a GMO won’t reproduce as fast and as robustly as natural microorganisms and will be outcompeted. I think a more serious concern is the horizontal spreading of genetic material from GMOs throughout the ecosystem.

  115. @Oilman2
    Re: Ice Age

    As is well known, the periodicity between glacials and inter-glacials is forced by long-term periodic shifts in the Earth’s orbit and polar alignment. Both of these are meta-stable: that is, they will stay in either the glacial or inter-glacial state until conditions get warm enough or cold enough to trigger a shift to the other one.

    I saw reports of a paper a couple of years ago that said we’ve gone past the “trigger point” for the next glacial period. That is, the combination of the amount of carbon dioxide we’ve spewed into the atmosphere and the Earth’s periodic orbital shifts won’t allow the shift into the next glacial period.

    I have no way of evaluating whether this is correct, but it does seem possible.

    Re: banks going bust

    The problem here is liquidity. Deposits are supposed to be completely liquid: that is, you should be able to walk into the bank and make a withdrawal at any time. Investments are usually not liquid: loans have fixed times that payments are due, etc. The contradiction is usually handled because the level of deposits doesn’t fluctuate that much, and the government requires that a certain percentage of deposits be held in liquid form – that is, not loaned out.

    This part of the system is definitely faith-based: that is, we have faith that the arrangements the government has made since the 1930s will prevent the cascading bank runs which ripped the guts out of the economy and was only stopped by the “Bank Holiday.”

    You may be interested to note that the financial regulators keep a very close eye on the situation. Here’s an overview with charts from 2006 to today. . As of the August 27 post of the unofficial problem bank list at, the unofficial list has 123 institutions (down from 184 institutions a year ago), the official list had 105 problem banks, down from 127 the previous quarter.

    I don’t know how long the situation with Argonia was brewing, but it only made the unofficial list in August.

  116. @whitepinegrove thanks for the suggestion!

    @Matthias Gralle, your story is your story, Stefania’s is hers, and neither is a judgment upon the other. How to arrange our lives is a “divergent question”, one that each person must answer for themselves in a way consistent with their own lives, constraints and inclinations. I do think that the “Mommy wars” Patricia Matthews refers to below, arise from a cultural idea we’ve also imbibed somehow, that if someone else’s way is different to our way, then they are in a competition and it is imperative for it to be decided which is the One True Way. Whereas, we could simply relax and appreciate that each of us is doing the best we can with the hand we’ve got, and our “solutions” are necessarily diverse.

    @Patricia Matthews – thanks for putting important historical context into feminism’s emphasis on female earnings. You are quite correct, and it is a supreme irony that women’s “work” disappeared right out of “that which is worthy of pay” when productivity and enterprise were separated from a much reduced and relegated “domestic sphere”. Certainly, in my view, this was the primary reason the Temperance movement was so noticeably a women’s movement. With no direct “own” earnings, every household a woman was trying to manage was in direct competition with the local publican (bar owner?) for the male wage earner’s wages. If the wages did not reach home, the home could suffer, and the family could starve.

    I should mention that, for myself, I have never felt able to allow myself to be without a paycheque of some kind. Only because of it – a paycheque of my own – have I felt free to spend on personal pursuits, unconnected to the sustenance of the others in my family, such as Tai Chi classes and books, books, books. On the other hand, through the years when we cared for both an elderly man and two small children, I would have much preferred to be “financially” free enough to be more fully engaged in home pursuits, and spend more time with them, than I did. We were fortunate in that my husband’s farm work, being home-based, allowed him the time to be more fully engaged on the home front than I.

    Re the GMO thing – @oilman2, DFC, J.L.Mc12, and others. It is worth pointing out that one of the industry’s main products – Glyphosate/Roundup sold as the companion of “Roundup Ready” GMO crops, is becoming ubiquitous and a growing threat to human physical and mental health. Firstly, glyphosate can be taken up by living cells in place of the amino acid glycine for building proteins, which end up being wonky, dysfunctional, and sometimes hard to break down again. Secondly, glyphosate attacks the shikimate pathway, by means of which plants and bacteria make the “aromatic” amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan. Animals lack a shikimate pathway (and so the PR for this product could just about get off with saying it would not harm animals). On the other hand, every animal, and that includes ourselves, requires a goodly supply of aromatic amino acids (tryptophan, for example being the only precursor for the serotonin supply to our brains essential for mental health and cognitive function), and may find glyphosate’s ubiquity interfering with the capacity of plants (in our food supply) and microbes (mainly in our guts) to make them for us.

    @Katsmama – I’m still thinking about that one myself!

    @JMG – Thanks. Much to ponder, and I shall definitely study some more on Vico’s ideas.

  117. @ Chris – “I was thinking about balance and was wondering how people will cope when they discover that their gains are someone else’s loss?” This is an excellent question, and I intend to put it to some “rumination” over the next few days. Be well.

    @J.L.Mc12 “Another question of balance in terms of society is the emasculation that many human males feel these days”. I, for one, would be most interested to hear more about your experience of this. What elements of masculinity seem to be subject to damage, and what is the nature of that damage, in your own view and experience? Also, if it feels “out of balance” what do you feel is needed to return it to balance? (Anyone else is more than welcome to chime in on this question).

  118. On biotech —

    maybe we need a little balance?
    Because “being really effective about making things using fermentation” is part of it. A BIG part of it.

    And epigenitics? A really big problem, for sure. Pretty much makes the whole thing a nightmare. When dealing with eukaryote cells. Plants, animals, and fungi. One can’t be sure exactly how, when or to what degree a gene will be expressed with those. Doesn’t seem safe.

    Prokaryotes, though? One gene, one protein. No problem.

    What’s a vat of prokaryotic bacteria do? Ferments. Being able to tell the bacteria to produce exactly the fermentation products you want? That’s pretty awesome. That’s what’s keeping most diabetics alive: human insulin, made by GMOs in fermentation vats. And since sugar –> insulin isn’t what you’d call a really good, efficient metabolic pathway, no worry about these bugs taking over the world. They do exactly as they are told, and tend to die if conditions aren’t kept perfect. Not saying that such tinkering is harmless* — or that regulation isn’t a good idea. Just that playing god with prokaryotes IS within human intelligence and understanding.

    Cells with nuclei, though? That is a different story, and I share the misgivings already expressed on this board. Keeping in mind the difference when talking about biotech is, I think, an application of the law of balance. Let’s not all go off balance and shoggoth the whole field (shoggoths, themselves, are Elder Things’ biotech, come to think of it).

    *I’m half expecting a wave of bioterror now that fancy high schools and rich kids can afford CRISPR gene editing equipment. Given the politics in the US right now, my bet is on a racially-targeted plauge (probably against whites, but maybe not)… that misses the target and just kills 10+% of everybody because we’re all too mixed and genetic engineering is hard.

  119. @JMG: Both excellent points, and thank you especially for the second: that is the kind of thing that worries me when I’m in a mental place where that kind of thing worries me, so it’s good to hear a view like yours.
    @GH: Yech, yeah. Women are way judgier of each other’s decisions than we need to be, and too many of us use feminism as a tool for that. I get occasionally because I enjoy some traditionally femme tricks of appearance, do dress up for men, etc. I think feminism should be about anyone assuming the role that best fits them, regardless of gender: being a stay-at-home parent is fine, as is being a firefighter, as is wearing jeans or eyeliner or both.
    @Patricia: Yep indeed. My mom’s mother—not, I think, feminist-identified, though she worked outside the home and really liked it socially as well as for money, despite my grandfather’s objections*—made sure both her daughters were employable even if they planned to marry, because You Just Never Know.

    *Never a shrinking violet, Grammy. There’s a family story where she served tuna casserole one night and my grandfather said he didn’t like hot fish. “So wait a while, and it’ll be cold,” she said.

  120. On emasculation: I take it about as seriously as I do the early-20th-century concerns that higher education and sports would de-feminize women. That is, if one’s psychological well-being depends on feeling like one is adequately performing a fairly arbitrary, fairly-recently-imposed set of gender roles…that sounds like what my generation calls a “you problem” and doesn’t much worry me. I’ve cared if I’m smart, competent, funny, personable, attractive, etc…but I’ve never once worried that I’m less than “womanly,” because what does that even mean and why would it matter? I advise dudes to do the same.

  121. Tom, occult author Charles Williams has a character — a British chief justice — spending much of his career working on the concept of organic law: law as an evolving thing with a life of its own. I don’t think Williams would have wanted to think that concept all the way through to its natural conclusion, and see each tradition of law as something that moves from seed to flower to fruit to rotting mess on the ground, and thus again to seed; that’s Vico’s vision, though.

    Darren, watch your behavior; it shows what you actually value far more clearly than your thoughts do. As for working the rebound, why, yes — devote a weekend to eating until you are sick of it, and can’t stand the sight or smell of food, and you’ll eat a lot less for the next few days. There are more constructive ways to do the same thing, of course. On the other hand, you need to spend some time thinking about what you actually want. Is your habit of distraction just that, or is it a way to evade something you really don’t want to do? Do you actually want to eat less, or have you absorbed a set of self-defeating programming from the diet industry that conflicts with what your body is telling you about your needs?

    J.L.Mc12, I’m probably going to have to write a post on this one of these days, and deal with the shrieking tantrums that will come in response from both sides of the current gender wars. Remember that the opposite of one bad idea is usually another bad idea; current notions of “manliness” are just as toxic as their emasculated opposite, and balance is the one thing that nobody seems willing to consider.

    Xabier, yep. I find his insights always trenchant and balanced, and his writing style is clear, crisp, and worth close study.

    Matthias, sure, but it only takes one really dumb mistake…

    Scotlyn, no argument there. The glyphosate situation is appalling, and seems likely to keep on getting worse. That was one of the things I had in mind when I wrote the part of Retrotopia about the GMO corn…

    Dusk Shine, fair enough, and if the defenders of GMO technology were to offer that kind of moderate position more often, there might be grounds for conversation.

    Isabel, you’re most welcome.

  122. In addition to research on pre-ice age civilization I would note that the ideas about the spread of humans to the Americas are changing. In addition to the traditional idea of populations crossing the Bering land bridge and traveling down N. America between the two main ice sheets there is now attention to the “kelp highway”. This is the ice free coastline of the West that would have been wide and exposed during the ice age and is now covered by ocean. A third hypothesis has early humans crossing from France to the Americas, traveling and hunting on the extended sea ice. The book detailing this is _Across Atlantic Ice_ by Dennis Stanford. The date for occupancy of the Americas keeps being pushed back as well. There is possible evidence of human activity as early as 24000 before present, as opposed to early 10,000 BP dates. Lots of exciting things going on in archaeology.

  123. Shane, “manspreading” is actually something feminists complain about. That’s the word they made up to describe when men sit with their knees apart, as men often do. According to the (mostly younger) feminists, this is awful, awful misogyny. It especially makes feminists angry when they see “manspreading” on the New York City subway.

    Scotlyn, I think part of the problem is that a lot of feminists nowadays have bought into an extreme version of capitalism in which the only things that really matter are having a career and making money. In that worldview, it does seem to make sense to put the children in daycare so I can work outside the home. In the real world, I would have to spend more money (childcare, a second vehicle, clothes, etc.) in order to work than what I would actually make from a full-time job. Even if that wasn’t the case, it’s better for our family if I stay home with the kids.

    Anyway, feminism is part of the establishment left, which pretends to care about the environment. So why are they pushing women into the workforce, where we will have to consume more, just for the sake of getting the numbers they want?

    Patricia Mathews, that is definitely something that couples should consider when deciding that the mother should stay home with the children. Getting a career isn’t the only way to do that though. In my case, I married the kind of stable, dependable man who isn’t abusive and isn’t likely to cheat on me or leave me. Right after our marriage, he took out a life insurance policy, so if he died, I’d have that. The life insurance is enough to pay for the funeral, pay off all bills, then still have some left to save for emergencies. Plus, the kids and I would get his social security. Each child would get a check until they turn 18, and I would get a check until the youngest turns 18. At that point, I would need to go back into the workforce, but without a mortgage (paid off by life insurance, remember), I would be able to work lower paying, entry-level jobs without going hungry or becoming homeless.

    Even in cases of divorce, these things can be worked out if both parents agree that it’s a priority to keep everything as stable as possible for the children. One guy my husband went to school with actually chose to pay his ex-wife enough in child support so that she could continue to stay home with their child. He hates her guts, but he thought it was best for the child.

    Of course, no plan is without risk, but that’s also true of having a career. In the career my high school teacher (mentioned in a previous comment) wanted me to go into, people are now being laid off or paid less because of a combination of H1-B visas and jobs being sent overseas. I’m very, very glad I didn’t listen to her!

  124. Patricia, forgot to mention, but I think that’s wonderful about your daughter and her husband. It works because they’re both reasonable people. That brings up a point that too many people seem to never realize – it’s important to marry a reasonable person, as well as being one yourself!

  125. @Dusk Shine
    Re: GMOs

    A good distinction. What gets the ink, which is therefore what most people know, is the agribusiness and health applications. The rest is just invisible unless you’ve got an interest in following it. And that is, by far, the largest part of the enterprise and the one that’s actually paying its way.

    The only people I know of seriously working on eukaryotes are the agribusiness people and some work on trying to stop the spread of diseases like zika by modifying the disease carriers. And, of course, lots and lots of research that may (but probably won’t) ever get into standard use for human diseases.

    As far as epigenetics is concerned, we simply don’t know enough, and we won’t know enough for decades as far as I can see. There are lots of problems that won’t fit into anyone’s brain – that’s what computers are for. The idea that epigenetic modifications can be inherited is, to put it politely, grossly oversimplified. If the modification doesn’t exist in the sperm or the egg, it’s not going to get inherited.

    Modified versions of Bakers Yeast are used for the production of lots of different biological materials that are difficult or impossible to produce with conventional chemistry. The most recent one I’ve seen is the production of the base stock for leather, which still needs to go through tanning and downstream processes. I’ve also seen reports that there is an international project to redesign the baker’s yeast genome so it’s easier to work with (that is, modify.) The project has already redesigned about half of the chromosomes; the result is a lot more stable than the wild type. The resulting yeast cells are happily doing yeasty things.

    And of course, the production equipment is the same as used to produce artisanal beer, so it’s cheap and easy to operate.

  126. Dusk Shine: Thank you. That’s exactly the point I was trying to make. Glad someone else here sees it.

  127. On emasculation,

    I had to wipe and re-write this comment, for fear of violating policy. So rather than a forced march down the Via Negativa, I’m going to take an entirely different road and sing the praises of Brett and Kate McKay, proprietors of “The Art of Manliness” (find it at — because I think they are doing something amazing in our society. I think they have actually hit a balance, or close to it.

    Between the Scylla of umpteenth-wave feminism’s concept of “toxic masculinity” and the Charbydis of “men going their own way”, the McKays have charted a course that says “Yes, lads, you’re different from the girls, and it isn’t toxic. You don’t have to drop out of a society that undervalues you. You can embrace virtue, embrace tradition, and become something your forefathers would be proud of.” There’s more than a dollop of retroculture to the McKay’s manliness– Teddy Roosevelt’s Strenuous Life is a touchstone– but not a turn-back-the-clock retroculture, certainly not one that would stuff women back into the home. (Indeed, as befits a site dedicated to male self-improvement, the McKays have little to nothing to say to or about women ; women have their own spaces). It’s not all plaid, sport shooting and lifting weights; they just started a series of long articles on the spiritual disciplines (see the first one, here: )

    To all of you who know young men struggling to make sense of themselves in this “post-male” society, point them to .

  128. In re:

    I’m probably going to have to write a post on this one of these days, and deal with the shrieking tantrums that will come in response from both sides of the current gender wars. Remember that the opposite of one bad idea is usually another bad idea; current notions of “manliness” are just as toxic as their emasculated opposite, and balance is the one thing that nobody seems willing to consider.

    I very much look forward to this post. I actually attempted to post something on this subject in your last Open Post. However, either I submitted it too late for consideration, or your blog software somehow “ate” it.

    Once you do, in fact, post something on this subject, I will resubmit my own thoughts, for yours and everyone else’s consideration.

  129. J.L.Mc12 – As a man of almost 60 years, and as a father of men (ages 20 and 30, roughly), I’m puzzled by your perception of “emasculation”. I’ve spent a few minutes over at the Art of Manliness web site, and I find it to be quite sensible. In essence, its ideal of manhood is to continually grow in knowledge and self-reliance, and to be of active service to one’s community. It stands in opposition to: spending leisure time with “convenience food”, beer, and mass-market media distractions. (I haven’t seen the part about watching gravel-voiced TV pitch-men persuading us to buy pickup-trucks just to splash around in the mud, but I’m pretty sure that’s the opposite of manliness: the watching, the pitching, and the splashing around.)

    Those of us who are excessively fond of the “EMACS” programmer’s text editor may have been “emacsulated”, but it’s a generally harmless condition. (Irreversible, though.)

  130. @ Scotlyn…

    The “inert ingredients” used in RoundUp are at least as damaging as the glyphosate:

    ‘Inert’ Ingredient Polyethoxylated Tallowamine (POEA) 2,000 Times More Toxic Than Glyphosate. POEA (polyethoxylated tallow amine), a major adjuvant surfactant in Roundup, has been shown to be cytotoxic (toxic to cells) at doses far lower than glyphosate itself.May 31, 2016 – (from quick Google)

    RoundUp hits all the bases when it comes to toxicity. Perhaps more damaging is that POEA, in slightly alkaline environments (think limestone as predominant nearby rock) is much more toxic than glyphosate. In alkaline systems, both POEA and glyphosate toxicity is extended.

    The real reason that RoundUP is used so broadly is cost – Monsanto sells this stuff cheap as dirt. I can buy RoundUP or 2-4D for $75 for 5 gallons. 5 gallons of AXXE or BurnOut (eco-friendly herbicides) cost me $300. That is a HUGE incentive for consumers.

    From the standpoint of availability, most hardware and garden centers ONLY carry glyphosate-based products – due to price sensitivity. Try finding something non-glyphosate at Lowes – you can’t. Thus EVERTHING within urban centers is glyphosate and POEA contaminated, often dosed bi-weekly by your local lawn maintenance guys.

    The only fix for this is to use salt for driveway-type control and pull the weeds out. Unfortunately, this is just too much work for 90% of Americans.

    Just FYI to all reading here…

  131. I was thinking about balance in relationship to the effort I and my garden friend put into our rather large garden and the rewards we reap at harvest time. It is interesting to think about the embedded physical effort that is captured in each jar or freezer bag and how that balances with our nutritional needs. I really don’t know how to calculate it unless you try to measure the results in terms of dollars or time. Something I don’t want to do as I think it is an evil of our current society. I think it must be measured in a sense of satisfaction in alignment with our values.

    I also ran across this quote attributed to Gandhi:

    “Seven blunders out of which grows the violence that plagues the world:

    1. Wealth without work
    2. Pleasure without conscience
    3. Knowledge without character
    4. Commerce without morality
    5. Science without humanity
    6. Worship without sacrifice
    7. Politics without principles”

    Seems a very balanced approach to life.

  132. John Roth-

    On the one hand, we have the “problem bank list”, being assembled (which shows vigilance) and being shortened as time goes by (which shows improving conditions). On the other hand, this Kansas bank went from “everything’s fine” (not on the list) to “failed” in just a few months (which does not actually inspire confidence in other banks and their regulators).

    Just for background: I looked at the web site for “Farmers and Merchants State Bank” of Argonia, Kansas, and found that it appears to be a family business, with the presidents having the same last name since 1949, and three people with that name as current officers. I used Zillow to look at the cost history of housing in Argonia, and found that a 5 BR, 2BA home on Main Street is offered for $54K, down from ~$75K just one to two years ago. So, if that’s typical of their mortgage portfolio, it could be a clue to their failure. Other homes in the area are Zestimated at $80k-$200k, except for ONE property which jumped from $450K to $850K when it sold in August! Something doesn’t seem “balanced” about that deal…

  133. Quick update: that home in Argonia, KS which sold for $850K in August, had an estimated value of under $120K for each of the last ten years. What’s UP with that?!

  134. Rita, I talked about the “kelp highway” (though not using that term) in my book on Atlantis, and also the evidence for very early transatlantic contact — I see no reason to think that it was over the ice, though, since there’s ample evidence for people using deepwater sailing craft more than 40,000 years ago. (No other explanation makes sense of the peopling of Australia.) Glad to hear this is finally getting into circulation!

    Synthase (if I may), if you want to say that genetic modification is a good idea when applied to prokaryotes, and used in specialized forms of fermentation, say that. Don’t speak as though that’s all that’s going on in biotech, when we have Monsanto grafting BT genes into corn and soybeans — and when it’s specifically the problems with the genetic modification of eukaryotes that have been front and center in discussions of the problems with biotech! Trying to erase that reality, and pretend that it’s all benign, does not do your cause any good.

    Dusk Shine, hmm! Glad to hear it. I’ll check out the site.

    Patricia, fascinating!

    Michael, no, it got deleted for excessive length, and for language that crosses over into trolling territory — accusing people whose behaviors you don’t like of “degeneracy,” and making false claims about the relationship of that supposed state to ethnicity, is far too reminiscent of cough, cough, Godwin’s law, cough, cough, to be salonfaehig here. If your attempted post is anything to go on, I’m far from sure you’ll like my comments when they appear, as the virtue of minding one’s own business once played a significant role in balanced forms of masculinity…

    Kay, don’t calculate it, simply enjoy it! There are times and places where quantification is a very good thing, and others where it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

  135. @ Dusk Shine

    Prokaryotes I can likely deal with, but even within that vein, the potential for runaway issues is far more than I consider acceptable. Why not simply take the time to discern and foster the traits you wish? It isn’t like prok’s have 10 years life span. I think you and I disagree here. I am not against fermentation – I am against tampering with genetic sequences by invasive means. I hate the idea of a “gene gun” – it’s like a doctor using a shot gun for surgical amputation.

    It is the over-indulgence of sugar and living in a chemical sewer that causes diabetes in most humans anyway. Do your historical homework regarding this disease, which was almost nothing in 1940. I cleared my own with a 14 day fast and dumping daily carbs and sugars – so it is not what people have been led to believe.

    @ JMG…

    Did you do an essay on how “instant everything” can be harmful? Because this is an issue in current society, where everybody expects things NOW. It certainly is with weed control…

    @ John Roth…

    Yes, I read a lot about the “coming Ice Age” back in the 70’s as a young man. I am familiar with periodicity of these shifts, and yes – we are at the leading edge of the correct time at this point. But that was exactly what the guys writing in the 70’s told us – within a few generations – and that was a couple gens back at this point in time. It’s a “deep time” thing, so most people simply do not grok it. It’s also one of several reasons why I am not so worried about global warming and climate issues. I am more worried about chemical pollution and genetic manipulation…

    The Earth will balance itself – but it is not axiomatic that it balances in favor of humans. Bear in mind that historical volcanoes have spewed more greenhouse gases in a single eruption cycle than all that man has done; and the Earth rebalanced. Man nearly didn’t…

    @ J.L.Mc12…

    A man can only be emasculated if he allows society to do so or has his testicles removed.. You are what you are inside, and have confidence in that or not. Part of “manning up” is to live what you believe. “Womaning Up” ought to be a thing as well, for the same reason.

    If your masculinity is not internal to you, but determined by everything around you, then your center is too ‘squishy” and movable. I am not trying to offend anyone here, just trying to describe why, even in the face of being called a ‘misogynist pig’ by a former employee for hiring a man to replace her, I wasn’t at all threatened, hurt or unmanned.

    I think quite a lot of this gender madness is caused by people looking at gender as something mutable. For all recorded history, until about 1970, it wasn’t. For most humans, it isn’t:

    It is estimated that about 0.005% to 0.014% of people assigned male at birth and 0.002% to 0.003% of people assigned female at birth would be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, based on 2013 diagnostic criteria, though this is considered a modest underestimate. (quick Google)

    So what is the real issue here?

    @ Mathias Gralle…

    Oh we are in agreement on spread. Dusk Shine and you are pro-manipulation of Prokaryotes – I am not. And the reason I am against it is simple – it is the tendency of genes to migrate within prokaryotes in unintended ways. It is the fact that snippets of genes run all through and across life forms – carried by viruses. Genetic bits of men can be found within the brain cells of females they have sex with – how is that happening? What is the mechanism? Why? What happens if one of those snippets has some heretofore unknown modification? Are all women affected by that? Is a certain genotype rendered historical by it?

    No matter how good the intentions, proceeding down the path we are on will increase the likelihood of something unexpected, a ‘black swan’ event. Nature has enough of those on her own (spanish flu, plague, ebola). We are just adding more bullets in the genetic roulette revolver because, well – because we can; because it makes money; because we want this NOW; because it makes things ‘easier’..?

    I am loathe to accede to anything on this, simply because mankind has a very distinct and innate tendency to think that if a little worked well, then why not… MORE!

  136. Re: manspreading: I wouldn’t necessarily call it misogyny, but it *is* inconsiderate behavior on a crowded train, where politeness dictates making yourself and belongings take up as little room as possible (putting backpacks on the floor between your feet if you’re standing, or on your lap if sitting, etc), and making strangers sitting next to you come into unasked-for physical contact with you is boorish. I generally find that having sharp knees and digging them into any thighs that deliberately stretch over the boundaries gets my point across pretty well.

    @Iathechuck: I would agree with all of that, but would just call it “being a functional adult” over here, since I expect pretty much the same thing of women. Know how to deal with the life you’ve chosen, and what resources to use for things you can’t deal with personally (friends, doctors, plumbers, spiritual guides of your choice, libraries, etc); don’t expect other people to put aside their lives and goals to give you what you want, or get whiny/snitty when they have different interests than you do; help out where and how you can; don’t posture. They all seem like excellent precepts.

    I admit to having a bag of Halloween candy here, though, on the convenience-food front. 😛

  137. Thanks JMG, that was my idea as well since I couldn’t think of a way to quantify that wasn’t measured in time or money. Both those measures miss the point entirely in my opinion.

  138. @ Kay Robinson…

    Those are good, no matter if really from Gandhi or no!

    I agree 110% with you about satisfaction – even when I am sweating and nasty and tired – I still feel good about hard work for good ends.

  139. Oilman2-

    I’ve had one direct encounter with Roundup (and probably a lot of other indirect/unknown encounters), and to sum up, I ran off screaming. I’m no chemist but the stuff just felt so ‘wrong’ and so ‘vile’…

  140. @GardenHousewife re Manspreading – if you’re sitting next to the guy and squeezed into 1/3 of the seat or less, even someone as small as I am feels cramped and resents the guy for hogging the seat. Especially on Cattle Car Airlines!

  141. @lathechuck

    We don’t know how long the Aragonia bank was on the official problem bank list, because the FDIC doesn’t release it for fear of causing a run on the bank. That’s why there is an unofficial problem bank list.

    The unofficial bank list is made up of publicly available statements on bank’s quarterly filings and press releases. A family bank whose stock isn’t held outside the family doesn’t have to have public quarterly filings with the SEC etc, so enforcement actions can stay off the radar indefinitely.

    As far as the house which sold for what might be an exorbitant cost, there are (at least) two factors. One is that houses that don’t sell for a long time may not have their list prices updated if the county isn’t requiring assessments every few years. The other is that all the excess money that was going into the stock market and other risky investments is now going into the housing market, pricing housing out of sight of many people. There’s a lot of foreign investment going into the housing market as well, also driving up prices. That’s driven by our chronic trade deficit, of course.

  142. Isabel, yes, I get so sick of hearing feminists saying that we shouldn’t dress pretty, that’s it’s somehow wrong or holding women back or whatever! The idea that women would dress to please men seems to be especially abhorrent to them. They don’t have an issue with men dressing to look good for women though. So it’s fine if my husband wears a nice button up shirt tucked into blue jeans with a leather belt because he knows I like it, but I shouldn’t have the freedom to wear a pretty dress or a tight pair of jeans because that’s what he likes? Feminism wasn’t supposed to be about giving us fewer choices and less freedom than men.

    Your Grammy sounds like she was strong willed enough to do what she enjoyed even if that wasn’t what women were “supposed” to do then. Though I don’t blame your grandfather for not liking the tuna casserole. That stuff’s gross! 😀

  143. @Dusk Shine, this is a really important concept for me to understand. In what sense do you experience this as a “post-male” society? I’d be grateful for any sense you could add to this intriguing, but (to me) opaque concept.

    I live with, work with, and have given birth to and reared male human beings. Their reality, and ongoing essential importance, in my personal life puts paid to any immediate comprehension I could have of what you mean, but possibly there is a deeper meaning for you, which I really would like to hear.

  144. JMG, I’ve been thinking a lot about balance and drug abuse. Several days ago I attended a funeral for one of my cousins who died of a suspected drug overdose. (The autopsy results haven’t come back yet so we don’t know for sure.) He was only in his 20’s. He had tried to get off the drugs and get his life straightened out in the year before his death.

    Most addicts don’t manage to successfully quit drugs long-term. They almost always go back to it. The few I’ve known or heard of who did quit and stay off drugs did it by going to a different extreme. Some of them became extremely religious, typically in a very strict form of Christianity. Others went to dietary extremes, becoming obsessed with eating “clean”, pure, organic, etc., or with following a very restrictive diet. You have to wonder how many fruitarians are recovering drug addicts…

    I wonder if something like this could be used to help people get off drugs. If they identify it as a spiritual problem, then help them develop a set of religious rules and practices that are pretty regimented. If they see their drug issues as a health problem, then help them develop a strict diet and exercise regimen. A lot would depend on how far to the opposite extreme that person seems to need to go. After a few years, maybe they could relax a bit and ease into a more balanced life.

  145. @oilman thanks for the extra info on surfactants in Roundup. It is now being used as a “desicant” to finish non-Roundup ready grain, pulse and some veg crops – ie a spray around 10 days prior to harvest, to dry the crop “evenly”. This means there is almost no food it isn’t incorporated in.

  146. I think a significant area where binary logic upsets balance is the contemporary idea that nations can only exist in one of two conditions – “war” and “peace”. The latter seems to mean total passivity within a tight, restrictive, transnational legislative framework.

    I think this is what irks the “international community” so much about Russia. It’s a country that always responds autonomously and proportionately to external stimuli – it isn’t exactly “warlike”, but it isn’t “peaceful” either.

  147. JMG wrote:
    “Chris, here in America, if you suggest that one person’s gain is inevitably someone else’s loss, conservatives generally scramble around looking for some reason insist that the person who lost deserved to lose, while liberals melt down completely. It’s not something people can deal with at all.”

    For me this has been the ‘Quote of the Week’. When agrarian households back in the day produced surplus value, however little, and much of this this was cornered by middle-men and top-men, life might be unfair, but slow cultural growth was sustainable. As the Petroleum Age goes over the top (but China is still increasing imports – large – of oil), your statement begins to define a stark and even more simple economics.

    Modern economic growth can be defined ‘per capita’ or in terms of comparative worker productivity. Dollar productivity might put USA households still well ahead compared with elsewhere, but in the ‘no net growth’ scenario, one gain will mean a balanced loss. In the extraordinary case of the recent property deal in Argonia, quoted by lathechuck, ‘somebody’ seems to have found a jackpot, presumably at the expense of the rest.

    I reflect wonderingly on the global case.

    Phil H

  148. Re: “emasculation”

    A thought popped into my head this morning: gender identity is as important to cis men as it is to trans people.

    I’ve seen it pointed out several times, including by JMG, that one of the weird contradictions in how gender is treated, especially on the left, is that gender is assumed to be a social fiction for cis people but inherent and unchangeable for trans people.

    Now, I’m hardly the person to argue that traditional gender roles are natural and inflexible — as a boy, I got along better with girls than I did other boys and I wondered out loud why it was OK for me to like, for example, Mighty Max but not Polly Pocket when they were basically the same toys. Undoubtedly my (at the time undiagnosed) Asperger’s syndrome had a hand in that, but still.

    That said, it does seem like establishing a firm sense of oneself as a man or as a woman is psychologically important to many if not most people, both cis and trans.

    In addition, for many men, it’s important to be more than just a man: the goal is to be a good man. (Being a strong woman seems to play a similar role for many women, but here I speak without the benefit of first-hand experience.) This is a rather challenging prospect at the moment, when it can feels like the options for being a good man are “stuffy right-wing family man” and… yeah, that’s about it. Certainly the left can acknowledge a man as a good person, but there seems to be no conception of a “good man” as such—that is, someone who exhibits masculine traits in a positive way.

    Sites like The Art of Manliness are helpful, but they can still lean a little too far in the “stuffy right-wing family man” direction for my tastes.

  149. P.S. It occurs to me that there’s a Gravesian component to this whole mess. The Art of Manliness represent a DQ-centered (“sacrifice now for reward later”) conception of manliness, while sites like Return of Kings offer a CP-centered (“express self, to heck with others”) conception. In their own twisted way, RoK could be offering men an image of a “good man” to live up to. (Take that as an argument for why better alternatives are needed just now.)

    The ER (“express self calculatedly”) conception of manliness was the “successful professional” image — which got diluted when women entered the boardroom. Perhaps this is where a lot of feeling of “emasculation” comes from; like a lot of things ER does, its conception of masculinity worked great at the time, but turned out to be brittle.

    An FS (“sacrifice now for acceptance now”) conception of positive manliness doesn’t seem to have ever really emerged. (FS can’t get its act together — what a shock.)

  150. re: Biotech

    I think the elephant in the room, as Oilman mentioned, is the evilly-evil corporate oligarchy waiting in the wings to seize and exploit any profitable scientific developments. Scientists as a group, if I dare to make a generalization, may not always be the best at thinking in terms of whole systems, as the technical demands of their fields steer them towards a focus on specialized knowledge. But in pursuing science for the sake of human intelligence, innovation or even what they might feel to be the betterment of society, they may not always see the wider context in which the products of their work exist. Sure, limited applications of biotechnology are technically possible within our very limited understanding of the complex processes at work, but is it really necessary or socially responsible to purse them? While there surely have been beneficial discoveries in biotech, we’ve seen too often how corporate interests will disregard, and in many cases go to great lengths to cover up the blatantly harmful effects of other particular technologies or discoveries. And with the revolving door between industry and regulatory bodies, they are in many cases able to get away with it. Then once one gets on the payroll, and with in many cases a massive student loan and other financial commitments to deal with…well, it becomes possible to see how perhaps a blind eye or two is being turned. At least, that was the thinking that led me to turn down two full scholarships in chemistry and aerospace engineering. And to think, all this time I could have been working for Elon Musk!

    @Matthias, Scotlyn

    I apologize if my comment made it seem as though I expected everyone should be making the same choice as I did; although that was definitely not my intention! As Scotlyn already mentioned, everyone is facing their own particular circumstances and should be permitted to make their own particular decisions without others butting in with an opinion. In my mind, the value of this blog lies not in judging and blaming one another, but in trying to define the parameters of the collective mess we’re in and help each other to understand and deal with it a bit better. The economy is a great example here – if one didn’t realize that our economy is actually in the toilet due to the unfolding collapse of our civilization, it would be easy to fall into thinking that one’s lack of being able to find a job was due to some personal shortcoming, not trying hard enough etc. At this point, we’re all just trying to choose the best out of a bad lot.

    @Patricia Matthews, Garden Housewife, Scotlyn + others

    Absolutely, it remains a concern that if something unfortunate were to happen to my husband, I would be forced to return to the workforce under less than ideal circumstances. I think in the past, and in other societies even now, that was an even bigger worry. In my particular situation, which is of course one of uber-privilege, a combination of life insurance and savings would be able to provide a big safety net until I was able to start earning an income again. It would definitely be difficult though.

    We recently hosted some members of the African Children’s Choir, who were performing near us. This is a group made up largely of orphans, from Uganda this time around, who have lived through some truly frightful situations and are raising both money and awareness to help other vulnerable children in Africa. The musical director happened to be staying with us, and I cautiously ventured a discussion of politics with her once all the kids were in bed. When she found out I was a stay-at-home parent, I could tell she saw it as a step backwards. Fair enough, as in her context, where uneducated children (mostly girls) are resigned to a life of rural poverty and back-breaking work, which often includes violence and oppression, education is seen as the stepping stone to a career that will lift them out of this situation. I didn’t quite have the heart to explain how I made my choice to stay at home in the context of a collapsing civilization; as a former choir member herself, she likely would have experienced some very difficult circumstances already and I figured she didn’t really need to hear about it. It was sad to think that Uganda may not have that bright of a future ahead either, with its largely untapped oil reserves and a president who feels the best place to safeguard his country’s public wealth is in his personal Swiss bank account, and is involved in literal fistfights in parliament as he tries to change the constitution to allow him to run for yet another term in office.

    Re: emasculation

    I think in our society which is so unbalanced in terms of an emphasis on the masculine principle, we should expect to see an attempt at the system re-balancing itself with a movement in the opposite direction, as JMG outlines in this section of the book. The way in which the various waves of feminism grabbed hold of the old idea of prehistoric matriarchy and elevated it to near-mythological status, with the Goddess Movement as one result, might be an example of this. Whether or not this idea is actually backed up by the historical or archaeological record is almost secondary, as the myth of a society where women were spiritual and political leaders, their reproductive powers were revered, and matrilineal descent and inheritance was the norm seemingly had a lot of power for women devalued within a patriarchal society, and took hold of feminist thought at the time. Still an unbalanced worldview though, just in the opposite direction.

    Re: feminism

    I admit to being really blindsided by the backlash I faced in response to my choice of staying at home, and also to my own resulting insecurities around the issue. When my husband and I were making the decision, we weren’t really thinking about it in terms of a feminist context – it was more about seeing value resurfacing in the productive sphere of the home economy in light of the imminent de-industrialization we’re all likely to be facing. But in many cases, with both men and women, I have found mentioning that I’m not working outside the home to be a conversation-stopper, right up there with saying I don’t watch television, don’t want the latest iPhone, or think Neil deGrasse Tyson is a big (insert preferred expletive here). Almost as if by this choice I am dismissing all the gains that the feminist movement has made, and thus opting out of Progress at large, which amounts to nothing less than blasphemy. In a more balanced society, I would have the choice to do whatever I pleased without being subjected to this kind of judgement, but of course, that’s not quite the case.

    Perhaps in the near term, we might see movement towards a more balanced situation as both men and women see the value (and the need) to re-focus on the home economy as a source of productive power. I can also see it swinging badly in the other direction though…

  151. @Oilman2 & Isabel Cooper – out here in the West, “cowgirl up” is a well known term. Also the now-dated “Pull on your big girl pants and deal with it.”

    Re “manspreading” – actually, elbows are often more the problem than legs. We can always go back to the old “hogging the seat.” Though since there are a number of derogatory terms coded female (bitching, cat-fighting, hysterical), etc, who can’t there be some coded male? If indeed, those are most of the offenders. Sauce for the gander…..?

  152. @GH: Hee! I never actually had it, so I suspect my mom agreed with her dad, too. 🙂

    Grammy was pretty great, and very strong-willed. The priest at her funeral misused Lord of the Rings references,* and my mom, later, said that, “eh, your grandmother probably could have dealt with Sauron pretty well.”

    And yeah. I assume that a) most people who are sexual dress to attract the gender or genders they find cute (becoming more specific by demographic, and then very concentrated in monogamous partnerships) and b) if David Bowie could wear eyeshadow, then I’m not gonna feel guilty about it.

    * Two in one, actually. “I want you to imagine Margie is taking a beautiful journey, like the one the hobbits took…” (me, mentally: “…to Mordor?”) “…in Tolkien’s Lord of the Flies.” Trying not to giggle at least cheered me up.

  153. @Scotlyn

    “@oilman thanks for the extra info on surfactants in Roundup. It is now being used as a “desicant” to finish non-Roundup ready grain, pulse and some veg crops – ie a spray around 10 days prior to harvest, to dry the crop “evenly”. This means there is almost no food it isn’t incorporated in.”

    The use of this practice of using Roundup prior to harvest in wheat coincides with the spike in ‘gluten intolerance’. Seems the stuff plays havoc with one’s microbiota. When ‘gluten intolerant’ people* go to Europe (where Roundup isn’t used), they can eat wheat products without problems.

    In my opinion, Monsanto should be had up for crimes against humanity, and summarily executed. Think of what they are doing – they are poisoning the food supply. Among many other heinous crimes. It is mind boggling. But huge profits are made, so it’s OK.

    *There are people who are truly gluten intolerant, and worse – Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, etc. I surely do not wish to minimize their condition…

  154. @Scotlyn

    There was a book, once, on ‘The End of Men’ ; I think I took the term from it. The thesis, IIRC, was that women are graduating in greater numbers (3:2 for college, less for high school but still there) , women are employed in greater numbers (official stats give a 1% diff in unemployment), outnumber men in management postions — and this was all hailed as a good thing, as those smelly, brutish men were holdovers of the industrial era, and need to get out of the way for the new golden age superior women will bring about. Men are unnecessary to the economy — and as some women love to keep pointing out, a few advances in biotech and we’ll be unnecessary for reproduction as well. Can’t recall if that was in the book.

    Our society’s official path to success lies via the classroom. Classrooms that are specifically, deliberately set up to favour the way that girls learn. They’ll say STEM is the way to go, well, there are many million-dollar initiatives to push girls into STEM — but none for boys. Getting money for a non-gender-targeted program is difficult, these days. Imagine yourself as a modern boy. There you sit, bored, restless and medicated in a classroom made for you sisters, listening to a woman* lecture on the importance of science and then proudly declare “Science is for girls!”, and possibly invite a series of female professionals to share their own message of girl power. Do you feel like a necessary part of this picture, or are you just an add on? Would it feel like a post-male world?

    Then say you do get to university (odds are lower than your female classmates) — to find yourself branded a potential rapist, to be told that, regardless of your actions and intentions, you are in fact sexist, by your campus womyn’s group. To have less than half the chance at scholarships as your female peers.** To know that a broken condom will be your responsibility to care for, for the next 18 years, unless she decides she doesn’t want to. Even the state-run media, here in Canada, runs programs on “toxic masculinity”. Whatever that is.

    Everyone looks at the very few, very rich men in at the very top, in the CEO’s office. They don’t look sideways to see that at every level beneath that is now dominated by women– until you get to the very bottom, where homeless men make up a decent majority. If you’re a male who has been red-pilled to all this, it can very much feel like you’re being pushed out of the public sphere. I know I wouldn’t dare voice any of this were I not anonymous here. I’d risk unemployment and blacklisting.

    None of this, of course, is in any way meant to demean the very important issues women and trans people face in todays world, either. It’s just that we cis-het male scum have our own problems (even the white ones) and it wouldn’t hurt to acknowledge that. Because, of course, if we don’t, the pendulum swings– and the further to one extreme we push, the further it will push back. A bit of negative feedback now could go a long way to fighting reaction.

    *why are there no scholarships to get men into teacher’s colleges, I wonder? Or any other high-paying, high-employing pink collar field?
    **slightly more than half of all non-gendered monies go to women; obviously all of the female-only scholarships do.

  155. On the general discussion of gender norms and working in/out of the home:

    If we think back before the industrial revolution, the work of both women and men tends to be centered around the physical home and the home economy, or is at least very closely tied to the home, be it cooking, weaving, farming and gardening (in the field right out back), home-scale carpentry/building, even many skilled trades (the blacksmith’s workshop is right there next to the house, and the whole family can eat lunch together), and running small stores (where the family home is upstairs/in back). This is admittedly a generalization that did not apply to every case, but given high rates of subsistence farming and market growing, it’s close enough, and certainly working at/near home was much more the norm than it is today. This would all change in the industrial revolution, with the shift of men’s work from field to factory.

    Given this, the industrial revolution began by alienating men from the home economy, working 12- and 14-hour days at factories separate from the home. With time (and improved labor laws), this alienation from the home became not only normalized but valorized and esteemed—a process which in the 20th century encouraged, and was encouraged by, revisioning the home as a purely consumptive place. Wendell Berry observes the shift in our concept of the home from being a place of production to being merely a place of consumption. Until the early 20th century, to be called a “consumer” was a grave insult! The word “parasite” may have a similar connotation today.

    Now, instead of seeing this and saying “isn’t it tragic that men are alienated from the home” and asking how we can restore them to a healthy home economy, one wave of the feminist movement instead agreed with the value signs (out of home labor is valuable; production in the home is worthless) and said, in effect, “it’s not fair; women should be alienated from the home too!”

  156. Isabel and Patricia Mathews, that’s not a male-specific problem though. There are both men and women who are rude and inconsiderate. I’ve had more problems with women encroaching on my space than men. Women usually do it by putting their bag on your seat or on the armrest between your seats. Obese women sometimes spread their legs really far and also sometimes spread their arms wide, taking up a lot of your seat. Slender or merely overweight women don’t tend to do that, though women of all sizes can be very rude with where they put their bags.

    What I object to is labeling it “manspreading” and pretending that this is only a problem with men, who are evil, evil misogynists.

  157. Couple follow up comments on the question of ice age civilizations. My more general point (and in terms of orientation, Rousseau’s as well) is to demonstrate the novel character of complex political societies. Development of civilization a few thousand years earlier is insignificant (though infinitely interesting to consider!) when considering these time scales. The essential issue is what to make of this revolution in social behavior?

    Of course I assume that on this question, as in so many others, you remain uniformitarian. Human beings were not better or worse in some essential regard in these possible older civilizations. No “golden ages” of man to be found in the deep past.

    Finally, I agree with your take on the preponderance of flood myths in ancient literature and origin stories. Watching the end of an ice age must have been awesome, astonishing and terrifying! Just the kind of thing to pass along to future generations.

  158. @oilman Re:GMO

    Just to be clear, I don’t favor any kind of commercial or other GMOs in wild-living organisms. I simply pointed out that the Klebsiella story was wildly exaggerated, and that does the environmental side no favor.

  159. Let me add that I’ve seen feminists calling for “manspreading” to be made illegal, but they never demand laws against the same type of behavior when it’s women doing it.

    I am not saying that either of you, Isabel and Patricia, are doing that. Neither one of you has shown any sign of being sexist against men. Unfortunately, reasonable people like you don’t seem to be the ones steering the ship right now when it comes to feminism. I’ve mentioned before that I’m afraid they’re going to provoke a huge backlash. I just hope it doesn’t come back on my daughter and future granddaughters.

  160. Hi John Michael,

    Well that is not good is it? I doubt much can be done about it, until it is impossible to ignore. Incidentally, I wrote about magic this week on the blog, but rather than using that often misused and misunderstood term, I sort of showed how that tool can play out in the real world when it is used for evil intent.

    Interestingly, the insight hit me as a bit of a jolt this morning – blame the lack of coffee at that stage – that magic – as it is understood here – is one of the tools used to keep our relationship to the ecosystem off balance. By that I mean that: I see and hear a lot of people who tell me that: “sure that is what it looks like, but here is a plausible (or even half baked or fully baked) explanation that somebody fed me”. I reckon that project has been one long huge and epic project and we are fast getting to the end game. It is a bit chilling don’t you reckon to see how things are playing out?

    Hi Scotlyn,

    Yeah, well, I must be a sucker for punishment because when I travelled as a younger bloke I avoided the first world countries and instead visited third world countries in the local area. And after a while the implications of our policies of imbalance were pretty hard to ignore.

    Hi Phil,

    G’day mate! Hope you are well and dodged the big storm? The household economy has long been undermined and given a low status, simply because it makes households easier to game. It really is that simple. And sad.



  161. @ JMG, many, many thanks for the book recommendations! I look forward to reading them when the time is ripe. Also I read Steppenwolf and the story was medicine for my heart. Thank you.

    Some thoughts on gender and emasculation:

    I’ve been meditating on the past few days on the meaning of perversity. What I’ve come to see, if I may, is that perversity could well be defined as a confounding of ethics for aesthetics. This is what I see binding all forms of perversity together. Perversity is making a choice concerning ethics on the basis of aesthetics. As such, gender as it is currently constructed is unilaterally perverse, as it claims something that is aesthetic is ethical on the merits of the aesthetic.

    On one column you have the masculine and the other the feminine*. These catagories concern aesthetics on its deepest level; not only the shape of bodies but also the outline of interactions, the clothing, the lilt of the voice and the activities that fill ones time. All of these are aesthetic; masculinity is an aesthetic and femininity is an aesthetic and even andorgyny or “queerness” is an aesthetic. The prevailing notion is that the body you have determines your aesthetic. It is basically a wardrobe of outfits and a range of employment, roles within relationships, and certain mannerisms and appropriate haircuts. In this schema, adhering to the sexed gender performance is an important ethical metric.

    This is where transgenderism comes into the fold. The trans schema is if you adhere to the aesthetics of the other sex than you change your body to conform correctly. Therefore hormones and surgery are very significantly the correct ethical choice. Genderqueer then tries to deconstruct these categories a la the mode of postmodernism. Regardless of which point on the spectrum you land it is treated as something an idealized and numinous identity. Be it man, woman or other. The sacred core of the individual, what I would call the Soul, is considered secondary to the numinous Platonic ideal of the gender. This transcendental identity then defines the fashions of the gendered performance, which are in themselves simply various fashions for living. Within this, gender performance of an individual is in large part a metric of ethical standing.

    This is of course utterly perverse. Gender is a set of fashions that people perform. It is rules that allow people to perform different parts in relation. I see absolutely nothing wrong with this, but it is simply not, in of itself, the means of constructing an ethical system, at least an ethical system that is at home within the nominally prevailing ideal of: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

    That said, clearly, social games are extremely important, and gender is an important aspect part of it. However, if someone performs “wrongly” they may be eccentric, awkward, unpopular, an outlier, statistically unusual, or what have you, but have they harmed anyone or anything? That strikes me as doubtful, even with honest and sincere respect for religions and traditions that make a big deal out of these sorts of games. I respect and accept people don’t agree with me on this, and have no interest in winning an argument about values when values aren’t shared to begin with. That being said, I don’t believe that someone’s hangup is in final analysis a good metric for harm. Indeed, more generally it isn’t fair or truthful to claim that someone’s ethical behavior is at the same level as their popularity.

    For fairness’s sake I should note too this behavior exists with queer people. I distinctly remember the looks people gave me when I’d act too male or wear clothing that wasn’t girly enough. They gave me the look of mild disgust and reproach. The exact glance given to someone singing loudly out of key. Indeed, these were the same very looks I got when I was perceived as a drag queen.

    But what is inherently wrong with performing a gender? What is inherently unethical about a man being big and muscular and wearing flannel and taking up a lot of space some of the time? Nothing. There is nothing inherently unethical about it whatsoever. To my best appraisal, it appears that people are just offended by the aesthetic. Likewise there is absolutely nothing wrong if he grew his hair out and put on a a dress. It doesn’t hurt anyone more than any other sort of outfit, even if many people may find it eccentric, offbeat, odd or disgusting. These choices don’t have ethical bearing, defined as the ethics presented in the Declaration of Independence.

    This perverse use of an aesthetic metric to make an ethical evaluation is the reason you see dysfunctional gender performances all over the bimodally distributed spectrum. The degree to which a male is performing emasculation is the degree that he is performing a certain aesthetic that is somewhat fashionable today. There are other fashionable masculinities and femininities and not so fashionable ones. Sometime people drop the pretense of performing anything and are genuinely themselves, while competently playing social games. Personally this strikes me as the ideal point of balance in an individual’s gendered performance.

    *The constructions of masculinity and femininity vary dramatically by culture Ivan Illich brilliantly anatomizes this in detail in his excellent book Gender. I’m speaking of the general gender performances that I’ve see living in diverse regions of the United States and applying qualitative observation and introspection.

  162. Hee, hee, hee…I cannot count the number of times I ‘compressed’ a couple of manspreaders who were flopped wide, occupying a whole six-person bus bench by plopping down unceremoniously between them with my middle-aged, no-nonsense, bustling manner: wide hips, energetically active elbows, arms protectively spread around my total cargo of grocery bags, back pack and all neatly tucked on either side – only to rise and courteously offer the freshly cleared space to a pregnant woman with toddler, or frail elderly woman who would certainly have hesitated to challenge the male pride occupancy of a couple of tough-looking manspreaders. You cannot imagine the looks I got!

    It is a fine post-menopausal game to play. I do not recommend it to young women who risk being harassed and touched ‘inadvertently’ by creeps. But the manspreaders do not want to be seen touching a fat ugly old woman. They shrink up into the smallest space their manliness permits, or, disgusted by my undesirable fleshy proximity, get up and go to the back where they can spread out again and are not troubled by any social expectations of acting with courtesy towards anyone. Rarely do the ‘compressed’ ones offer their own seats to an elder or pregnant lass. They let me do it with perfect composure, while they remain seated and more or less retain their compressed posture. But the resentment on their faces is plain.

    On the topic of the post, the Law of Balance is very important when riding the bus. Either you have to be willing to balance your personal space requirements with those of others, or you get nasty reactionary feminists like me with my massively obtrusive and obstinately polite presence enforcing unwritten laws. Or, if I do have to stand to accommodate those with greater need, it is well to learn how to “bus surf” provided you want to hold onto to your shopping bags instead of the overhead rail. Balancing on your feet in a crowded bus is an art form, like sailing. And good exercise.

  163. @James “A thought popped into my head this morning: gender identity is as important to cis men as it is to trans people.”

    Ooh interesting ! I’d never thought of it that way before. (I’m trans myself), that’s a really useful perspective.

    If we were to take say victorian britain as a baseline, sometimes it seems like women have really fought hard to widen the range of acceptable options for expressing their gender while men are still trapped in much narrower patriarchical assumptions for how to express theirs. So for example it’s much more difficult if you’re a man who wants to wear skirts than a woman who wants to wear trousers, although both would have been seen as a problem 200 years ago. I think this imbalance has knock-on effects for equality across all genders as well.

  164. Oilman2, when it comes to “gender madness”, I think it’s terrible when parents call a young child, sometimes as young as 3 or 4 years old, transgender. They’ll typically cite as proof the fact that their son put on his sister’s dress or played with a typically girl toy. Sometimes the child made a comment such as, “Mommy, I’m a girl.”

    Children do and say all kinds of weird things without it meaning anything about their identity. My son used to wear his sister’s pink fairy wings. When I asked him why, it turned out that he was pretending to be a bird. The fairy wings were the only wings in the house so that’s what he used. He also told me for a while that he was a T. Rex. He grew out of it.

    Anyway, why can’t a boy have some stereotypically female interests, or a girl have a few stereotypically male interests? Our culture is adamant that adults don’t have to fit rigid gender stereotypes, but if a young child deviates from those very same rigid stereotypes, all of a sudden that child is supposed to be the opposite gender. That’s pretty stupid.

    Personally, even if one of my children consistently claimed to be the opposite sex, I wouldn’t really do anything. I’d take a wait-and-see approach. Most of the kids grow out of it by puberty or a little after. If they’re into their teen years and still saying it, that’s when you have to figure out to handle it.

  165. Contemplating the Law of Balance tends to remind me of the years I was a professional game designer, and the endless discussions among my colleagues of “game balance,” which everyone could discern (especially in cases of its absence) but no one could ever quite define. A naive view of balance for a multi-player game would be that given players of equal skill, the game is balanced if they all have an equal chance of winning at the outset. That turns out to be insufficient. For instance, if drawing a certain card during the game automatically wins the game, that will seem unbalanced even if all the players have an equal chance of drawing it. Other concepts of game balance involved the relative importance of skill versus chance, or the degree of complexity, or the relative effectiveness of different paths toward the same goals.

    The concept of game balance that I gradually developed for my own work seemed to subsume many of those other definitions. The key balance in a game, I concluded, was the balance between “stability” and “instability.” Stability is the persistence of gained advantage; that is, for instance, the likeliness of a player who’s “ahead” in position to remain ahead and eventually win the game. Instability is the opposite, the likeliness of reverses or rapid shifts in position, that makes it possible for a player to come from behind or overcome early mistakes and win. Too much of the former can make a game a grind to an already foregone conclusion, and/or make early mistakes so costly that players feel obliged to agonize at length over every move. Too much of the latter could make the game “wild” or random, with players feeling their decisions along the way are inconsequential to the outcome. Somewhere in between is, to use another word game designers have great difficulty actually defining, fun.

    Different balance points are needed for different categories of games and of players. Chess, for instance, is highly stable, and the outcome of a game between players of unequal skill, or one where a player makes a blunder early, usually will be a foregone conclusion, and players do agonize over moves. That’s okay for a two-player strategy game but not for a rowdy party game. And what’s fun for that game might be too unstable for a family board game.

    With that concept of game balance, you can look at familiar games and identify the “stability” and “instability” elements in them. For instance, the board game Risk has a positive feedback loop of more territory garnering more armies with which to gain territory as a strong “stability” mechanism, but the dramatically increasing progressive rewards for turning in sets of cards contributes a balancing “instability.”

    Why bother discussing this? Because I’ve found that the same or similar balance, or perhaps meta-balance (between balance and imbalance), occurs everywhere. For example, societies built of overly “stable” life paths (e.g. your challenges and rewards in life are pre-ordained by your caste) and societies with overly “unstable” life paths (e.g. any condition, good or bad, can be reversed overnight by forces outside your control) are both popular shapes of dystopia. Similar principles seem to apply to ecosystems, evolution, economics, geology, chemistry, politics, even cosmology; and especially where two or more of them interact.

  166. Jennifer, now let’s see if they advocate having the medical industry use less energy and fewer fossil-fuel-based products and procedures to help deal with it!

    Oilman2, no, I don’t think I’ve written about that yet. It’s worth considering.

    Isabel, having seen it quite frequently used to exclude men as well as women from access to seats, no, it’s not misogyny — it’s simply being a jerk.

    Kay, exactly. There needs to be a convenient term for the application of quantitative thinking where it doesn’t belong and isn’t useful. Misquantification? I’ll have to think about that; this week I’ll be starting an occasional series on the mental traps that encourage people not to think clearly, and that’s certainly one of them.

    Housewife, a friend of mine who’s worked with drug abusers points out that drug abuse is a way to put some kind of narrative structure into a life that seems aimless and pointless. If you’re spending all your time getting the drug, using the drug, coming down from the drug, dealing with the effects of the drug, etc., you’ve got something to give structure to your life. Religion and fad diets can do exactly the same thing, so you may well be right that using such an approach to wean addicts off drugs could work.

    Phil K., hmm! That’s a very good point. The US has spent the entire 21st century so far being neither at war nor at peace, so the logic works.

    Phil H., glad it was of use. 😉 Exactly; thinking through the implications of economics as a zero-sum game, or (as it will be as decline accelerates) a negative-sum game, is very hard for those raised to think that everyone deserves a prize just for being there…

    James, yes, and that’s a huge point. So many people on the left are fixated on the notion that masculinity as such is evil, that it’s not surprising that so many young men are turning to the only notion of masculine goodness on offer, which comes from the far right.

    Barefootwisdom, excellent. Exactly, and it’s part of the tragedy of second wave feminism that it started out offering a cogent critique of contemporary life as a whole, and then in large part ditched that and settled for getting a more privileged position within the existing order of contemporary life.

    Redoak, if there were civilizations in the last ice age, we’re not talking a few thousand years. The date Plato gives for the submergence of Atlantis is fairly close to 9600 BCE; the drowning of Sundaland (probably the “Lemuria” of the occult tradition) was around 14,000 years ago; the final peak of the last ice age was 18,000 years ago; and the last interglacial ended some 114,000 years ago. What does it do to your perspective if human civilizations existed for a significant fraction of that latter time frame?

    Chris, yep. The end game, though, is still a long ways off — we’re just about to finish with the opening moves and plunge into the middle of the game.

    Violet, I’m going to encourage you to write that up into a detailed essay, and look for a place online or off to get it into print. Your discussion of perversity as the intersection of aesthetics and ethics strikes me as both highly original and highly useful, and I’d like to see you develop it in more detail. Seriously, this is the seed of a very good essay; please consider writing and publishing it.

    Gkb, I hereby award you the Ecosophia Medal with Gold Shopping Bags for the inspired use of improvised weapons of mass humiliation on arrogant jerks. Thank you, and may all your bus rides be pleasant!

  167. Violet, you said, “Gender is a set of fashions that people perform.” I don’t agree with that at all. For the very small minority of transgender people, I can see how it might feel that way. But for the other 99.something% of us who are not transgender, that statement does not at all describe gender.

    I simply am a woman. It has nothing to do with any set of fashions I might or might not perform. I have a few personality traits that are a little masculine. That doesn’t matter; I’m still a woman. I will sometimes do some thing or other that could be seen as masculine. I’m still a woman. I’m very comfortable with being a woman even if I’m right in the middle of something not at all feminine. It isn’t like a set of clothes to put on or take off.

  168. RE: manspreading
    An old fashioned Southern gentleman raised the old fashioned way always offered his seat for ladies and the elderly. An old fashioned Southern mother always raised her kids to do the same for their elders. That was the traditional masculine etiquette

  169. @Oilman2 and others discussing genetic engineering:
    (If it’s not too late to enter the discussion)

    It’s unlikely that there is any genetic experiment that man might devise that will ‘escape the lab’ and wreck the world. Man is not clever enough to come up with any experiment Nature has not already tried on her own, with the outcome being the world we inhabit. After all, the so-called ‘tools’ we use for GE are really nothing but natural systems we’ve learned to run on a lab bench. And most of Her experiments have already died because (in the context of this post) they were so out of balance with their surroundings.

    Respectfully, it’s not possible that the products of our amateur genetic fiddlings could simultaneously be well enough in balance with the world to survive and thrive in it, while also precipitating massive ecological imbalance.

    There is however grave danger in the industrial scale application of engineered organisms, where huge quantities of GM organisms are employed over large areas, often simultaneously with other damaging practices, in a process that can overwhelm balancing forces.

    So feel free to cook up bespoke GMO’s in your garage, but just enough to share with friends and family.

  170. I was going to hold back but I feel a need to write a comment on the notions of masculinity etc, as its a subject I’ve pondered tbh for a while.

    I used to more or less buy into the notion that ‘masculinity is evil’, though I remember asking myself when I was about 17, what is so inherently evil about masculinity, and so began a lot of contemplation and research that has brought me to where I am now. What I’ve particularity found out is how many stereotypes (about men and women) and inherently false if not downright harmful to everyone. Take women are ‘wiser’, while there are plently of wise women out there, women are I’d say just as boradly capable of stupidity as men are, same goes for violence or other capabilities (Sex is another one. In spite of Victorian stereotypes, women are just as sexually driven as men are). Not that there aren’t differences between men and women in phyiscal capabilites, characteristics, bevhaviour etc, but the difference are mcuh less pronounced than is often claimed.

    A book I’ve found extremely helpful is ‘The Iron John’, By Robert Bly. You may be familiar with with it, but for readers who aren’t, it basically examines masculinity from a mythological persepctive, using the story of the Iron John, about a boy going through all the different stages of initiation to manhood (The equvuilnet book for women is called “women who run with the wolves’ Clarissa Pinkola Estés). It enables me to look into a kind of ‘deep’ masculinity, rather than the shallow boyish machismo of today (usually on the right) or the ‘soft’ new age male (usually on the left). I’ve also found your ‘green wizard’ concept very handy. being male, its important for me to have a masculine angle for protecting the earth and working with nature. (I think as you said yourself, you got attacked left and right for using the conceptr of a ‘green wizard).

  171. @JMG: Absolutely. The specific sit-to-imply-that-the-boys-need-a-lot-of-room thing is more endemic to men, particularly young fratty ones around here, whereas bags and elbows, as GH mentions, are more so to women, but jerks all around. Subway etiquette is one of those things that makes me want to chuck all notions of balance and become a despotic ruler, really–that and people who don’t use their turn signals when changing lanes. (I *mostly* do not believe in eternal damnation, and then I try to drive to New Hampshire…)

    @Alex: Agreed! You get it in things like men being discouraged from seeking therapy or expressing grief, too, or slurs about men who don’t want to have casual sex/want to stay at home with the kids/etc. That’s what people who aren’t being jerks mean when we say “toxic masculinity”–not that all things currently coded masculine are bad*, or that men are bad, but that the notion that all emotions save rage are for “sissies,” that the number and socially-stated “quality” of sexual partners is a measure of success at masculinity, or that asking for help makes one less of a man, really does a lot of damage to everyone.

    Re: cis/trans stuff in general: one of the things I hear from trans/NB friends, as a cis girl who’s very masculine in some ways, is that gender identity (for lack of a better way to phrase it, whether you “are” male, female, or other, and how strongly you feel about that**) is separate from gender roles (the notion that men drink beer and punch stuff while women sip tea and sew). This makes a lot of sense to me, and certainly corresponds to my experience.

    *Hey, I’ve been known to wear flannel shirts on more than one occasion, to drink Scotch, and to take a fairly casual attitude toward sex and recreational forms of violence, so I’d hate to see any of those go out of style. 🙂
    **Which is a whole other spectrum, IME: I have trans friends who felt strongly enough to have surgery and cis friends who’d hate it if they suddenly woke up as the other gender…but while I’m comfortably cisfemale, the only thing I’d mind about suddenly turning into a guy is that all the guys I like are straight. The aspects of pagan-ness that stress the mystic nature of womanhood have always felt very alien to me, for that matter.

  172. Violet,

    Fascinating discussion. I agree with JMG: please flesh this out.

    As an aid/prod to your meditation as much as just being a bit of a contrarian, let me throw out a kind of defense of the perverse: your distinction between the ethical and the aesthetic is not one that, say, Aristotle would have accepted. To quote Joe Sachs in his article on Aristotle’s ethics for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

    Aristotle singles out as the distinguishing mark of courage, for example, that it is always “for the sake of the beautiful, for this is the end of virtue.” (111 S b, 12-13) Of magnificence, or large-scale philanthropy, he says it is “for the sake of the beautiful, for this is common to the virtues.” (1122 b, 78) What the person of good character loves with right desire and thinks of as an end with right reason must first be perceived as beautiful.


    The Greek ideal of moral excellence, kalon, was also the ideal of physical beauty. (See

    Even in our culture, we don’t consistently distinguish between ethics and aesthetics. Here’s an interesting experiment: ask your friends who are otherwise of sexually-liberated views if they’d be willing to visit a nude beach/resort and see how many respond, “Nobody wants to see that.” That’s a particularly illogical response considering that anyone who truly objected to “seeing that” wouldn’t go to such a place! So I think that it’s more than just anxiety about their body image; it’s a leftover taboo expressing itself in aesthetic terms, because those are the only ones that don’t conflict with their conscious adoption of liberal sexual mores.

    Sachs continues:

    In the most ordinary circumstances, any mother might say to a misbehaving child, in plain English, “don’t be so ugly.” And any of us, parent, friend, or grudging enemy, might on occasion say to someone else, “that was a beautiful thing you did.” Is it by some wild coincidence that twentieth-century English and fourth-century BC Greek link the same pair of uses under one word?

    More generally, as JMG pointed out a while back, the original sense of the Greek word that became “ethics” was “our customs”; the same thing is true of the Latin word that became “morals.” It’s hard to argue that gender-nonconforming people are not violating the customs of their society.

    Now, all that said, my actual view is that the separation of moral and physical beauty was a good thing. What makes for a beautiful soul and what makes for a beautiful body are disjoint sets, and the former is clearly more desirable than the latter — if nothing else, the beauty of the soul can be maintained and enhanced even as the beauty of the body fades away forever. Still, something to think about!

  173. Violet,

    I really appreciate your thoughts on gender as an aesthetic as well and I have a few things to add.

    I’d like to point out that maybe gender for some people seems like something “real”, however constructed (a trick of the mind that latched onto something temporary and called it fact, in my opinion). While to others it absolutely could be a performance/social game, and in that framework, there are acceptable performances/ways to play, so of course there are going to be those who are seen as actors/bad actors, winners and losers – it’s built into the metaphor.

    As such, this is a really great example of the importance of how metaphors shape our lives. By understanding gender roles as a performance or a game, you bring with those metaphors certain structures/frameworks designed by how one defines a game or a performance.

    In this are themes of True vs. False, Real vs. Acting. It goes back to whoever said that something true is something that doesn’t change, maybe Parmenides. But in truth, things do change. People are variable. Behaviors are variable to conditions/environments.

    We could also say that when someone drops the game or the facade of playing along, they become real. They embrace their variability. I’m strong sometimes, but I’m weak others. I can be emotional, but I enjoy rational thought. I work, but within that work are nurturing tendencies of caring for others and about others and wanting to see them grow in all kind of ways.

    The division we think we see in gender roles is as invisible as the disconnect that most people see between humans and the planet. It’s just not really there, it’s all nature.

    Sure, there are physical and biochemical differences that tend toward highlighting strength vs. weakness, worker vs. nurturer, and put emphasis on a sex. But really, everyone is individual and complex and variable, and gender roles could have been created in order to attempt to simplify us, and as a result, dehumanize and separate us.

    But if we could stop for a moment, and realize we’re as varied as the environments around us, with so many different influences on our actions, emotions, thoughts, and bodies, we could maybe attempt to begin ceasing our need to define and judge and place others into simplistic, narrow-minded boxes, and start appreciating people in their beautiful variety. It’s worth a try.


  174. @Stephania, I too would love to see a greater focus on building up the home as a place to centre and care for and build up human beings, and simultaneously as a place in which significant productive activity takes place as a matter of course. I tend to think doing it (as you have, despite the backlash), and as I am doing (the main reason I keep such a very tight lid on the hours I’m willing to give to the outside economy) will do a lot more, in the long run, than any amount of preaching.

  175. @Steve Gage “When ‘gluten intolerant’ people* go to Europe (where Roundup isn’t used)”…

    [as much, yet]

    I assure you this is an imbalance Monsanto is very busy trying to “correct”. We cannot be complacent over here, that is for certain.

  176. @ Dusk Shine. Thanks for sharing your experience. Personal stories are the weave that makes up the “feel” of a society. I will think on a lot on what you have said.

    For now, what I will say is that to me, the men in my life are absolutely “necessary” – for themselves, for the rich uniqueness of who they are, and I could not imagine a world in which they were not.

    I truly hope you can discover your own necessity – if to no one else, to yourself, first of all!

  177. @Chris
    Thanks for y’r thought! Storm-wise not a big event round us – one old ash tree down by the stream. Surprising amount of leaf still on most trees even though autumn is well begun.
    Travel and electricity are always big news items – a lot of people travel for work: two cars … two incomes … juggling kids & schools … precarious … ‘just in time’, and not very ‘discretionary’. Home economy…? … used to be home was the means to ‘economise’; to ‘make-do’, save … cover for ‘rainy day’ – essential ‘back-up’ etc. I actually can remember that stuff.

    @ JMG
    Further to economy with low or negative ‘net growth’. Comes a time when every ‘advance’ means, I guess, some ‘decline’ or worse elsewhere, or for somebody else. It would be nice if we could do some better ‘balancing’. Smile. It would be good if we could trade multiple tiny bulwarks against inevitable contingencies of suffering and distress in exchange for seeing – just one example – a decline in motoring in aggregate – but I should dream!

    If we did but know it, we are a collective whatever we will, and are disposed along real ‘grids’ of connection. I find myself just now on the edge of a discussion ongoing in an attempt to re-install electric trams in one of our old ‘legacy’ cities in Britain. The tram avoids competition for road space with cars and can provide a more reliable and speedier service than buses when the latter must contend congested space. Once re-installed, experience elsewhere suggests many people migrate back from the car to the tram. But, how can we get agreement for installing such a rigid retro-system? Hmm … I will keep remembering the trams and bridges that survived 20thC catastrophes across continental Europe and are still going.

    Phil H

  178. What a great question! I had to roll this one around a bit. Enlightenment political theorists used the “cradle of civilization” concept to advance a notion of political right founded on a supposed pre-political individual in the “state of nature.” Obviously there has been a significant investment in this thinking, as it is more or less foundational to our empire. So I can understand the utility of questioning it.

    As for me, I think we are social primates first and that the individual is a relatively recent “invention” (I think that is how Nietzsche puts it).

    So I take my bearings on the political question from ancient thinkers like Aristotle. Man is the political animal. We are capable of living in pre-political family and tribal arrangements, but our full potential is expressed in the polis. Of course, like all virtues, there is a grave danger of mishandling this potential. That is the essential question: how to handle living in a political society.

    This question is perennial. I don’t think even a radical shift in our understanding of the history of civilization changes it. Each one of must ask today, what does it mean to be zoon politikon. As far as I can tell, the answer to that question will be found in the law of balance, properly understood, and in its highest earthly expression.

  179. @Phil Knight re War & Peace binary and Russia

    If you have some time to spend here is an interesting discussion from a Western perspective that goes a little deeper on the topic.

    Professor Mary Kaldor

    Also interesting from a End of the West perspective is:
    Pankaj Mishra

    The first link also ties into @Philsharris economy perspective shift.

    @Gralle thank you for your comments, I find them a very valuable addition.

  180. @JMG: Greatly honored, I am sure. Space infringement reclamation: it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it. Mine have been mere skirmishes. Considering the seat feats of better folk – Rosa Parks, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, Gandhi’s followers, et alia – one might say I have sat on the shoulders of giants.

  181. @Violet This: “Gender is a set of fashions that people perform” and your whole meditation is of huge interest to me. Something I will be coming back to, to read and study, and consider with care. I would second JMG with a request for *more*, please!

  182. @Kay Robison: It is notably difficult to capture Quality of Life phenomena in a questionnaire for the purpose of quantitative analysis. Social scientists often rely on self-report measures with Likert scales (on a scale of one to five, your sense of satisfaction, happiness, etc.) But the complexity, variety, and minuteness of life’s satisfactions are hard to pin down and summarize their relative weight in a person’s life. It is like trying to fish for sardines using a coarse open-wove net designed to catch tuna or halibut. A mess of sardines may provide quite as much food as one big halibut, but not if you can’t catch them!

    Another method of measuring QOL is the detailed interview covering areas of life activity (home, work, school, friends, relations, dependents, etc.). From the interview, they count the number of mentions of pleasure, distress, etc. They also map out instances of helping behaviors to model vectors describing the flow and valences of relational networks. For example, if you are one of those people who are always helping others and not being helped in return nor paid nor rewarded with praise, it is not surprising if your health, energy and satisfaction in life tend to flag. But if they do not flag, your score on spiritual strength goes up markedly.

    Life-work balance and fairly balanced mutuality in relational networks can be one source of high QOL. But so can the sense of purpose that goes with principled self-sacrifice. Or the degree of alignment with one’s core self. So it ain’t simple, is the upshot.

    Qualitative studies differ from quantitative studies in other respects. It is more chancy to draw hard and fast conclusions. Generally, it is best to treat them like collections of anecdotal evidence, lump them with other studies and try to normalize the whole loaf of combined data across multiple time frames to seek trends that reliably appear under similar circumstances. These can then be used to refine the data collection instruments to focus on proxy signs or signal indicators. It is kind of a pain, really. But good science *is* painstaking.

  183. The comments are turning very “real” though making me feel almost as if from another planet. Although feminism has been essential and transformative in my life, and I have spent a lot of time engaged in feminist campaigning, I have never once, not until now, heard it said, or felt a need to consider any of the following concepts commenters are mentioning: “masculinity is evil” (or “men are evil”) or “men are unnecessary”.

    I recognise that these concepts appear to be explanatory and real for some people, in that they correspond to lived experiences they have had, and this is why I am listening so closely and asking questions aimed at helping me elicit understanding. But at the same time, I feel no sense at all of “recognition”. To me none of these concepts are any part of feminism as I have experienced it.

    That they are real, and felt to be real, for those who have said so, appears to be beyond doubt. But it seems to me unimaginable that feminism, as I understand and experience it, could have provoked such feelings. (Unless feminism has somehow become filled with “agents provocateurs” whose aim is precisely to achieve antagonism between the sexes, rather than equality).

    I have never thought that for anyone’s light to shine it is necessary to extinguish someone else’s.

  184. First I want to thank everyone for all of the encouragement! I am honored and inspired by the enthusiasm.

    @ Garden Housewife; I think that English, or at least my grasp of it, may be insufficient to express the profundity I’m ascribing to aesthetic experience. It is fashion to use the imperial rather than the metric system, forks instead of chopsticks, and to build in wood rather than brick, and it was also fashion that we use so many words that Shakespeare invented and concepts that Plato first committed to paper. Fashions frame an enormous part of our lives whether we consciously choose them or not. Aesthetics utterly frame a certain dimension of experience, and are built into culture.

    My point is thus; I wear a lot of clothing I find on the ground in free piles. I wear it because it is free and I think that some of it is beautiful. I have a good collection of leggings, skirts and wool sweaters. I have no saris, togas, kimonos or kilts. Had I found these clothing I might very well added them to my wardrobe, but I haven’t because the aren’t a part of popular fashions. My clothing is thereby entirely framed by what happens to be fashionable.

    Also, as side-note I don’t mean “perform” in a trivial way. I mean it in a deep and dignified way. Cooking a meal is a performance, so is reading a book, so is chopping wood, making love, having a conversation etc. I am not saying that any of these things are the more trivial for them being a performance. My perspective is the the unique performance adds profoundly to the meaning. I feel that the language I use has a superficial similarity to that of postmodern theory, but I’m not attempting to make a postmodern argument. Instead I’m saying that aesthetics can be used, similarly to Oswald’s Spengler’s analysis in The Decline of the West, to plumb depths that utilitarian models don’t necessarily touch.

    That being said, of course there is a utilitarian aspect to experience, a facet that is entirely functional. My hope is to illustrate that, when perceived cross culturally, the very tools we use are an expression of deeper aesthetic proclivities. This isn’t a trans or cis sort of thing. Ivan Illich wrote extensively about “vernacular gender” cross culturally. Of course this has a utilitarian component but also it is, according to him, a profound part of the dance of meaning of each culture. That being said, I am not attempting to define you in anyway. As I mentioned in my original comment there are people who drop the pretense of performing gender altogether and are simply themselves which I applaud as the ideal. If that is your case, as I believe you implied in your response, than I am happy for you.

    @ James, thank you for your contrarian viewpoints! I need all of them I can get 🙂

    To address your points:

    Within the argument I’m developing, what I define as perversity is simply a part of life. It could be likened to a great shoreline between the ocean of aesthetics and the terra firma of ethics. Where one draws the shoreline on the given mental map of a culture doesn’t actually have much bearing on my larger argument. High tide, low tide, the crenelations of the sand, where exactly the land meets the sea is indeed highly debatable and far from clear, in fact it is the source of endless debate and conflict across cultures and time. But it is a debate that has little interest to me. What I am interested in, to extend the metaphor, is how rich and varied the life of the shore is and how, no matter how much the pleasure I may derive walk it, how strong the scent of death and decay clings to it.

    @ RMK, thank you for your thoughts! My thought is that there is a performative aspect to all actions. If we indeed think in stories that would indeed mean that we are constantly imitating and playing parts in our lives. There are however qualitative aspects of inner and outer congruence. Do the actions feel good or bad? Is the part cleaved to even while it is painful and feels wrong? I think people can drop dysfunctional pretenses but it is doubtful to me that the performative aspect ever can fully stop at least on this side of the grass. It is too built into our social primate heritage.

    You raise many good points which I’m going to have to think on further.

    @ Scotlyn, many thanks! If I may, I want to note that I would extend my analysis far past gender into every aspect of life, even solitude and alone time. An interesting difference between ethics and aesthetics is that one needs to be aware of an ethical set of rules but one doesn’t need to be aware of aesthetic orientation. Furthermore, one doesn’t need to be aware of the role one is playing to play that role well. In fact self consciousness may greatly diminish or even ruin the aesthetic merits of the experience.

  185. @isabelcooper
    “(I *mostly* do not believe in eternal damnation, and then I try to drive to New Hampshire…)”

    As anyone here in New Hampshire will insistently tell you, it’s all those Massachusetts (or Tax-achusetts as we like to call them) drivers who don’t use their turn signals. Well… ok, ok, I agree there are a lot of them up here (and they have the nerve to use NH plates!-Hmph!). I suspect this issue is evenly spread around but being a small state with less than sterling highways makes it more noticeable. If you do happen to see one car using its signal lights properly and it’s a white car, please beep and wave. It’s probably me. ;)

  186. The tragedy of modern fashionable feminism is that it all too often fails to discriminate between simple psychosis and ‘masculinity’.

    For example, a Latino in Spain kills his partner and their children (rather too common I’m afraid) and then commits suicide.

    Twitter and the press are subsequently alive with denunciations of ‘patriarchy’, ‘toxic masculinity’, when it is clearly a case of a very sick, depressed, unbalanced probably drugged individual at the very bottom of society – the case with Latinos in Spain, who are just imported cheap labour, like Roumanians and Moroccans – doing something ghastly to those around them, and finally to themselves.

    To my mind, ‘toxic masculinity’ and ‘patriarchy’ are when society – and the law – says ‘Wife/daughter getting out of hand, getting above themselves? OK, go ahead and beat them, but probably best not to kill – that’s for adultery!’

    It certainly does not come under my idea of masculinity, which is endurance, self-discipline, chivalry and truth-telling. (Score badly, but I try!)

  187. @ Vesta..

    There is hubris; hubris that man can do anything, and hubris that nature has already done everything, can survive anything. I will venture my opinion that your comment indicates the latter. I will venture the truth lies between these two positions.

    Nature WILL always balance out – time is on her side. That balancing may or may not include the survival of mankind. Our species was nearly wiped out by a single volcanic eruption – the genetics already show our extreme lack of diversity from that event. It is this lack of diversity and careless experimentation by government and military labs that has the potential for reducing our numbers to near zero levels. That means insufficient genetic diversity to survive long term is nearly guaranteed.

    Mankind is currently approaching environmental limits – it isn’t just the Malthusians that see this coming. All it takes is doing some simple arithmetic with readily available numbers. That means our species is in every corner of the world – no more isolated pockets around. Combine that with air travel, and the normal vectors of transmission for viral and bacterial agents is instantaneous relative to 100 years ago (spanish flu).

    We are also approaching a time when antibiotics will no longer be able to hold back disease. This is due to their overuse and the associated immunity engendered in the natural pathogen populations. With foodstuffs required to ship across the world to avoid famine these days, we are very susceptible to interruptions in transport and in agriculture. GMO crops complicate agriculture – they do not simplify. They require boosting, as their effects diminish over a few generations as the weeds and pests they control adapt. As already outlined, many of the “inert ingredients” used in some of these compounds are more deleterious than the active component.

    I am more worried about chemical loading and genetic manipulation than climate as a threat. There are already kilometers-wide chemical dumps scattered across the planet where walking without a Level B or Level A hazmat suit is lethal. Thinking the pathogens and chemicals in these places are not a potential germ reservoir or a hazard seems to be folly, at least to me.

    When the pests adapt to GMO and the fields go fallow because the pests are now unstoppable, where does that leave agriculture? When the pesticides decimate the pollinators, what does that do to yields in the fields? What happens when species we rely on (bananas, corn, etc.) have become so distorted that there is no longer a natural or heirloom variety to utilize?

    I personally want mankind to survive, for my children and theirs to have life. I do not fret over the planet as a whole. I fret over mankind surviving the “Oil Age”, and getting to a post-oil era, where many practices of today are no longer possible or wanted.

    I am glad for you if what you say is truly how you feel, and you derive comfort and innate security from that.

    I do not share your view. I think it is a very simplistic view, and one that does not take into account the hypercomplex systems of Oil Age humans and nature. I think that it indicates an ignorance of what biotech is and what it has been experimenting with. The concatenation of many human things overlaid on nature as a whole is beyond hypercomplex in terms of interactions. There is quite a lot of chaos involved, and the buffering systems are fairly heavily laden these days.

    If that truly is your line of thinking, and it works for you, then consider this my sole attempt to disabuse you of your notions.

  188. @Jeanne: Hee! Will do–and entirely agreed. Getting to NH (or, indeed, anywhere much from where I live) unfortunately requires me to deal with many Boston drivers–who, speaking of masculinity, seem convinced that certain bits will shrivel up and fall off if they have to go fewer than ten miles above the speed limit at any point, and God forbid one actually let people enter the road or lane or whatever.

    @Scotlyn: Yeah, likewise–I’ve seen the “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” of course, but that always struck me as a perfectly sensible statement that adults have no innate need of significant others. (They’re nice accessories, for those who want ’em.) I suppose if we’re talking in very broad generalizations, from a strictly biological perspective, fewer men than women are necessary to continue the species, but fewer people in general are necessary for that, and that’s no argument for eliminating whole groups.

    (I have seen either responses to demographic targeting noting that, well, if we’re going that way, most murders are committed by men, so they should be the first group, or responses to “you just don’t want men around at all” pouting ‘agreeing’ that, fine, we don’t, the repressive matriarchy is totally coming for you, but I always believed them both to be facetious.)

    @Violet: I’d also be interested–I’ve always been dubious of the notion of the “real you” being X or Y, because that changes with time and situation. The person I am around my parents is not quite the person I am around my friends, but neither of them is a conscious fake, or uncomfortable–I just adjust to meet the situation.

  189. @Alex

    Another aspect of restrictive gender roles that has gotten some attention for women but seems to have been largely ignored for men is the way in which they can function as double-binds. Defining a gender in terms of otherwise frowned-upon traits (e.g. impulsiveness for men, vanity for women) puts you in a situation where you either judged for having those traits, or you get judged for not being manly/womanly enough.

    @Isabel, @RMK

    I’m coming to think of gender identity as a kind of psychological need, analogous to needs like safety or esteem. You don’t fulfill a need directly—there aren’t units of safety or esteem floating around waiting to be picked up like coins in a Mario game—you fulfill it by having various experiences that represent the fulfillment of that need to you.

    Those experiences can be incredibly varied, and need not mean the same thing to two people or in two different cultures. For example, I tend to feel safe in enclosed spaces, while others feel threatened by it. If a family member I hadn’t seen in a while kissed me on both cheeks to greet me, that wouldn’t have the same effect on me that it would on someone from a culture where that’s a normal sign of affection.

    You can certainly argue whether certain experiences naturally fulfill a particular need to someone, but the same can be argued about certain traits being naturally masculine or feminine (e.g. aggression, nuturing, etc.). More importantly, even if they were all arbitrary/synthetic, the one thing you can’t do is make the need go away or fulfill it without accepting some scheme for its fulfillment. Languages are entirely arbitrary, but to express your thoughts, you have to pick one.

    One of the complicating factors for all psychological needs is that different people have them in different degrees. Some people can’t stand the lack of freedom that comes with a 9-5 job, while some love the structure. Gender identity is certainly more complicated than a linear [0, 1] scale, so we’d expect it to be even more varied in its expressions, although by a historical/biological accident it happens to be strongly bimodal in distribution.

  190. Hi John Michael,

    I’m rather enjoying Kim Stanley Robinson’s sense of humour and historical perspective. What a great name for the island he dumped the characters onto. Very amusing.

    Thanks for the correction. Of course it was a slip of the fingers over the keyboard! Yup, I understand that the champ is against the ropes and not doing so well, but there are plenty of rounds left to go before the match is called. I may ask you more about your cryptic “middle” comment on the next open post. ;-)!

    Speaking of balance too and reading the book, I wonder how many folks understand that we face the same predicament with our own soils? Liebig had something to say about that. I’ve mentioned before that I am often amazed that I can do things with the soils here that no sane society would allow me to do.



    Hi Phil,

    Glad you survived the storm unscathed. I too recall those days and they are a good form of protection.

  191. @Violet

    Hear, hear to that post and to JMG’s suggestion to write it up into a detailed essay. I would be very interested to see what else you have to say on the matter. Very well said.

    -Dan Mollo

  192. Great comments John.

    Your thoughts on Ice Age civilizations certainly interest me as I have developed an interest in this for many years. I have a small library at home dedicated to pre-Columbus trans-atlantic travel which is absolutely fascinating.

    I look forward to your post.

    I thought you might be interested in reading my latest blog posts on the European elections, where I have referenced you.

  193. @Oilman2

    You have inferred a whole lot about what I believe, I think mostly incorrect 🙂

    I agree with pretty much all the concerns that you expressed above, and share your wishes as well.

    The place where you and I disagree is about the ability of human genetic manipulation to create an organism that is 1) novel, 2) lethal, 3) able to survive, thrive and spread widely. Not that it can’t be done, just that Nature has already covered all the bases. That’s reality, not hubris.

    Note that I also agree with you about the danger of pandemics in modern, connected society. But this is also a problem of industrialization, just like the problem with industrial GMO’s (which we also both agree on).

    I enjoy your posts very much!

  194. @oilman2

    Your comments on the complexity of weather and climate are spot on. One day in “Kinematics and Thermodynamics of the Atmosphere” back in college, the professor wrote down 27 equations and 27 unknowns to calculate movement of air parcels. He then demonstrated that about half of the variables were completely random or approached zero, and could be dropped from the calculations – except admitting that they did influence the results further out in time. In the mid 1980s, the Limited Area Fine Mesh (LFM) model was used for 48 hour forecasts over North America, and took over 2 hours to process on a Cray IV supercomputer at Global Weather Central, Offutt AFB, in Omaha. That same code and data input would probably run in 10 minutes on my Blackberry Z10…:-)

    The models have improved, but time, random motion, and modeling are still limiting factors with fluid dynamics, especially when considering small magnitude variables (mankind’s pollution) versus large magnitude variables (solar input). Forecast models have improved quite a bit, but are hardly perfect – but much better than what I had access to back in the day.

    As for microclimates, I get a lesson in that every time I go on a motorcycle ride – and meso climates come into the picture if I take a ride up and down the Columbia River Gorge, where the transition from mild PNW, to rainforest, to desert and everything in between takes place.

    I agree that climate change takes a back seat to other challenges ahead. Up river from Portland is the Hanford Nuclear site, where 20 years and $19B in super site clean up has not yet even processed any of the plutonium waste into inert glass bars, and the liquid waste continues to contaminate ground water and get closer to the Columbia. As JMG has pointed out numerous times, the area will be “hot” for many generations to come. A high price to pay for the plutonium “Fat Man” bomb dropped on Nagasaki…

  195. Thanks gkb for the information about how quality of life is measured. I am sure careful scientists can come up with a way to put a number of some kind on personal satisfaction, but I was mostly trying to get a feel for the balance between effort and reward. I think I don’t really need to measure my satisfaction just feel it and call it good if it feels good.

  196. Violet, ok, I’ve misunderstood you then. That probably has less to do with your English and more to do with my current circumstances at home. My toddler is sick so while reading comments I’m getting interrupted a lot to attend to a very fussy child.

    I have noticed though that some people feel like they’re acting or pretending in parts of their lives. That includes being an adult, a spouse, a parent, or whatever. It’s always something they feel insecure about. I’m not saying that’s the same for transgender people though.

    From my own life, I don’t know if you could say I’ve “drop[ped] the pretense of performing gender altogether” or if I just never approached it that way to begin with.

    I feel pretty comfortable in all the parts of my life though. There’s always room for growth, of course, but that doesn’t mean that an earlier stage is bad or insincere. That earlier stage was just part of the path to where I needed to go. For example, my husband regrets the years we “wasted” in Christianity. I don’t. That was part of what got us to where we are now.

    It’s possible that this approach to life isn’t common, and that maybe it has nothing to do with what you’re talking about.

  197. JMG, thanks for sharing the insight from your friend about drug abuse. I’m trying to raise my kids in such a way that they will be less susceptible to things like drug and alcohol abuse, but of course they will have to make their own choices in life. If they ever do have addiction problems, the more I understand the problem, the better my chances of helping them break free of that.

  198. James,

    Would you say that gender identity is something that should be judged by the individual only then? As long as your own needs are fulfilled, should you worry about anyone else’s or what other people think of yours?

    Simplification into words absolutely works toward fulfilling expression, the problem is that the expression doesn’t capture the full extent of the truth. The full range of human behaviors contained within the two sexes is cheapened by the delineation into two main lists of words. But because we see separation in physical form, we want to mirror it in our ideological understanding of humans. Physical form is split into two? Okay, behavior must be split into two and should be as concrete as the physical differences we can surely observe, right?


    But take into account that this type of thinking has been in motion for a very long time. We’ve been trying for ages to make sense of behavior and the things we can only fleetingly observe (things like various actions, thinking, and feeling) by using the concrete physical world as the crutch to lean on. Example – “He was such a snake.” (Untrustworthy). “She’s such a doll.” (Beauty).

    Think also of anyone who has ever been called a “barbarian” or a “savage”. What do you picture? What traits do you associate those words with? How about “Casualties”? What about “soldier”, “mother”, “father” etc.?

    We create labels all of the time. But the important question to ask is, “What are these labels used for?”

    You say we need the labels of masculine and feminine in order to fulfill a psychological need via experiences that represent the fulfillment to you – but how did you get that fulfillment or how do you know which kinds of experiences are the right ones that make you feel fulfilled? Who is telling children what to play with? Who is telling children what to wear? Who is encouraging children to be strong? Obedient? Dependent? Thinkers? To seek education? To care for others? Etc.? Gender roles often start with upbringing – family, environment/society, teachers, friends, the media.

    I’d say if you want to give gender roles a purpose, it’s partly to develop a sense of self. Who am I? What am I like? But also a degree of control – if you provide a large group with the same message and keep spreading that message, you’re likely to see behaviors develop along that message.

    But are there better ways of going about it than we currently do? What behaviors should we encourage? What are the best ways to go about that? If the behaviors, and reactions toward the behaviors, are developed before we have a choice in the matter, can we really say it’s a personal need? Or should we say that it’s a psychological need derived from early experience constructed by family, society, the media, and the environment around us – and all of those groups are responsible for the message they spread to individuals?

    What happens when we spread a message not of separate concrete universal traits, but varied changing complex traits? Is it too much for us to handle? Or could we reasonably see humans as complex beings each figuring out their own way to conduct themselves – what they wear, what they play with, enjoy, prefer, work on, how they interact, lead and help others – in a social group?

    I think it’s important to note that desired traits often come with values. We encourage traits we believe to be good/right and punish or admonish traits we believe to be bad/not right. So ethics plays into it, it’s just that not everyone is going to see “good” and “bad in the same way. They are slippery words, as previously pointed out. Call it a natural selection of traits based on what seems to be working in society for control and happiness. Call it natural selection of traits based on perceiving what those around you do and wanting to be similar to them – thinking of the kid who puts on his/her mom’s high heels, and how the mom reacts in that situation.

    We all influence each other and spread messages for what is acceptable for how to act. “My dad always said ‘It’s okay for men to cry.'” vs. “My dad always said ‘Men should be tough and suffer in silence.'”

    Maybe we need to each focus on the message we are spreading to others about each gender. How often do you tell little girls they are adorable instead of asking them what they are reading lately? Do you ever invite your niece or little sister to work out with you? Are you asking the men in your lives about how they feel about things? Or the women in your lives what they think? How can we balance out the labels?

    Maybe we could all take a lesson from Greer’s last post on really listening to other people, getting to know them for who they are and think they are and how they identify themselves. We’re all more than a list of desired traits given to us by any given culture/group. We’re not absolutes. We’re variable. As variable as the diverse environments around us.

    Embrace the spectrum. The gradients. The combinations. The colors not seen when we focus only on blue and pink.


  199. I am learning balance through my spiritual practices. Meditation stabilizes emotion, concentrates mentally all the energy I have from tai chi, yoga which otherwise run riot in love, anger, fear, etc. Sort of hysterical lack of control. Religious people are often very leftwing bleeding heart or right wing puritan disciplined but balance, self observance of meditation detaches one from desires, anger, fear and allows growth to occur without stress to others and self. Being emotional may seem fun but at high energy levels it can be chaotic and destructive. Walking this tightrope requires focus and high energy.

  200. Regarding the whole gender and sex issue, it seems to me that the total lack of meaning in modern life and the fact that traditional ideas and cultures have dissolved without replacement, is the cause why many people try to find an identity in the most strange ways, e. g. dieting fads or ever more convoluted gender identities and the like.
    Another important point is that modern feminism has often a purely negative view of masculinity, and at the same time demands of women to do things which doesn’t further their interests rather than the interests of neoliberalism. An example would the mostly unsuccessful attempt to force more women to take up fields in technology, computer sciences and the like. Maybe that all isn’t a bug, it is a feature to further the interests of the current economical order.
    And to add insult to injury, there are double-binds involved in this matter, too. An example are the contradictory expectations, which people have in modern dating culture, and generally between men and women.

  201. first of all, the third law sounds very much like

    the definition of “homeostasis.”

    would you agree?

    This is no “trap” question.

    I’m thinking of Fred Toates et al, and feedforward thinking.

    as opposed to feedback mechanisms.

    I find ambiguity in the definition.

    Possibly due to my binary thinking.

    to be more clear:

    feedback implies a thermostatic mechanism,

    and set-points.

    feedforward implies no such set-points,

    but rather exaggerations, combos, and mutual regulation,

    of inbuilt tendencies.

    (your work is excellent, btw)

  202. @ Vesta…

    I can only grasp at your context and thoughts in a very gross way in these posts – and thus I do apologize for inferring the worst. I think it comes from rubbing shoulders with those who worship technology when I am doing engineering training and seminars.

    Are you aware that some gene guys are shooting plant into animal and vice versa on a routine basis? There are already documented cases of “well, we just thought we would try and then see what happened.” That is hardly scientific and shows zero thought for the future.

    It only takes a fragment, if a virus picks it up, to alter and expand the possibilities of that fragment. Nature has geared most of her organisms to take advantage of everything they can to achieve reproduction. The dominance of a species is basically their ability to do that – which is why there is a history of rise and decline in many species – others supersede them.

    We are making nonsense fragments all the time in genetic engineering, CRSPR or not, and they get dumped down various drains as ‘nonviable’, yet something digests these fragments. The organism does not need to survive – just the wrong DNA or RNA snippet. Nature uses whatever it can to improve survivability, that has been proven time and again.

    I find it enlightening that the progress we make with traditional breeding of crops and animals is both extensible and practical. The progress corporations make with biotech is not extensible, and in most cases it actually produces a very short terms gain with long term complications. This is typical of trying to use a simple solution in a hypercomplex, chaotic system – unexpected results abound. The usual reason for this has proven to be very simplistic, linear thinking and a direct refutation of wholeness.

    @ drhooves…

    I am currently working on a confined but complex CFD analysis, where we have 3 different solids suspended in a non-Newtonian fluid under pressure and high flow rates. The best software available ($80k per seat) fails to mimic the issue we are trying to address. We are having to film the process in an acrylic tube and analyze the flow by eyeball, just as we were doing in 1988. THEN we will have to write the code to reflect the actual flow and kinetics.

    I know a lot of the software out there on a personal basis, and I know its’ limitations – they are extremely limited. Using the biggest, cheapest and most massively parallel computer on the planet (our brain) and some eyeballs, we can do better. The reliance on “expert systems” and AI is so inane – our brains are far more powerful and able to recognize chaotic patterns where the computer software just fails. We can intuit things in ways the most complex computer cannot even address.

    Humans are lazy, and prefer their computers to do the work – at least this is how it appears to me. Counter-intuitively, people TRUST computers because they are like little magic boxes that give magical answers. It is, sadly, the most common form of techno-worship.

    I find it interesting that several sci-fi authors have employed Hanford in their PA novels – apparently some of our minds have already encompassed the danger that will remain there for the future.

    @ JMG…

    The above replies are why I asked about the whole “Gotta Have It Now” problem for humans. That predilection, IMO, is very problematic. An adjunct to that discussion is likely how humans fail to grasp deep time, and cannot seek goals or act on possibilities outside of a single generation. How does that get fixed?

    To All…

    I think the entire ‘genetic engineering’ issue is plagued by its isolation. It totally fails to address wholeness in any way. That is also a very valid failing of our entire academic and professional system, where specialists are lauded for years, only to be taken apart over time by the generalists and their more wholesome approach, or their conclusions dispelled by nature herself. In a hypercomplex world, wholeness MUST be taken into account, because the world is not like the lab – not at all.

    Fortunately, that same hypercomplexity will likely preclude AI from ever gaining more than fractional awareness of our daily operating environment.

  203. @Oilman2
    I understand totally. I left a university career to escape a similar crowd of cowardly, arrogant scientists.
    But still, I think your alarm about all human-engineered gene sharing between plants and animals is selling Nature short; this occurs by ‘natural’ means as well. Again, the danger is industrial-scale application, not experimentation.

    JMG has talked often about the difference in perspective offered by considering deep time and space scales. I think the difficulty many folks have in appreciating the diversity and thoroughness of Nature’s biological experimentation would benefit from a similar appreciation of the immensity of the micro-world. Specifically, consider that there are more organisms busily swapping genes in a single spoonfull of seawater than there are biochem labs on the planet. Now multiply that up to the volume of the ocean….

  204. @isabel agreed about the gender identity and gender roles being quite different things.

    @James agreed about restrictive gender roles being a double bind too

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