John Michael Greer: The God Of Technological Progress May Well Be Dead

As we often state here at Peak Prosperity, the narratives we hold are immensely important. The stories running our heads influence everything from our beliefs to our values to our actions.

Which is why it's so dangerous when a society clings onto a narrative that is no longer serving it well, a narrative divorced from reality.

This week, Chris and John Michael Greer address the global faith in inexorable technological advancement as a cure-all to every predicament we face. In many ways, it's become the dominant religion of the 21st century. Sadly, there are a growing number of threats for which 'improved' technologies actually exacerbate the risks (particularly in regards to depleting critical resources) -- but society refuses to acknowledge this, as it runs counter to the tech-as-savoir meme so many are pinning their hopes on:

The problem comes when people have invested in a set of beliefs that work for a while, and then they stop working. That is the situation we are in now. From basically the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to the 1970s or maybe a little later, the narrative of progress worked. During all that time, there was a steady increase in the availability of energy per capita. By White’s Law, which is one of the basic principles of human ecology, economic development is function of energy per capita. As the energy curve rose and as we broke into one after another of the planet’s cookie jars and stole the fossil carbon there, progress actually did happen.

The problem is that we started running into the limits to resource extraction. The cost of resource extraction started rising. The cost of dealing with the downsides of burning all that carbon started to rise and everything else. All of a sudden, it does not work. But everybody is emotionally committed to the myth of progress. They are so great a target and it has such a religious quality to us, progress is that which will save us. Progress promises us this glorious Star Trek destiny metastasizing across the galaxy or what have you. To let that go, again it is trying to get a medieval peasant to look up and notice that Heaven with God, the saints, and angels is not up there anymore. People are wigging out. One of the most common ways to wig out in a situation like that is to cling to the dysfunctional belief system – the beliefs that do not work anymore – ever more tightly, even if they drag you down. That is what we have going on in the modern industrial world. People are going through the motions of a belief system that had stopped working, but they cannot let themselves admit that it stopped working. If that is the case, then God is dead. 

I think people desperately want to stop thinking. If they think, they are going to notice what is going on. They are going to notice the gap between the reality that they are experiencing and the reality that they have convinced themselves that they should experience. Everyone needs this progress onward and upward, blah, blah, blah. Okay, for most people in the United States, standards of living have been contracting steadily since 1972. It's White’s Law: economic development is a function of energy per capita. As your energy production declines, so does your prosperity.

When I was young, a working class family with one income could buy a house, could own a car, could go on vacation every so often, could keep paid up on all their bills, and led a pretty good lifestyle. These days, a working class family with one income in many places cannot stay off the street. That is a huge transformation and everyone is pretending that it does not matter. Almost everyone is pretending that it does not matter and we are still on track.

The United States can no longer afford to maintain its road system. State and county road maintenance budgets have been cut so far that in a lot of western states now, entire sections of the road system are being allowed to return to gravel because nobody can afford to keep them up. Our national bridges are a disgrace. They are falling down. What happened? We could afford to maintain our bridges up until a certain point. What happened? Nobody wants to talk about that. America is in decline. It has been declining rapidly, ever more rapidly, for decades now. Nobody wants to admit it. We dress up our emperor in ever more elaborate imaginary clothing.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with John Michael Greer (64m:13s)

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/john-michael-greer-the-god-of-technological-progress-may-well-be-dead/

Well that was a wild ride! I tried to keep my hands up throughout all the twists and turns and upside-downs.
One of my favorite quotes from JK Galbraith's "The Great Crash of 1929"…

The time had come, as in all periods of speculation, when men sought not to be persuaded of the reality of things but to find excuses for escaping into the new world of fantasy.
We do seem to be living on Fantasy island, but "da plane" has been shot down by anti-aircraft fire, Tattoo has taken to drinking, and Mr. Rork has his head buried under his Monte Carlo and he's yelling "look what they've done to my car."

Did you notice how the conversation dwelt lovingly on war? I am sure Jung would have something to say about that. Ragnarok resonates. 

It sates itself on the life-blood of fated men,

paints red the powers' homes with crimson gore.

Black become the sun's beams in the summers that follow,

weathers all treacherous.

Do you still seek to know? And what?

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragnar%C3%B6k

I have my copies of the "Last Whole Earth Catalog" as evidence of my status as a fully paid up member of the Boomers. (By the noted Stewart Brand)

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whole_Earth_Catalog

I also have my Limits to Growth. Once the curves are digested, is there any wonder why we just do not go there.? 

The immediate problem is energy. 

http://coldfusionnow.org/

There is no way that I am going to join this Pity Party.

So many important subjects covered with just an incredible amount of insight and perspective. Thankyou John and Chris.
The thought that resonated with me in this interview is how utterly responsible we baby boomers are for driving the world to the brink of the disaster that we now see on the horizon, it is something I have lamented for a while. I fear history will not judge my generation kindly. 

    

Arthur,

Bob also has something to say about that.  A Dylan classic.  Nothing has changed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2mabTnMHe8

 

 

I don't know, I just came away from this podcast feeling…disappointed.  With all of his "varied and complex interests", JMG's comments were, to me, little more than color commentary to Chris' usual "state of the world" framework of discussion, which all of us here are familiar with.  I relish hearing folks that help me think out of the box, and I expected such from Mr. Greer.  Boomers to blame- tell me something new (if you want to play the blame game…).  20-somethings either "get it" or are oblivious.  Duh.  Still, I'd let John buy me a wee dram in a quiet bar without TV for a nice chat…Aloha, Steve.

Why do we need to listen to a druid to understand our situation? Maybe Chris is running out of sensible guests to invite?

I found this podcast fun and relaxing. It was good to hear two people talk about very serious problems yet stay calm and have a few laughs. I find it very easy to become overloaded with the doom and gloom data. We all know the challenges ahead and this was a breath of fresh air! 

[quote] Why do we need to listen to a druid to understand our situation? Maybe Chris is running out of sensible guests to invite? [/quote]
Among other things, this particular Druid is one of the deepest historical thinkers to come along in quite a while. There is much to be learned from him.

[quote] With all of his "varied and complex interests", JMG's comments were, to me, little more than color commentary to Chris' usual "state of the world" framework [/quote]

I shared that feeling. It was two guys shooting the breeze who already agreed about everything. I'd have liked to come away with something new to think about.

That said, it was fun to hear John speak after reading his blog for quite a while (which I highly, highly recommend).

I drove through the heart of the Permian Basin Shale Play a few days ago.  I wanted to document it in pictures.  After pulling over 6 or 7 times, my co-pilot threatened to slide into the drivers seat and leave me on the side of the road, so I only have a few pictures.  In her defense, we were traveling over 1,800 miles.
Anyway, the pictures wouldn't tell the story.  There are so many work trucks and semis in the area that traffic jams match, at times, very large urban area jams.  There are temporary RV parks everywhere to house workers.  You have to queue up at gas pumps and wait.  Lines at counters in fast food restaurants are deep.  Rooms in 2 star hotels start at over $200 per night.  The sides of the roads are endless businesses selling anything the industry might need.  This is what it looks like for 150 miles or more on either side of Midland/Odessa.  I have no idea how large it is North and South.

Look in the background on this one.  There is a grid of power lines everywhere supporting the new wells.

On our way West in January there were active drilling rigs dotting the skyline.  On our way back, there were dozens if not hundreds of drilling rigs sitting in Midland/Odessa waiting to be leased.  They parked the rigs with the structures vertical, giving the scene of an industrial/carnival air.

Granted, West Texas was only beautiful to people who can appreciate the Great Plains Dessert, but what we have now is an industrial wasteland hundreds of miles wide.

BTW, the Subject question is rhetorical.  I know who will (actually won't) clean it up.

 

 

I certainly rather listen to a Druid talk about this than any flavour of priest,imam,rabbi or guru!

Hi AndyB, Why does John being a druid reduce his credibility in your eyes?  Is it possible for you to see past that and judge him instead for his words and his insights?  If so I suspect that you will find his views are very much inline with the theme of this site and that he brings valuable insights to the conversation. 

He was introduced as an occultist. For me this is not a reference. Occultists tend to have ties with evil, even if they are not aware of it. I don't think we need an occultists to analyze the situation properly.

On top of that - it looked like if Chris was in the lead in this interview, he was raising interesting points, why Mr. Greer agreed and underlined how dumb people are who don't share their views. While I can resonate with their frustration it is of very little value.

I really enjoyed this conversation.  It occurred to me when television came up that in America we pay them for the tools they use to placate us.  Big brother is beating us up with our own arms, "stop hitting yourself, why are you hitting yourself".  TV's, prescriptions, illicit drugs, long commutes and especially debt bondage.  All things that limit our potential to live authentic happy free lives. 
As to the conversation about the boomers selling out, I can empathize with that directly.  My biggest emotional struggle is that I work for a company that imports and sells chemicals.  In my personal life I have a small permaculture homestead, and follow much of the advise on this site and others like it to reduce my impact on the planet and prepare for a disorganized downward spiral of western society.  In my professional life my edict is to sell millions of pounds of chemicals to anyone who will buy them.  Obviously this doesn't align with my moral compass.  But, I sold out before I knew what I was doing or understood what was happening in the world.  I went to school and saddled myself with nearly six figures of non-dischargable student debt.  Since then I have been running on a treadmill to keep from falling off.  I want to make a change, but selling organic produce just won't pay my bills and I can't allow my family to suffer because of my moral conflict.  They understand my position and we're working on alternatives that can hopefully pay the bills while doing something more inline with my values, but for the time being I feel stuck.  I don't want to compromise my ethics, but I'm not prepared to deal with the consequences of dropping out.  So yes, the boomers had an epic opportunity to do something good for this world decades ago and they didn't, but I don't believe that they had a real choice.  We're all controlled by a system that starts with bad education, continues through media saturation and societal pressure to "make something" of ourselves.  As soon as we play with their cards we're stuck and there is no going back.  Someday the house will crumble and daylight will shine through again.  If we're not crushed in the collapse there will be an opportunity for those paying attention to rebuild something better, but until then you'd better ante up because the mortgage will come due every month.

I guess I disagree with your contention that "Occultists tend to have ties with evil, even if they are not aware of it."  Or rather, I think that the inclusion of occultists in the camp of evil unfairly implies the exclusion of other groups.  For example Christians (of which I am one), have been responsible for countless wars, discrimination, subjugation of other groups and all other manner of evil that humans are capable of.  The American military acting on orders of the American government routinely commits acts that I consider evil.  Jews, Muslims, Hindi, Atheists, Humanists, Pagans and any other group you care to name are all capable of evil.  So are Druids evil?  Probably some more than others and probably all of them at some point in their lives.  But as the term is subjective and we can all apply our own definition to what and who evil is I will allow you your view point.  I just hope you can also allow mine.  To me, evil is just one extreme on the continuum of human potential opposite good.  I judge it by the actions of the human in question.  Some people tend more towards one side of the continuum than others, but all are capable of the entire spectrum of human behavior.  Although I don't know JMG personally, from his actions available to me for analysis I put him more in the camp of "good".  He is working to raise awareness of the impending crisis of our times that has gone largely ignored by the people in it's path.  He does so at the expense of profit which he could surely make if he dedicated his extraordinary brain power to a more culturally acceptable path.  He is causing no harm and making sacrifices to improve the quality of the conversation surrounding the three E's.  I see very little evil in the man from the data available to me.
I will say however that I wish sometimes he would ghost write under another name.  What he writes is often of great importance and should be shared with a larger audience.  It's hard enough to get my friends and family to read an article about the collapse of our civilization, let alone one written by an Arch Druid.  But that doesn't reduce the value of what he writes even if it does reduce his audience.  And perhaps that is his intention.  To have a discussion without subjecting his ideas to the slings and arrows of the mainstream of our culture.  To educate others and help many find their voices instead of being the apex and thus the target of a cultural movement to adapt to a changing world.

Dear Andy,

[quote=AndyB]

Why do we need to listen to a druid to understand our situation? Maybe Chris is running out of sensible guests to invite?

[/quote]Perhaps you are confused. Either that or you are a simple bigot. You must be one or the other since you equate one's sensibility to one's religion. I can now no longer listen to any opinion you might share due to your bigotry. Or lack of clear thought. Either one, doesn't matter. By the way, JMGs druidism does not detract from his acute knowledge of history and how it may logically play in the future vs the currently popular extreme beliefs of how the future will play out. Will it be off a cliff or will it be saved by progress? Perhaps something else. Read a little JMG and you might find come clarity.

Chris,

Great Discussion. Thanks for that. Please invite Mr. Greer back for the additional two conversations that you both wanted to have at the end of the podcast. I would like to hear them.

Or listen to yet another banker or financial wizard.
 

It was great to hear JMG call out that energy turncoat Stewart Brand too.  
Long overdue.

 

I second the comments of Tycer,   Andy B's dismissal  of John Michael Greer as a Druid and Occultist, is ignorant bigotry.     
I have read all of Greer's writing on the fate and foibles of Industrial society and peak oil, and I found his depth and breadth of knowledge truly profound.  

His grasp of history  coupled with an understanding of  the possibilities and limitations of science have been instrumental in helping me understand and  frame our predicament in ways that I had not considered.

 I liked his writing so much on these subjects,  that I have explored some of his other writings, on subjects that are outside my normal interests.   Magic, Druidry etc.

Again do to his erudition and scholarly analysis I came away with a respect for things in that domain that I would have dismissed out of hand previously.

Most of this what falls outside the mainstream paradigms is misunderstood due to peoples rigid thinking and misconceptions. 

For example the definition of magic: What most people mistakenly understand as magic ie.  some stunt that claims to defy the laws of nature is incorrect.  The actual definition is more akin to changing perception/emotional state through use of ritual and other techniques.     By this more accurate definition the high priest of black magic would probably be Edward Bernays, and the advertising industry he birthed.

I would also add that throughout all his writings, he shows a deep respect for all religions and spiritual undertakings. 

Granted  this particular conversation was more entertaining than groundbreaking, but that was a function of the subjects chosen, and the free exchange. Not a reflection of the depth or capabilities of the guest.

Dismissing this guest because of a label that makes you uncomfortable has all the moral and intellectual courage of a Harry Potter Book Burning.

 

mememonkey