Freed from the task of his first book, The Long Descent, in which he laid out all the arguments describing why technology is not going to save us, John Michael Greer, aka The Archdruid, is now able to flesh out how the coming deindustrialization might play out. I found his description of said future to be so helpful in both pragmatic and philosophical ways that I wanted to give every college bound senior a copy so that they might rethink their education and prepare themselves to both save the esoteric knowledge of our culture and learn the practical skills that would enable them to live through it.
Greer describes three stages following the end of this age of affluence. We can first expect an age of scarcity industrialization in which all our technology shifts towards making the most of diminishing resources. Then a salvage economy i.e.: obsolete high rises cannibalized for their steel and other highly refined products of the industrial age. Finally, after several generations, we arrive at the ecotechnic future in which humans have learned to use appropriate technology to live within the limits of natural resources and life reaches the nirvana of sustainability. (Ecotechnic being derived from words meaning the craft of the home. Ecology being the way of speaking of that home and ecosophy, the wisdom of the home.)
He spends a few practical chapters on the appropriate technology for growing food, housing ourselves, finding work and building community. Most of these best practices I am familiar with from my own reading. He then suggests that we will want to find a way to embed into our culture the scientific knowledge we have arrived at thus far possibly in a religious context. We tend to take our science based culture for granted so it is interesting to have him talk about how discoveries from ancient Greece survived i.e.: mathmatics and how some did not i.e: music. His observation that our popular culture is all about what’s new without bothering to carry forth traditions of the past, allows him to show how our culture continually claims to have discovered something new when it’s really just a rehash of something explored 20 years ago.
He spends some time talking about how home economics is a now defunct college degree that we would do well to resurrect as quite a lot of things we buy out of convenience were once made in the home; this cottage industry sector being an integral part of the economy and well being of families. He recognizes how making things at home is not yet economically viable, thanks to cheap oil, but as transportation costs turn the tables, it will make more sense.
Even more illuminating was his perspective on how our financial system is an instrument that has become so complex, its chief result is to rob the population of any real wealth by sucking every investor into gross forms of speculation. I found this to be an affirming observation given that this is what’s been happening and good reason to avoid investing therein.
The perk of the book is his section on philosophy. Had I had his introduction to philosophy I wouldn’t have had to drop the course in college out of disgust at what was implied. Here he explains how Hegelian thinking was all about describing progress—you mesh two things together and voila you get a new solution thus suggesting that civilization, especially Western civilization, is progressive and leads to some kind of perfection or the end of history. Greer counters this historicism with the work of Oswald Spengler who basically said it ain’t necessarily so. It’s just that the culture we live in thinks so. Thus Spengler studied the rise and fall of particular ways of thinking as a culture and declared that ours had explored all its possibilities of thought by the 19th century. Love those mind benders. Greer uses this discussion to illustrate how our assumptions about progress are getting in the way of thinking about stability . And that our destructive high tech life is not the be and end all of civilization. Compared to the Egyptians we pale when it comes to their 3,000 years of cultural stability.
While being a handy summation of best practices, Greer is at his most stimulating when he offers ways of rethinking our ideology and shifting towards more adaptive thinking. I particularly liked his insight on the tragic hero vs. the comedic hero. One dies for ideology while the other manages to come through somehow largely through adaptive survival. As in his first book, he emphasizes the slow unfolding of this future rather than an emergency scenario that other peak oil authors describe. He also encourages a diversity of solutions and “dissensus”. Since no one can actually know what will be the scenario of the future, this decentralized diversity makes sense while empowering the individual.
This PDF review copy, courtesy of the Energy Bulletin.