Shuck and Jive

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Long Descent

Gasoline is $3.50 per gallon. State governments are turning unions into eunuchs. Oil-supplying countries are erupting in social chaos.

We are experiencing the beginning of the downward slide of Hubbert's curve.

It will be a long and bumpy ride. can be interesting...

According to John Michael Greer, this ride won't end for a couple of centuries. We are on a Long Descent.

Greer in his book points out that we generally live by two myths, both of which are misleading: the myth of apocalypse and the myth of progress. We are not necessarily headed either for a huge collapse next month on one hand or for a Jetsons future (onward and upward forever) on the other.

Civilizations rise and fall. The industrial age took a long time to rise. It will take a long time to fall. Greer says that we need more stories to frame our reality other than apocalypse or progress. We need some better myths, some better stories to help us cope with this long descent.

I think Peak Oil is a spiritual problem. Since I became aware of it, I have been trying to find metaphors, symbols, and narratives that can help me make sense of it. I think that is my job. I don't think I have been very successful at it. But I keep trying.

I am grateful for Greer's book. I would hope that my religious colleagues might take up this interesting challenge. After all we are all about myths and stories and yet we (that is clergy) seem to be avoiding reality.

We need an Ash Wednesday service for civilization. We are dust and to dust we shall return. But in the meantime, we live life.

We have a little book group that meets Thursday mornings and we are going to read this book beginning in April. It is an open group and anyone is welcome to join us. Whether you can be with us or not, I think you will appreciate this book.

Janaia Donaldson found John Michael Greer and talked with him for Peak Moment.

This interview was recorded in December 2008. It is your midnight movie.


  1. Interesting ... I was talking with a spiritual (non-Christian) friend about this very thing today .... she's more of the Deepak Chopra/New Age school of thought. I mentioned how what we're seeing now, the whole few profiting at the expense of the many thing, and the many uprising against the oppressors thing, how that is the eternal story of human civilization. And she said well of course, it's endless which is why you can't take it seriously. And I'm like, NO of course you have to take it seriously, you have to work for justice because otherwise how will progress ever happen?

    So then I asked, but why doesn't progress happen? Why does it seem we are stuck in the same endless loop, over and over again?

    And she said because the soul seeks to experience itself and will constantly recreate itself in another existence, it's the source of the ying and yang, the good vs evil.

    So I'm thinking that's a bit of hogwash. However, I'm just about through a 12-CD Old Testament lecture series and I'm really struck by how the same stuff the folks in antiquity were dealing with are pretty much the same stuff we're dealing with. And I'm wonder why the heck we haven't made more progress. How many more times do we have to relive this script before we get it?

    It's pretty frustrating.

  2. I disagree slightly with your new age friend. I do take it very seriously even as we continue cycles of birth and death. (I think of it as an upward spiral, actually, but then I may be a hopeless optimist). : )

    Yes, we do take it seriously and we do work for justice. As individuals are born, grow old, and die, so do civilizations.

    New individuals are born. New societies are born.

    Just because I die doesn't mean my life isn't worth living. Because I die doesn't mean I don't live to the fullest with compassion and joy.

    Societies that descend are still worth living. We need joy, justice, and compassion in times of both rise and fall. We live for ourselves and for our future generations.

    Even though you and I won't see it, what rises from the ashes 200 years from now could be very good indeed. What rises could depend on the choices we make today. So keep fighting for justice!

    The assholes don't always win...

  3. I can't imagine Deepak Chopra saying anything like that.

  4. Shit. I wish I had read this about eight hours ago. I might have actually gotten some sleep.

  5. Even though you and I won't see it, what rises from the ashes 200 years from now could be very good indeed. What rises could depend on the choices we make today. So keep fighting for justice!

    Thanks that was very encouraging!

    I don't think my friend meant "don't bother and do anything at all," she runs an orphanage in India and gets great joy out of giving 30 desperately poor kids a chance in life, paying for their college education and all that. I didn't mean to imply that she's a monster. She's extraordinarily compassionate and works on behalf of justice out of a true sense of love.

    I think what she meant is, you can't get emotionally riled up, can't get your ego involved in it, can't get all upset and depressed about it. Because we have been here before and we will be here again. And she said that's why a rally or a protest that just serves to get people angry isn't really productive. She says what we need to do is raise peoples' consciousness. Okay I'm all for that but how? She would answer "meditate and do yoga." I'm like ... no, I think a little more is required. Maybe I'm wrong.

    And I also disagree with her take on protests. When I think of how the protests in Tunisia sparked a revolt around the Middle East as people threw off their oppressors ... and how the protests in Wisconsin have served to wake up Americans, I have to think that was incredibly useful.

    And it's hard for me not to get emotionally invested in this stuff. When I think about how we're cutting food stamps to pay for billionaires' tax cuts, that makes me angry. I think I have a right to be angry about that. I think it's human to be angry! And perhaps it's how you use that anger that is the important part. Using the anger to create change that benefits peoples' lives is a good thing. Using that anger to blow up a Federal building and slaughters innocents ... not so much.

    But I still can't help getting frustrated that we keep having to plow this same field over and over again. I guess as you said, John, we just have to have faith that we only see a small part of the picture and trust that the rest is in God's hands.

  6. I think your friend may be following the wisdom of Krishna not to be concerned for the results of one's work. You do good work without regard to the results.

    I wonder if we need to distinguish between moral progress and petroleum progress. Just because we are in decline and headed for a long period of contraction regarding fossil fuels and the benefits they have brought to us, that does not mean we must be in a contraction/decline along moral and ethical lines.

    This is a great test for us to contract/decline without going extinct and actually making for ourselves more meaningful/ethical/moral lives.

    In many ways we are going to simplify our lives whether we want to or not.

    The challenge for us as a community, nation, and planet, is to do this fairly. This is where we need to take on with even more "righteous fervor" those who also see this decline as an opportunity to secure power and goods for themselves (ie. Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine).

  7. @Beale

    I am fine with meditation and yoga for some people. I am fine with activism and righteous anger for others. We all have a role to play.

    It is true to some degree that "we have been here before" in that the story is much bigger than our life experience. There is sense of peace with that.

    But, we also have not been here before. This is new. This is an opportunity for transformation.

    As I said before, for me it is a spiral not a circle.

  8. As I said before, for me it is a spiral not a circle.

    I hope you are right.

  9. We'll have to take it on faith as we will be dead before we know!