Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Recovery of the Human

I found both intro and essay fascinating. A thoughtful Sunday musing. -Ed

From: Suzanne de Kuyper <>
Date: Thu, Feb 9, 2012 at 11:54 AM
Subject: Fwd: [New post] The Recovery of the Human

The end of oil can be faced without exterminating billions of Middle Eastern
and African and Indian populations. US corporations will accomplish that
erasure of the human. We need each and every one.

The European Union went along way to enshrining the human by making it's
throne that of the International Humanitarian Rights Laws, membership of
each country joining, voluntary. From the very beginning the United States
saw this grouping as competition of such dire threat that must not be
allowed to succeed except as the handmaiden of U.S. corporate, or inhuman,
needs. Since the end of WW11 progress toward that end had been

Notice that the Marshall Plan was the US offering to help Europe find it's
feet after the horrors of fascist wars. Ensuring cultural gratitude. Then
notice that American troops never left the countries they entered in order
to save them from fascism, but for France, where they were ordered out. And
kept out until N. Sarkozy was elected. One of the first things he did was
to reverse over sixty years of French sovereignty by enthusiastically
joining U.S. directed and owned NATO. France a powerful serf colony.

Today, February 9, 2012, French NATO troops are joined to the UK/US/NATO in
order to make of Africa and the Middle East countries of energy riches
abject servants of those dependant on oil in the well developed, endangered,
West. The riches of those militarily overtaken states, often bombed with
enriched Uranium bombs to teach abject fear of the West for generations as
the deformed get born, are simply stolen...openly. As with Iraq, Palestine,
Libya. In the planning stages is the take-over of Syria totally and then as
Syria is the lynchpin to the weakening of Iran, Iran, it will fall after
Syria is bombed, to it's Stone Age.. Ban ki Moon of the UN will protest but
after supporting the NATO invasion of the peaceful wealthy country of Libya
he has no actual standing but that left over from the founding of the arm of
humanity the United Nations was intended to be.
A dear man though. Suzanne

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Bill Totten's Weblog <>
Date: Thu, Feb 9, 2012 at 1:01 AM

The Recovery of the Human

by John Michael Greer
The Archdruid Report (February 01 2011)*

The myth of the machine, the theme of last week's *Archdruid Report* post,
has implications that go well beyond the usual terms of discussion in the
peak oil scene. One of those implications, which I mentioned briefly last
week, unfolds from the way that so many people who are concerned about peak
oil fixate obsessively on the hope that some kind of machine will solve the

There are at least three ways in which this fixation gets in the way of any
meaningful response to the end of the age of cheap abundant energy. The
first, of course, is that peak oil isn't a problem, because by definition a
problem at least potentially has a solution. Peak oil has no solution.
That's true in the narrow sense of the term - no possible turn of events
will allow industrial civilization to extract a limitless supply of crude
oil from a finite planet - and it's becoming increasingly clear that it's
just as true in the broad sense - no other energy source can provide
anything close to the torrent of cheap, highly concentrated energy that
petroleum provided to industrial society during the last century.

Peak oil is thus a predicament rather than a problem, since nothing we or
anyone else can do will make it go away. Instead, we and our descendants
down through the millennia to come will have to live with the reality of a
world much less lavishly stocked with concentrated energy sources than the
one our ancestors inherited a few short centuries ago. The task awaiting us
and our descendants is that of finding creative and humane responses to that
implacable reality. To that challenging and rewarding task, in turn, the
current obsession with fantasies of salvation via machine offers no help at
all. Quite the contrary, by distracting attention from the adjustments that
will have to be made, the obsession makes the work ahead of us more
difficult than it has to be.

The second sense in which the obsession with machines gets in the way of a
useful response to the predicament of peak oil is that it pushes
responsibility for doing something onto someone else. I sincerely doubt that
any of my readers have any influence worth noting over the decisions
involved in building giant wind turbines, say, or developing thorium
reactors, or turning some substantial fraction of Nevada into one giant
algal biodiesel farm. This makes it easy to insist that steps like these are
the appropriate response to the coming of peak oil, since the people doing
the insisting don't have to follow through on the insistence; it's all
somebody else's job.

No doubt the sheer convenience involved in this approach has much to do with
its popularity, but there's another factor involved. An enormous amount of
rhetoric about the future these days starts from the assumption that the
lifestyles of the middle classes in today's industrial societies are normal,
and ought to be available indefinitely - at least to those same middle
classes. Now in fact there's nothing normal at all about the pampered and
privileged lives of today's middle classes; from strawberries in midwinter
to vacations in the tropics, those lives are full of the most absurd sort of
extravagance, and only a civilization surfing the tsunami of cheap energy
that ours gets from fossil fuels could convince itself that such habits are
anything else. Still, those who have access to such things are predictably
unwilling to let go of them, and insisting that it's someone else's job to
come up with a way to keep them around is one way to express that
unwillingness - at least for the moment.

The downside of depending on someone else to do that or any other job, of
course, is that dependence always has a political cost. Frank Herbert's
classic science fiction novel *Dune* (1965) has one character explain this
to another with commendable precision: "Once men turned their thinking over
to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only
permitted other men with machines to enslave them". The same dynamic is
present whenever people allow themselves to become dependent on machines,
for reasons that follow from the points made last week.

Power exerted through a machine is defined purely by I-It relationships; the
only way to relate to a machine is to compel and control it, and (not,
please note, "or") to be compelled and controlled by it.. That defines the
direct relation of person to machine, but it also tends to define the
indirect relation of person to person when a machine is the medium. The
logic here is straightforward: a machine can only transmit those aspects of
relationship that require no inner life to communicate, since a machine has
none. The more thoroughly an interaction between people is reshaped for
machine processing, therefore, the more completely any potential for I-Thou
relationship is filtered out of the interaction.

It's possible for a relationship between people that passes through a
machine to avoid being flattened out into a relationship of compulsion and
control, but it takes work, and tends to be most successful when the people
in question also have interactions that aren't dependent on machines. The
more that human life and human interactions are defined by machines, the
more difficult this tends to become - and of course it's not incidental that
people who want to compel and control, or to be compelled and controlled,
can do that easily enough without going to the trouble that's involved in
sustaining an I-Thou relationship in a world of machines. Carry this logic
out to its natural endpoint and you get the total erasure of all human
values that Jacques Ellul anatomized in *The Technological Society*(1964), a
system in which every relationship is forced into the Procrustean bed of
mechanism because anything else would be inefficient.

Ellul assumed that this trend was inescapable, but then he was a man of his
own time, and the first faint shockwaves of the end of the age of abundance
apparently slipped past him unnoticed. Other social critics who commented on
the same thing - Lewis Mumford and C S Lewis are among those I've mentioned
in earlier posts - assumed, along the same lines, that only a sustained
effort to oppose the rule of mechanism could halt the march of society
toward a future of inhuman efficiency. What very few thinkers of their
generation grasped was the extent to which the myth of the machine misstated
the source of the power that machines had during the twentieth century. What
made industrial society so powerful in their day wasn't any particular
strength or virtue in the cult of mechanism itself, or in the habits of
thinking that an obsession with mechanism made popular for a time; it was
simply that during a relatively brief window of historic time, the amount
that could be done by machines powered by fossil fuels, and following the
internal logic of machinery, was vastly greater than the amount that could
be done by humans powered by human energy sources, and following their own
internal logic.

That window of time is coming to an end around us right now, and the third
sense in which an obsession with machines gets in the way of a useful
response to the predicament of peak oil unfolds from that fact. Those people
who are rushing around trying to find a mechanical answer to peak oil are
jumping aboard a bandwagon when the horse pulling it has just fallen over
dead. Lacking the cheap, abundant, highly concentrated energy that only
fossil fuels can provide, complex machines are by and large much less
efficient than human beings, and the obsession with machines is therefore a
habit of thought that's well past its pull date.

It's hard to think of anything that flies in the face of contemporary
attitudes more comprehensively than the suggestion that human beings are
more efficient than machines under any circumstances at all. Still, if you
consider the whole system upon which each of the two depends, the
superiority of the human is easy to see. Behind the machine - almost any
machine in the modern industrial world - stands a sprawling infrastructure
that depends on constant inputs of energy: not just energy in general,
either, but very large quantities of cheap, concentrated energy fitting
precise specifications. That energy powers the machine, to be sure, but it
also manufactures it, keeps spare parts in stock, and powers and supplies
the huge networks that make it possible for the machine to do what it does.
A laptop computer all by itself is an oddly shaped paperweight; to make it
function at all, you have to add electricity, and thus the entire system
that produces the electricity and keeps it flowing; to make it more than a
toy, you need the internet, and thus a far more complex system, which among
other things uses a vast amount of additional energy; and of course to
produce the laptop, the electrical grid, and the internet in the first
place, counting all the products and services needed by all the economic
sectors that contribute to their manufacture and functioning, you need a
fairly large proportion of the entire industrial economy of the modern

Human beings do not suffer from the same limitations. A human being all by
herself is capable of meeting her essential operating needs in a pinch,
using only the very diffuse energy sources and raw materials available in a
natural environment; a few dozen human beings, given suitable knowledge and
skills, can support themselves comfortably over the long term on a
tribal-village level, using the same diffuse energy sources; a few thousand
human beings subject to all these limits can create a civilization. In a
world without vast amounts of cheap energy, human flexibility and creativity
consistently beats mindless mechanical rigidity. That's why, for example,
the ancient Greek inventors who created the steam turbine and crafted highly
efficient gearing systems didn't launch the industrial revolution two
thousand years early; the recognition that fossil fuels existed in enough
quantity to power steam engines, drive gear trains and replace human labor
with mechanical force was missing, and without that, Hero of Alexandria's
steam turbine and the Antikythera device's clockwork mechanism could never
be anything more than clever toys.

A society used to turning as much of its work as possible to machines faces
a similar failure of understanding when the fuel for the machines runs
short. The missing piece in the present case, though, is the extraordinary
potential for productive and creative work that exists within human beings.
Machines fill so potent a role in our emotional lives that most people in
the modern industrial world shy away from the thought of doing much of
anything without them. Even if we could count on a limitless supply of cheap
energy, this would be an embarrassing dependency - a shiny high-tech crutch
is still a crutch, after all. A limitless supply of cheap energy, though, is
exactly what we can't count on, and so what would otherwise be merely an
embarrassment is shaping up to be a lethal liability.

Thus one of the greatest challenges ahead of us as the age of abundance ends
is nothing less than the rediscovery of the possibilities of our own
humanity. The work that needs to be done - and in an epoch of decline, there
will be plenty of that - will have to be done with the capacities woven into
the human body and mind, along with those additional capacities that can be
developed in both by training and practice. The effort that nowadays gets
poured into teaching people how to manipulate machines will need to be
redirected into teaching them how to bring out the creative and productive
capacities in themselves. That can't be done effectively, please note, by
trying to manipulate them like so many machines, or by teaching them to
manipulate themselves in the same manner; I-It relationships do very poorly
at directing human productive and creative powers. It will require instead
the ability to understand human beings as human beings rather than
inconveniently squishy bipedal machines, and the capacity to enter into
I-Thou relationships, that has always defined good teachers and good

Less than a hundred years ago, the sort of awareness I'm suggesting here was
a common response of people across the industrial world to the mechanization
of everyday life, and less than forty years ago a revival of that same
approach - the human potential movement of the Seventies - achieved a not
inconsiderable success before it was stomped by the same backlash that
flattened the industrial world's last real attempt to turn aside from the
mess it's made for itself. The recognition that the potential within the
individual human being is the industrial world's most thoroughly wasted and
neglected resource has surfaced at intervals straight through the history of
industrialism, and been hurriedly swept back under the rug time and again.
Go back to the origins of contemporary industrial society in the scientific
revolution, in fact, and you can trace the same opposition in the tangled
conflicts by which the first versions of modern science seized the cultural
conversation of their time from the remnants of Renaissance humanism and set
our civilization on the path to its current predicament.

There are immense issues involved in a recovery of the human, a refocusing
of attention toward what human beings can do with their own innate
possibilities and potentials for learning and away from the quest to replace
as many human functions as possible by this season's crop of computerized
gimmickry. I've touched on a few of those issues in the sequence of posts on
magic that appeared here in the last months of 2011, and plan on bringing up
others here and there in the months to come. For now, what I hope to get
across is the core idea that the most important resources we have left at
this point, the most promising potentials for a response to the end of the
age of cheap abundant energy, are not machines, or potential sources of
fuel, or anything else outside the individual human being.

Even considering that thought, as I've suggested, flies in the face of
deeply rooted prejudices. Point out, for example that a human mind with
appropriate training can remember impressive amounts of data - there was
once an entire system of mind training, the Art of Memory, designed to make
this possible - and most people will come up with any number of reasons why
some kind of remembering machine is a better idea. In a world with
drastically limited supplies of concentrated energy and far too many urgent
uses for those supplies, a system of training that can take care of the need
to remember data without adding to the demand for electricity, spare parts,
or the like is pretty clearly the better idea, but that recognition can only
happen once people step outside the myth of the machine.

There are any number of other examples of things that human beings can do,
or can learn to do, that will fill essential needs in a deindustrializing or
fully deindustrialized world, when permanent shortages of concentrated
energy suitable for powering machines makes the vast majority of today's
technology useless except as scrap. A significant number of them are still
being practiced, or - like the Art of Memory - can be revived with relative
ease from written sources dating from the Renaissance or, in some cases,
more recently still. A great many more will need to be invented, or
reinvented, in the years ahead. The supposedly serious thinkers of our time
are unlikely to contribute anything to that task; in contemporary industrial
civilization, as in every other human culture, the basic qualification that
makes thinkers respectable is an unthinking acceptance of the basic myths of
their era. Nowadays, the myth of progress is one of those basic myths, and
the myth of the machine stands right beside it.

The myth of progress is coming to pieces around us as I write this. The myth
of the machine will follow it in due time. In the interval before they
dissolve and are replaced by narratives better suited to the needs and
possibilities of the deindustrial age, there is a great deal that can be
done to begin the rediscovery of the human, to preserve those teachings from
the past that can fill critical needs in the future, and to sketch out the
first rough drafts of new disciplines that will apply the creative and
productive possibilities of the individual to the challenges ahead. How that
might be done - well, I hope to talk about that, among other things, in
posts to come.


*End of the World of the Week #7*


Picking the Antichrist has been a popular sport for close to twenty
centuries now, since the Book of Revelation made its way into the assortment
of sacred books that became today's Bible and provided generations of
believers with a set of potent metaphors for the experience of immanent
evil. There have always been those who took the visionary narratives of John
of Patmos as a symbolic description of eternal spiritual realities, to be
sure, and there's also a long and by no means implausible tradition of
interpreting the Book of Revelation as a whole as a prophecy of the fall of
the Roman Empire; still, a great many Christians over the centuries have
taken the whole thing more or less literally as a factual description of
events that would come to pass someday. To a significant minority of them,
in turn, that "someday" was expected very soon.

Well before the tenth century, when Adso of Melk published the most popular
medieval biography-in-advance of the Antichrist, a good many attempts to
predict the End Times came to focus on the sinister figure of history's
ultimate bad guy, and that habit remained firmly in place as the centuries
rolled past. During the American Revolution, for example, some wag figured
out that the words "Royal Supremacy in Britain", when translated into
Hebrew, added up to the dreaded number 666, while Tolstoy's sprawling novel
*War and Peace* (1869) includes a scene in which Pierre, one of the main
characters, adds up the letters of "l'Empereur Napoleon" and gets the same
inevitable sum. During the Second World War, with equal facility, British
Christians announced with some enthusiam that if the letters in the alphabet
are all given numbers starting with 101, so that A=101, B=102, and so on -
well, try the name "Hitler" and see what sum you get.

Still, a little before this latter bit of ingenuity went into circulation, a
great many people in the Western world were convinced that the Antichrist
had clearly revealed himself at last: Benito Mussolini! As candidates go, at
least in the years before the Second World War, he certainly looked
impressive; his warmongering and his claim to rule a revived Roman Empire
certainly helped, as did his status as Europe's most colorful demagogue -
it's not often remembered these days that until 1940, when the Blitzkrieg
abruptly tipped the scales, most people thought of Hitler as that funny
little man in Germany who was trying to imitate Mussolini. There was
accordingly quite a bit of prewar literature insisting that Mussolini, as
the Antichrist, would shortly seize control of the world and usher in the

Somehow things didn't work out that way. The funny little man in Germany
turned out to be one of history's most hideously talented megalomaniacs,
while il Duce, for all his natty uniforms and blustering speeches, proved
hopelessly incompetent at doing much of anything but posturing. Well before
he met his end dangling from piano wire, those who had been loudly
proclaiming his status as Antichrist apparent quietly pulped their books of
prophecy and went looking for other candidates.

-- Story from *Apocalypse Not* {1}


John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in
America {2} and the author of more than twenty books on a wide range of
subjects, including *The Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the
Industrial Age* (2008), *The Ecotechnic Future: Exploring a Post-Peak
World*(2009), and *The Wealth of Nature: Economics As If Survival Mattered*
(2011). He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the
north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.

If you enjoy reading this blog, you might want to check out *Star's
Reach*{3}, his blog/novel of the deindustrial future. Set four centuries
after the decline and fall of our civilization, it uses the tools of
narrative fiction to explore the future our choices today are shaping for
our descendants tomorrow.




*Bill Totten <>* |
2012/02/09 at 09:00 | Categories:
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