Book Review: The Blood of the Earth

By Owen Lloyd / Deep Green Resistance

The latest work by John Michael Greer, The Blood of the Earth, synthesizes his thinking on two seemingly disparate subjects: magic, and peak oil.

At this point, some cynical readers may suspect that the book is an effort at showing how magic can be used to produce oil or direct it closer to the surface. But this is to misunderstand what Greer means by the word “magic,” which is nothing like the magic of a Harry Potter novel. As Greer says, divining new oil is an “elementary mistake in magical philosophy” and that “mind is mind, matter is matter, and making the transition from mind to matter is not an easy, much less an automatic, thing.”

The forms of magic that Greer identifies are things that, in ordinary terms, we might consider secular. For instance, he provides such examples as the placebo effect, charisma, and mass movements.

Revitalization Movements

By a revitalization movement, Greer is referring to mass movements that “emerge when all the practical options for dealing with a crisis are either unworkable or unthinkable” (66). Some of these movements have had an overall positive consequence: for instance, the Ghost Dance helped revitalize the traditions of American Indian people, and Gandhi’s organized civil disobedience helped to liberate India from its colonial oppressors. On the other hand, he also shows how revitalization movements can do tremendous evil, as for instance in the case of Nazi Germany:

“Hitler was not a reasonable man, and he understood, better than nearly anyone else of his time, the power of the nonrational to shape human thought and action. His response to Germany’s integration amounted to government by magic. Germany became one vast magical temple, flooded with symbols, incantations and ceremony… Even in defeat, he kept his grip on the German people until it was shattered by sheer overwhelming force.” (69)

Regardless of whether a revitalization movement acts for good or for evil, it takes its power from “symbolism, incantation, ritual, and the rest of the hardware in the magician’s toolkit” (71). Greer talks about revitalization movements at length because he considers the world exceptionally ripe for them, suspecting that it won’t be long before “the first full fledged peak oil revitalization movement raises its banners and begins attracting a mass following with strident denunciations of the existing order of things and the promise of a bright future reached by what amounts to a sustained exercise in magic” (74).

He warns us to be “at least a little wary” of any movement of this sort, because often these movements will simply be kneejerk responses to peak oil, that cannot address the fundamental problems involved in it. He is concerned that there may be a resurgence in fascism, and one reason he fears this will happen is because we often treat it as a sort of bogeyman, and often “forget how promising fascism looked in the 1920s and 1930s to many good people disgusted with the failings of their democratic governments” (81).

What he is suggesting is that, in our efforts to respond to peak oil, we are liable to accept an alternative to it that may in fact be far worse. In saying all of that, I don’t think he is ruling out the potential of a revitalization movement to do some good, and towards the end of the book he appears to suggest a movement of his own, which I will discuss later.

But he does ask us to take due caution when proposed with a choice between peak oil and a supposed alternative to it. Although he doesn’t say dualism is necessarily bad in all situations, he says it is dangerous as a default and suggests that, when presented with a binary, we take care to look for a third option, or even a fourth or fifth option. He also points out that many of these additional options will not be centered between the first two, but on either side of them. All too often we are trapped into the options presented to us, and don’t even think to consider those left unmentioned. As Derrick Jensen has likewise said, “The only way out of a double bind is to smash it.” And so we should.

Greer provides examples of magical incantations that have been used, both by the far right and by liberals, to ward off the inevitability of a world without cheap sources of energy. For instance, he quotes the investment analyst Porter Stansberry, who claimed that “[G]eology doesn’t create oil; capital creates oil. The more capital you put toward oil, the more of it there will be.” What Stansberry is doing here is enchanting people with a reversal of how the world operates.

In this view, economies are not dependent on the availability of resources; the existence of resources are dependent on economic investment. Or another way to put it is that people are not bound to the laws of nature; the laws of nature are firmly under the control of people. Although this viewpoint is obviously insane, it is nevertheless powerful, giving modern people the illusion of control over their environment. Greer notes that Sarah Palin’s chant “drill, baby, drill” serves a similar purpose:

“a great many of the people who mouth it believe with all their heart that all we have to do is drill enough wells and we can have all the petroleum we want, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to get those wells drilled. That plan of action can’t deliver the goods; Palin’s followers might as well be out there with the cargo cults, building mock airfields on isolated Pacific islands hoping to bring back the DC-3s full of K-rations and cheap trade goods that landed on a hundred archipelagoes during the Second World War. Still, that’s not something they are likely to grasp any time soon, since the power that drives a revitalization movement is exactly the same as the power that drives effective social thaumaturgy– the repeated hammering of catchy symbols and slogans on the weak points of the social and biological selves, with an eye toward stampeding the horses of irrationality and leaving the charioteer helpless.” (66-67)

As Greer points out, liberals have been using this technique as well. Just as the right has been frantically trying to retrieve as much oil as possible, we often hear liberals expressing an unbound faith in technologies such as hybrid cars, solar power, a hydrogen economy, and algal biodiesel, that are only marginally less insane than the lies espoused by the right, and potentially far more dangerous, because while they nurture the hope of genuine change, their efforts only put off the inevitable, and do nothing to mitigate the damage, which has only continued to accelerate from one year to the next.

Our planet has suffered unbelievable harm in the last century, and if the bright greens are not stopped, this one will be its death blow. To go back to what Greer said about binaries, we are being set up with a false choice: we can pretend that capital will provide the oil reserves necessary to keep civilization moving for all time, or we can pretend that mining rare earth minerals for solar and wind power are “sustainable alternatives” to oil extraction. What we need is another way out.

Another Way Out

So far in this review, I have expressed a general positivity about John Michael Greer’s book. I think a lot of what he says here is very astute. Before reading this book, I wouldn’t have thought to consider that magical incantations play an important role in the modern world. More often, we think to describe these charms and incantations in more concrete and secular terms. For instance, we are liable to call politicians liars rather than magicians, evaluating statements on whether they are factually true or false.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest this isn’t useful, because it is. But it may not be useful for the reasons we often think. If we look at these lies as a spell cast over the populace, then what we should be concerned about is whether these lies are effective in captivating people, in charming them into a trance. Calling the spell a lie is helpful in this respect because it helps to keep people awake, to keep them from falling away into the comforts provided by the lie. We might say that it is a way of dispelling it.

Of course, trying to dispel it may only result in angering someone who is trying to keep them away from the blissful fantasy they are trying to experience. But even that is much better than leaving the lie to stand unchallenged. If we don’t, we run the risk that people using this magic will produce a revitalization movement of the worst kind, that will sweep people right into a dangerous fantasy world. Dangerous, whether it is the far right fantasy of Randist capitalism, or the technotopian imaginings of middle class liberals.

Where I run into problems with Greer is when he suggests his third way of escaping this insane duality. His solution is a common one– to retreat from the system. However, he doesn’t argue for retreat for the sake of retreat, or for retreat as a form of political action. He says that we should retreat in order to kick away some of our dependencies on the system, to become more autonomous thinkers, and to (okay, we hear this one all the time) “become the change that we wish to see in the world”. I’ll address these separately.

In order to become less dependent on the system, Greer advocates that we give up some of the things we take for granted. He wants us to adopt something like what Thoreau called “voluntary poverty”. He gives two advantages to this strategy. The first is that it saves a lot of money. For instance, getting rid of your car eliminates expenses such as car payments, gas, maintenance, insurance, parking, and so on. Doing this and applying the same logic to “other money-wasting habits of the middle class” can leave you with more money to pay off debt and learn useful skills that will help you in the future.

The second advantage he gives is that if you adopt poverty right now, you can do it on your own terms and have a better idea of what a life of impoverishment is like later down the road. One thing to note about this “solution” is that it is directed at middle class people who actually have these privileges to sacrifice.

I think that there is some good advice here. I know that I am very happy living without a car, because on the one hand it leaves me with enough income to ensure that I can eat well, and on the other because it has taught me skills in getting around without a car. A few years ago, my wife and I took a month-long tour around British Columbia, traveling mostly by a combination of hitchhiking, Greyhound buses, and ferry boats. Before we left, our neighbors told us they envy how we are able to travel around without a car. Although we often think of cars as providing us with freedoms, they make us very dependent on their presence, and also on a constant income with which to maintain them.

One other advantage of overcoming a dependency on automobiles is that it leaves you with an abiding hatred for cars. To a non-driver, cars do not look like wonderful, attractive machines that get you from place to place. They look like insidious machines that cough poison on you, threaten to kill you, and then honk at you afterward. For the sake of the planet, I feel that’s about the healthiest possible relationship that human beings can have with them. So by all means, I would encourage people to stop driving if they are able to.

Continuing on in this vein, he also encourages us to raise our own food, and to swap out industrial technologies for appropriate technologies where possible, and I wouldn’t say that these are bad suggestions either.

Greer also expresses a concern that we will fall into groupthink, as a result of a homogenous mass media that attempts to feed us all the same diet of books and television programs. He neglects, somehow, to recognize that this has a lot to do with the consolidation of corporate power, and not a lot to do with our society as it might exist otherwise. All the same, I don’t think this advice is terrible. He suggests that we give up on mass media, in particular television, and start reading books older than we are. As someone who likes to read old books and (like the author) hasn’t had a television since his teens years, I can understand his point of view.

First of all, television tends to constrict our expectations of reality within the limits that would be acceptable on television. Since television programs are mass-produced by a handful of giant corporations, even the sitcoms on television have a very powerful effect on people, without even getting into the news programs or commercials. I fell out of television only as a matter of circumstance, when I moved away to college without a television of my own. But having lost track of television for a year or two, when I came back in contact with one again it was easy to see just how crazy the programming, and particularly the commercials, can be. When you watch television regularly, you are not likely to resist every commercial that comes up, because it would drive you crazy. Instead, you simply take the images and messages in. So having said all of that, I don’t object to Greer when he says that “your television will do you more good at the bottom of a dumpster than it will sitting in your living room” (99).

However good these lifestyle choices may be, they are lifestyle choices. And where the book really goes off the rails is when the author argues that these changes are prerequisites to engaging in any sort of activist work:

“Activism has its place, to be sure, and potentially an important one, but activism only matters if the people who are doing it have already followed Gandhi’s advice and become the change that they wish to see in the world. When that first necessary step doesn’t happen, activism fails.”

In support of this thesis, he brings up the example of the climate change movement, which he claims failed because those in it didn’t actualize the changes of the movement in their own lives first.

First of all, if the climate change movement has so far failed, it isn’t because Al Gore owns a private plane, it is because climate change cannot be addressed without dismantling industrial capitalism, and because those in power would not be in power if they started to question, hinder, or even reform industrial capitalism. And to date, there is a huge disparity in power between those running the system, and the small number of climate activists opposing them.

If we are to stop industrial capitalism, we’re going to need to exert a power equal to or greater than that expressed by the power elites. And we can’t wait until we have a mass movement to do that. We’re going to need to adopt the techniques of asymmetrical warfare: direct action, community building, and outreach. Trying to get everyone on board with us might sound more friendly and democratic, but with the world at stake, there isn’t going to be time for those niceties. Nor can we afford to waste our time and energy focusing on actualizing within ourselves a vision of life after civilization.

In some ways, it doesn’t surprise me that the book fails to generate serious ways of addressing the problems of ecological collapse, because that is the not the focus of the book. The author, in fact, seems to give it almost no attention at all. Although we live on a planet that, in the absence of political resistance, is expected to warm 6°C this century, a planet whose oceans are expected to double in acidity this century, Greer appears to shirk any concern with anything but the basic welfare of modern humans on the far side of Hubbert’s Peak.

It never appears to occur to him that any group of people would find comfort in seeing oil production peak, or want to accelerate the collapse of industrial civilization. Rather, he assumes that like himself, we are all stranded in survival mode, all looking out for number one. But for those of us who care more about the health of forests than about our retirement plans, that care more about wild salmon than electricity, that care more about stopping climate change than about stopping energy shortages, there’s a lot of great work out there to be done. And you don’t need to be an ascetic to do it.

You can read John Michael Greer’s response to this review on the Archdruid Report:

23 thoughts on “Book Review: The Blood of the Earth”

  1. Thank you, Owen for this careful and critical review. Jim Kunstler is bringing out his own book on a similar topic later this year. He describes it as our culture’s “wishful thinking”. Like Greer’s volume, I don’t expect Kunstler’s book will take on the challenges you pose towards the end of your article, but they both help to clarify our perspective and provide new angles on old topics.

  2. Thank you, Keith. I would agree that despite their flaws, both Greer and Kunstler have been doing very important work. They’re both very good at conceptualizing the problem in their own unique ways, and also seem to go a quarter turn in the right direction. Greer is right that we are in danger of charismatic views moving us in the direction of fascism or something like it, and he is right in saying that we need to start living outside the narratives of the culture; his problem is that he prioritizes lifestyle changes over political work. Kunstler is right that we’re going to look back on our current consumer culture with horror, and he’s right that we need sustainable and livable environments– his problem is that he believes cities can be a sustainable environment. The flaws of their work don’t negate the values, nor do the values negate the flaws. So we just have to take what we like and leave the rest.

  3. I would suggest retreating from the system and dismantling industrial civilization are the same thing. There is simply no way industry will be dismantled by a resistance group. It is too big and too powerful. You would need to reduce material flows by 90% and ensure the energy returned per energy invested < 5:1 The only way it will happen is a MASSIVE program of non-compliance, in which people walk away. Insodoing they will quite literally be the change they wish to see, as their "lifestyle choices" do a complete 180* and boycott, divest from, and sanction all damaging practices, issuing strikes and bans until profit margins plummet. It makes no sense to "resist" civilization if you are actively engaged in using its benefits. Lifestyle choices add up, so if 7 billion people choose to remain committed to their goals and motivations (getting more and more) it will necessarily produce compounded effects that destroy the planet.

    If you want to "break the spell", its going to require a disabling of the motor that runs industrial civilization–capitalism or, more specifically, money. Money alienates us from the living world and drives humanity to exploit, rather than nurture, the relationships it depends on for survival. There is a difference between white and black magic: black prioritizes the self at the expense of the rest. It is selfish and seeks power to control the external world in order to enslave it for personal interest. White magic is based in love, mutual aid, connection, commitment to providing life…

    Power comes from connection–to ourselves, to each other, to the world around us…rooted in unconditional reverence for earth spirits and the world we belong to. White magic will always overcome black magic for this reason–because exploitation, death, fear are all antithetical to connection, and cannot be sustained. In Endgame, jensen writes about the 100,000 cultures to replace civilization, each one emerging from, adapted to and adaptive for its own landbase, each one doing what sustainable cultures of all times and all places have done for their landbases: helping the landbase to become stronger, more itself, through ttheir presence….

    "Nor can we afford to waste our time and energy focusing on actualizing within ourselves a vision of life after civilization" (??) The future and past are all connected in and inform the present moment, and unless we clearly articulate and work to restore the perennial polycultures we are fighting for, the destruction of destructivity will only give way to more destruction.

    "After civilization is gone from the earth and from your hearts, we will teach you how to live. We will not do it before then because your culture has been trying to kill us, and also because you would try to make MONEY from what we say or you would try to paste what we tell you onto your unworkable system."

    For more on capitalist sorcery, see What anti-capitalist politics needs is not so much demystification or dis-alienation, but a counter-magic capable of protecting its practitioners and breaking the spell.

    1. Thank you for your comments, storyteller. Although the capitalist powers are big and powerful, there are many things going against them. First, the culture that supports them is beginning to fray, and some of us are beginning to escape its lies. Breaking our psychological dependence on the culture, I think, is more useful than breaking our material dependence, which is nearly impossible in any case. Even those few who claim to go “without money” are benefiting from the scraps of others in the system, and even the homeless in a wealthy country like the United States have a carbon footprint TWICE the world average. There is no way for any of us to escape materially from this economic system materially, let alone for all of us to do so. And frankly I just don’t see it happening. I live in a state of poverty equal to many of these people actively concerned with their carbon footprint or withdrawing from the system for political reasons, not because I see it as a political action, but because I don’t want most of the crap that this culture produces, and I even less want to slave my life away to obtain it. But like everyone else, I’m dependent on the system. The only real option of non-compliance open to us is mass suicide, which is a dubious option.

      But let’s say some people did escape. Let’s say that a full 1% of the population starts living on nuts and game in national forests, and build new communities there. Assuming they aren’t simply removed by those in power (which is very likely), how much power would this exert on the capitalist system? It would exert some, although probably less because these people left the system (these same people are unlikely to be those most economically productive under any circumstances), as because it would challenge the hegemony of a consumerist lifestyle, as it did when hippies in the 1960s did similar things. But if the goal is, for instance, to end all carbon emissions by 2030, then it would be an unlikely means of getting us there. Whereas if 1% of the people were actively involved in some form of active resistance, and by no means does it have to be deep green resistance, a lot more could be accomplished. Many successful resistance movements (Irish independence, resistance against apartheid) were won with only 1-2% of the population actively involved in stopping those in power. If that’s what we are limited to, then we’ll need to use the best leverage possible. And I don’t believe that withdrawal is it.

      For sure, the goal is to have thousands upon thousands of free cultures, but the way to get there isn’t to simply deny the existence of those in power. They need to be confronted and stopped first. Just ask indigenous people around the world, who were not interested in participating in the system either. These people didn’t come to civilization, civilization came to them, and it did not ask nicely if they wanted to participate. If we think we have a choice between a civilized existence and a non-civilized existence, we think because we have a massive degree of privilege that isn’t available to any but a few of us. But even with that privilege, those in power would not tolerate anyone who made an organized effort to live in other ways.

  4. Owen, thanks for a thoughtful review. JMG has some good points about climate activists and their delusion that we can do anything about it while maintaining industrial civilization. He’s also correct that the big green organizations have largely sold out for funding from foundations sponsored by corporations.

    But it’s kind of funny to read his attacks on environmental demagogues when he is kind of a magician himself. He wants to believe that peak oil is going to lead to a gradual winding down of modern society, and people like himself and his followers who have learned to live off the grid will be the survivors. In fact, he moderates out comments on his blog that don’t conform to his view, including suggestions that we are in for a series of abrupt ecological catastrophes, from extreme violent weather due to climate change, sea level rise, ocean acidification and – my personal favorite – ecosystem collapse from forest deaths due to pollution (which I discuss on this week’s broadcast of radio ecoshock here: )

    The natural world is far too permanently degraded for anything like the number of people now on earth to survive without industrial agriculture – and that is a fragile trail dependent upon stable supplies of fertilizer, pesticides and oil for transport that is going to end suddenly leading to unpredictable social unrest. JMG doesn’t want to hear about that though…or maybe he just wants to sell books.

    1. Thank you for saying that. I really appreciate Greer’s work as well, but am dismayed that he has so poorly represented my response to his work. l did not know that he censored his blog comments in this way, though found it curious he has not yet published my response. I will append it above, so people reading this from his blog can see it here, if not there.

      1. Some of the things he says do resonate with me, which is why I read his blog from time to time, reluctantly, because inevitably I end up frustrated. After I posted my comment here I thought I should have said, how long ago did you post yours? My guess is he will now be shamed into letting it through moderation since he will have readers who, like me, come to read your review from his blog.

        Also while I’m at it, let me add that as an Occupier of Wall Street since day one – although I managed to avoid arrest until April – I didn’t take kindly to his disparagement. I think he said that OWS has a vague message, which simply indicates he hasn’t read any of the material coming out of that movement, and furthermore, Occupy, however flawed and disorganized, has far more chance of future impact than Marxism could possibly have in the US, which is a ludicrous suggestion. I would have put these comments at the Archdruid Report but I am quite certain it would have been a waste of cyberspace!

        1. It was only within the last hour or so, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt right now.

          I can sympathize with the idea that OWS has a vague message, but I think the movement as a whole has been growing in these respects, as people are getting a better political education, and as the movement becomes better organized. As for Marxism, I find it has its values, though they are very limited.

  5. Well, I have to be grateful to him for linking to DGR News Service – first time I found this site and it’s terrific!

      1. Another long time reader of Greer’s blog who got bounced here by the link. Your review raised some good points. I will be adding this site to my regular rounds! Vigorous intellectual discussion among different viewpoints will take us a long way down the road to finding a solution.

        1. Thank you, I’m glad to hear that! And I agree that we all need to be talking and listening to one another. There’s a lot of good in that. All too often we end up insulated, and needlessly hostile to similar points of view.

  6. Very interesting discussion, Owen and something I wrangle with nearly everyday. I recognize the need for divesting oneself from the system first and foremost. And once this is accomplished to a certain degree, then you can actively oppose the system via protest and direct engagement in a convincing fashion.

    I think really all Greer is suggesting is that to avoid the old hypocrisy label you need to walk the walk before talking the talk. From what I gather in your response it sounds like you’re walking the walk (at least in my book), so good on you. So, I don’t necessarily see any incompatibility between your and his viewpoints.

    A collateral aspect to this discussion which I found thought-provoking is your comment that “you have to stop the consumption at the root” and that merely dropping out of the system will not be enough to stop it. I’ve read Jensen and remember finding his criticism of Gandhi fairly apt (I need to revisit it in light of this discussion).


    For those interested, I deal with these subjects from an urban planning perspective at my blog:

    1. It seems like this “wrangling” is an example of the usual rift between groups that have surprisingly little overlap – the environmentalist/ecology types, the peak oil types, the overpopulation types and last but not least the climate change types. I’m leaving out the really fringe conspiracy theorists – you know, contrails, New World Order, and the cultist Mayan prophecy types – and the financial doomers who don’t seem to understand that the economy depends upon the biosphere and the goods and services it provides.

      All the former groups are also divided between those who expect a fast crash and those who are wedded (like JMG) to the notion that it will be gradual and can be prepared for (and even profited from). To me, that underestimates the very real prospects – no, I should say now they are inevitabilities – that disasters will soon ensue that are simply unsurvivable for the vast majority of humanity and the other species who share this Earth, especially when you factor in the likely response people will have to widespread catastrophes, especially violent weather, food shortages and no power. I’m expecting enormous wildfires engulfing towns and cities, for example, which we’ve already had a taste of. There’s a lot of tinder out there, and hot weather coming.

      1. Its not quite correct to state that JMG believes in a strictly gradual decline. His term is Catabolic Collapse. He has stated before on his blog that the downward slope will be punctuated by shocks.


  7. Intellectuals are drawn to this divisive personal vs. political debate like moths to a flame. But those who square off over this non-issue have something in common. Each side tries to justify a one-sided, simplistic understanding of what JMG calls “the lessons of history.” Yet, in reality, people rarely fall into these two extremes even if they let themselves get drawn into this unproductive debate.
    Thankfully most activists realize the wisdom of pursuing personal and political responses to the long descent as best they can. While reducing their own ecological footprint, they eagerly joined the broad coalition to block the Keystone XL pipeline. They participated in the Occupy movement and helped shut down the Port of Oakland, while moving their bank accounts to a local credit union. They supported Green candidates and social movements to stop nuclear power, mountaintop removal and fracking; but they’ve also installed solar panels and learned to raise chickens and to grow and preserve food. Clearly these two responses work best together–like peanut butter and jelly.
    This tired debate diverts attention from what really needs to be discussed: How do we build an effective grassroots response to collapsing industrialism that is both life affirming and powerful enough to break the death grip of those who would exploit this long emergency at the expense of everyone else on the planet?
    From Deep Green radicals like Lloyd, we get superficial remedies like “direct action, community building, and outreach.” OK, but how do we build resilient communities that can weather industrial collapse and support grassroots resistance to corporate power? What internal and external roadblocks stand in the way? What types of organizations, strategies and tactics advance our struggle? How do we involve more people in this process at multiple levels of participation? How can we gain the initiative and begin taking advantage of the weaknesses and divisions in the forces arrayed against us? What crises loom on the horizon? Can we use them to move people toward a more democratic, equitable, planet-healing future instead of being herded further down the dead-end road to austere militaristic authoritarianism?
    JMG’s “personal approach” is even more bereft of worthwhile answers to these types of questions. Even the historical lessons he draws to discount political action are cherry-picked and distorted to fit his predetermined conclusions.
    Here’s an example. JMG says, “the responses Lloyd, Jensen, and other activists are promoting here have been standard across the spectrum of activist groups for more than three decades now, and that’s more than enough time to see how well they work. The answer? Well, let’s be charitable and say not very well.”
    Certainly JMG is aware that there’s more than one way to look at this historical experience. Over the past decades of economic growth radical movements have had a hard time gaining traction. Growth, for all its depredations, does not provide fertile ground for anti-systemic movements. Therefore, it was extremely unlikely that any combination of “standard responses” would have proven successful under those conditions.
    In a back-handed way Greer acknowledges the validity of this interpretation when he alerts us to the increased potential for Marxism to garner a following in the coming period of collapse–not because of any change in their tactics–but because the failing system of industrial capitalism will provide the conditions and conflicts that resonate with Marxism’s central narrative.
    Later, JMG goes further toward admitting that power struggles between rival interests will have a decisive impact of our future. He says, “the twilight years of a disintegrating political system often create a fiercely Darwinian environment for ideologies and political movements, in which the only thing that matters is which set of beliefs and personalities can build the strongest coalition at the right time, absorb or marginalize the largest fraction of opposing groups, and make the most successful bid for power.” Great insight JMG–I agree.
    One obvious response to this situation would be to ask: How do Green activists navigate in this “Darwinian” political environment to build “the strongest coalition at the right time, absorb or marginalize the largest fraction of opposing groups, and make the most successful bid for power”?
    But JMG shrinks from the decisive power struggles drawn from his own analysis. Though he admits they may have dire consequences, he offers no useful way to handle them. Instead JMG prefers to withdraw from this dirty battle. His heroes are those who have “the courage, now, to walk away from the consumer economy and its smorgasbord of dubious pleasures, and learn, now, how to get by with less, use their own capacities of body and mind, and work with the patterns and processes of nature.”
    Learning the skills needed to work with nature and get by with less is an absolutely necessary but totally insufficient response to war, tyranny, and ecocide. Don’t we need to resist those who will shred our Constitutional rights, drive our economy off the cliff and ravage the planet in the process? If we forfeit this power struggle to them where will this leave us? Will we toil as serfs on their private, post-carbon estates because we didn’t fight for the land? Will we labor without pay in their debtors’ prisons because we didn’t democratize our financial and economic systems? Will we be taxed and ruled by one tyrant after another because we didn’t learn to defend and expand our collective capacity to govern ourselves? Will we be forcefully conscripted into an endless series of bloody resource wars because we didn’t dismantle the empire’s military institutions and fund ecosystem restoration instead?
    Let’s put aside this fruitless debate and get serious about the real problems at hand. If we don’t learn how to merge and magnify our personal skills and our collective power in the period of contraction ahead we will encourage the worst elements in society to strengthen their death grip over our future.

  8. How does one engage in power structures without giving legitimacy to said structures?

    A problem (aside from the problem raised by Dunbar’s Number) I see with OWS is that it’s so US-Centric. And, as JMG points out, a good number of the protesters (or all of them from a global perspective) are quite well off. The message boils down to “spread the wealth” within the US, which does nothing for the nearly 7 billion people who live outside of the arbitrary borders that form what is commonly referred to as the US.

    I don’t wish to divide the pie more evenly among the inhabitants of a nation that uses a hugely disproportionate percentage of resources. I, accepting that the global pie is shrinking (how much awareness is there in OWS of peak oil/resources, or even the devastating impacts of climate change?), wish to do what I can to make the shrinking as painless for all life (all humans, non-human animals, etc.) as possible. I have a hard time seeing how engaging in power structures doesn’t have the opposite effect. On the other hand, I think the transition town/localization/permaculture movement (which some might summarize as “lifestyle changes”) represents a possible solution.

    1. “A problem (aside from the problem raised by Dunbar’s Number) I see with OWS is that it’s so US-Centric. And, as JMG points out, a good number of the protesters (or all of them from a global perspective) are quite well off. The message boils down to “spread the wealth” within the US, which does nothing for the nearly 7 billion people who live outside of the arbitrary borders that form what is commonly referred to as the US.”

      That’s actually a grotesquely skewed stereotyped description of OWS. Seriously, not even close to any of the people I know.

      Speaking as an OWS activist myself, here’s a video I found that perfectly expresses my take on human civilization, and it’s not about spreading the wealth

      (It’s also really funny in an awful sort of way).

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