The Tempest in the Oil Drum
Off the Keyboard of Futilitist Loren Soman
Note from RE: New Diner and New Blogger Futilitist arrives here from the shores of The Oil Drum, where his recent lambasting of Arch Druid John Michael Greer resulted in his being BANNED from TOD Platform. In keeping with the Diner INTERNET FREE SPEECH GUERRILLA PROJECT, we will publish that which was CENSORED on TOD.
Published originally on The Futilitist Blog
Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord of the Diner
Friday, August 31, 2012
As much as I enjoyed it, I understand how difficult it can be working in a volunteer organization with a number of personalities pulling in different directions, all equally sincere. It’s an energy drain to not only try to do your best work but to also have to champion that work’s legitimacy.
There’s some of that, I’m sure, but from my view, the changes have been mostly external. Peak oil just isn’t what it used to be. Yes, I know some people still expect TEOTWAWKI soon. But for many people, events over the past 3-4 years have led them to realize that there isn’t going to be a fast collapse, and/or that other issues are more urgent (climate change, financial collapse, getting a job). It’s not just The Oil Drum. Searches on peak oil have fallen steadily since 2008. LATOC has closed shop, EB has merged with the Post Carbon Institute, PeakOil.com’s message board now gets no messages for days in what used to be the most active forums. There simply isn’t the interest in peak oil that there used to be. It’s become a lot harder to keep people on topic. There’s nothing going on peak oil-wise – no ever-higher oil prices, no riots at gas stations, no hurricanes damaging oil platforms – so the discussion becomes silly and trivial. Some might say let people post whatever they want, since there’s nothing else to talk about. But I think that makes the problem worse. Letting the threads fill up with one-liners and links to funny cat videos on YouTube is going to drive out people who actually are interested in peak oil. The Internet version of Gresham’s Law, as Nate put it.
Leanan, You say: “I don’t see how either side can win or lose the argument until after the collapse. Which may not happen in our lifetimes, or may be so gradual it will not be recognized by those now alive.” I do believe that a fast collapse is imminent, but that is not the point I was trying to make. My main point is that a collapse cannot be gradual. You might be right (though I doubt it) that it won’t happen in our lifetimes, but I believe it is incorrect to assume that a collapse could be so gradual as to go mostly unnoticed. That is Greer’s biggest error. The prelude may stretch out a bit longer, but the show must eventually get started. And I am hardly being unfair to Greer. He seems like a nice guy, this not personal. And he is a very good and clever writer, but, yes I do think he is intellectually dishonest. In the blog I referred to, Greer begins with a discussion of the Kubler-Ross concept of stages of grief in order to paint anyone with a different view than his as sadly delusional due to being stuck in one of the early, immature grief stages. Greer says: “The fascination with sudden collapse—call it the Seneca cliff if you must, though it’s only fair to note that Seneca was talking about morality rather than the survival of civilization, and the civilization to which he himself belonged took centuries to decline and fall—is to the peak oil scene exactly what the fixation on Bakken shale oil and “effectively infinite” natural gas is to the collective imagination of industrial society as a whole: a means of denial.” Like I said, clever writer. He somehow manages to paint cornucopians and doomers with the same denial brush in order to dismiss them both. That is one hell of a stretch that would be hard to do by accident. Thus, I credit Greer with being intentional. I am not trying to be mean, but when you read David Korowicz’s 75 page detailed risk analysis and compare it to John Michael Greer’s casual, wave of the hand blog response, do you seriously place them at the same intellectual level of discourse? Do you really think that Greer’s arguments hold any weight by comparison? [new] sgage on August 23, 2012 – 6:28pm Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top
jokuhl, No, I did not call him a liar. That is way hyperbolic. I said basically that he is a professional commentator who has hitched his wagon to a bad idea (slow catabolic collapse). I said he uses the tools of his trade to support his theories. I gave examples from his own blog. I ascribed no motive to him other than that he wants to be right and needs to be for social reasons. These motives are very common and apply to most humans. Please feel free to review my original post on this topic and point out the libelous sections for me. I don’t believe that what I said rises anywhere near the level that would constitute libel in any legal sense or any sense for that matter. Maybe I should get a lawyer! If it hasn’t been edited out, please check out my friendly post directly to John Michael Greer inviting him to have a friendly debate on the subject and let me know what I did wrong there too. P.S.– I can’t help but notice that we are not discussing Greer’s ideas. [new] jokuhl on August 24, 2012 – 1:10am Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top
“Fractal collapse” through media with a wide variety of properties is my take. Some stiff & strong, others supple, flexible & adaptable, many weak that, once cracked, collapse quickly. Others that can continue to function even though highly stressed. Different crisis will have different impacts on different parts of societies – and different societies. Peak Oil won’t be so bad for oil exporting nations – till they stop exporting for example. Alan [new] suyog on August 24, 2012 – 8:17am Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top
Bah humbug to you all! Honestly, you haven’t the ammunition to be sniping! While I lean toward a fast collapse, Mr. Greer has a well thought-out approach to the subject. Time will tell. [new] Ghung on August 23, 2012 – 8:35pm Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top
Leanan, You are the very voice of reason. Were you born this way, or did you have to work at it? Seriously, you do a very good job here – we owe you a great deal. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again- Many thanks… [new] LOREN_SOMAN on August 23, 2012 – 9:49pm Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top
Fast crash vs. catabolic collapse is not off-topic here. Feel free to discuss it if you wish, without personally attacking those who disagree with you.
I think saying that the ideas are beaten to death can be a convient way to rationalize avoiding their discussion.
There’s no need to rationalize it. We freely admit it: we don’t allow some topics here. Not because they are unpleasant, but because they’re boring and pointless, and in some cases, makes us look like lunatics to those “people outside the TOD community.” Of course, everyone has a different idea of what’s reasonable discussion and what’s tedious or crazy. But there are many different sites on the internet, and if none of them suits you, you can make your own. JMG has a right to set the guidelines at his site; we have the right to set them here. You can set them at your own blog. I see this as desirable, not a problem. We cannot be an “everything bagel” and are not trying to be. We are not offering a platform for free speech for everyone who comes along.
It’s one thing to disagree with somoone, it’s another thing to call them “intentionally dishonest”.
I agree. Just parking this here because it’s convenient…. Remember, folks – attack ideas all you want, but not the people who hold them.
Yeah, Loren, I was basically put on notice a couple of weeks ago for my persistent insistence that a fast collapse, though not assured, is certainly possible. It seems that anyone who continues to discuss this possibility will be encouraged to leave the Archdruid’s Court:
JMG: Ghung, I disagree with you; you disagree with me. I’m familiar with your arguments, and I’m sure you’re familiar with mine; they clearly aren’t going to change anybody’s mind. That being the case, if you still find this blog useful, good; if not, there are plenty of others. ‘Nuf said.
I still enjoy Greer’s blog, but he keeps tight control over ideas that don’t fall into his prophecy meme. He seems to allow little room for the input of those who may have dramatically more real-world experience in situations where societies implode; assumes those of us who’ve been there, done that, learned little. It’s telling, and has diminished my respect for his views somewhat. That said, I do believe his “voluntary poverty” suggestions have merit, though he’ll likely still be insisting that catabolic collapse is ongoing when TSHTF for a lot of us. Relatively sudden collapse is here, and ongoing for many; hard to ignore. Many other societal bombs are armed and ready, and it’s apparent, at least to me, that TPTB are in denial and grossly ill-equipped to intervene in the process once things go critical, and likely have little motivation to do so. They have better options. Methinks Greer, obviously motivated towards a sense of gentile kindness, overestimates the goodness and altruism of his fellow humans, especially those in power. That’s what happens when one is totally immersed in the musings of a largely insulated academic elite. I’m in the 50/50 club, and keeping my resilience local.
“As a director of the U.S. government’s ministry of propaganda during World War II, Archibald MacLeish knew that dissent seldom walks onstage to the sound of warm and welcoming applause. As a poet and later the librarian of Congress, he also knew that liberty has ambitious enemies, and that the survival of the American democracy depends less on the size of its armies than on the capacity of its individual citizens to rely, if only momentarily, on the strength of their own thought. We can’t know what we’re about, or whether we’re telling ourselves too many lies, unless we can see or hear one another think out loud. Tyranny never has much trouble drumming up the smiles of prompt agreement, but a democracy stands in need of as many questions as its citizens can ask of their own stupidity and fear. Unpopular during even the happiest of stock market booms, in time of war dissent attracts the attention of the police. The parade marshals regard any wandering away from the line of march as unpatriotic and disloyal; unlicensed forms of speech come to be confused with treason and registered as crimes.” ~ Lewis Lapham
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” ~ Abraham Lincoln Online forums seem like virtual kingdoms, small as they are.
I am speaking about myself in relation, and I’m all for rights. John popped in and we exercised them. Of course with rights and power come responsibilities. Small potatoes in this context, but big as an example of the bigger picture, which we all contribute to its creation, such as via John’s books, Green Wizards (which I have bookmarked) and blog: I admit that the tone
…of his [Rob Hopkins] response took me aback, and so did the number of misrepresentations that found their way into it; I have no objection to criticism – quite the contrary, an idea that can’t stand up to honest criticism isn’t worth having in the first place – but it might have been helpful if Hopkins had taken the time to be sure the ideas he was criticizing were ones I’ve actually proposed… ~ John Michael Greer
John’s relatively-short 2 years and 39 weeks surprised me by the way. I might have thought it would have been longer.
Ghung, oh for heaven’s sake…
LOL… Too funny/cute! =) But first, John, maybe Ghung has to write a book (or more) and that gets published. Maybe Ghung has. Ghung? If not, I would respectfully suggest you cull all your comments at TOD and compile them into a nice book. (As an aside, publishers seem their own gatekeepers, where their personalities/biases/styles echo the books that get through.) But in any case, one concern with that is that many people don’t necessarily have it in them to write at particular lengths– even to the point of needless verbosity– for a book or even a daily blog. Not that I am necessarily suggesting that, the needless verbosity, of you. So, what seems to end up happening is that certain opinions/ideas get (arguably too much) exposure/salience/distribution/lectures/platforms/etc.. Maybe something near an “idea monoculture”… Like those same “talking heads” I used to endure on tv (long ago when I had a tv)– and often, if not usually, talking about things outside of their area of, say, relative knowledge. I used to wonder why they didn’t bring those more knowledgeable in. Kunstler this, Greer that… as much as I appreciate you both. But I also appreciate a diversity of communication and that which is more along the lines of maybe what could be called short-and-sweet/subtle/obscure/direct/efficient/brief/to-the-point/etc.. Like simple comments in comment sections. And in a sense, that’s what you guys seem in part all about; localisation, “neo-tribalism” and stuff like that. Idea/Opinion democracy. …Now that I think about it, I actually read far more Ghung than Greer… but perhaps there are some Greer ideas/opinions behind Ghung’s. BTW; with regard to collapse, what is ‘fast’ and what is ‘slow’? I ask because, some time ago, I mentioned hereon my sense of the global oil production curve as maybe having a different resolution– like those pixel graphics– than a national oil production curve. (So a global peak may feel more like a plateau, rather like where we don’t notice the curvature of the earth) I mention this because I wonder if a global collapse might have a different “resolution” and therefore relative speed, than a classic/historical and more local collapse that is often referenced (Roman, Mayan, etc.).
Actually, it’s possible that Loren just read some comments from various readers about etiquette right before responding to your post. At the same time, our corporate oligarchy culture is rife, and saturates us with, ad hominems, snarl words and so forth (A culture based on violence some say.) so I try to see past them/suck them up sometimes. Still, the cat-linoleum analogy was funny and reminds me of a toilet-trained cat You Tube video where the cat could be seen, afterward, scraping/rubbing the toilet seat. As for, as you say, ‘hogging the limelight’, well just looking at your recent article’s comments (assuming it’s The Archdruid Report), you already have 54, and most other, say, “Ghung-level”, blogs seem to struggle to get maybe one every few articles? Over time this– your voice– magnifies. So maybe what I’m suggesting is to consider ‘sharing the limelight’ or more of it, and/or reasonably “flexing” with the comments, such as vis-a-vis this limelight, if you don’t already. I’m inclined to agree with your collapse thing, but in a sense it seems to stand to reason: By your description of it– ragged, etc.– it somehow feels “fractally”, and what with self-similarity/chaos/complexity and all that, again, it seems to stand to reason. I would consider one to three centuries relative to one’s lifespan to be a relatively slow “collapse”. At the same time, ‘collapse’ would seem a curious term to describe something like this, such as where things reconfigure at the same time, but what the hell. [new] LOREN_SOMAN on August 24, 2012 – 7:15am Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top
What lengths-of-time are we talking about with regard to a slow or swift collapse?
What does our current civilization lack compared to most previous civilizations. What are its unique vulnerabilities? ~ Ghung
Maybe this isn’t a global civilization so much as a connected global patchwork of a few civilizations with some commonalities due to their connections. A 100+ Romes each with subtle differences. So if global civilization “collapses”, maybe it’s “just” a case of the clipping and/or atrophying of the various connections and a shrinking of each cell or node. Makes me think of a brain as the globe with each neuron being a city or nation-state and the connections being the synapses. I suppose this kind of thing in a real human being might have them lose motor control, have emotional swings, bouts of paranoia, losses of memory, etc..
I presume you are going to post your response within a drumbeat comment section? I look forward to it wherever it goes. Don’t forget the ostensible redundancies: Apparently, locally-caught fish, for example, at least where I live, get shipped to Asia and then back again to our grocery stores. If this is the case worldwide and with other products, then removing this simple effect of globalization might go some way toward reducing the down slope. Likewise with apples grown here that compete side-by-side with apples grown elsewhere, like Chile. [new] Darwinian on August 23, 2012 – 4:17pm Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top
Loren, thanks for a fantastic post. I read the very long David Korowicz Trade-Off-Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion: a study in global systemic collapse twice. Now a paper has to be very good to get me to read it twice, especially one that is 75 pages long. But it outlined the best case for a fast collapse I have read… ever. And I was really disappointed with Greer’s response which you outlined above. I would just like to add this to your excellent review. From Greer: A Crisis of Legitimacy.
Money, let us please remember, is not wealth; it’s a set of arbitrary tokens people in complex human societies use to manage the distribution of real wealth; if a monetary system breaks down, other ways can readily be jerry-rigged to keep real wealth moving.
No, that is simply wrong. Though money may not really be considered wealth it will do until wealth comes along. Money, or capital, is what our economy is built around. Money is what you buy groceries with. And without money you cannot do anything, you cannot even keep the electricity flowing in your house. Without money we would have a barter system. What would you trade for a beef roast or 10 pounds of potatoes? But more importantly if had a business with what would you pay your employees? Does Greer think they would work for nothing? Without a liquid currency that everyone trusts the economy comes crashing down, and fast. We live in a totally different world today than did the ancient Romans or the Mayas. We even live in a different world than we did in 1929 when the economy (almost) collapsed in just three years. Back then people went back to the farm. Today the world has almost three and one half times the population we had then. Today there are no farms to go back to. Not one person in 100 knows anything about farming. The collapse will surely come and the crash will be so fast it will shock everyone. It will likely happen in a matter of months. Ron P.
The collapse will surely come and the crash will be so fast it will shock everyone. It will likely happen in a matter of months.
I would bet the mortgage that it doesn’t. Eh, I’m not the gambling type, but I will predict that a few months from now…say, February 2013…people will be still more concerned about the Super Bowl than about energy or finance.
NO, no, no. I did not mean that the collapse will happen in the next few months, I meant that it will only take a few months from start to finish. A fast collapse rather than a slow collapse, that was the point I was trying to make. If it starts in January 2025 then we will have total collapse before 2026 rolls around. Sorry if I was not clear, I should have caught that before I posted. But then I really expect it to happen before 2025, possibly as soon as 2017 but who knows. I have told all my kids and grandkids that I hope to be safely dead before the collapse happens but now I am having my doubts. But I can still hope. Ron P. [new] wiseindian on August 24, 2012 – 5:53am Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top
I would bet the mortgage that it doesn’t.
I would too, it’s simple human psychology, we deal well with fast collapses. Martial law, rationing and things like that. A slow collapse is another matter, we have no idea how to deal with it.
The collapse will surely come and the crash will be so fast it will shock everyone. It will likely happen in a matter of months.
Wow, you realy are a doomer. I will refrain from jokes about december 21. Although I plan to throw a party that day. I don’t think there is more than a narrow chance of a fast collapse any time soon. But I also find it equally impossible to avoid it long term. Imagine two islands moving apart from each other through super fast tectonic movements (say Cm/day). There is a bridge between them, but no more building material. Engineers are working every day to canibalize the bridge for material and stretch the bridge further and further, thus making it more and more fragile. That is what we are doing with the world economy (from eco systems and natural resourses, to jobs and financial instruemts). There are still room to stretch resources over even bigger gaps, but when it comes down, it will. More and more people are adding weight to a resource base that don’t grow and partly is even shrinking. The reason I don’t see the fast collapse on the emediate horizon is that I expect noise and rumblings before it happen. Call it pre-quakes if you want to. While things are happening right now and the situation is much worse than just 5 years ago, and that indicate we are moving closer towards the inevitable, we still have some more distance to cover. The world ain’t shaking enough. I may re-evaluate this analysis at any point in the future. EDIT: I now read Leanans comment,and your comment to hers. This was fun!
Back then people went back to the farm. Today the world has almost three and one half times the population we had then. Today there are no farms to go back to.
Looking out the windows of my concrete and steel suburban Corporate office building I see trees, acres of grass and at night herds of deer. In the USA at least all those old farms plowed under for surburban sprawl have just been converted to energy wasting lawns of grass and asphalt parking lots. The deer can be hunted. Lawns can grow vegetables again. Acres of asphalt parking lots can be torn up and food planted in them again. Even in Manhattan public schools are growing their own vegetables! Lets not overlook the resources right in front of our own eyes out here in the suburban wasteland…
Yes, when the economy collapses you can just start growing food on your lawn. After cultivating them for a year, and keeping starving people out by keeping watch all night, you might get enough food to keep you alive for a month or so, or until the food rotted.
The deer can be hunted.
Yes they can. By the end of the first year we will have eaten the songbirds out of the trees. Ron P.
The Swedish army calculates the swedish forests can sustain a population of 50 000 (hunting/gathering). This is the pop we had before agriculture. We are now 9 million. [new] John Michael Greer on August 23, 2012 – 9:23pm Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top
Okay, now I understand. No one in this debate arguing for slow collapse has even bothered to read the David Korowicz paper. Too long and too much trouble I suppose. And besides, you already have you mind made up and that’s it.
In terms of impact, a large-scale financial collapse would far surpass the fuel blockades in impact and speed of onset. The movement of goods, people, and critical functions would be rapidly affected. The catastrophic impact arising from McKinnon’s study would be merely a sub-set of the potential impact.
He is talking about the real life fuel blockades in the United Kingdom in 2000. Grocery store shelves had began to empty and people were starting to panic. A full scale financial meltdown would far surpass anything that has ever happened… anywhere. I understand now Leanan. Thanks for your reply. Ron P.
We do know what would have happened in the UK if the trucks had not started rolling again.
Actually…I don’t think we do. Moreover, we don’t know that the trucks will stop rolling. And if they do, it might not be permanent. One thing that’s become clear to me over the past few years is that collapse is not a one-way street. There are stair steps up as well as down. New Orleans was a Mad Max nightmare come true. But they recovered. Not fully, but they’re hosting the next Super Bowl. Similarly, the chaos after the hurricanes, with fistfights at gas stations, people sleeping at work because they couldn’t get gas, the National Guard protecting fuel tankers, and drivers filling up even their coffee cups with gas when it was available – didn’t last.
And I do not believe for one minute that David Korowicz has any serious doubts as to what would happen in the event of a worldwide financial meltdown.
And that increases the chances of his being wrong
To get the ball rolling, I would first like to closely examine the ad hominem attack I was accused of making last week. Here is the critical part of my original post on theoildrum regarding Greer’s offhanded blog response to David Korowicz’s excruciatingly thorough Trade-Off: Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion: a study in global systemic collapse , which I would recommend everyone read now, if you have not done so already.
LOREN_SOMAN on August 23, 2012 – 3:40pm Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top
…Greer’s rebuttal of Korowicz’s paper is intentionally dishonest, misleading, insulting, and completely inadequate (i.e. silly). If anyone on this site wants to take up and champion Greer’s cause, or if Greer himself were to debate this on this site, I think it would be the best discussion The Oil Drum has ever had. Greer’s position is so obviously the losing one. I guess it is always socially easier to agree to disagree than to have one side actually lose the argument.
This attack, as written, is technically an ad hominem attack; but it is a special exception to the usual rule, and is known as a valid ad hominem attack. From an article in Scientific American called “Character Attacks: How to Properly Apply the Ad Hominem” by Yvonne Raley.
“Although ad hominem arguments have long been considered errors in reasoning, a recent analysis suggests that this is not always the case. In his new book, Media Argumentation: Dialectic, Persuasion, and Rhetoric, University of Winnipeg philosopher Douglas Walton proposes that fallacies such as the ad hominem are better understood as perversions or corruptions of perfectly good arguments. Regarding the ad hominem, Walton contends that although such attacks are usually fallacious, they can be legitimate when a character critique is directly or indirectly related to the point being articulated….
…What types of ad hominems might then be justified? Walton argues that an ad hominem is valid when the claims made about a person’s character or actions are relevant to the conclusions being drawn. Consider, for example, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who was caught on a wiretap arranging to hire a prostitute for $4,300. Because this behavior ran counter to Spitzer’s anticorruption platform, its unveiling would prevent Spitzer from governing successfully; thus, criticizing this aspect of his character was relevant and fair. In an earlier scandal, in 1987, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart was seen at a motel with a prostitute. Because his behavior undercut his preaching and status as a Christian role model, a character attack based on this incident would have been spot-on.”
So, with all that in mind, let me make something perfectly clear right here and now that I obviously would never be allowed to say on theoildrum.com:
John Michael Greer is a Charlatan!
Let me say that again. John Michael Greer is a modern day, snake oil selling charlatan. I just wish I could say it louder. I will now offer the following indictment in support of my position.
Why John Michael Greer is a Charlatan
1. John Michael Greer does not seem to want to discuss his actual theory very much.
See if you can find a very good explanation of catabolic collapse from the threads in question. Real scientists and academicians do not miss the chance to explain their ideas.
2. John Michael Greer does not seem to much like questions or comments opposing his ideas, and in fact does not allow them on his own blog.
This is also inconsistent with the general attitude common to real researchers, scientists, and academicians (and that includes historians).
Ghung on August 23, 2012 – 7:28pm Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top
And: John Michael Greer on August 24, 2012 – 12:13am Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top
Ghung, I don’t discourage challenges to my conclusions; you’re free to challenge my conclusions anywhere else on the web you want. notanoilman on August 24, 2012 – 2:18am Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top
3. John Michael Greer seems quite proud of his position with regard to not entertaining opposing ideas on his own blog.
4. John Michael Greer is quite fond of accusing his detractors of not understanding his ‘theory’.
5. John Michael Greer is not even taken seriously by the academic community he pretends to be a part of!
6. John Michael Greer speaks in analogies and metaphors.
No. Absolutely not. First, an idea is always best communicated in its own terms, not in terms of something else.
Second, if his idea really is “simple enough”, he should have no trouble explaining it simply enough in its own terms.
Third, the problem with metaphors and analogies is that they require you to assume as given things that have yet to be established. In this case, the author wants us to assume as given that civilizations share certain fundamental constraints, dynamics and consequences with home ownership.
We’re not schoolchildren. To be lectured as if we were, with childish and simplistic analogies, is insulting enough. When that lecture is delivered by someone whose own efforts on the subject show no signs of having progressed beyond such childishness, it is downright laughable.
7. John Michael Greer seems to be revising his ‘theory’ on the fly.
John Michael Greer on August 24, 2012 – 12:40pm Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top