The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Philosophy of Decline and Collapse

By Zhang Bo

By Zhang Bo

For those who think ahead, for those who are empathetic, for those who work for justice or kindness, the world can be a horrible place.

We look around and we see the decline of nations. We see people dying, being tortured, being raped who need not die or suffer. We look to the environment and we see that species are being killed so fast we’re in the middle of a great die-off; or we look to the biosphere and the oxygen cycle and we worry that we could see a collapse of both.

We know that much of the suffering in the world is needless; that there is more than enough food to feed everyone, that many wars are wars of choice which hurt many to enrich a very few, and we know that many who brutalize others are receiving no security or even money in return. We look at how prisoners are treated in jail, and we know that the primitive lust for vengeance is creating monsters for we understand the cycle of abuse: Those who are abused, become abusers.

We see the rise of a surveillance state that may eventually cause the Stasi to look like amateurs and which is already more sophisticated than anything Orwell imagined. We see that the masses of the people in the developed world are being impoverished, generation after generation. And worse, we see our own efforts at stopping all of this fail. We worry that our efforts are not even slowing the worst of it.

And for many of us it hits home closer. We, or our loved ones, are among those suffering: losing our lives, homes, livelihoods, or living lives of despair.

For years, I lived in a state of rage. Not even anger, but rage. Rage at those like Bush and Blair who were mass murderers. Rage at those who did not stop them but could have. Rage at those who believed all the lies, whether those lies were about economics, war, or crime.

I see many who come to my blog, a place where scenarios are explored which are both bleak, and often, very likely, giving into despair or rage themselves. The world is big, the powers that are leading it to ruin are overwhelming, and we look out on a future which seems to get worse and worse the further ahead of us it is. Even countries now on the rise, like China, will suffer massively in the decades to come.

It is perfectly natural to be angry. It is even useful to be angry. Anger or rage are adrenaline shots to the system. They push you to do what must be done; to tell the truth; to push ahead, to tackle the big enemies.

But they are toxic in the long run. Like adrenaline, they are useful for shots of energy, but if you are angry all the time at anything, it will hurt your body and eventually your mind. You will burn out, and if you aren’t lucky, you may burn out permanently or you may die.

Despair is also rational. I am aware of studies which show that depression is about 10X more frequent today than it was about a century ago, based on methodology I find reasonable. Life today sucks. We are almost all close to powerless in our daily lives: We work for wages, without those wages we will suffer greatly, and to get those wages we must do what our bosses say, no matter how noxious their demands. It takes two people to earn a living where it once took one, and wealth and income are collapsing in the first and most of the third world ex-China; while the Chinese are under the immense pressure that industrialization produces.

Anger gets us going, until we burn out. Despair enervates us. We turn often to drugs, whether pharmaceutical or to more subtle opiates like television or computer games. Too often we do not change our circumstances: We see no way out, and en masse we aren’t necessarily wrong. Leave one job, and even if you find another, it will be run by the same sort of people who run almost all of Western business, outside of a few European countries.

All of this is understandable. In a certain sense it is even rational.

But a hot cup of chocolate on a frosty night is still sweet.

As bad as things are, so much of the world is as it always has been. The still contentment of sitting with one you love, saying nothing is still available. The sunset is still beautiful, and if there are fewer birds, their trills still delight.

The flowers are as beautiful, the russet and scarlet leaves of fall still adorn the trees, and a clean drink of water still refreshes. Children playing still bring a smile to my face, and I still enjoy pulling a comforter up and cracking open a new book. There are still beautiful women and handsome men, there is still kindness and charity in the world; there is still art to make and books to write and songs to sing.

In a myriad of ways, there is still beauty and happiness to be found in the world. We are not the first culture to face decline. The Roman Empire went through multiple periods of decline and stoics and epicureans debated how to live the good life in an evil world. The Chinese practically had dealing with declining and corrupt imperial eras and warring states periods down to an art: When no good could be done in the world, one returned to one’s private life to write poetry, drink wine, and care for those close to one while refusing as much as possible to be complicit in the evil of the times.

Others strove still to be of public service, to hold off the rush of night for a few more years, or even a generation, knowing that what came after would be worse.

But I say to you now this: Endless anger or despair, or a mixture of both do you no good. Soon, they do do your enemies no harm (and yes, they are enemies) and they serve not your chosen cause unless you’re willing to risk permanent burn-out.

And besides, where’s the fun in being miserable?  No matter how bad the times, there will always be good periods,  moments and beauty and happiness in which to delight. The wine is as sweet in evil times as good; love is perhaps even sweeter in times of despair; and beauty never dies and can always be found, if only, sometimes, in our own minds.

It’s banal to say we’re here for a short time, but it’s true. Fight the good fight, to be sure, but then delight in the sensual pleasures and love this world offers.

And give yourself permission to quit. There are seven billion people in the world. It’s not on all on you. The graveyards are full of essential men: The world will continue without you, and it’s not all on you. Take the breaks you need, even quit if you must. Above all, don’t let the bastards see you sweat, and don’t let them take away your enjoyment of the real pleasures that life offers.

(Originally published October 27, 2014. Republished March 27, 2017. Republished March 10, 2018, and Jan 16, 2021)

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You Can Always Get Half the Population To Hate The Other Half


Open Thread


  1. Formerly T-Bear

    Spot on.

    The happiest, the most alive, the richest people are most often those with the least. They are the ones who will inherit the earth (or so it’s said).

  2. Thanks, great post, I needed that.

  3. sanctimonious purist

    I was trying to say something like this to the spousal unit just yesterday. Per usual, you said it much better.

  4. Dan H

    Wheres the like button?! 8)

  5. Connor

    Thank you Ian, I really needed that today. Probably will be a good post to come back to in days to come also.

  6. maurice

    That was beautiful!

  7. Brian Reed

    I like. Not only that, but it’s disempowering and futile to try to force the ‘elites’, or those in charge, to do what you want. Either make definite plans, or just enjoy your time. The earth has suffered much worse catastrophes then what is happening now – such as the comet impacts.

  8. Eugene Graziano

    You are whistling in the dark. Yes, there absolutely is a God, and he/it is a Sadomasochist. Also the world will never be better than it is or ever was because every generation starts at point zero, and brings the same old human nature along with it. We are created very flawed. It all means absolutely nothing, “Much ado about nothing,” and NOTHINGNESS is always where we are and what we are….. and actually, that is the up side to it all: when you can BE nothing at all, you will be happy.

  9. Jeff Wegerson

    Very nicely put.

    I used to hitch-hike a lot. I was reminded Saturday night while talking with another old hitch-hiker of the importance of presenting one’s happy demeanor because who wants to pick up a sad-sack. If one of our goals is to increase happiness, then it helps to be able to enjoy life as you remind at least some of the time. Being happy makes those around us happy in that moment as well.

    Of course, try not to get depressed if you can’t be happy.

  10. abynormal

    a comment from someone at nakedcaptialism to a young person grieving about their future:

    Comfort is overrated – it leads to dulling of the mind and body, which in itself leads to decline in family and society, which then leads us to where we are now in the west. I remember thinking back in the 90′s that the “success” of America at that point was nearly the worst that could happen to us, and look where we are now…. This could not happen to a people who were not collectively dull in mind and weak in spirit, not to mention short on critical thinking skills (also caused by not needing to think about much in a life of ease)

    struggle brings good people closer together and crises focus the mind, so you can look forward to that. You are still quite young and life rewards strength of mind and body in ways that are not immediately obvious – so all I can say is enjoy good moments when they come, which they will no matter what else is going on. There will be pain that comes with transitioning from a weaker to a stronger condition, but this is a worthy pain that will result in a good feeling once you have passed through and stand on a higher plateau.

    Good luck, you have the chance to be a hero. Somebody invariably will be – not everyone has to be cannon fodder.

    (i’ve pasted it onto small pieces of paper and leave it around or hand it off…amazing the deep breaths it brings)

  11. Linda J

    “The graveyards are full of essential men.” That is probably from some ancient tome and passed on to us, but I still must quibble. Or should I rejoice. Being a woman and all. Perhaps we are not folly to the same delusions–that we are essential.

  12. LB

    Very uplifting post. Thank you. Hatred is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.

    Reminds me of Robert Lion’s letter called ‘doing better with less’ which ends with.

    “Let’s stop claiming to dominate nature and the world; let’s stop making possession a superior end. Let’s put our cherished deviancies, such as the manufacture of desire and its bulimic satisfaction, back in their place.

    Today’s progress must be situated on the side of being rather than of having.

    Moreover, tending toward equitably-distributed wellbeing compatible with our planet’s capacities at home and toward helping the most destitute to live better supports rational growth. The measure of this new growth must be taken according to scales integrating the human and ecological impacts.

    Let us dream: A politician takes the side of talking to us about the world as it is, as it risks becoming; he or she forecasts not sweat and tears, but difficult tomorrows; she or he proposes that we talk about it, as responsible citizens, and allows us to perceive robust paths along which to advance, with a smile, towards the era of less … A less that will consequently take on the character of better.”

    Mr Putin seems to be only world leader talking this way, see:

  13. We have the penchant to think we can fix all that breaks and when we can’t it drives some to anger, rage even madness. Not that we shouldn’t try but always with the understanding that some things do not always need to be fixed. A better mouse trap has never stopped the mice population from growing. The answer of course lies in better hygiene but how much easier it is to believe we can market, profit from and consume our way out of everything.

    A thoughtful piece Ian. Well done.

  14. Celsius 233

    …exhales long and deeply, yes…

  15. Christopher Dobbie

    Loved the post, a kind reminder to enjoy the beauty that there is.

    I’ve passed this way some myself somewhat and it reminds me to recall that which I’ve distilled; Left is that which nurtures, Right is to exploit and even though I am a heterotroph and I must destroy to live I do prefer the Left, to see what emerges from love is a blessed thing.

  16. markfromireland

    Ian thank you for this.

    There are things you can fix and things you can’t, an individual is unlikely to be able to change “the system” alone. BUT if you want to make a huge difference to someone and leave a lot of happiness behind you then please take a child or children who need it under your wing.

    You can adopt.

    Or you can foster.

    Or you can be a mentor.

    Or you can sponsor a child.

    There are huge numbers of children who desperately need an adult who will care about them The level of what you can do is up to you but believe me you’ll get back so much for what you put in.

    To encourage you further:

    Most of my children are adopted and in fact my grown children to my wonder and delight have followed me in this and now have more adopted children than kids they made themselves. This is a family tradition one can take great satisfaction in.

    I was recently approached about adopting two further children and did so. (Which means that I now have grandchildren who are older than some of my children. This is a wonderful way of confusing the hell out of people and provides a lot of amusement to the children involved).

    I don’t have any words to describe the love and joy that is a huge part of my life now that those children are in it. You get to think of and love them as your own very very quickly. And there’s no feeling on earth like hearing your son correcting his teacher’s description of you as “your dad” to “no, he’s my forever dad”.

    As I say it doesn’t have to be adopting it can be as little as committing to meet a teenager for a cup of coffee and a walk in the park once a week. The level of care and commitment is up to you, you won’t change the world for the better for everyone but I guarantee you you’ll change it drastically for the better for the kid you care for.


  17. J. Random Hacker

    Damn. That was inspiring to fight the long fight. To recognize that even in chaos and despair, there are small treats to savor and appreciate.

  18. Ian Welsh

    Yes, Mark, I think that’s good advice.

    As for myself, I’m a lot calmer these days.

    I have arrived

  19. S Brennan

    Beautiful Ian…nothing to add, thanks.

    S Brennan

  20. Tom Robinson

    A kind, thoughtful, and heartfelt reminder to us all, Ian. Thank you.

  21. markfromireland

    @ Ian.

    I’m sure you know this one already:

    Look round our world; behold the chain of love
    Combining all below and all above.
    See plastic nature working to this end,
    The single atoms each to other tend,
    Attract, attracted to, the next in place
    Form’d and impell’d its neighbour to embrace.
    See matter next, with various life endu’d,
    Press to one centre still, the gen’ral good.
    See dying vegetables life sustain,
    See life dissolving vegetate again:
    All forms that perish other forms supply,
    (By turns we catch the vital breath, and die),
    Like bubbles on the sea of matter born,
    They rise, they break, and to that sea return.
    Nothing is foreign; parts relate to whole;
    One all-extending, all-preserving soul
    Connects each being, greatest with the least;
    Made beast in aid of man, and man of beast;
    All serv’d, all serving: nothing stands alone;
    The chain holds on, and where it ends, unknown.

    For those not familiar with it the whole thing can be read here:

    280. An Essay on Man. Epistle III-Of the Nature and State of Man with Respect to Society. Alexander Pope. 1909-14. English Poetry I: From Chaucer to Gray. The Harvard Classics

    The punch line, if I can call it that, is unbeatable:

    So two consistent motions act the soul;
    And one regards itself, and one the whole.
    Thus God and nature link’d the gen’ral frame,
    And bade self-love and social be the same.


  22. Lisa FOS

    There are in this world things that are true and things that are false; there are ways that are right and ways that are wrong; there are good men and bad men. And on one side or anther we must make our stand; one or the other we must serve…We can only secure a better world, and abolish war, by having better men and women; there is no other way and no short cut..

    Field Marshall Montgomery (Monty)

  23. Ian Welsh


    I hadn’t read that particular lovely passage before, but I know what it speaks of is true.

  24. Lisa FOS

    People can (and do) pontificate to others about ‘good’ and ethical behaviour all they want, it is your personal actions on a day to day level that counts. The extreme example of that is the preacher who goes on and on about ‘being good’ …who then rapes little boys….regularly. Another is the ‘liberal’ (in the US sense) that goes on about poor people…then votes to cut benefits for them….

    My transitioning has really opened my eyes to a heck of a lot of people, some in a good way, some in a bad way, some in a horrible way. Some, who would claim to be ‘good’ are by their actions really quite horrible.

    I’ll give a personal example (since they are always the best). One thing I have been amazed at (and been very hurt by) is the anger at me by some people that used to be very close friends by my transitioning. As though I stole something from them. One accused me of being very selfish in doing it, which is true to an extent, but so is the reverse in that they were also being very selfish in wanting me to remain as miserable (even suicidal at times) as I was to make them feel comfortable, but that is impossible for them to accept. I suspect some of them would have preferred for me to die, rather than make them uncomfortable, or maybe that is too black a thought, or maybe it is true.

    I now realise I was a ‘shade’ to them, someone that did a role that they liked, rather than being a real person, with real feelings. As soon as I broke that ‘model’ then their reaction was anger and rejection, even strong feelings that I have betrayed them or taken something from them.

    I think that one measure of a person is that if you cannot suppress your negative feelings about an aspect (harmless of course, not them being an axe murderer) of another person, so that they can have some happiness by a small, cost free action of yours…then you are yourself are a bad person. Because your selfishness is paramount to you..

    I’ll give you another simple personal example of that.

    My closest friend of 35 years has totally rejected me. When I was at my lowest ebb (pre transitioning and his rejection) his lovely little dog changed my life, he gave me a reason to live and at that time I had none whatsoever. Now that little dog is dying and I’d love to see him again and say goodbye. I have told his partner that (he wont communicate directly with me). But he and his partner won’t let it happen (she might, but is too scared to cross him).

    It is such a trivial thing to him but so important to me and he knows it too and it could easily be organised without him actually having to see me. And I know if the positions were reversed I would do it, how could you deny that, a simple human action.

    But his selfishness, or anger, means he cannot do it. Maybe he is just paying me out, I stole something from him so he taking something from me? Whatever the reason 35 years of friendship, through thick and thin, means nothing compared to his own internal feelings.

    And that is a bad person and in many ways is the very definition of a bad person.

    If you can’t do good things at the simple personal level to people that are, or once were, close to you, what hope can you have when trying to do them at the larger ones to total strangers?

    None whatsoever because, in the end, your selfishness will drive you to do what makes you personally feel good, not what makes others feel good.

  25. Ian Welsh

    I’m sorry to hear that Lisa. Terrible behavior from one you thought you could trust.

  26. Sandman

    Apropos of nothing:

    (Talking Heads – “Nothing but Flowers”)

  27. Rage is a dubious luxury. Very nice piece, Ian.

  28. Brian

    I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered
    But you can’t stay here with every single hope you had shattered

    I’m not expecting to grow flowers in a desert
    But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime

    In a big country, dreams stay with you
    Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
    Stay alive

    ~ Big Country

  29. Jerome Armstrong

    Watched this movie tonight. One I thought I’d seen before, but on watching it I couldn’t remember even seeing it, or that I was confusing it with another movie… Beck – Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime

    I haven’t read it yet, but I’d like too soon, Smiley’s book on MLK’s last days… supposedly he was obsessed about death, talking about it with everyone. I’ll probably be disappointed by Smiley, but I have low expectations. Tomorrow, we are going to walk memorials, and I’ll linger the most at MLK’s, that defiance chiseled out of stone looking across the pond.

  30. realitychecker

    Great post, great message. Whatever you do, don’t ever be so unevolved as to even imagine a world where somebody might simply have killed the killers.

    P.S. Staying home and masturbating is also something they will never be able to take away from us. That’s enough for most of us.

  31. Right on partner…, write on.

  32. Gaianne


    Thank you, Ian.


  33. Max

    Thanks Ian – needed this today. Long time reader, first time commenter.

  34. mike

    Hi. I think your worldview is unnecessarily negative and pessimistic. Nihilism basically. The world isn’t in anywhere the kind of shape you think it is. For instance, in the US we are witnessing, after so many tragic years and so much needless suffering, the end of the Bush and Clinton dynasties. A great thing and something to celebrate if you ask me. There are plenty of good things happening and lots of progress being made. You just choose to ignore them.

  35. V. Arnold

    September 19, 2016

    Whatever you’re smoking, drinking or eating; I want some…

  36. Ian Welsh

    Sadly, my trendline predictions have been right far more often than wrong.

    But perhaps the world will turn up daisies and we’ll avoid the worst of what I believe is coming down the pike.

    In any case, this post is for those who do think as I do, a large cohort. If you think the world’s a great place getting better then this medicine is not for you.

  37. Duder

    I think what Ian Welsh is writing for here is the exact opposite of nihilism. This is an essay for life, against the nihilism and death driven logic of modern politics.

  38. markfromireland

    @ mike September 19, 2016

    Nihilism basically.

    Why don’t you go away and find a dictionary and look up what the word “nihilism” means. While you’re at it, check out “nihilist” and “nihilistic”.

    Once you’ve done that you could try looking up those words in a thesaurus. Had you done so before making that remark you could have saved yourself the embarassment of making it perfectly clear that you were using the word without actually having any idea of what it meant.

  39. Anthony S. Burkett

    A wonderful article… and I agree wholeheartedly with what you’ve said and in the spirit in which you’ve said it… but one thing you said… just a small quip really, but one that stood out to me nonetheless… really bothers me… “Rage at those like Bush and Blair who were mass murderers.”… Please! Do not single out two murderous lying thieves while leaving all of the rest of the murderous lying thieves unaccountable… Name them all! Obama included… or better yet, for brevity, indict an entire system of murderous lying thieving bastards… because they all are part and parcel to a murderous lying thieving system that holds the world’s population in slavery and ignorance… that’s all… Happy International Peace day…

  40. Tom

    Well its about to get worse.

    Euphrates Dam is in danger of collapse. US and SDF deliberately targeted it in an attempt to seize it by Coup de Main which failed. The control room is destroyed and none of the slipways can be opened. Turkey has already tried to reduce flow further upstream, and Tishrin is also working, but the levels are rising and CENTCOM refuses a truce to get the control room back up and functional.

    IS already ordered civilians to begin evacuating Raqqah and stopped attacks in Deir Ezzor. 3 million plus new refugees are likely and there is a chance that a cascade failure could arise by over-topping the Haditha Dam further downstream, though its highly unlikely, but the Iraqi Dams further downstream are already heavily damaged and lacking maintenance.

    This is what intervention in a war we should have just stayed out of or intervened in massive force to swiftly end, has wrought.

    But hey the US people voted against bombing Syria and Obama and now Trump ignored their voice.

    Oh and Sangin in Afghanistan was retaken by the Taliban after hundreds of NATO troops died taking it and thousands of Afhgan Troops died defending it.

    Ah fuck it. I’m just going to kick back and watch it burn.

  41. The Stephen Miller Band

    The benefits of hate. It depends on who you ask.

    Hate keeps a man alive — it gives him strength.

    Row well and live!!

  42. The Stephen Miller Band

    The Slaughter of Innocents. Moloch demands it. How else can you describe such Madness?

    Trump is keeping his Campaign Promises, or at least the Campaign Promises he really meant and didn’t televise. Statistics like this make Tzar Putin very happy & proud. His quisling is acting very Russian and drawing inspiration from the successful paradigmatic military operation in Katyr Yurt. In his own words, Donald Trump will never lose a war, non-combatant (a euphemism meant to replace innocent because no one is really innocent, are they? — especially those little children with their original sin) lives be damned!!

    Civilian Deaths From US-led Airstrikes Hit Record High Under Donald Trump

    “Almost 1,000 civilian non-combatant deaths have already been alleged from coalition actions across Iraq and Syria in March – a record claim,” the statement said. “These reported casualty levels are comparable with some of the worst periods of Russian activity in Syria.”

    Revealed: Russia’s Worst War Crime In Chechnya

    Vladimir Putin is the new hero of Russian democracy, courted by Western leaders. He is also responsible for one of the most savage atrocities since the Second World War. John Sweeney is the first journalist to reach the devastated village of Katyr Yurt, where 363 people were slaughtered by Russian forces .

  43. The Stephen Miller Band

    And here I thought, and you thought, March Madness only referred to college basketball. Hardly, you sillies. It also, and especially, refers to record “non-combatant” (but certainly no longer innocent) deaths.

    Strong leaders murder Innocents with impunity without batting an eye or flinching whatsoever. It’s trial not by fire, but by blood.

    To lead effectively and to remain in Moloch’s good graces, a great leader must bath themselves in The Blood of Innocence/Innocents. Donald is doing just that despite the distracting Tweets.

  44. Bruce Lulla

    Ian, do you know of this work?

    for example —

    “Therefore, if there is to be an end to all the wars and crimes, the terrorism and hatred of all kinds, the jealousy and the criminality as well as the murdering and torture, the altercations, the outbreaks of anger and rage, and also an end to the acts of Gewalt of all kinds, the cheating and thievery, the human trafficking and the pathological cravings and vices and other terrible things of all kinds, then it is the individual who is called upon, and indeed in such a wise that individuals must first bring under control within themselves all the terrible things and their baleful thoughts and feelings and clear them up, in order to lead their lives in fairness and in full responsibility and conscientiousness.”

  45. V. Arnold

    The Stephen Miller Band
    March 27, 2017

    You are so fucked up as to defy understanding.
    Please go away and free up this quality blog, instead of clogging it up with your garbage.
    You’re a troll! Trying to hog all of the dialogue to your own favor.
    Yell, scream, and hollar to the heavens; your shit is still shit!
    Bye asshole…

  46. Etnograf

    This post reminds me of a touching Iranian movie by Abbas Kiarostami, The Taste of Cherry. The movie is based on the story of a man searching for someone to bury him. The delicious taste of cherry, however, a metaphor for the small sweetnesses that abound in everyday life even amidst despair, is proposed as a reason to continue living.

  47. realitychecker

    @ Ian

    I know you are trying in good faith to comfort your ‘flock,’ and it makes sense short=term to do so, I guess, but I can’t help but think that the Masters would very much like for everyone to take your advice. I think they know, or at least believe, that only rage, and the undiluted commitment to act on it, can ever threaten their position.

  48. Ian Welsh

    Anger and rage are fine, if they are brief. When they last for months to years they burn out your body.

    Voice of experience.

    Turn it on when you need it, turn it off at all other times, and you shouldn’t need it all the time, or every day or even for more than a couple hours a day.

    If you can’t turn it off, be wary of turning it on.

  49. realitychecker

    @ Ian

    I understand what you are saying, and practice the same myself, because it seems so reasonable, but still it seems to me that only ‘unreasonable’ people will ever step up and do the fighting that might be necessary to get us out of this mess, so where are they supposed to come from?

    ‘Tis a conundrum.

  50. Ian Welsh

    Be unreasonable when necessary. I spent over a decade being unreasonable and it nearly killed me, and did nothing to improve anything. I’m perfectly willing to die for a cause, but I’m not willing to die for nothing, while my enemies grow more powerful.

  51. Ché Pasa

    Things are more awful than they ought to be; less awful than they have often been. Lower population does not necessarily result in better lives for marginalized populations.

    That doesn’t justify anything that’s gone wrong, nor does it mitigate the evil in the world.

    We’re always on the cusp of something better — or something worse. We should do what we can on behalf of our fellows, but what any individual can do is limited.

    I read your piece and thought about some of my family background. Not poor or particularly downtrodden, lucky them. My mother’s father was “cut in two” in a rail yard incident in St. Louis, and her grandfather was murdered by his mistress. My father lost his wife — not my mother — in childbirth, and their son was severely brain damaged as a result.

    Yet they did not suffer economic hardship during the Depression, they were were kind and generous (most of the time), and for both my parents, World War II was liberating, not the horror most of us know it must have been.

    These are the kinds of things that influenced the individuals, families and communities of previous generations. The coming generations face many more hazards, worse in some ways than any previous ones. But mitigations — for some at least — will make them survivable or better.

    We do what we can.

  52. Willy

    So I show up late (as always) expecting petty mudball fights over details and I find this? What the hell is wrong with you people?

    Actually, there’s a lot to be said for setting personal goals, planning carefully, and working efficiently and well to get there in record time. And after getting there, wasting time watching Burning Man videos telling yourself you’re being efficient avoiding the hassles of dusty anus syndrome.

    Until the wingnut hordes show up to launch severed heads over the walls of my gated community, that’s my gig. If I lived in a gated community…

  53. MojaveWolf

    Absolutely great essay! I apparently missed this the first (two?) times(s) around; thank you for posting again.

    To contribute my own little bit to making life more pleasurable for whoever views this thread in the future, I give you the following link:

    (a pair of eagles from birth to one of them pre-flight getting fishing line wrapped around an ankle in the nest and nearly dying–and being rescued and restored to the nest by humans, doing something good! we can be, when we want, sometimes–to learning to fly; it’s about 4:36 iirc)

    And my new thing for the last year or so, whenever all seems lost, is to think on this:
    (start at the 2:54 mark and notice someone in red waaaay back who just gets further back as we go along waiting to switch runners)

    When all sane hope is gone, keep trying and maybe just maybe, something good will happen.

    By the same token, I’d also remind everyone of two previous sporting events:

    2004 Red Sox, down 3-0 to the Yankees in the best of 7 ALCS when no team had ever come back from 3-0 deficit and the Red Sox hadn’t been to the world series in like 100 years, trailing 4-3 in the 9th inning and the Yankees had arguably the best closer in the history of baseball pitching in Mariano Rivera, and the best hitters in the Red Sox lineup had already gone down in the 8th inning. Somehow, they came back, and brought it into extra innings. And it kept going and going into the 12th when David Ortiz won it for the Red Sox. Which still seemed futile because no one had ever come back from that deficit. And then the next game went to 14 or 15 innings, and the Red Sox won again. And again and completed the comeback sweep and then won 4-0 in the world series for their first championship in forever after overcoming seemingly hopeless odds.

    I think it was the 88 World Series (I actually never watched baseball except the playoffs and only halfheartedly then, but the sport does lend itself to great moments) the Dodgers were down to their last out in the 9th inning of the first game against the A’s, and sent a badly limping Kirk Gibson out to pinch hit. This was basically win the game on a homer or lose, because he could barely walk, and I’m not exaggerating. It went to two strikes and he kept fouling it off time and time again. Doesn’t sound that dramatic here, but he did indeed knock in the home run, dirving in the tying run and hobbling around the bases for the victory. The Dodgers went on to win the series after that, as well.)

    Yeah, it’s sports, not real life, but the lessons are applicable (and sports are part of real life for the particpants) (and stuff like this helped me come back or get through all sorts of more “real” and unpleasant bits of real life, so hoping it will help for some others)

  54. The Stephen Miller Band

    The point you don’t want to reach, because it effectively means you’re dead for all practical purposes, is the point beyond rage and despair, where you’re desensitized and inured from the suffering and carnage. I’m approaching that point. I know it. I tremble. But it’s coming, I believe. The body will still function but the spirit is gone. This life does this to you. It keeps chipping away in all its myriad ways and forms until you’re dead before your time. The Zombie Resurgence in popular culture is symbolic. There are so many Walking Dead, I believe they’re now the majority.

    It reminds me of the Kitty Genovese rape case in New York City. Many of the neighbors who heard the screams and cries for help were former Holocaust Survivors. They didn’t mention this as an explanation in the following documentary about it, but I believe it’s the explanation for their inaction. They heard the screams and cries for help. The incredible blood-curdling pleading. And they did nothing. Why? Because they were effectively dead as I mentioned above. They were inured & desensitized to the pain & suffering of others. They had long ago moved well beyond rage & despair. They had been exposed to such heinous suffering on a daily basis for so long, they reached a point they could no longer process it. They broke on through to the other side — to Midnight Black Earth.

    What a terrible place to be — to effectively be dead yet the body continues to live. You’re a meat sack and life means nothing to you any longer except breathing, eating and defecating.

    The Witness

    Midnight Black Earth

  55. realitychecker

    What I think people ought to consider more fully is that it takes tremendous focus and dedication to ever go up against ‘The Machine’ in any risky way, and The Machine knows this very well, and systematically introduces a steady stream of stimulation designed to break and dilute that focus so that it never reaches critical mass.

    This strategy has been tremendously effective, and probably will continue to be so. And they are constantly finding new ways to improve on the strategy. Because they know how necessary it is for their continued dominance over regular folks.

    All the nice people I know insist on remaining in denial about this obvious truth.

    I don’t know what the good answer is to this, but I do know that being in denial about it is the wrong answer.

  56. anon y'mouse

    TSMB- you obviously did not really watch “The Witness” because it came to an entirely different conclusion than the one you are touting. that particular narrative–the decay of the American character into a sort of callousness that cares not what happens to their neighbors–was cooked up nearly wholesale by the news manufacturers of the day. it tied into the overall theme of that time–white flight to the safe, sane suburban enclaves, away from the crime and ugliness of the city.

    her brother, who was the motivating force of that documentary, goes back to interview some of the few remaining real people who were there and peruses witness statements. what most heard was a single cry in the night which didn’t repeat and, so they went back to sleep thinking nothing out of the ordinary was happening. it did lead to a lot of Social-psych research on the Bystander Effect, which may well have contributed (if the consensus of an event, signified by the actions of other witnesses around at the time, is that nothing requiring action is called for, then all witnesses are less likely to react. after all, if it were a “real” emergency then someone would jump forward and do something, right? so, no one is doing anything therefore -i- don’t have to, because it must not really be a true emergency, etc). the attack did not lead to tons of wailing and shrieking that all heard and simply ignored.

    the attacker stabbed her and kept walking, at first. she screamed and may have even been confused about what had happened (this is a common thing when attacks like that happen, and there are quite a few instances of women being stabbed by a passerby in a public place, and then collapsing without really knowing what had just been done to them), then stumbled into a building where he came back and finished the attack. some neighbors did call the police. some even responded to her cries for help, but could do very little except hold her hand. it actually sounds like a lot of accounts of the Jack the Ripper murders, honestly.

    but you are mis-characterizing the occurrence when you depict people sitting smugly in their apartments listening to someone being brutalized. only a handful of those neighbors with windows pointing in the correct direction were even in those parts of the house at the time. noise of all kinds (including domestic disturbances) was a normal part of life there. although some were victims of WWII, by far not all were. and if you really did watch the documentary, this leads a reader to one possible conclusion–your comprehension of such things is suspect, as it could not have been more straightforward.

    my apologies to Mr. Welsh and the other contributors for this aside.

  57. realitychecker

    @ anon y’mouse

    I find it touching that you are so ready to accept a 38 year later investigation by an interested party as being authoritative.

    That was a major shaping event of my young adulthood. I paid close attention to all the reporting and investigations around that event. Tons of detail.

    I don’t share your view about it.

  58. The Stephen Miller Band

    anon y’ mouse,

    I didn’t say what you said I said about the Kitty Genovese rape and I didn’t imply it either. For example, you said:

    …but you are mis-characterizing the occurrence when you depict people sitting smugly in their apartments listening to someone being brutalized.

    I didn’t say that or imply it. I said there were a material number of Holocaust Survivors living in the buildings surrounding the physical location where Kitty was raped & murdered. If you watched the documentary as I did, what happened that night, at least from the point of view of those who heard Kitty’s cries for help, is inconclusive despite her brother trying to find some sort of understanding & closure by making via the documentary. In fact, it seemed obvious to me that a number of the people he was interviewing were lying and didn’t even know they were lying — kind of like Donald Trump.

    If you watched it as you say you did, you would remember the comment made about the Holocaust Survivors and the reason the person who brought it up gave for their paralyzed inaction was because the Holocaust Survivors were afraid to summon the authorities because when they did in Nazi Germany, they were often the ones who got punished. I think that’s true, but I don’t think it was their reason for not acting that night. I think my explanation is a better fit and it describes The Netherworld that resides just beyond despair & rage. That’s why I said the following which is quite different from what you said I said. This is not smug uncaring apathy, this is the death of spirit. I don’t blame the Holocaust Survivors if this was indeed the case. I blame the Monsters who destroyed their spirits and The Monsters who seek to destroy my spirit and your spirit and anyone else who still has a spirit left to be destroyed.

    They heard the screams and cries for help. The incredible blood-curdling pleading. And they did nothing. Why? Because they were effectively dead as I mentioned above. They were inured & desensitized to the pain & suffering of others. They had long ago moved well beyond rage & despair. They had been exposed to such heinous suffering on a daily basis for so long, they reached a point they could no longer process it. They broke on through to the other side — to Midnight Black Earth.

    When despair & rage start to get the best of me and deposit me on the doorstep of The Netherworld just beyond them, I go slaughter my chickens. I name them after all the Monsters I despise & loathe. I don’t like slaughtering animals, so this makes it more palatable. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve slaughtered approximately a hundred chickens — all of them named Donald Trump.

    We do what we can.

  59. realitychecker

    You don’t have to be a Trump hater to understand that public apathy toward crime victims was indeed a big problem in New York City at that time. I lived right nearby the Genovese crime scene, and can attest that apathy was a major issue of the day. Openly acknowledged by all New Yorkers as a matter of fact.

    The Genovese case was the crescendo of that wave, IMO. For many, like me, the shame of that incident made it impossible to witness violent crime afterwards without helping the victim.

  60. The Stephen Miller Band

    Once again, I’m not talking about smug indifference and apathy. That’s abominable and I have no doubt some of that was in play that night Kitty was raped and murdered. I’m specifically talking about a theory as to why Holocaust Survivor, considering they knew suffering more intimately than most anyone and everyone, would ignore Kitty’s desperate pleas for help.

    My theory directly applies to this blog post because it speaks to the next stage, like Kübler-Ross stages of death & dying except in this case it’s the stages of caring, after rage & despair. It’s not acceptance as in Kübler-Ross’s theory, it’s complete incapacitation. It’s The Walking Dead Stage because the person afflicted with who reaches this stage is irrecoverable. They can no longer feel empathy or sympathy for others because that part of them was ultimately destroyed, and let’s face it, when that’s destroyed, you’re destroyed.

    For proof I need look no further than the old black & white footage from the Warsaw Ghetto where people lay dying & dead on the sidewalks and their fellow Jews would walk right past them seemingly oblivious to the horrific spectacle and specter of suffering & death. When you live in a World where there is no longer any possible constructive reprieve from rage & despair like we’re discussing here, you will inevitably move to the final stage which is psychical/spiritual death.

    It’s a World that is fast approaching The 1st World. It hasn’t visited in a while and it’s feeling nostalgic, hence, Donald Trump and his House of Usher since he’s ushering it in.

  61. realitychecker

    @ STMB

    I’m not disagreeing with your thesis generally, just saying not everyone in NYC in the 1960’s was a Holocaust survivor, but all seemed to be subject to the deplorable blanket apathy I referred to.

    As to your thesis, one has only so much energy to put out–when all of it is required just to make it through your day, you have none left to direct toward outside horrors, no matter how horrible they are.

    That rule applied in the Holocaust camps, but we are not quite there yet in America, although I agree we may well be on our way in that direction.

    I was amused by your zombie references–I’ve often thought the whole zombie craze is preparing us for what is coming, i.e., not zombies, but mindless savagery as we at the bottom struggle for survival after a systemic crash.

  62. James Wheeler

    Great post Ian.

    I accepted that our industrial civilization would decline and collapse nearly a decade ago. Acceptance is a healthy thing.

    I focus on my personal world and the circle of friends and to a certain extent the wider local community… the rest of the world will have to look after itself.

    Focus on what you can actually change in your own little world and don’t worry too much about the rest of it. Greater forces are at work.

  63. The Stephen Miller Band

    RC, I’m not taking umbrage with your observation & experience concerning 1960’s New York City. I was just trying to clarify why I made the point I did and how it relates to this blog post about rage & despair.

    Apathy is the fertile ground for Malevolence to take root & grow bountifully. Once Malevolence grows to the point it’s superfluous, as was the case in Nazi Germany, then there is no place to run to and no where to hide. Malevolence will force a choice upon you, almost as though it’s a decision tree. You can quickly adopt an attitude of apathy, the same apathy that allowed Malevolence to flourish to begin with, and act as though nothing’s happening until it happens to you, or you can rage & despair and use that intensity to resist & fight the Malevolence and die trying or, if you don’t die trying, move on to the next stage — to The Netherworld beyond rage & despair where you are irrevocably damaged.

    I grew up in upstate Eastern Pennsylvania in proximity to a small town called Dallas which is on the backside of one of the mountains flanking Wilkes-Barre and the Susquehanna River in the valley below. The neighborhood was replete with apathetic mothers (with a ton of kids) who didn’t give a shit about anything, or so it seemed. Mother’s Little Helpers comes to mind. They escaped to somewhere, or maybe they were never here, but either way, their indifference and apathy allowed Malevolence to flourish and that Malevolence manifested through the actions of their demonic children who were effectively wild animals gone wrong.

    My parents were strict disciplinarians and when we did something wrong, we paid a yuuuge price. But the other kids in the neighborhood? They were cowardly thugs. It reminds of The White Ribbon and how the children, collectively, went wrong in that small German village.

    Ironically, the families involved were both of German and Jewish origin and they were Monsters and Monstrous. One of them solicited my then ten year old sister to take her panties off for a cookie. She reported it to my parents and they summoned what was called The Law in those parts and there was nothing The Law could do — it was he said she said. There was no apology and no indication this pedophile rapist’s parents took the scum to task for his degeneracy. Why my father didn’t knock this teenager’s teeth slap out the backside of his head is a mystery.

    Anyway, these families, or I should say the children of these families, decided to engage in a vendetta against my family and essentially terrorized us until we moved several years later. They broke multiple windows in our house on numerous occasions and they would chastise my father and get him to come out of the house where they would sit like cowards on our fence at the far end of the yard taunting him and calling him all kinds of names. I so wanted him to kill them. At that age, I wanted him to kill them. If I was older, I may have, but I was very young and they terrorized me too. If we had stayed there, I probably would have gone to jail because I would have delivered my own brand of Justice to the freaks. I came very close one day to throwing a large rock through one of the culprits picture windows (he had broken our window the week before). I’ll never forget Eleanor’s face, this prick’s mother, when I started the motion to throw the rock through her yuuuge picture window in her dining room. She was screaming and flailing and imploring me not to do it. I didn’t do it not because she protested so emphatically, but because I knew my father would beat the shit out of me if I did. He wouldn’t beat the shit out of them, but he’d beat the shit out of me. That’s still a bitter pill to swallow after all these years.

    I guess my point with all of that about my childhood from the late sixties and early seventies is to say, it wasn’t just New York City that was screwed up. It was all over to include the Norman Rockwell hinterlands. I still have rage when I think about those freaks. I looked one up just last week, the pedophile’s sister who tried to run my sister over with her car several times after her pedophile brother tried to molest my sister, and I saw she had passed away several years prior. I was feeling rotten prior to seeing that and then, suddenly, I felt relieved. The Wicked Witch was dead. Anyone who could do what that bitch did, blame a ten-year-old girl for escaping the clutches of a pedophile and reporting it, is a diseased and toxic person who tarnishes all humanity. It’s good she’s dead. I feel better that she is and I’m not ashamed to say that.

  64. realitychecker

    @ TSMB

    Sorry you had to live that history. Mine wasn’t perfect, either. 🙂

    All the things we both bemoan stem from the same place–a total lack of a sense of or an appreciation of community, both its benefits and its obligations.

    It may be too late to fix that. Those who benefit from dividing us up, and their countless minions, have done their job very well, and continue to do so every single day.

    I truly believe that only death or the fear of death will ever make them stop, but that solution is not on the table from what I can see. That’s just analysis, not advocacy. Those who expect to have a long future are the ones who need to be motivated to fight for it. Not old, childless guys like me.

    But who knows how little future generations will be willing to settle for?

  65. Ian Welsh

    This is a republished piece. Comments before this comment were not moderated. Comments after this point will be moderated.

  66. I think progressives can take heart from the TX primary results wrt the “Justice Democrats”.

    5 star movement electoral wins in Italy certainly also speaks to the power of people flexing their collective political muscle, vs. the plutocracy.

  67. Hugh

    Illegitimis non carborundum. Be kind and fight what needs to be fought.

  68. RWood

    I believe that our long-lost youthfulness is reawakened!

    This is a Hopi benediction:
    “It is time to speak your truth, each of you. Do not look outside yourself for the leader. There is a river flowing very fast. Trust the river has its destination. You must let go of the shore, push off into that river. Keep your eyes open and your heads above the water. See who is in there with you and celebrate. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves. We are the ones we have been waiting for….”

  69. Peter

    Does anyone have a list of all, or even some, of these species that have died off because of human activities in recent history. Some names and pictures of these victims might help their cause.

  70. Tom W Harris

    You’ll always be a failure
    Said the shoe salesman to his son
    And the lad thought, but didn’t say
    I’m not the only one
    And as the old man returned to his TV
    The boxing announcer said, one and done

  71. Tom W Harris

    Some folks were lucky, they always knew what matters most.

    From Danish group Lukas Graham:

    Once I was seven years old my momma told me
    Go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely
    Once I was seven years old
    Once I was eleven years old my daddy told me
    Go get yourself a wife or you’ll be lonely
    Once I was eleven years old
    I’m still learning about life
    My woman brought children for me
    So I can sing them all my songs
    And I can tell them stories
    Most of my boys are with me
    Some are still out seeking glory
    And some I had to leave behind
    My brother I’m still sorry
    Soon I’ll be sixty years old, will I think the world is cold
    Or will I have a lot of children who can warm me
    Soon I’ll be sixty years old
    Soon I’ll be sixty years old, will I think the world is cold
    Or will I have a lot of children who can warm me
    Soon I’ll be sixty years old

    Some parents know. If more were like them, what would the world be?

  72. Astrid

    Thanks Ian. I think I read the original publication and every subsequent republications of this article, and it’s truer than ever.

    I recognized this intellectually during Obama’s first adminstration, but it’s taken me years of conscious effort to get to a place where I don’t hurt myself with my rage against Republicans or Democrats. They just are, like hideous parasites whose nature is to consume their hosts, my anger and the weakened state of whose who see the parasites for what they are, means things won’t get fixed until conditions change considerably (which might include the host’s death).

    So what can we do to mitigate? I think a big part should be giving yourself permission and resources to enjoy the here and now. Don’t waste valuable energy fighting the impossible war. Use that energy and resource to bring some joy and comfort to yourself and those around you. Maybe it’ll buy you some good will or good memories in the future, but the important thing is that the enjoyment in the here and now is real and worthwhile in itself.

  73. different clue


    I don’t have a list, but a few species names just right here in North America come to mind . . .
    Steller’s sea cow, sea mink, Labrador duck, passenger pigeon, carolina parakeet, Bachman’s warber, great auk, Rocky Mountain locust ( unless I am mis-informed), and no doubt others.

  74. Joan

    Thanks for this re-post, Ian. That is one of my favorite essays of yours.

    It’s a bit confusing being down at the bottom of all the comments over the years, but I think it was “different clue” who wanted to swap ideas about navigating survival in the US right now.

    Maybe people could offer suggestions based on scale: what to do right now and in the months ahead regarding this current crisis, versus things to consider once the situation calms down. What to do now & what to do in the next five years, say.

    There are of course longer-term things to consider, such as if you live in an area that is likely to have a freshwater crisis within a generation or two. Then you might want to look at moving soon, so your children and grandchildren can grow up as insiders in a more stable place rather than vulnerable outsiders on the move. But right now, I think the current situation is pressing enough that ideas for the next few weeks to months would be appreciated.

  75. Astrid

    I guess thinking about collapse first require thinking about what kind of collapse might be coming and that we might be willing to face.

    Is it where things are still on the same rails as they always have, except more decrepit. Life is harder, more people fall out of the class they thought they belong to, making ends meet become harder. We fall into our personal abyss one by one, the elite is so ossified that they actually believe the BS that they’re selling the rest of us because it’s easy and comforting and profitable for them, and gaps can be filled with metaphorical beatings to raise the morale. Anything coming after becomes a IBGYBG somebody else’s problem.

    Is it where partial social collapse has happened? I’m thinking of places like Honduras and west Baltimore, where police are another gang and violence is indemic. Where services become unreliable and what we currently think of as a normal life is unobtainable by most. Are those gangs racist? Will you be targeted for being brown or black or Muslim or Chinese?

    Is it our current path plus surveillance state and where we’re dominated by a small number of multinational corporations? Neofeudalism. We’re already a good ways there with Uber, Instacart, and gig economy. Will it accelerate so that the vast majority of the populate become out and out precarity?

    Is it one level further, like what living in a country going through civil war (Iraq, Yemen). Disruption and violence mixed with oppressive military state, depending on time and place?

    One level further – power vacuum without any central government at all. What would that even look like?

    One level further – no central government plus plagues, nuclear war, radical climate change.

    I don’t think that a collapse on the last 2 levels, in the US, is survivable for most people, even with *prepping*. Unlike most other countries that went through a collapse of centralized government, the US has very weak social fabric and safety net, and most people are a few paychecks and grocery runs of being completely destitute and desperate. It’s also full of guns and full of people on the left and right who live in fantasy realities.

  76. Astrid

    Joan and different clue,

    Glad to see you here. I asked Ian about reposting some articles on mentally and physically surviving hard times, and he kindly agreed. I feel like even though I’ve been thinking about this for 10+ years, my thoughts are still trite and superficial. In the end, if bad things happen, we just won’t have much control over it. For me, a big piece of “survival” is making peace with the possibility that I and my loved ones won’t survive, even though our odds are probably significantly better than most.

    Joan: Assuming that you’re thinking about COVID19 and its knock-on effects, and not a Trump-backed insurgency (which I just can’t take seriously, these people and Trump got as far as they did because the elites coddled them as the less violent left movements were brutally crushed, the oligarchy will crush them as soon as they’re recognized as a real threat). I guess for people who lost their jobs and face homelessness, they should stop paying rent and any non-essential costs, stockpile as much money and necessary supplies as possible, look in their social network for people that they can crash with. If that’s not possible, see if they can hold onto their car and make it a little more comfortable for living out of. Look for vacant property that they might be able to squat on. Use the time they have to get their affairs in order and minimize the damage. Swallow their pride – if survival means living with odious family members or going to the food bank, so be it.

  77. Trinity

    Nice time capsule, Ian.

    The short version of the advice I would give (and what I’m trying to do):

    make yourself able to adapt to change, whatever that means where you are and with what you have.

    As tired as we all are with (mostly bad) change, it’s important to remember that nothing in the universe lasts forever, and everything that is born/created also contains the seeds of its own destruction/ending. Or put another way, everything that is done always creates its own opposition, to maintain balance. This is the nature of the universe and of nature itself.

  78. Astrid

    Don’t let your desire for a “normal” life or being a “good” person get in the way of survival. But conversely, figure out ahead of time where you want to draw the lines for what you’re willing to do to survive. And check yourself for magical thinking. The US seems absolutely louse-y with magical thinking by everyone.

  79. different clue

    Part of this post seems to be about mental-spiritual hygeine through avoiding excess hate and rage over time and also enjoying one’s perfect right to afford whatever pleasures one can afford. And it is probably necessary to add ” without hurting someone else or denying someone else equal access to the same level of pleasures”.

    So here’s an affordable pleasure. I first discovered it by accident during an eye exam. In the darkness, the eye doctor shines the tiny light into your eye to look around inside your eye. Somewhere during that, I started seeing sharply defined dark-shadow-colored branching tree-branch-like patterns.

    I asked what those were and the doctor said they were shadows cast on my own retina by my own retinal blood vessels. We always see them at every waking instant, but the brain edits them out to avoid getting distracted by them. But playing a tiny bright light across them in otherwise-darkness makes them cast shadows on the immediately adjacent retina which makes them outline-visible.

    So one can take one’s own tiny light and shine it around in one’s eyes in a dark room to see those same patterns. It doesn’t cost much.

  80. Dale


    Thank you for this repost. Well said and well taken. These are crazy times, and we all need to calm down a bit. I have a suggestion; as it is winter here in the northern hemisphere, it is a good time to stay inside, find a comfortable well lit chair, have a cup of tea, and read or re-read a good book. I’ve just finished Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” It is entertaining, enjoyable, and somber all at the same time.

    Everyone should take a break from the internet. Leave all the propaganda for some future moment. Rest up, heal, and prepare yourself for whatever comes next.

  81. Ché Pasa

    We bought a place in the country fifteen years ago during the tail-end of the Bush-Cheney Regime because it seemed to us that civic life was deteriorating so fast that soon cities in California where we were would become unlivable. Sure enough. At least that’s the way it seemed the last time I was back there three years ago now.

    We were lucky in that we had the money to buy a place in the country. Most people do not. We are in as remote a location as we thought we could take on given our age and multiple health issues. We have enough space to grow some veg and keep a few animals, but not enough to “farm.” There are farms and ranches nearby, however, and their proprietors have — so far — shown themselves to be generous and community minded. They are also Xtian Dominionists and Trumpists. Even the Catholics around here are mostly pro-Trump. Of course the Mormons are. Local politics, though, is not Trumpist. Local issues take priority.

    We have friends who are not Trumpists, and we help and support one another however we can. There are plenty of people whose politics I don’t know or care to know who I think we could rely on as they could rely on us in a pinch.

    Getting out of California, getting out of the city, has really affected the way we see and think about things, about what’s really important. But most people can’t do that; many don’t want to. Maybe they’re addicted to the constant shocks and upheavals. Maybe they’re just resigned to Whatever.

    It’s been interesting to see who is moving out here since the advent of the pandemic. Some really seem to be shell shocked. Others are just grateful to be out of there — wherever “there” was. And a few see opportunities to make money as property values are rising fast.

  82. Astrid

    For free entertainment, I do love Mike Duncan and Patrick Wyman’s podcasts, as well as archives of “In Our Time”. The voices are soothing and wryly aware of our predicament, and their a reminder that history and reality exists outside of what I can see at the moment. Mixes well with gardening.

    For apartment dwellers who want to grow some food, community garden and allotments are often an option, and often better than growing on your own land because many are fenced against critters and have compost/water access. Some of them do take literally years of waitlisting, so it pays to start early.

    The best part of a community garden is that it’s an instant venue to meet like minded people and skill share and share in the harvest. It’s helpful just to walk around and observe other people’s techniques and results and learn from them. Of course, 50 to 75% will be weed patches by later July and there will be rotting tomatoes and peppers in August, but it doesn’t have to be that way if you’re vigilant about weeding while the weeds are young.

    I’ve kept my community garden plot (two 400 sqft plots) relatively weed free and productive with about 5 hours of work by week during the season plus maybe 15 hours at the start and end of season for start up and clean up. The important thing is to start early and end late. Most people don’t bother planting until late April and are done once they yank out their dead tomato vines. But in USDA zone 7 and above, you should be able to overwinter fava beans, kale, spinach, mache, lettuce planted in September/October for greens next March/April. Then plant more greens, turnip, peas, etc in March to follow up. The cool spring season has less insect pressure and you can get pristine greens without any protection.

  83. different clue


    I went to San Francisco about 15 or so years ago for a cousin’s wedding. I stayed a few more days in Youth Hostel so I could see a tiny bit of things.

    My impression was . . . California is so beautiful, no wonder so many people want to live there.
    And will put up with so much to stay there. And so . . . no wonder the authorities will give them so much to put up with. As well as the inevitable degradation of beauty and niceness that goes along with population growth and economic growth.

    So . . . property values are going up where you are? It sounds like you did not move far enough away from California. Perhaps you should have moved to Rabbit Bay, Michigan.

  84. Astrid

    We were Bay Area based 2001-2007, and left with every intention of moving back. It is so beautiful, the weather is great, the weekend roadtrip and hiking opportunities are endless. Go to the coast or the mountains and the light is just heartbreakingly beautiful. But we can’t afford to go back. We don’t directly work in tech and rent for our former one bedroom apartment (in a non-SV adjacent BA suburb) is higher than mortgage+taxes+utilities+insurance for our house in PA. Friends who live there either bought more than a decade ago or have lucrative careers that allow for million dollar mortgages.

    We thought about moving to the Pacific North West, but most of it is also very expensive and the Cascadia Fault would be a ticking time bomb hanging over our heads.

    For now, we’re pretty happily settled outside of Harrisburg, PA. Lovely neighbors and neighborhood actually. I keep a low profile and lots of rose bushes.

  85. Astrid

    Good grief! Just checking my local weather forecast and saw a notice of critical fire weather for California, in January!

  86. different clue


    Many years ago, but some years after the TMI accident and nuclear material release, I read that there were some maple trees within the nuke-print of the reactor which were growing all giant leaves, resembling the big leaf maple of the Pacific Northwest. I don’t know if anyone ever ran that report down.

    I used to think that I might someday see if I could go there and find those maples. If I could and did, I would try to take cuttings and if they were a stable replicating form, I would name
    them Thornburg Atomic maple and try selling them as a novelty tree.

    But I don’t think I will ever do that. But if you are living somewhere around Harrisburg, perhaps you could do this if you wanted to. Find those maples, reproduce and commercialize them, and name them whatever you want.

  87. different clue

    And for pure mind-cooling escapism, why not watch Reddit for the random animal videos?

    Like this one . . .

  88. js

    “Good grief! Just checking my local weather forecast and saw a notice of critical fire weather for California, in January!”

    hard to enjoy the here and now if you are half the time choking on smoke, or dealing with 20 hurricanes a year or … Yea maybe just accept the suck?

  89. Willy

    I think it was Che who turned me on to European walking tour videos, which I cast to my TV. It almost feels like you’re there.

    I’m so glad I did all of my west coast adventures in my youth. Back then Disneyland was $20 ($45 infl. adj.) and we could drive the entire US coast for gas money. It was very common back then for relatives and friends to put each other up for the night at their home, even if you’d just dropped in. If you wanted it to just be the two of you, then seaside campsites were usually available. And that little motel at the corner of Van Ness and Lombard was just $50 ($110 infl. Adj.). Take a walking tour to Chinatown or the Presidio for lunch.

    I remember a bunch of us 20-something siblings and our mates plus one baby, doing the short-line coaster run at Knotts, running round and round to try and get on the next ride, with the baby getting handed off like a football for the next babysitter’s turn. We were all close back then.

    Those days are long gone. Nothing is cheap. Everybody stays at motels. Lines are long and I never imagined that my family would be religious-politically divided. I’m a major-holiday-only uncle now. Their kids don’t know me anything like I knew my uncle. Only my rich sister’s family gets to California anymore. I never imagined that I’d have to work with my hands to survive at my age, and live like a homesteader hermit out it the backwoods.

    I originally blamed myself for all the change. Then I blamed the workplace sociopaths who screwed me over. I finally came to realized that neoliberalism had been the root cause, and that I was far from the only one who’d been affected. Lots of us were boiled like frogs in that pot. Same old story different guy….

    But I’ve learned to be content with just enough. Gardening is cool. Costco is my friend. So is that little ma and pop hardware store that sells quality tools for far less than Home Depot does. I do get bummed when I see all the once-regionally ubiquitous ferns and hemlocks dying though. Reminds me of what else could be coming.

  90. Astrid

    Yes, the drought and fire risks certainly make California less appealing, especially at current prices. Also, it may just be my demographics, but everything has become more about money. We used to go hiking with coworkers and friends and share equipment and National Park passes. Now on one of our rare visits back, there’s lots of talking about money and money proximate things over fancy restaurant meals (our choice, we do like being able to afford nice things as long as we live outside of CA).

    Luckily we our friends and family are still happy to host us in their homes and vice versa. Even the ones we don’t agree with politically.
    We might just be lucky to have families that stick together despite disagreements, plus my in-laws are aggressively neutral people. I’m sure it helps that we’ve managed to avoid Facebook and most other social media, and keep our thoughts on politics to mostly to ourselves. It’s hard enough to get people to listen to garden advice (like, don’t plant bamboo in your backyard, ever!) so we know everything else is hopeless.

    It’s easier and much more pleasant to find common areas of agreement and talk about that instead. If that fails, find some polite excuse to leave the room. These conversations are still helpful to understand the other person and build rapport, much like a good old fashion simian grooming session.

  91. Astrid

    One thing I recommended, if you are planning to collapse in place and have space for it, is to go to “Friends of Library” book sales. At least the ones that don’t allow attendance by book resellers (went to one once accidentally, will never repeat that mistake). A lot of the books come from people moving to assisted living or heirs, so they represent people’s lifetime collections. I find a lot of picture books from the 70s and 80s that are beautifully written and edited, in a way that slickly produced books these days rarely are (though selection biased may be in play, since these are almost certainly coming from people’s lifetime collections).

  92. Astrid

    Speaking of gardening, the seed buying rush certainly hasn’t abated. Every place I buy seeds from has either stopped accepting new orders or is warning of severe delays. I’m happy about this as most seed houses (except several notoriously awful companies) are family run or cooperatively run, so score one for the good guys. I hope some of these new gardeners will keep at it and keep buying from the little guys, especially as many of these little guys are preserving traditional varieties and breeding more insect/disease tolerant open pollinated varieties.

  93. Ché Pasa

    ProWalk Tours:

    Pure escapism, but if you aren’t traveling much these days (who is?) it’s great escapism.

    Cast them to your TeeVee like Willy and feel like you’re there.

  94. Willy

    Thanks Che. It now seems foolish to pay all that money and burn my ass on some crazy long flight with a crying baby behind me the whole time, just to brag about actually walking around the Roman Forum. I’ve even “been on” a few of the newer rides at Disneyland. A day pass to meatspace Disneyland (just the one park) is now $235. That’s a fivefold increase over the inflation rate.

    I went through a year where there were freezing (“loading….”) problems between my Google Chromecaster, their Youtube, and my TV. I blamed my streaming neighbors, and/or Comcast and Google. The internet provided no reliable answers. But all of a sudden the problems stopped, and like magic, I had the normal functional service as promised. Still, I’m afraid to touch anything lest something blows up.

  95. different clue


    There are several ways to search for non-evil seed companies or seed-company owners.

    One that leaps immediately to mind are those companies who have joined to create the Open Source Seed Initiative.

    There is also the Safe Seed Movement and its Safe Seed Pledge. Search Prevention Engines seem designed to stop me from finding it. This is the best I can do. One has to search one-company-at-a-time now, thanks to Search Prevention Engines.

  96. Astrid

    Different Clue,

    That’s good information to note. I have a pretty good sense of the seed scene as I am very much a seed hoarder of many years. Gardening is an expensive hobby the way I do it, from sheer volume. Honestly I think very few people actually save money gardening, compared to just subscribing to a CSA for access to healthy in season veggies. But it’s rewarding and feels like safety, whether or not it is.

    Plants have always fascinates me and I know my money is typically going directly to seed farmers or people who are very involved in the seed preservation scene. I keep waiting for the chance to buy a couple acres of flattish arable land (current house is on 2/3 acre but very hilly with many large trees) but I’m not sure it will happen. Our next move was supposed to get us there, then 2020 happened and now I’m thinking of moving abroad or buying a place in Atlantic Canada as a backup plan.

    One thing I really miss about the West is relative lack of pests and diseases. On the east coast vegetable gardening is a constant fight against both. But at least we have water, and most of it hasn’t been tainted by fracking yet.

  97. different clue


    After work I will have the time to write a better reply. For now, I can only say that I also garden for fun and knowledge-wisdom and my gardening is also an expensive hobby.

    Also, I have found a way to use a search engine to “sneak up” on sources of information when it won’t let me get right to it. If the object of search is something which can have pictures taken or drawn of it, one can search-type ” the object in question images”. I have found that yahoo has better image collections with more-easily-revealed URL sources for each image than other search engines do, worst of all Google. I find yahoo at

    Here is an example of what I mean. If I want to find better links to better articles about Open Source Seed Initiative, I will type in Open Source Seed Initiative Images. And what I get is this . . .;_ylt=A0geKeXE0ARgGAYA5wtXNyoA;_ylu=Y29sbwNiZjEEcG9zAzEEdnRpZANDMDY3Ml8xBHNlYwNzYw–?p=open+source+seed+initiative+images&fr=sfp

    And clicking on that gets me a bunch of pictures. I go from picture to picture and if one somehow ” seeeeeeeeems” interesting, or has an interesting-seeming URL, I will click on the URL. Sometimes the URL-designated source-of-the-image really IS interesting and informative.

    I call it Image Wormhole Searching. You can try it if you wish, and see if it gives you good results.

  98. Astrid

    I’ll keep that in mind. I usually find my way by reading a lot of comments and bulletin boards. You can’t fake knowledge over the long haul, so over time I get a sense of who knows what they’re talking about and take their recommendations and pointers. In a pinch, Reddit works okay as a starting point though their discussions tend to get stuck at a shallow level.

    In the absence of a largely functional society, garden skills will definitely not save gardeners. Most intensive gardening require regular watering and constant fertility inputs. Densely populated Asian agricultural societies got that way because they manage water and manure very intensely. Whenever war or natural disasters disrupt the local system, their carefully tended farmland quickly becomes wastelands.

    So gardening is at best a supplement for hard but not too hard times. Assuming one can get access to water and decent soil, not crazy disease or critter pressure, one can grow veggies and maybe some fruit to eat during season, some beans/potato/squash/corn/roots/cabbage to store, maybe some pressured canned goods (yuck), and maybe some green through the winter with cold frames (or even without, mache and spinach will survive and grow in zone 6 winters without protection).

    This is assuming that mortgages, taxes, etc. have largely inflated away so that we’re not at constant risk of eviction and homelessness.

  99. Astrid

    Starting points for gardeners – is pretty good as a starting point. The core commenter group is very knowledgeable and orcharding is the most hardcore of normal gardening pursuits, so there are useful tidbits about a wide range of topics. has covered a decent number of OSSI participants and many good authors in the permaculture space.

  100. different clue


    Thank you for the reply and those links. No . . . gardening won’t save us if the whole civilization goes Chernobyl. But it could help in the event of lesser partial collapses or shrinkdowns. And it can help us be happy in the meantime.

    We live on the grids. The grids keep us alive and we keep the grids alive to keep us alive. If all the grids die most of us will die with them. If we reduce our demands and pressures on the grids we can help them survive longer enough to find our way through all this on the way to wherever.

    And if so many of us live so much lighter on the grids than we are now living, the grid pressure on the earth and its biophysical cycles may lighten up enough to heighten the chances of long term surfacesphere eco-survival.

  101. Astrid

    I’m dubious that there is a way out of our predicament. Humanity is a cancer, it can’t help but be cancerous. More benign cultures are eradicated by more bellicose, higher resource consuming ones.

    People on the”developing world” might use less resources, but they have no hesitation cutting down forests, draining their water supplies, and keep on procreating in an overcrowded world. Whatever system for protecting and regulating commons goes away once people moved out of a village setting.
    They are all happy to have houses and vehicles and HVAC and meat, when they can afford it. When they have more resources, they will want to show off their foreign vacations to one up the Joneses. American thrift, which is probably only going to happen involuntarily, will not buy humans more time to solve the existential problem caused by their existence.

    I garden because I want to and maybe compelled to, the way other people want children or pets or shiny red sports cars or $200k weddings. It brings me excitement and contentment and satisfies my curiosity and leaves me with too much produce and flowers, at much higher costs and hassle than just buying what I need from the Farmer’s market. Whatever benefits there may be from gardening, I am doing it purely for myself.

    (The fact that I have 400 unlabelled rooted rose cuttings in a bathroom rack… That sort of stuff just happens, you know.)

  102. James Charles

    ‘We’ have ten years?

    “ . . . our best estimate is that the net energy
    33:33 per barrel available for the global
    33:36 economy was about eight percent
    33:38 and that in over the next few years it
    33:42 will go down to zero percent
    33:44 uh best estimate at the moment is that
    33:46 actually the
    33:47 per average barrel of sweet crude
    33:51 uh we had the zero percent around 2022
    33:56 but there are ways and means of
    33:58 extending that so to be on the safe side
    34:00 here on our diagram
    34:02 we say that zero percent is definitely
    34:05 around 2030 . . .
    34:43 need net energy from oil and [if] it goes
    34:46 down to zero
    34:48 uh well we have collapsed not just
    34:50 collapse of the oil industry
    34:52 we have collapsed globally of the global
    34:54 industrial civilization this is what we
    34:56 are looking at at the moment . . . “

  103. different clue

    Whole sections of humanity spent many thousands of years never going cancerous. A few little sections did and established empires. And modern industrial civilization.

    I once read an article years ago ( can’t remember title or author) about how Third World overpopulation was deliberately engineered into existence by the EuroColonial Powers and especially their infiltrationist Christian Missionaries. These missionaries identified and persecuted and wiped out every cultural feature that all the conquered peoples of the earth had evolved over milleniums to keep their populations static. These missionaries’ secular power-political owners and masters turned the missionaries loose on these societies in order to foster rising populations for labor supply.

    So Third World overpopulation is an artifact of First World colonization. Or so the article said.

    If enough First Worlders now lowered their levels of resource use to a sustainable level, their offspring would grow up in such a world and think it natural. And maybe then Third Worlders would follow suit. Or maybe not.

    Regardless, gardening is a fine thing to do. 400 rose branch cuttings? That is operating above my level.

    By the way, if you have gotten any of your information from books, what books have you gotten information from? Are there any gardening or agronomy books you find really interesting and/or really informative?

  104. Astrid

    I’ve probably read thousands of garden books and own hundreds (most from “friends of library” sales but many I paid near full price for). I’m not sure there are many that I regularly refer to. Honestly I’ve came up with a system that mostly works for me. I tweak it every so often and incorporate new ideas I see online or in books. For plant specific advice, Johnny’s Select Seed and Southern Exposure Seed Company probably has the best growing advice for the East Coast. For perennials/shrubs/and trees, specialist growers and specialist boards will likely provide the best advice. For general information, Gardenweb (interface and ads suck now but) still has archives full of opinions and advice on pretty much every garden topic you can think of.

    What works for me (keep in mind that I’m only intensively gardening on about 3,000 sqft total) is an initial dig to get rid of turf and tough perennials, ideally followed by a crop of green manure to compete out the annual weeds (I’ve never actually gotten around to planting green manure because I’m that land hungry), followed by building no-dig rows with 4-6″ of compost. I don’t have a lot of problems with weeds, just don’t let them go to seed and they’re easy to control except for bindweeds. I get free compost at my community garden and very cheap wood chip and compost from my municipality, so I top dress my beds every year with compost and/or wood chips in the spring and compost or fallen leaves in the fall. Most other people may have more land and less access to woodchips/compost, so green manure should be more important to their soil building scheme.

    For books – I recommend checking these books out from the public library before buying any of them, then sign up for emails on their publisher’s website. Chelsea Green is one of my favorite publishers and runs good sales regularly. Mostly, I like these books because they feel lived in. Not just lists and schematics and solutions, but people who actually experienced triumphs and failures in their gardening/farming:

    Timber Press’s Regional Vegetable Garden Guides are pretty good general guide

    The Flower Farmer by Lynn Byczynski is good if you’re consider going into business on some scale (I am not)

    Carol Deppe’s books are all very good and helpful in practically thinking about self sufficiency

    The Market Gardener by Jean-Martin Fortier has some excellent innovations on doing things efficiently and writes clearly. Elliot Coleman can also be good, but I feel he’s prosyltizing too much on his ways.

    The Backyard Homestead is a good starter guide for thinking about all pieces of a homestead including orcharding, cereals, animal husbandry, etc. But you’ll need to fill in the gaps. Think of it as the updated US counterpart to John Seymour’s Self Sufficient Gardener.

    Sunset’s Western Garden Book, if you’re anywhere out west or even if you’re not. Sunset zones make much more sense than USDA zones in the west.

    A good book on pruning – Lee Reich’s book is decent

    Ed Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible is a good one for home gardeners

    If you’re interested in orcharding, a couple orcharding books and at least one that covers grafting.

    Vita Sackville-West’s The Illustrated Garden Book – comfort reading for me, the reason why I have 150 rose bushes in my yard and 400 rooting cuttings in my bathroom.

    An American Cutting Garden by Suzanne McIntire – her observations ring very true to someone who also gardened in DC area community gardens.

    Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs – this is the most sensible and practically minded books on the subject

    I listen to the Davis Garden Show (Davis, CA), Garden Basics with Farmer Fred (Sacramento, CA), and A Way to Garden (near the Berkshires on the New York State side) on podcast. They have mostly sooth voices and sensible advice.

  105. Astrid

    The 400 rooted cuttings was not quite intentional. I’ve historically had terrible strike rates for rose cuttings, in the 5-10% range, so when I was fall pruning my roses, I figure I’d put in some cuttings of my favorites in 128 cell trays and see what happens. The idea is that we might move into a new house next spring, so I wanted to be able to take some of my favorite roses (including a couple varieties that are currently not commercially available anywhere) with me.

    I ended up with >50% strike rate. I tore out all the leaves, soak them in a general fungicide, shaved off some of the bottom to expose more cambrium, and dip them in liquid rooting hormone. Rooted them in Promix (which is far and away the best seed starting mix, my local Agway sells 3.8 cubic foot bales for $38) under some LED grow lights. Didn’t cover them and kept them with 50% light (compared to seed growing) until the buds started leafing out.

    They’re of dubious value though, I didn’t bother tracking the varieties since I figure I’d only have a few dozen plants and could grow them out to blooming to tell them apart. Now I have no idea how I’m going to give away this many nameless roses, hopefully my parents and in-laws know lots of people who are willing to take in mystery plants as long as they’re free.

    Growing a bunch of baby plants is pretty easy and do not require a lot of capital these days, though unfortunately the best/cheapest options will require a lot of Amazon sourcing. You can buy a 2’x 4′ stainless steel rack (recommend getting one with wheels) for around $100 (Costco seems to have the best prices, especially when they run a sale), then outfit some lights for another $100 (6 Barrina 4′ grow lights). Bootstrap Farmer has by far the best 1020 trays, their 128 trays are pretty good for starting most seeds and then I use their 2.5″ pots for bigger transplants. Promix is what commercial growers pretty much all use, you should be able to track them down at a local Agway or hardware store or nursery, or ask them to special order a bale or two for you. The cheapness of grow lights also makes growing herbs, mini-tomatoes (check out Heritage Seed Market), orchids, and other house plants much easier.

    For my small scale gardening, I really don’t need many tools. Some nitrile coated gardening gloves, a sun hat, a pair of ARS fine tipped pruners, maybe a larger ARS pruner and a cheaper lopper, a pair of Japanese handhoe, a couple 5 gallon buckets from your home improvement store of choice, garden fork and spade (Lee Valley has pretty good ones that are not too expensive) and a red plastic grocery basket (I got 10 of these from an Amazon store called Only Garment Racks and they’re great for organizing in the house and in cars, stows perfectly into IKEA EXPEDIT/KALLAX bookcases). I have a gorilla cart, manure fork, and snow shovel for moving wood chips and compost around. Amazon pricing for ARS pruners and japanese hand hoes can vary a lot, so it’s worth setting up an alert on camelcamelcamel to track when the prices come down. They can be under $10 sometimes or as high as $30 at other times.

  106. Astrid

    Sure, anatomically modern humans existed for hundreds of thousands of years, largely peaceably with nature. But then someone figured out a more efficient way to hunt and killed off almost all North American megafauna in maybe a thousand years. Then someone else figured out agriculture and replaced the egalitarian and healthier hunter-gatherer population. Then came megastates, some of which reached a working stasis, albeit ones that are puncuated by periodic declines and wars, before they were ripped apart for scraps by the more malignant European strain, itself then replaced by the more malignant USian strain. Humanity works just like cancers, the first few mutations are relatively harmless or limited in effect, but there’s selection pressure to always result in the most malignant form, until you get the version that will quickly kill the host (not the Earth or its biosphere, but the biosphere that can support human life).

    Just because we can theoretically live in peace with the environment and each other doesn’t mean we will, and those who live in peacefully will be wiped out by those who do not play nice.

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