Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Long Descent (John Michael Greer)

I bought this as soon as it was published, as I am a fan of Greer's blog, but I hadn't had the space to read it with any justice until last week. Summary impression: excellent, highly recommended, one of the best peak oil books, etc etc; it's also one of the few books I've read on Peak Oil which starts to treat some of the spiritual aspects with any seriousness (indeed the book I hope to finish on my sabbatical is in some ways a Christian equivalent of this), and, other than a forgiveable equation of Christianity with it's North American instantiation, he says a lot of good things on the spiritual side.

However, I do have some minor disagreements, the most important of which is that Greer holds out no hope for a high-technology future. To my mind, given the existing expenditure on infrastructure, there is no necessary reason why (in, obviously, a much reduced form) some sort of internet, for example, couldn't be maintained indefinitely. I take the point that, eg, clean rooms for the manufacturing of chips will become virtually impossible to sustain, but I see no reason why, once the changed context is understood, the industry couldn't make a laptop which would last for fifty or a hundred years without needing any maintenance. In other words, I think the sustainable point on the far side of Hubbert's curve is higher up the technological scale than Greer anticipates. I suspect that there is a spiritual judgement hovering behind this; I think we'd agree that the true outcome would surprise us both.

How about this for the outline of a novel, a sort of cross between Canticle for Liebowitz and The Road (and could easily be Joseph-Campbellised): peasant boy with talent is commissioned by monastery for a task - take this book to the monks at [High Monastery in the Mountain]; boy goes through various adventures to get to High Monastery; arrives, is asked to accompany the monk into their 'chapel' - has to put on pure white robes - astonishingly bright white light - watches as his 'book' is repaired. Of course, the contemporary reader can understand that this is a laptop being repaired in the sole remaining 'clean room' in the entire US continent, but that needn't be spelt out explicitly.

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