Monday 19 May 2014

Going to see John Michael Greer

I’ve just booked my tickets to leave for a few days in London, where I’ll be attending the Economics, Energy and Environment Conference at the School of Economic Science, and attending talks by, among other people, author John Michael Greer.

Some readers of this blog are familiar with Mr. Greer, but for those who aren’t, here’s a brief introduction. Some people blog by linking to other blogs that link to other blogs until they create a perfect bubble of opinions. While other bloggers writer their own original material, “original” must be used loosely – most articles I read on politics, religion, ecology or any other issue seem like anagrams of other people’s articles, until they form a muddled hash of rehashing.

An occasional writer, though, produces thousands of words of prose every week, zeroing in on the genuinely important changes around us and helping us see them in a fundamentally new way. And when I say “occasional,” I really mean “one.”

For eight years Greer has written enough material for several books – and I know, because he turned them into several books, and own most of those too. I first encountered him when he was nice enough to compliment an article I wrote, and found that he echoed many of the same thoughts I had: that while we were seeing more and more problems with our energy supply, climate and economy, we should not despair. We should not hunker down and wait for “the big one” to wipe away everyone we don’t like -- because in real life, that never actually happens. On the other hand, we should not expect the growth of the 20th century to continue forever -- because in real life, that never happens either.

What I realised, and Greer affirmed, was that the life people lived before cheap energy – growing food, knowing family and neighbours, living with the seasons – was normal. The life we live today – driving long distances at high speeds, sitting in chairs, and staring at glowing rectangles – is not normal, and sickens us. Neither Greer nor I oppose the use of technology – I am, after all, writing this on a blog, which you are reading – but people can live healthy, civilised lives on very little energy or money than most modern Americans use today. Neither a depression, nor a climate shift, nor an energy crunch has to be an apocalypse; it can be a transition back to a more traditional world.

One reason I can attest to this is that I interview elderly people who grew up here in Ireland in a time when it was deeply poor and agrarian – yet it was a society with high education, little crime, close communities and long lifespans. That’s why I study traditional Ireland here, and have learned traditional crafts to teach to my daughter. That’s why I named the blog “Restoring Mayberry,” after the fictional town that, to Americans, invokes a healthy vision of small-town life.

I’m sure the decades ahead will have many difficulties – outages and shortages, wars and rumours of wars – but I’ve devoted my spare time to re-learning the old skills that helped people get through lean times, and teaching them to my daughter. Mr. Greer’s writings have been a lighthouse to help us navigate, and I’m looking forward to seeing him in person.

I’m also looking forward to seeing London – but more on that in a few days.

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