John Michael Greer Thanks his Muse - Readers of the Archdruid Report

by: EJ on 09/07/2017

John Michael Greer's latest book is now off press.  He calls The Retro Future: Looking to the Past to Reinvent the Future the third book in a trilogy.  The first book of the three was After Progress: Religion and Reason at the End of the Industrial Age published by New Society Publishers in 2015.  The second book is a fiction novel called Retrotopia published by Founders House Publishing in December 2016.  (and it just happens to be on sale right now with another John Michael Greer book, An Archdruid's Tale).


In this excerpt from the preface of The Retro Future, John Michael Greer describes the evolution of thought that occurred during the writing of these three books and thanks his muse, readers of his now concluded blog, The Archdruid Report. Fans of John Michael Greer can still find him writing once a week at his new blog, Ecosophia.

In a certain sense, this book is part of a trilogy, though it differs from most trilogies in that the books can be read in any order. The books in question came into being out of a growing sense on my part that the predicament of our time could not be understood from within the conventional wisdom that created it, and that the most important element of that conventional wisdom — the heart of a secular belief system that shares most of the characteristics of a religion — was faith in progress.

My first explorations of that theme focused on understanding where the ersatz religion of progress came from and how the mismatch between faith in progress and the  insistent reality of our society’s failure to progress — or, put more forcefully, of the opening stages of its decline — was likely to play out in the thought, imagination, and beliefs of people in the contemporary world. Those explorations eventually gave rise to a book, After Progress: Religion and Reason at the End of the Industrial Age . As that first reconnaissance reached clarity, I began two other related projects, both oriented toward figuring out what sorts of responses might be appropriate to the end of the age of progress.

retrotopia cover1

One of those projects used narrative fiction to try to explore the prospects of a society that abandoned the religion of perpetual progress and, instead, allowed itself and its citizens to pick and choose among the technologies and lifestyles already explored by our species. That narrative became a novel, Retrotopia . The other project approached the same question from the more conventional angle of nonfiction, and the result is the book you are holding in your hands right now.

As discussed later in this book, the idea of an end to progress is freighted with a great many irrational terrors and strange beliefs. It’s far from uncommon for people to insist that any future that isn’t defined by the endless elaboration of already overelaborate technologies must somehow involve going back to the caves or sinking into medieval squalor or being gobbled up by any of the other hobgoblins of the past with which the religion of progress threatens unbelievers. These reactions have deep emotional roots; for several centuries now, a vast number of people in the industrial world have allowed their sense of meaning, purpose, and value to depend on their assumed role in the grand onward march of progress from the caves to the stars, and letting go of that self-image is a very challenging thing.

That said, it’s not as though we ultimately have a choice. On the one hand, the exhaustion of nonrenewable resources and the buildup of pollutants in the atmosphere, the seas, and the soil are already starting to impose a rising spiral of costs on further attempts to make our technologies even more elaborate than they are today. On the other, it’s becoming increasingly clear to people in the industrial world that progress does not necessarily mean improvement, and that older and simpler technologies very often do a better job at their tasks than the latest hypercomplex, hightech equivalent. A growing number of people are thus beginning to turn aside from the products of progress. That these older, simpler technologies are very often less dependent on nonrenewable resources and less damaging to the biosphere that supports all our lives is just one benefit of that heretical but necessary act.

This book seeks to discuss what the world looks like in the wake of the end of progress: why progress is ending, why it could never have fulfilled the overblown promises made in its name, and what the prospects of our society and species might look like as the age of progress gives way to an age of  environmental blowback and technological unraveling. It’s popular to paint those latter prospects in unremittingly bleak colors, but here again that reflects the unthinking assumptions of our age rather than the facts as they actually exist. The burdens that progress have piled upon us, as individuals, as communities, and as a species, are not small, and once the shock has passed off, liberation from those burdens may well be experienced by many of us as a reason for celebration rather than mourning.

That said, there are serious downsides to the end of progress, just as there were equally serious downsides to its beginning and to every step of its historical course. My hope  is that this book, as a first survey of the almost entirely unexplored landscape on the far side of progress, will help my readers prepare themselves for the largely unexpected future ahead of us.

My previous books have had a variety of intellectual debts, but this one has depended almost entirely on one source — the readership of my former blog “The Archdruid  Report.” For eleven years, from the first tentative posts about peak oil and the future of industrial society all the way to the last posts about the nature of human experience, my readers encouraged me, argued with me, brought me data points that confirmed or challenged the ideas that I’ve offered, and in general created a congenial and thought-provoking environment for the development of my ideas. My thanks go to all.

Buy The Retro Future here.



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