The thread increasingly surrounded by darkness Riding out the winter (decline) of industrial civilization


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Artist collaborator for extended bicycle tour
Project Description:
Take your artistic practice on the road and join me for the second leg of The Illuminated Thread: an ongoing mobile art-tour/collaborative bicycle ride. [Link to the first leg: Chicago/Portland/San Francisco] We’ll pedal from San Francisco to San Diego (and possibly beyond) producing and posting video based art (as well as other formats) along the way.
We’ll balance our shared time between our two sets of artistic interests while also collaborating on some work. For example, if you’re a performance artist and would like to do site specific performances or installations, I’d provide assistance with documentation. My work will necessitate stops at functioning and abandoned energy installations (power plants/refineries), an abandoned beet processing plant and factory town, container ports, large parking lots, etc.
While we’ll be posting completed work online as we go, the bulk of what we produce will be reserved for exhibition at a traditional gallery space upon our return. (see documentation of Chicago exhibition close to the top of the thread)
I am:

  • A recent MFA graduate from the University of Chicago with an interest in the decline of the hydrocarbon based economy, post collapse aesthetics, and the critique of civilization

I have:

  • The Mobile Production Studio (link to mobile production studio diagram) including: a relatively good quality HD camcorder, gorilla grip tripod, and MacBook Pro.

  • Most of the tools required for on the road repairs

You must be:

  • A practicing artist—please send links to online portfolio or several images of recent work (MFA desirable)

  • In good physical condition

You must have:

  • Must have access to a bicycle and applicable equipment for touring: panniers, single occupancy tent, sleeping bag/pad, etc.

  • At least a month to devote to the project

Before departure we’ll collaborate on promotional materials and fund raising events. Friends and family should be able to provide necessary funds for food and other travel related expenses by donating to the project through the website. Experience from the last leg shows that individuals can be extremely generous when sincerely interested in and engaged with something this ambitious. (Donations totaled several thousand dollars.)
Further reading:
The illuminated thread (see project description)

sonata 38 on Vimeo

Burn the Furniture
Illuminated thread tag lines:
dedicated/devoted to:

  1. Document and understand the decline/contraction of the hydrocarbon [based] [consumer] economy

  2. Create a viable image of a local/low energy/post-carbon future to work toward—even as that image is constantly in flux

  3. Identify and refine/develop a skill set necessary to thrive in this new paradigm—practical techniques for living on the margins—what we need to thrive in a potentially turbulent/certainly austere period.

For header:

Photomontage with grey or blue fill for continuity

Include industrial structures, you, bike, etc.

Images with thin vertical rectangular tabs—perhaps colored for sorting purposes

Vids could have the same, as well as hairline borders—it’s important that vids be incorporated into the design now that they can be embedded

Still preferable to have one image as header—something that represents the project—(see center for land use management front page)
Dear reader,

Don’t expect things to go back to the way things were. The consumer economy is dying a death perfectly timed with the production peak of its primary resource—oil.
Clusterfuck Nation Chronicle: February 9, 2009

Poverty of Imagination

Venturing out each day into this land of strip malls, freeways, office parks, and McHousing pods, one can't help but be impressed at how America looks the same as it did a few years ago, while seemingly overnight we have become another country. All the old mechanisms that enabled our way of life are broken, especially endless revolving credit, at every level, from household to business to the banks to the US Treasury.

Peak energy has combined with the diminishing returns of over-investments in complexity to pull the "kill switch" on our vaunted "way of life" -- the set of arrangements that we won't apologize for or negotiate. So, the big question before the nation is: do we try to re-start the whole smoking, creaking hopeless, futureless machine? Or do we start behaving differently?

The attempted re-start of revolving debt consumerism is an exercise in futility. We've reached the limit of being able to create additional debt at any level without causing further damage, additional distortions, and new perversities of economy (and of society, too). We can't raise credit card ceilings for people with no ability make monthly payments. We can't promote more mortgages for people with no income. We can't crank up a home-building industry with our massive inventory of unsold, and over-priced houses built in the wrong places. We can't ramp back up the blue light special shopping fiesta. We can't return to the heyday of Happy Motoring, no matter how many bridges we fix or how many additional ring highways we build around our already-overblown and over-sprawled metroplexes. Mostly, we can't return to the now-complete "growth" cycle of "economic expansion." We're done with all that. History is done with our doing that, for now.

So far -- after two weeks in office -- the Obama team seems bent on a campaign to sustain the unsustainable at all costs, to attempt to do all the impossible things listed above. Mr. Obama is not the only one, of course, who is invoking the quest for renewed "growth." This is a tragic error in collective thinking. What we really face is a comprehensive contraction in our activities, especially the scale of our activities, and the pressing need to readjust the systems of everyday life to a level of decreased complexity [and scale].

For instance, the myth that we can become "energy independent and yet remain car-dependent is absurd. In terms of liquid fuels, we're simply trapped. We import two-thirds of the oil we use and there is absolutely no chance that drill-drill-drilling (or any other scheme) will change that. The public and our leaders can not face the reality of this. The great wish for "alternative" liquid fuels (bio fuels, algae excreta) will never be anything more than a wish at the scales required, and the parallel wish to keep all our cars running by other means -- hydrogen fuel cells, electric motors -- is equally idle and foolish. We cannot face the mandate of reality, which is to do everything possible to make our living places walkable, and connect them with public transit. The stimulus bills in congress clearly illustrate our failure to understand the situation.

The attempt to restart "consumerism" will be equally disappointing. It was a manifestation of the short peak energy decades of history, and now that we're past peak energy, it's over. That seventy percent of the economy is over, especially the part that allowed people to buy stuff with no money. From now on people will have to buy stuff with money they earn and save, and they will be buying a lot less stuff. For a while, a lot of stuff will circulate through the yard sales and Craigslist, and some resourceful people will get busy fixing broken stuff that still has value. But the other infrastructure of shopping is toast, especially the malls, the strip malls, the real estate investment trusts that own it all, many of the banks that lent money to the REITs, the chain-stores and chain eateries, of course, and, alas, the non-chain mom-and-pop boutiques in these highway-oriented venues.

Washington is evidently seized by panic right now. I don't know anyone who works in the White House, but I must suppose that they have learned in two weeks that these systems are absolutely tanking, that the previous way of life that everybody was so set on not apologizing for has reached the end of the line. We seem to be learning a new and interesting lesson: that even a team that promises change is actually petrified of too much change, especially change that they can't really control.

The argument about "change" during the election was sufficiently vague that no one was really challenged to articulate a future that wasn't, materially, more-of-the-same. I suppose the Obama team may have thought they would only administer it differently than the Bush team -- but basically life in the USA would continue being about all those trips to the mall, and the cubicle jobs to support that, and the family safaris to visit Grandma in Lansing, and the vacations at Sea World, and Skipper's $20,000 college loan, and Dad's yearly junket to Las Vegas, and refinancing the house, and rolling over this loan and that loan... and that has all led to a very dead end in a dark place.

If this nation wants to survive without an intense political convulsion, there's a lot we can do, but none of it is being voiced in any corner of Washington at this time. We have to get off of petro-agriculture and grow our food locally, at a smaller scale, with more people working on it and fewer machines. This is an enormous project, which implies change in everything from property allocation to farming methods to new social relations. But if we don't focus on it right away, a lot of Americans will end up starving, and rather soon. We have to rebuild the railroad system in the US, and electrify it, and make it every bit as good as the system we once had that was the envy of the world. If we don't get started on this right away, we're screwed. We will have tremendous trouble moving people and goods around this continent-sized nation. We have to reactivate our small towns and cities because the metroplexes are going to fail at their current scale of operation. We have to prepare for manufacturing at a much smaller (and local) scale than the scale represented by General Motors.

The political theater of the moment in Washington is not focused on any of this, but on the illusion that we can find new ways of keeping the old ways going. Many observers have noted lately how passive the American public is in the face of their dreadful accelerating losses. It's a tragic mistake to tell them that they can have it all back again. We'll see a striking illustration of "phase change" as the public mood goes from cow-like incomprehension to grizzly bear-like rage. Not only will they discover the impossibility of getting back to where they were, but they will see the panicked actions of Washington drive what remains of our capital resources down a rat hole.

A consensus is firming up on each side of the "stimulus" question, largely along party lines -- simply those who are for it and those who are against it, mostly by degrees. Nobody in either party -- including supposed independents such as Bernie Sanders or John McCain, not to mention President Obama -- has a position for directing public resources and effort at any of the things I mentioned above: future food security, future travel-and-transport security, or the future security of livable, walkable dwelling places based on local networks of economic interdependency. This striking poverty of imagination may lead to change that will tear the nation to pieces.

Ran on the name of the site:

“The reason I used my name as the site name is that I can write about anything without contradicting the name. If I'd named it after a subject, I would be doomed to write about that subject forever or abandon the site.”

Ran on Squatting in the next few years:

A couple readers send this article about Ohio representative Marcy Kaptur advising foreclosure victims to squat their own houses. This is just an early hint of an issue that's going to become enormous in the next few years. As the depression deepens, Americans who can't afford rent or mortgage payments will become a political tsunami, and the owning interests will have to make unthinkable compromises or be swept away.

Archdruid on images of the future: (and a word of caution)

Premature consensus is arguably one of the most severe risks we face just now, and any image of the future – very much including the one I've sketched out here – is at best a scattershot sampling of the divergent possibilities facing us as the industrial age comes to its end.
Thus anything that tends to encourage people in the peak oil movement, or the wider society around it, to think about the future in any stereotyped way is potentially fatal. Still, [the site content] presupposes a worldview and a cultural and intellectual inheritance that aren't exactly widespread in popular culture these days.

Each section retains the structure of the main thread page but has a unique header image referring to the content. ‘Illuminated thread title text is replaced by title of each section.

About the project

Image: empty oil storage tank

Further Reading:

Ran Prieur

The Archdruid Report

James Howard Kunstler

The Oil Drum

Link to “Books” page

About me

Image: sitting on the curb eating apple


(liquidating old memories in the pursuit of new ones donation drive)

Image: waterfall and bridge with arm raised

Chicago/Portland/San Francisco

Image: flag garage door

What are you occupying your time with she asks:

“eating kelp, sculpting in time, and figuring out how to round the world’s corners
“I know! How predictable.”
“Well, nice chatting with you—carry on then.”

Is it possible to lump your three project goals:
Document and understand the contraction of the hydrocarbon economy.
Create a viable image of a local, low energy, post-carbon future to work toward.
Identify and refine a skill set necessary to thrive in the transition to this new paradigm: practical techniques for living on the margins.
Into one statement that might me more accurate and at the same time leave more room for broader explorations.
For example:
Welcome to the age of numbers getting smaller, welcome to the age of degrowth (contraction), the backside of the bell shaped curve. Post peak oil, peak money (peak economic activity), peak energy, peak world population, peak food production. The climax of the industrial age. The late summer of western civilization. What will replace our current economic system? What does it mean if the world’s resources are distributed among fewer people every year instead of more?
Welcome to the downward slope of the bell shaped curve. Everywhere it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore limits to growth—see R Heinberg essay—post-carbon institute post.
Welcome to the twilight of the hydrocarbon era.

Your focus will be on skills for the individual as opposed to policy for the masses. Besides, the governments and systems that have been trying to solve the world’s problems through policy tweaks have failed. They are a product of the industrial system and will wither and die with it

Springtime in Paris. Last April a small group of scientists and policy makers met in the city of lights to…

[see first annual conference on “Degrowth”]
Or maybe, you should just focus on really controversial techniques for bringing down the system—focus on the “way past the time to act—now it’s an ecological emergency”. Maybe difficult to find an audience other than the FBI.
Record the locations and security apparatus of industrial installations. Possible angles for a strike, and anticipated result. Sounds kinda narrow and not that interesting for most people.
Butterflies are possible! Never stop believing.
Ran on Valentine’s Day:

Valentine's Day is the worst of all holidays, because if you're single you feel left out, and if you're with someone you feel stressed out by the expectations. I hesitate to even bring up the word "love" because it's a semantic minefield, with countless meanings, some of them opposite of each other, and yet we tend to think everyone else is using the word the same way we are. Even "romantic love" points to several completely different things, ranging from pathological obsession to healthy but short-sighted lust to the deep attachment that develops between long-term couples.

Of course, the best foundation for a couple relationship is not any kind of romantic love, but compatibility. But even "compatibility" is complex and hard to define. If you look at personal ads, people seem to think it doesn't go any deeper than liking the same popular culture. I would say part of compatibility is comfort. Barbara Sher once wrote that a good partner (or maybe it was a good activity) should not feel exciting, but should feel like a comfortable old shoe. Another huge part is synergy. The test is to look at all the other parts of your life, your relationships with friends and family, your source of money, your creative work, or attempts to improve the world or get enlightened, or whatever good paths you're on. Your partner should help you on those paths, or at the very least should not hold you back.

I was open to the possibility of meeting a new girlfriend on this trip, but that wasn't how the plot developed. My first Boston host asked me if I'm happy being single. After some thought, I'd say that I'm happy but not satisfied. Most of the couple relationships in this world are not as good as being single -- but the best ones are much better.

Complexity Theory argues that societies become progressively more unstable and vulnerable as the network of interconnections within them increases -- not particularly good news for a globalizing system in which increasing complexity is precisely the thrust of economics, finance, manufacturing, technology and almost everything else we do. The sobering implications may explain why many proponents of Complexity Theory preface their comments with an apology. "We don't want to tell you this," goes the essence of their message, "but we think you should know." When the New Scientist published two articles on Complexity Theory (Apr. 5/08), its editor anticipated some reader discomfort. "We are predisposed to pay attention to bad news," noted the editorial. "There is a good reason for this. We need to be warned of difficulty and danger so we can protect ourselves.... [But] if the warning is too scary or distressing, we attack the messenger as a doom monger."
Complexity Theory comes with its hint of doom, ominously reminding us that no civilization has ever survived the stresses of history, with the possible exception of China and Byzantium -- in a much reduced state for 450 years following the 15th century Arab invasions. But Sumer, Persia, Egypt, Greece, Maya and even Rome all collapsed, primarily because they succumbed to overwhelming complexities.

Also, complexity is ratcheting—there are no mechanisms for removing old laws—the result is endless paperwork and government hoops to jump through and the system eventually freezes up.

Page 9 of the degrowth conference PDF—abstract, purpose of the conference and good summary of the “critique of assumed economic growth”. Including why efficiency just leads to increasing use of raw materials. Page 5 good too.
Books to steal:

  • Overshoot by William R. Catton Jr. (out of print)

  • The Limits to Growth by Donella Meadows, David Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III. Get the original 1972 edition

  • Days of war nights of love

Archdruid on human limits:

Human limits, not human power, define the situation we face today, because the technological revolutions and economic boom times that most modern people take for granted resulted from a brief period of extravagance in which we squandered half a billion years of stored sunlight. The power we claimed was never really ours, and we never conquered nature; instead, we stole as many of her carbon assets as we could reach, and spent most of them. Now the bills are coming due, the balance left in the account won’t meet them, and the only question left is how much of what we bought with all that carbon will still be ours when nature’s foreclosure proceedings finish with us.

Current donation gifts:
Double diploma and accompanying letter—well just one University of Chicago diploma didn’t generate much interest so we’re adding a second, identical University of Chicago (est. 1890). Plus a letter explaining that the second diploma should be destroyed.

1991 Lexus paint and interior fabrics option card

Teapot drawing with accompanying narrative

Inmate badge

‘pot’ note

original taxidermy lodge map

Fight Club VHS
Recite speech in a public place—record and send to donor:

Translated onto English of course. And minus the self-immolation part.

This would totally be my monologue if I we’re an actor.


Domenico's Speech
What ancestor speaks in me? I can't live simultaneously in my head and in my body. That's why I can't be just one person. I can feel within myself countless things at once.
There are no great masters left. That's the real evil of our time. The heart's path is covered in shadow. We must listen to the voices that seem useless in brains full of long sewage pipes of school wall, tarmac and welfare papers. The buzzing of insects must enter. We must fill the eyes and ears of all of us with things that are the beginning of a great dream. Someone must shout that we'll build the pyramids. It doesn't matter if we don't. We must fuel that wish and stretch the corners of the soul like an endless sheet.
If you want the world to go forward, we must hold hands. We must mix the so-called healthy with the so-called sick. You healthy ones! What does your health mean? The eyes of all mankind are looking at the pit into which we are plunging. Freedom is useless if you don't have the courage to look us in the eye, to eat, drink and sleep with us! It's the so-called healthy who have brought the world to the verge of ruin. Man, listen! In you water, fire and then ashes, and the bones in the ashes. The bones and the ashes!

Where am I when I'm not in reality or in my imagination? Here's my new pact: it must be sunny at night and snowy in August. Great things end. Small things endure. Society must become united again instead of so disjointed. Just look at nature and you'll see that life is simple. We must go back to where we were, to the point where we took the wrong turn. We must go back to the main foundations of life without dirtying the water. What kind of world is this if a madman tells you you must be ashamed of yourselves!

O Mother! The air is that light thing that moves around your head and becomes clearer when you laugh.

You should do the rainforest video for Val and Andrew.

And take another look at the rock video.
Don’t forget to dedicate the ride
Design your own donate buttom- 333333 box with cut out text
For Cosumnes: So Sacramento county: here is where half a billion years worth of stored sunlight is converted into electrical energy so you can toast your bread. Everyone should know where their energy comes from.—see removal of energy map from IEA website
Upper corner for recent quotes—ideas brought in from the larger circle of experts, or good (bad) news.—stuff that will eventually loose at least part of its relevance and can be replaced—things you’re not responsible for, things you’ve been looking at or thinking about.


Explain in the further reading section that quotes pulled from these sources (as well as books and newspapers, appear in to upper left hand corner spot

? maybe it’s a place for external links with commentary
I noted that it was raining and almost decided not to go to the café to work. Then I remembered the forty hungry virgins waiting for me with their cunts open.
So I went.
Flirting with apples

Photo credits with initials at the bottom of each page:

All photographs this page: BT, except header: JM

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