Our Philosophy

Festina lente
-make haste...slowly

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Outlier Generation

Never was there a stranger time and place to live than the United States of America between 1940 and the present.  Failure to understand this simple sentence lies at the heart of most of the modern world's biggest problems and predicaments.  For obvious reasons, we've always called them the "baby boomers," but from now on I'm going to start referring to them as "the outlier generation," because, let's be honest, they're a pretty odd bunch.  Let me show you just HOW odd they are:

All things begin with energy, and so this discussion will too.  Between 1930 and 2005, a mere 75 years, roughly the average life expectancy of one human in the U.S.A. today, fully HALF of the planet's stores of fossil fuels were dug out of the ground and burnt.  Wait.  Back up for a second.  I know that must seem like a whole lot of black stuff at first glance, but let's break it down a little more thoroughly.  What we're talking about here is approximately half a billion years of ancient sunlight, fossilized solar power, laid down, submitted to the awesome span of geologic time and pressurized by an immeasurable overburden, until Earth's most stable, most portable, most energetically-dense resources emerged on the near side of the fossil fuel revolution about 300 years ago.  At least that's when we began learning how to put the stuff to work.  Although petroleum didn't really make its debut until about 1850, and didn't hit its stride, in return-on-investment (ROI) terms, for almost another century.  It was just peaking, just really coming into its own, when the baby boomers - er, that is, the outliers - got their first spankings.  This was the energy reality into which they were born.  History's greatest energy gift of all time was laid at their feet like so much gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

It's no wonder they think energy grows on trees.  Nor is it surprising that such opulence might foster the attitudes about energy so prevalent in their minds today.  No amount of monkeying around with amorphous silicon plates, giant wind turbines, hydro-electric dams, nuclear fission, ocean currents (please), hydrogen (snicker), ethanol (guffaw), or any other more or less esteemed member of the vaporware club, will EVER replace half a billion years of conveniently portable, and energetically super-dense ancient sunlight.  Not even close.  What it will do is give them a lot to chatter about, those monkeys, some poo to throw around in self-important ways, and lots of monkey biscuits for slick articles to be written about for publishing in slick monkey magazines.  That level of natural-born affluence makes for a helluva lot of hubris, and that's a character quality the outliers possess in spades.

So what's after energy?  Other natural resources?  Good.  Let's go there next.  Americans, lead by the outlier generation of course, "only" use 25% of the world's annual energy budget (that's 5% of the global population, mind you), but fully 1/3 of its natural resources and industrial product.  Apparently, energy isn't the ONLY thing that grows on trees.  Trees also grow on trees, and I guess they all belong to the outlier generation.  Which I suppose is OK; I mean, it's not like we need them for rain or oxygen or to prevent topsoil erosion or anything important like that.  How many of the world's houses do you figure this one generation owns?  I wonder.  You know, I'm going to go out on a limb and say roughly the same percentage as the amount of Earth's fossil fuels they feel entitled to.  Roughly half.  Half of all Earthling homes are owned by the outliers.  [I don't really care if I'm talking out of my backside at this point - my snarkiness is in free-range mode now and it has to fly.  Besides, I bet I'm not that far off...].  

What else?  Oh yeah, from my last post, rock phosphate is in terminal decline after 75 years of outlier amok-running.  There goes industrial ag!  Copper is all but gone in any sort of useful concentration outside of the recycling bin.  Iron ain't far behind.  Coal is currently peaking. There goes industrial everything else!  Fresh water is in red-line.  The very air is tainted and toxic.  Estuaries are dead and bloated.  So much for seafood!  I'm glad nobody outside the outlier generation likes lobster and crab, or tuna; that makes this less painful.  And what's left is priced so high that only they can afford it.  Which is good, because it all belongs to them, right?  Thousands upon thousands of the world's life forms have gone extinct during their tenure.  More humans are enslaved than ever before to bring them their pie at discount prices.  The list is exhausting.  I thought this would be a bright spot after energy.  Let's move on.

What's next?  We now see that fresh water is something we've been graciously afforded a whiff of by its owners.  Mmmm.  I liked it.  Water.  Shhh.  Don't tell the Californians that we have a little left here in Georgia.  Quick, change the subject!  How about food.  Food?  Nah, we're gonna need to convert it all to fuel for the masters' cars once the remaining garbage oil gets too hard to extract.  Too bad there's no actual net energy yield from the ethanol-making process.  Ah well, we can't be bothered with pedestrian interests like thermodynamics at this point!  To the moon!!  There's a lot of corn out there that hasn't realized its full potential yet.  Feeding 3rd world Gen Xers is hardly a noble vision when the outliers haven't quite attained their foot-propped Jetson's fantasy of full automation just yet.  Never mind the legions of unemployed that could really use one of those jobs they're still trying to automate.  They control the unemployment statistics, so it's not actually a problem.  On the upside, there'll be plenty of corn liquor to take our minds off things, available via nothing more complicated than a decent gas tank siphon, once we've fracked the last of the drinking-quality water into oblivion.  [I joke here, but the truly sad part is that another generation of water flushing toilet users would be all it takes to finish off that pesky fresh water business.  No, seriously.  Attention, Outlier grandparents, be sure to finish what you started!  Teach those grandkids how to waste precious resources appropriately!  We don't want future generations getting all uppity, thinking they can be Outliers too...]  I didn't actually get into the real crazy of the outliers' anomalous food traditions, but it's probably worth an entire post of its own anyway...

Whew.  OK.  We've covered the extreme anomalies of outlier existence in the realms of energy and natural resources, and water and food.  How about medicine?  Why not.  I'm an herbalist, like 99 out of 100 humans who came before me, and who will come after me, after the influence of the outlier generation has lost its luster.  Or feasibility.  Or mesmerizing effects.  Or corporate sponsorship.  However you want to look at it.  Look, we KNOW that using "silver bullet" medicine creates a favorable environment for microbial resistance to evolve rapidly.  Plant medicine does not.  We KNOW that dozens of diseases and infirmities are rampant today that were hardly a passing concern before the outlier generation.  Things like diabetes, especially Type II, cancer, heart disease, auto-immune dysfunction, autism, ADHD, BSE, AIDS, MRSA.  On and on and on.  Plant medicine didn't create these problems.  But plant medicine will eventually come to the rescue.  It's the only approach that can.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result, and the outliers are as crazy as they come.  They attempt to fix the problems of technology with more technology.  They attempt to ameliorate the modern world's mountain of medical problems with the same medicine that created them.  They generally assume that hard limits are a problem for shallow minds, and that simplicity can be bought and sold, and isn't it a cute fad?  And why not?  They've been able to buy any other solution they wanted.  It makes sense.  And it's not really their fault.  Winning the lottery at every turn has surprisingly predictable results.  Probably doesn't help their attitude to call them predictable, but hey, there it is.  They're very different from the rest of us.  They're outliers, by nurture, not by some flaw in their nature.  They lived during the most anomalous age in human history; they're bound to be different.  Unfortunately, they control the world's political machinery, its news media, its guns, and the lion's share of its property and money.  They can be whoever they want to be, through force and coercion.  

But they aren't completely resigned to their fate.  There are plenty of boomers out there who recognize the predicament of our age, who are hell-bent on being a real part of the solution, instead of perpetuating the problem that they had a big part in creating.  But those real solutions don't reside in Congress or the White House.  They don't respond to throwing good money after bad.  They don't come out of research universities.  They come from using less.  They come from slowing down and being still, not from traveling to poor countries to hand out medicine, or visit indigenous shamans.  They come from recognizing that business as usual is suicidal, homicidal really, considering that most of them will be dead and gone before the stuff really makes contact with the fan.  They came, they saw, they used it all up, and now they're doing their level best to figure out how to keep the carousel spinning.  And of course they did, and are.  We would have, and would be too, given the same circumstances.  But that wasn't our lot, and the rest of us will be left with the task of sorting through the rubble of the industrial age and trying to figure out what works and what doesn't.  

Most of what the Outliers think is normal will fall into the latter category.  I actually pity them.

Tripp out.


  1. Yikes! No wonder my ears were burn in this weekend. I got an image of the keyboard bouncing up and down as you typed.

    Seriously, a lot to comment on, but I do want to ask one question.

    What book(s) would you recommend for me to acquire to start studying herbal medicine? That is one area I have not made any steps toward yet. Being one of the boomers, I still have excellent health coverage, if not care, so it hasn't been high on my list. I know it is one more area of self sufficiency and better integration into the natural world, so need to start doing my homework. I am hoping there are texts that are as much science based as can be done with the minimal funding this area gets, as well as specific details on preparations, dosage, side effects, interactions, etc....


  2. You wouldn't be far off with your image of my keyboard bouncing up and down on my lap! I was in rare form, and out for blood. I just get tired of trying to convince the boomers I know that their experience of the world is, just, weird...

    Herb books: the introduction to Sally Fallon's "Nourishing Traditions" cookbook is as good a place to start as any. Authors to appreciate - Kiva Rose, Juliette de Bairacli Levy (an old European gypsy who really knew her stuff), Rosemary Gladstar (Juliette's American protege'), Michael Green - the Herbal Medicine Maker's Handbook.

    Stephen Harrod Buhner's new books "Herbal Antibiotics" and "Herbal Antivirals" are both top shelf, very scientific, and map the way out of antibiotic resistance. Highly recommended. Weird title, but his book "Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers" is pretty enlightening, too. Never expected that one.

    For newbies, the kids' book I use for my 6-10 year olds at school is REALLY good: "A Kid's Herb Book" by Leslie Tierra. My wife loves it too. Online check out LearningHerbs.com. You can get their weekly e-newsletter. We've also found their board game 'Wildcraft' to be a useful way to get familiar with a good introductory pharmacopoeia for common ailments. My school kids really enjoy playing it.

    As for side effects, that's not much of an issue with herbs since "side" effects arise from isolated "active" ingredients. When you leave your medicine in whole form the hundreds, or even thousands, of adjunct molecules buffer the toxic expressions of the so-called "side" effects pretty well. Leave it to modern industrial humans to take something basically harmless and turn it into something toxic...

    Best of luck on that beautiful road, Steve!

    Oh, and, just like Greer so graciously pointed out this week, an attack on a group of people is not an attack on any particular individual within that group, who may personally be quite wonderful!

  3. i am trying to figure out if i should take offense. not all boomers are like you say. some of us are not nor have we ever been.

  4. This post has understandably touched some nerves. It was meant to. And there is so much more I could've said. If you are a boomer who recognizes the bizarre outlying nature of your generation's experience of the world, then you are probably not my target audience. If you don't, you'll probably dismiss my words as the mad rantings of a young and disenfranchised loony. I should recognize these situations for the lose-lose scenario they are! Before I write them! And steer clear of such posts, and stick to more useful topics.

    If you feel offended, be offended. That's OK. But in my experience, some of the best changes in my life started at offended...just sayin. And the boomers need to recognize that they can't spend their way out of this one. The only useful responses are much more difficult than spending money, or voting. You think your life has been hard, boomers? Just imagine trying to make a better future for your children with only disintegrating social, structural, and ecological support mechanisms backing you up...