Mentioning the Unmentionable

It’s raining outside as I type this, and after a stretch of very hot days here in the Northwest, a series of cool days have asserted themselves as if to provide notice that Fall is on the way. And it is; in just three weeks, the Fall Equinox will have arrived. The leaves are beginning to change color here and I notice more and more that plants—perhaps even people—are starting to look and feel a bit more ragged, as though worn out by the steady drumbeat of summer.

Myself, I’ve been canning the last few weeks. Tomato sauce and a variety of jams: nectarine lime, spiced nectarine, pear ginger. I just wrapped up a last few jars, taking care of four remaining nectarines that were puckering on my counter top. I didn’t bother with the water bath; those will simply go into the freezer and we’ll pull them out soon enough to smear on whatever appears handy. We’ve been eating a lot of toast here the last week or so, working on cleaning up all the half jars of jam scrapings inevitably left over once the batch has gone in the canner. I would have to say it’s one of my more favored clean up jobs.

Aside from the canning, I’ve been writing more of late. Not yet as much as I would like to be, but for those of you who haven’t yet noticed, I started a new blog on the Figuration Press website called Litterfall. My intent is for it to be a place for honest conversations about the tough future we face, with musings on peak oil, industrial decline, climate change, ecological degradation, and all the other forms of chaos we’re doing such a bang up job of creating for ourselves. However, while I have no intention of looking away from those consequences, I also plan to write with a very definite focus on some of the positive changes we still can make and the useful responses available to us as our various collective predicaments continue to play out. My introduction attempted to lay out the general ideas behind the blog and my intentions in writing it and, since then, I’ve written about the first two of three key realities I believe promise the United States a continuing era of decline.

I’m updating the blog with a new post every week on Monday nights. In the coming weeks and months, I plan to write about a variety of important subjects: the current, exhausted state of America; redefinitions of some key terms and assumptions bouncing around in our collective discourse; the concept that less can actually mean more; the relief of letting go; and the elegance of simplicity, along with quite a few other topics. We will be talking about hope, too, and about ways to redefine and reorient our expectations of the world. As noted, I want Litterfall to be a place of honest hope, in which we can converse about positive ways forward without deluding ourselves about the challenges ahead. I think that can be a tough line to walk at times and I know that I too often fail at that balance. I intend to strive mightily to get it right with this blog, and I hope that a good number of you will join me, join the conversation, and help me with the process. A good blog feeds and builds on its readers’ thoughts and feedback, so please join in.

Of course, the new blog is not all that’s happening in the world of Into the Ruins and Figuration Press. I also am in the early stages of getting together the third issue, which is (hopefully) coming fast. As such, I want to once again put out a call for letters to the editor for this new issue, but with an extra prod for you all: a question to get the conversation started. As always, I encourage feedback on the previously-published issues, as well as musings and considerations brought to mind by the stories and editorial content contained within. I also encourage recommendations of good deindustrial science fiction. But I also would like to spur a bit of conversation and, being that the Presidential campaign is in full swing, I thought I might regale you all with a question concerning politics.

For sanity’s sake, though, there is one key ground rule for this conversation: please do your best not to mention or advocate for any of our current Presidential candidates. I realize that may seem odd and censorial, but I am far more interested in a discussion about issues than I am in a discussion about candidates—and I’m far more interested in a discussion that isn’t weighted down by the intensely emotional baggage of our current election. From what I’ve seen, it does not inspire much in the way of lively but grounded discussion about the myriad issues before us, and that’s exactly what I’m hoping for from this question. Specifically, I’m interested in a lively but respectful discussion about the myriad unmentionable issues troubling us as a nation.

And therein lies your question: What unmentionable and ignored issues would you like to see an American presidential candidate center their campaign upon? I’ll start off with a very easy example to help get the wheels turning. I would like to see a candidate for President run their campaign on the simple fact that we cannot continue to run our economy upon a paradigm of growth, and to speak about and advocate for a series of policies and changes that begin the process of reorienting ourselves toward a steady-state economy. That’s the sort of straightforward but unmentionable issue facing us that I’m talking about.

I want more of you all than just a sentence like that, though. I want a statement of the issue facing us and then one or more ways of responding that you would like to see advocated. The focus can be tight and detailed, burrowing into one very specific or smaller issue facing us, or it can be much broader with a series of currently-unspeakable principles enumerated. It can be more policy-oriented or more principle-oriented, so long as there is a depth and clarity to the principle rather than a series of vague, feel-good statements. Finally, please focus on issues or principles that are not being spoken about currently on the national stage. If they intertwine or touch on issues being spoken about, that’s fine, but the most important issues facing us are, so far as I’m concerned, largely being ignored in our current national political discussion. It’s those ignored issues that I’m most interested in bringing to light. Therefore, the more off the beaten path you are, the more likely I am to consider your letter for publication.

There are two ways you can make your voice heard. The first option is to email it to me directly at The second option is to post it as a comment on this blog post. However, if your comment is meant for consideration as a published letter in Into the Ruins, please note that at the beginning. Otherwise, everyone is also welcome to post a comment of general discussion, not meant for the letters section.

Oh, and one last rule: you may write about controversial subjects (that’s in many ways the point) but I have no interest in putting through bigoted comments, even of groups that it’s currently okay to speak bigoted comments about in polite company. Therefore, no sweeping generalizations or rants about certain ethnicities, races, cultures, sexual orientations, genders, religions (including Christianity), etc. But also none about rural people, certain regions of the country, members of any particular political party, etc. You’re welcome to be controversial, but keep it kind and considerate and, most of all, focused on issues and policies. Note also that comments here are moderated, so be patient once you put yours through and I’ll get it published so long as it doesn’t violate the aforementioned rules, or otherwise is inappropriate or too off-topic.

Here’s hoping for a good conversation! (And don’t forget to join that other conversation over at Litterfall!)

15 thoughts on “Mentioning the Unmentionable

  1. There’s lots I want to say, but I’m currently typing one-handed while holding a sick cat to my shoulder with the other (my sympathies to all new parents – 8# for 3 hours is HARD!) I’ve linked to this blog and Litterfall from my blog… lots to think about here, and I’ll write more soon.


    1. Thank you for the links, Cathy! Hope your cat is feeling a bit better and that your muscles are a bit less sore. I’ll look forward to hearing some thoughts from you. No doubt they’ll be insightful.


  2. Hi Joel,
    Respects to you! Yes, the equinox will soon be upon us, but down here the flowers and trees are slowly emerging from their winter dormancy (not that the local stuff goes dormant over winter as it is really mild despite the occasional snowfall). Oh no! More required reading! I’ll check out your new blog and it is good to see you not shying away from the big issues. I have a letter for the editor too about: Growth in decline and what that means. Do you have a deadline for letters to the editor?


    1. Hi Chris,

      Apologies, but yes—more reading! I hope it’s reading you find you enjoy, assuming you actually are able to make time for it. You’re a very busy man, so no offense if not. 🙂

      I’d love to have another letter to the editor from you. No absolutely firm deadline, but I would have it to be no later than the end of the month if you want it included in the third issue–and a week or two earlier than that would be ideal. Of course, that’s assuming I stay on track with my deadline, which is not a definite at the moment.

      I hope you’re enjoying the slow emergence from winter. Frankly, I’m starting to look forward to heading into Fall. It sounds to me like a nice respite, though I have been enjoying the summer. I always tend to start feeling that way this time of year, though—I’m quite a fan of Fall, after all!


  3. I have heard that substantive change needs to be made to the Farm Bill, but not much specific, so here I go; We should stop subsidizing sugar, grains, soybeans and meat. We have a huge weight problem, and are seeing more health problems caused by malnutrition. Another problem with the current Farm Bill is that it is socialism for the wealthy. Instead of subsidizing agribusiness and sugar magnates, let’s get back to the original purpose of the Farm Bill and re-invigorate the family farm. The government can subsidize local fruit and vegetables instead of their friends in the pork industry(s).


    1. Thanks, Jmu! I agree wholeheartedly on the Farm Bill–generally speaking, it’s an utter disaster, and it’s helping to bring ruin to agriculture in this country. I’m aiming to write some posts on the local food movement at some point in the future, maybe a few months down the line, and I’ll likely be talking about some of the ways we might rebuild a healthy food system in this country while helping to rebuild rural economies at the same time.


  4. Hi, again –
    Thanks for the question; I’ve been thinking about it a lot. One unmentionable (perhaps even unseen) issue is that our society has moved faster and faster, like an out of control assembly line, and we are close to or beyond our capabilities to cope. The current pace of life is so much faster than even 20 years ago, and yet we never mention that as a root cause of 1)anxiety, 2) depression, 3) hostility toward others, 4) inability to grasp and think through the complexities of society. (Oh, yes – and substance abuse). I realize that eventually every generation says “it’s moving too fast”, but that’s probably true – part of our “progress” since the Industrial Revolution is pushing to do everything faster. Have we hit “peak speed”?

    When I think about the people working 2 or 3 jobs, I wonder how any of them can take enough time to investigate the claims of any candidate, let alone the serious new challenges we have in peak oil, climate change and natural resource depletion. Studies show people are losing their ability to read and digest long articles. People can’t keep from checking their tweets and emails, so they can’t hold a decent conversation (and some are required by bosses to be always on-call). So how will those on different political sides dialogue to find compromise? And some of the best non-profits I’ve worked for have, in the past 10 years, lost significant numbers of volunteers because those people are now overworked and can’t take extra time. And of course, people are getting sick from this level of hurry and constant vigilance – I haven’t checked to see if anyone is measuring, but the added stress has got to be costing millions in medical bills. And yet nowhere do I see any real calls to slow down, to push back against the relentless “efficiency campaigns” that push workers to work harder, faster, more mindlessly.

    The current “solution” seems to be to make it “faster and more efficient” to do certain things (like buying, primarily), but have we really looked at what we’ve chosen to sideline as we move toward more electronic communication, more complex (and vulnerable) “cloud” data, and “just in time” supply lines? What if the more sane response was to start calling for slower workplaces, less instant responses, more time together just chatting? Maybe even go back to one day “of rest” where all the stores are closed?? (Doesn’t have to be Sunday.) Some of this is pushing back against the vampire rich who want to suck us dry. But if we don’t acknowledge this as a root problem, the chances of a solution are slim.

    (I don’t mind if you want to put this in the next issue)
    PS – Really lucky I saved this before I tried to post – WordPress ate my comment in the confusion of trying to log on… more proof of what I was saying – it’s all gotten too d*mn complex! Instant communication; instantly vanished comment. 🙂


    1. Excellent, Cathy! Yep, I agree with all of this. I believe I already mentioned over on the other blog in response to you about how the lack of seasonality in most people’s work helps to eliminate the ability to think critically about one’s life and to, as a result, live one’s life better. Much of what you write here ties into that, as well. If people in this country actually had time to think, I imagine that could go a long way toward making things better all on its own.


    2. Also, glad your comment wasn’t eaten! I’ve had similar experiences and it can be very frustrating. I usually do a quick Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C now before I click any buttons, just in case. 🙂


  5. hi Joel et al
    A letter or blog spot, whatever you need.
    thanks again for a great read. I managed to read one section or story per day this time instead of wolfing the lot in on sitting! Jay`s story was particularly interesting to me as it indirectly touched upon one of the unmentionables I’ve been considering. Namely, how will the conflict between the rich, and powerful [ and their fellow travellers] and the rest of us, play out as the inevitable and various ‘peaks’ begin to bite and affect the economics underlying the current balance of power. [ I speak metaphorically ]
    The aspects explored in the off-centre media and blogsphere are usually that of the widening gap between the rich ..really rich, and the rest of us and the negative social effects that may occur. At one extreme the more radical preppers fully expect our police, armed forces, and the odd war band to turn on us while at the other end of the spectrum the green techies expect to see capitalism with a human face shine the light from their entrenched hill. Many of our current stories seem to be about small groups,usually families, or communities and their adaptations to their changing world and they are very useful in raising my awareness and suggesting ways we will adapt.
    I’m interested in how the western developed democracies [metaphoric again] will seek to use all the State Institutions, media, and the rule of law to stave off perceived threats to their vision of how the world should be. Already in some countries; to be in political opposition to a ruling party is to end up in court.
    Its not impossible that they might choose otherwise and only take one step back for every two forward taken.
    Spengler and Toynbee pointed the way here but suffer from their place in time. Or is it hubris to think its different for our time?
    If anyone knows of such stories, I’d appreciate to hear of them.
    thanks again
    Dennis Brown
    Emu Downs Australia


    1. Hi Dennis,

      Thank you for your comments! And apologies for my bit of a delay in replying. I’m playing some catch up tonight. I’m happy to hear you were able to parcel out the most recent issue, although I certainly hold no opposition to anyone tearing through it if that’s what they so desire!

      Your question is certainly an important and interesting one. Unfortunately, I don’t know that I have any clear answers on that, although I could probably hazard a few guesses with some time to think about it. They’d be as likely wrong as anything, of course. I think what’s interesting is that there are probably a wide variety of ways that people who so desire could seize quite a bit of power by doing some of the things that need to be done. Here in America, for instance, there are so many unspoken truths relating to our predicament–even if not always explicitly–that someone willing to utter a few of the more popular ones may just be able to clean up.

      I don’t know if it’s the same there in Australia, although from some of what I’ve heard from Chris, I suspect in many ways it is.

      Hmm. Perhaps I’ll think more on this issue . . .


  6. Hi joel. et al.
    With the amount of writing you seem to be doing of late I think a few days turnaround is pretty damm good …give yourself a break!
    I agree there is a potential for someone to grasp the issues and speak to truth, but I think that it might be a case of the coin with two faces.
    Looking back at our recorded history and who gets to write it, I shudder to think of past experiences with the ‘Great Man’ [sic] theory of history playing out in our overcrowded and over-armed world.
    Yet …it is so seductive to think that ‘someone’ could make the call, enlighten and mobilize the huddled masses and lead us to …. ?
    That’s Caesars side of the coin and even the nice guys like Brutus waded through the blood of legions. I vividly recall Krishna telling Arjuna in the chariot of war, that all this killing, all this destruction is for the higher cause…aka as the big picture.
    Or maybe we are overdue for another Siddhartha, Ghandi or even a Messiah.
    That may sound flippant but I see such as part of healing that will have to occur in our world if we are to break out of the current insanities that have us entrapped and heading for Cathy’s ‘peak speed’.
    Of course there is also the ‘mudddling’ approach written of by Warren Johnson back in the seventies.
    I must confess I am rather taken with the notion of being saved by the comic hero instead of the tragic hero!
    But there’s the rub no?….out of our past comes the spectre of the bigman, the boss, the patron …Oh here we go again!
    Like many of you I see the dots mounting up and wonder if and when enough of us will join them up to see the reality of our situation. Out of the ashes of our ‘isms we may yet see what humans are capable of.
    On most days I can work to that and hope by example and talk people will have somewhere to turn to when they start looking for solutions. I think it was Milton Friedman who pointed out, that when people start looking for solutions they usually grab onto something thats exists rather than create a whole new paradigm.
    Well …two inches of rain tomorrow and I may have to bale out the potato trench …life goes on!


    1. I’m well past ready for this disaster of an election to be over at this point—though I do admittedly fear what comes after it. At the very least, let’s hope it’s not war with Russia, as we will lose that one badly.


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