Saturday, November 13, 2010

Searching Behavior

   Most of us are familiar with the psychological concept of "searching behavior," wherein a person who has experienced a recent loss of a close family member or friend will think they have seen a glimpse of that person in familiar places, or have heard their voice at some point.  In more profound cases, it can even extend to hallucinations of the dead person.  Sometimes, people become obsessed with thoughts of the deceased and may even look for them, based on these cues.

   Likewise, as human civilization enters a decline, then collapse, I would expect that many of us are going to experience a similar phenomenon.  We take clean, running water for granted.  We expect that we can have light and warmth at the flip of a switch.  We know that we can jump in our car, fill up with gas at the station and drive down to the local Starbucks for cup of hot coffee (I'm partial to Caffè Americano, myself).  The grocery, with a huge variety of food, and the doctor, with a huge variety of medical treatments, are close by, as well.  If we need to fix our house, building supplies are readily available.  If we're bored, there is plenty of entertainment to be had.  Movies, books, video games, sports, etc, are all available at the touch of a button.  If we want to go to a far-off place, there are highways and airplanes to take us there.  Finally, it is almost trivial to communicate with people, no matter where they're at -- cell phones and Email have made it instant and easy.

   On a conscious level, most people who are aware of the issues we are facing, and have begun to prepare for them, accept this reality of change and will be more able to adjust to it.  For those who are still thinking in terms of our current crisis being a temporary one, I expect it will be a rude awakening when they realize they cannot obtain food or fuel at any price (because there's simply none to be had), that the lights are not going to come on how many times they hit the switch and that they cannot call 911 for emergencies any longer.  (Jim Kuntler did a nice job of illustrating this sort of thinking when he wrote of the protagonist in A World Made By Hand leaving his radio and television on just in case the power would come on and stay on and there would be something to see)  Combine the stress of trying to live one's daily life in a world of increasing scarcity and uncertainty, along with the psychological reaction to searching for the ghost of a former, greater time and I tend to think that the important things which should be stored and remembered will be instead quickly forgotten.  Who has time for mathematics when they are grieving the loss of the world they knew?

   An even more profound sense of loss will come, I think, when people begin to realize that the systems and society that we have so carefully and thoughtfully built, and implemented over the last couple of hundred years, has completely fallen apart.  While we put faith in religious matters, we also have faith that there are people in business and government who are actively working to fix issues as they occur and that social stability will be a relative constant.  The events of the past few years have clearly shown that some politicians are willing to do risky things in order to keep the voting public happy, but beyond that, some problems are so fundamental and hard to see coming or understand that it is imposible to deal with them until it's too late.  It's easy to become angry at that point, and that is where much of the bitterness of some writers comes into play.  Humanity has done a terrible job of managing energy and resource in the last several decades.  We've gone from living in a world of progress, where scientists and inventors were the heroes, to living in a world of comfort, where actors and atheletes are the new royalty.  What will be the reaction when people realize those they have followed down a dead-end road of decadence have no more answers than they do?

   In any case, these are things that members of the Society should keep in mind as the world progresses into a new dark age.  It is fair to remember the past, but unfair to the future if we grieve for the past and forget the things which matter most.

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