Friday, December 31, 2010

Nine Lives

The Leibowitz Society doesn't spend much time discussing firearms, for a variety of reasons.  First, this is an international effort, as the coming Dark Age will affect all nations, not just America, and small arms are not legal in every country.  Second, modern firearms and ammunition require the support of modern industry to make and maintain (black powder for flintlocks is much easier to manufacture than smokeless powder).  Third, the Leibowitz Society is not intended to be a classic "survivalist" initiative, where discussions about firearms and military tactics dominate to the point of often excluding all other topics -- are people trying to survive the coming upheavals or do they want to be their own paramilitary organization, anyway?  After all, in a gunfight, some people are going to win, some are going to lose, and even a "lucky" shot can kill the smartest, faster, most skilled and experienced person.  Finally, the notion of engaging in armed conflict with others defeats the purpose of preserving and reintroducing knowledge after a collapse.

That said, there is still going to be a real need for personal self-defense down the road as police agencies vanish due to loss of funding and any kind of organized civic government to maintain them.  Even Argentina, which teetered on the brink of collapse due to economic problems, but did not completely collapse, saw drastic spikes in crime and violence.  In America, the infamous Los Angeles Riots in 1992, and the aftermath of Katrina both showed that it doesn't take a lot to sweep aside any kind of organized law enforcement and leave private citizens vulnerable to violent attacks.  As always, the Leibowitz Society recommends that people obey the law when it comes to firearms and self-defense, because we are still in the phase where social survival is important as physical survival.

If people wish to purchase firearms for protection, there are a number of choices for people, from military-style semi-automatic rifles to shotguns to hunting rifles.  However, I think that the lessons of modern history are going to show that handguns are generally a far more useful tool most of the time.  They are much more easily carried than a rifle (imagine trying to repair your roof with an M1 slung over your shoulder), can be more easily concealed (provoking less anxiety when going to the open-air market), and are generally less threatening, as they are viewed as more of a defensive item (this, of course, depends on when/where you are -- a Glock might bring a lot of close scrutiny in an area where people wouldn't look twice at a deer rifle). 

There are a large variety of options for people who wish to use firearms for self-defense.  Much of what is available on the market is driven not only by normal engineering improvements, but also a search for the "magic bullet," marketing, changes public and law enforcement preferences and so on.  Examples of this include the ill-fated .41 Action Express and 10mm some two decades ago, and the .45 GAP in the modern day.  Even the now-established .40 Smith and Wesson was the result of a search for a newer, better cartridge.  Pistols themselves have changed, the dominance of the revolver eroding after World War 2 in most nations of the world, more recently in the United States, with modern semi-automatic pistols being generally preferred now.  People left searching for what to use are going to run into a sea of differing opinions, as well as sales people who want to move a particular type of product.

However, there is a relatively clear and logical choice for the best pistol caliber on the market these days, the 9mm Luger or Parabellum.  The 9mm was invented at the beginning of the 20th century for the German Luger pistol and become the dominant pistol cartridge within in a generation or so most places outside of America, which had its own dominant calibers, the .38 Special for revolvers and the .45 ACP in the M1911 pistol.  In fact, one of the most frequent discussions/debates over firearms has been the people who favor the 9mm versus the people who favor the .45.  The key argument often made by the people who back the .45 is that the .45 has a larger diameter bullet and a little more energy and is therefore the superior round.  Also cited is the reliability and proven track record of the M1911 design, although numerous pistol designs are now chambered in the .45 

While these arguments are seductive at first, they are not born out by real-world experience and studies of what actually happens in violent encounters.  The theme that shows up over and over is that the "big three" pistol cartridges -- the 9mmP, the .45 ACP and the .40 S&W offer little advantage over one another in terms of immediately stopping a violent attacker. Effective shot placement seems to generally be the most decisive factor, not how much power the cartridge delivers.  One real-world study showed that around 65% of the time, a single hit from a .45 ACP would stop an attacker, while the 9mm would do the same around 63% of the time, not much of a difference.  Only more powerful pistol cartridges -- the magnums, the 10mm, and so on, show any real improvement in stopping power.

This means that the real distinction in the rounds is the nature of the cartridges themselves, as well as their delivery systems.  The 9mm is widely produced, inexpensive and usually readily available, unlike the .40 S&W which is still not as common as the 9mm.  The cartridge itself is significantly smaller than the .45 ACP, meaning that it's possible to more easily design a pistol which can hold a large number of rounds, unlike the high-capacity .45 pistols, which tend to be very bulky and difficult to hold for people with small to medium-sized hands.  A graphic difference in this difference can be seen in the grip sizes of the Glock 26, a compact high-capacity 9mm pistol, versus the Glock 30, a compact high-capacity .45 ACP pistol.  Even if grip size isn't necessarily a consideration, remember that a high-capacity 9mm can hold up to 19 rounds with a magazine that's flush with the grip, while a high-capacity .45 will generally only hold up to 13 or so. 

What all this boils down to is that the best cartridge choice is that which offers more reasonable chances to stop an attacker.  Given that 9mm ammunition is readily available and generally inexpensive, and 9mm pistols usually hold more rounds than other calibers, and the common pistol calibers don't offer much difference in stopping power, it is the clear choice for what round to use for self-defense.  No one seriously wants to engage in a gun battle, especially in a time when medical treatment will be taking a giant step backwards, but if they are forced into such a desperate situation, it is better to have the most effective tool at hand than hoping for mercy or good fortune.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Optimal Action

(my apologies for the extended break -- I have found that reflecting too much on the cancerous collapse of our modern system begins to build up a toxic residue of thought and emotion to where it's necessary to step back from it for a few days and meditate on other things for a time...I advise everyone to do this now and then to avoid settling into a state of despair)

Modern life has been the antithesis of most of human history in a number of ways.  In truth, we have been able to successfully avoid being bound by many of the same rules of reality of our ancestors, as the largesse of modern civilization has allowed us to at times coast in our lives, knowing that there has been so much surplus wealth and resources accumulated that, until recently, it took almost conscious effort to starve to death in the United States.  Obviously, while conditions have been changing in recent years, there is still plenty of "the fat of the land" to live on. 

As we begin to move through the initial stages of collapse, however, we're going to see conditions change radically.  Most people are familiar with wilderness survival, especially the survival "reality" shows.  While they range from comical (Survivor) on one end, to serious (Dual Survival) on the other, one point which is often stressed is that there is no room for error when it comes to personal survival.  Misplaced priorities or actions which have no direct benefit to a person or group can cost valuable time, energy and supplies.  Simply put, as things get more "lean," there is less and less room for anything which doesn't directly benefit a person or group.

Some people may be familiar with Brian Tracy, the motivational writer.  One of his books, Focal Point, decribes a (possibly apocyphal) situation about a power plant that is having output problems.  An engineer is brought in to look at the problem, spends a day there and marks an X on a malfunctioning gauge.  The gist of Mr. Tracy's thesis is that we need to be able to find where to direct our efforts to do the most good.

Likewise, members of the Leibowitz Society need to start learning where and how to put their efforts as conditions in the modern world steadily worsen.  In response to this, I would like to present a concept called "Optimal Action."  Optimal Action is the idea that when we are in a siutation, we need to be able to make the best of our available choices in a logical manner that will have the least negative impact and most positive impact for our long-term survival.  An easy example is, if we are dehydrated and starving, and having a choice between food and water, choosing the water over the food, as it's more vital to immediate survival.  Obviously, there are going to be many situations that are less clear-cut than that.

While this seems like a logical thing to keep in mind, the problem we face is that as conditions worsen, we are going to find ourselves in situations of more and more stress, with limited time to respond and limited information on which to base that response.  We need to remember to keep focused on what is going to benefit us the most even as we are being pulled in many different directions. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Taking Measure

One thing that has been on my mind for a little while now is how can we best handle the subject of weights and measurements.  For example, it's possible to translate from a dead language to one that's in use, as was discussed earlier.  Measurements, however, need to have a literal, physical aspect to them that can't be conveyed in the written word.  For example, I can say that a foot is equal to an average man's foot in length.  Okay, great, what average man?  Obviously, it could be a little more closely approximated by taking a set of thirty men (for you stats buffs) and measuring their feet, but it would still only be approximate.

This leaves a few possibilities for handling the issue.  The first is to simply suggest that everyone have pound and kilogram measures and a foot/centimeter ruler stuck in their Repository someplace and forget about it (clearly, it would be important to store good quality weights and measures).  I haven't checked, but I think that it's reasonable that there are probably surplus weights available now that digital scales have become the norm. 

The second possibility is to determine a set of objects which are reasonably consistent in their weights and dimensions and use these as suggested "standards" which to go by.  For example, a quarter is around an inch in diameter.  Obviously, the big problem with this approach is the question of availability of the alternative standard for measurement.

Last is the notion that new standards of measurement may simply develop over time as civilization bottoms out and people begin to rebuild.  While this is the simplest solution, it would make translation of technical documents more difficult, if not impossible.  Whether or not this really matters is still up in the air, though I think it's likely that some form of industry will exist down the road, even if it's not nearly as ubiquitous as it is now. 

One other point I wanted to cover was the issue of metric vs. US customary measurements.  People feel strongly about both, and, having dealt extensively with both, I think both have their merits.  Metric is very good for scientific and technical measurements, but not nearly as representative of the real world as US customary is in dealing with real world measures.  For example, the end segment of the thumb is around an inch.  A man's foot is around a foot.  At the same time, trying to do math with inches, pounds or ounces is a pain in the neck, so for technical applications, metric has the lead with its decimal-based math.

Finally, the last consideration is that of the need to translate measurements when two different systems are in use.  Preferably, a trusted party would be available to calibrate scales and perform measurements if parties from different regions were attempting to engage in trade with each other, something that may become an issue as localized communites once again reach out to trade with each other.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Terror Time

(no, this is not about people deciding for some odd reason to blow themselves up)

Most of us tend to treat the arrival of winter with a relatively casual demeanor.  Sure, we may be inconvenienced by having to scrape off the car in the morning, or not like bundling up in warm clothes, or may find that our houses are a little draftier than we first thought.  Even the first big snows (for those who live where it does snow) is greeted with a little uncertainty, but after the first day or so, the roads are open again and we can be on our way.  On the other end of the spectrum, we look forward to holiday celebrations or being able to sit near a roaring fire.

All this, of course, is a relatively modern development.  In the past, things were drastically different and the approach of winter was heralded with dread.  For example, an old Celtic folk song called "The Terror Time" details the misery and plight of displaced crofters trying to find someplace to hole up and last out winter until there is work again in the spring.  Even if you had your own house, imagine huddling around a fire in the dead of winter, with little to do but last out the season and tend to the animals, hoping there would be enough food to hold everyone over until spring.

This should be a reminder that the modern world really is not prepared for the kind of weather we're now facing in  North America, if we suffer a serious disruption to our infrastructure as collapse goes on.  Modern homes are not designed to operate without electrical power to blow heated throughout a house and many, if not most, modern homes don't even have a fireplace or wood stove for warmth.  Really, many of us in winter live a little like astronauts -- we dress for the inevitable dash to the car, then from the car into a building.  If heating oil becomes scarcer or priced out of sight, if electrical production becomes less and less reliable, then what? 

The answer to the problem is, of course, to make sure that, if we are building new at some point, to plan to stay warm if the grid fails, by building partly underground or by using other principles.  This, of course, still leaves the question open of how most people are going to face winter if they are not properly prepared for it, which I think will be around ninety percent of the people in the industrial world.  Most people remember Maslow's hierarchy of basic needs, shelter being one of them, and it should be clear how far people would be from being able to meet them.  Unfortunately, I think that as we struggle to adjust to the reality of the coming Dark Age, winter is once again going to be the Terror Time for many, many people.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Road Map

Over the last couple of months, I've posted the seven categories of knowledge for the Leibowitz Society.  These are Agriculture, Medicine, Defense, Civil Engineering, Science, Culture and Politics (which I'm thinking about changing to "Civics").  The intent of defining these seven areas -- and the subcategories that comprise them -- is to begin building the "Codex Universalis" against them, as well as creating a set of categories for which to start storing whole written works in the "Respository." 

While I think the categories are well-defined and the listing is reasonably complete with regard to subcategories, I still need help from people as far as suggestions for what else needs to be included in these categories.  There has been some helpful feedback, when people suggested that permaculture be included as part of the agriculture category, but there hasn't been much said about the other categories. I have made sure that anonymous comments are enabled so that people who have something to say but are worried about others reactions to their participation will have nothing to worry about, too. 

On top of suggestions for how to improve the categories, I need help from people who are willing to volunteer some time to write the entries for the Codex Universalis.  Recall that the Codex is a survey-level guide to knowledge in this various content areas and is intended to be a compact guide and starting point into the Repository, as well as a standalone piece that is intended to help build stable communities and be a reference for individual members of the Society.  Most of the entries should be between 5 to 20 pages long, depending on the complexity of the category.  Each entry should not contain pictures or illustrations and should be as culture-independent as possible.  The entries should also not contain any copyrighted information and ideally would include information that could be attributed to a variety of sources.  While I could conceivably write all of these entries myself, it would take a long time and my intent is to have the Leibowitz Society materials available as soon as possible, given our ever-increasing rate of decline.  Once people start submitting materials, I will make them available as downloads somewhere there is free document storage.

The various subcategories map directly to categories of knowledge in the Repository as well.  I need suggestions from people on what to include in the categories (preferably linked to large, reputable sites where people can purchase the volumes directly).  For example, in the Culture category, I have seen a half dozen books in the stores on clearance which would work well to represent the history entry.  I will say that if a certain subject appeals to a person, then having more than one history volume is ideal.  In fact, multiple volumes on each of the subject areas as appropriate seems reasonable.

Folks, the news is not getting better out there and if you believe at all that we are on the edge of entering a new Dark Age -- even if you believe there is still the possibility of a way out -- then it is imperative to start taking these steps.  If we save personal supplies and are able to grow our own food, then we can subsist.  If we can save the knowledge and spread it to others, then we will have planted the seeds for all humanity to thrive once more after the winter.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Can-Do Optimism

(with apologies to the ghost of Voltaire for the pun)

Recently, in the comments, the topic of optimism came up, which set me to thinking for a bit.  I'm sure a number of people have been to "doomer" forums, where the constant refrain is "we are sooooo screwed!"  or some other variation.  Even the term "doomer" tends to carry a tone which implies near-helplessness in the face of bleak inevitability.  The general thinking is that there is little which can be done in the face of what is seeming to be an unstoppable perfect storm, a gathering of forces which will effectively destroy modern, orderly industrial civilization and leave us with a shell of our former existence.

There is some merit to the notion that we are effectively helpless to alter the course of events which are bringing us to the brink of collapse and a new Dark Age.  For example, the American debt is so vast that, eventually, the nation will be unable to even cover the interest payments on it.  Even confiscating all private money and taxing people all their income will do little to put a dent in it.  Peak oil, and the lack of a substitute for cheap energy is going to force a drastic adjustement in the life of the average person.  And so on. 

In this, I think there are two different types of people drawn to the idea that a new Dark Age is going to occur -- people who are naturally pessimistic and people who have taken a good, hard look at the current mess we're gettiing into and believe there's no realistic way out of it.  I fall into the latter category, myself.  I would prefer that our future wasn't likely going to be an inevitable collapse, but it doesn't seem there is anyone at the helm of the ship and the iceberg is rapidly approaching. 

This doesn't mean we have to be pessimistic, to be the mandatory "panicky idiot" (Simpsons reference) while we are trying to figure out a way to deal with these problems on a personal level.  Take "Dark Age" and substitute "cancer."  Would anyone want to be the person who ran around in public saying "I have cancer!  I am so screwed!"  No, there's no respect for a person who would take a personal struggle and react to it that way, so why do we take a social struggle and accept that kind of behavior and thinking?  Speaking in terms of survival stories from the modern day, it's always been the person who refused to accept defeat that managed to survive, while the person who accepted despair was the one who didn't make it (and possibly provided nutrition for the people who were more positive).

So, while it may seem a little odd to consider myself to be an optimist, I in turn look at things this way.  We can see the new Dark Age coming, even though we're still in the very early stages.  All the warning signs of the collapse of civilization -- overspent, overextended, lack of innovation, etc -- are there if we choose to see them for what they are.  This gives us time to reflect and prepare, to consider what we need to do and where we're going to be, both physically and mentally, as the lights go out.  This is a luxury that the people who are on a boat which has wrecked on a deserted island or have survived a crash landing on the frozen tundra don't have and we should be grateful for it.

To wrap up, I'll leave you with a quote from the late Mel Tappan, the "father" of modern survivalism.  Someone wrote a letter in response to one of his columns that essentially said "I don't want to live in the kind of world you're describing."  Mr. Tappan wrote back "I wouldn't want to die in it, myself."  That is where I think we all need to be.


A quick note -- I enabled anonymous comments the other day, not realizing that they were not enabled.  If posting gets out of hand, I can always disable them, but I appreciate that there are people who want to keep their participation in the Leibowitz Society anonymous for various reasons.  The more feedback and input we receive, the better formed and more useful the Codex and Repository down the road.  As always, thanks to those who participate in discussions.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


The last of the knowledge areas of the Leibowitz Society is Culture.  Culture basically seeks to save the best parts of the arts, the humanities, history, and so on.  It also attempts to give a starting point for maintaining some culture through the collapse, with the idea that we are more satisfied with our lives when we can find things that provide "actualization."

As with the section on Politics, there is some content which might be considered controversial, in particular religion.  People (incorrectly) try to make the argument that religion has been responsible for most wars in history (a careful study of the root causes of most wars will instead find that ambition of rulers or the ruling class has instigated most aggression).  Likewise, attempting to state that religion is used as a vehicle of oppression also ignores the reality that man will oppress man using whatever excuse is handy, the real purpose being to oppress.  Nontheless, religion has been a shaping cultural force in history and needs to be understood.

History is going to be in somewhat the same boat.  What history is emphasized?  Are people going to agree on certain parts of history and argue over others?  The prime example I see right now is the Bush camp and the Obama camp arguing over who was responsible for the current mess.  In reality, the seeds of America's collapse were likely planted decades before when America started to become first a colonial power, then a superpower/empire.  On top of that, are people going to ignore the history and culture of non-Western peoples and nations, reducing them to extras on the historical stage?

Last, people are obviously going to have their own preferences and biases when it comes to what materials to store in their Repository for culture.  Relevancy to our cultural history would probably be the most important factor (no, I don't particularly think that a trunkful of Lady Gaga items would be useful).  Some people might not like rock and some might not like classical, but both have been important musical forms.  Likewise, drama and fiction have also been influential.

As always, suggestions about what to include/exclude from this list are needed.

Religion and Spirituality
Music Theory and History
Constructing Musical Instruments
Art Technique, Materials and History
Physical Sports
Other Games (Card Games, Board Games, etc)
Holidays, Feasts, Celebrations
Children's Games

Survival Hacking

The Wikileaks controversy/scandal/nightmare has once again brought the term "hacker" back into the public discussion.  For a large number of people in the general public, the word "hacker" has connotations of the misuse of technology, usually for purposes of theft or digital vandalism.  However, other people who have known hackers have a more balanced view, realizing that there are a large number of people who are considered "hackers" that instead like to take existing technology and find ways of using it to do new things that the original designers never intended it to do.  These hackers are also often employed in various technical and academic fields and find that their experience with hacking helps them better understand the technology they work with, as well as providing value added benefits to their employers.

Hacking doesn't just extend to high-tech devices, but also to low-tech ones and situations as well, and several examples come to mind.  The first one is from watching Pair Survival, when Cody Lundin made a "canteen" out of a plastic bag and a hollowed out piece of wood.  Following this, there is the often-cited advice to carry a condom or two as a spare water container.  Next on the list is whoever thought to take surplus SKS bayonets and make tent pegs out of them (they're not going to break like flimsy plastic and can be driven into almost any kind of ground).  Finally, if anyone watched the second season of The Colony, the survivors rendered down rotten pigs to make ersatz diesel fuel.

While there are countless other examples, I wanted to use them to point out the difference between improvisation and "hacking," which is putting technology to a new use.  For example, if you don't have a rain poncho, and you have a garbage bag, it can be an improvised poncho.  This is basically substituting one thing for another thing of similar form and substance.  "Hacking," by contrast is taking something and thinking of a radically new and different use for it. 

As civilization moves into the next Dark Age, there are going to be plenty of pieces of technology available, but people will see them and not be able to think of uses for them.  If we are able to think like hackers, finding new and inventive ways to use what's just sitting around, then we are going to be one step ahead of the game of personal survival and better able to preserve and protect our accumulated knowledge.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Politics is a touchy area to consider.  Between this and religion, it's hard to say which starts more arguments, though I think politics is the clear winner these days.  While it's probably an idea which seems unusual at first, that of trying to define political structures in a time when few people are going to care much about them any longer, I think it's important to be have solid information on politics.  After all, if you don't know how to organize, at least along some basic principles, then how can you realistically expect there to be any attempt at trying to bring about orderly trade and stable communities?

Part of this is also to help try to understand why we're in the situation we're in.  For example, banking doesn't cover just the basic principles of banking, but also how it can go disastrously wrong, as in the last few years.  In essence, politics is as much an effort to study how and why these systems develop in order to provide a means for avoiding some of the traps they can create (think "excess nationalism"/"fascism") as they are any kind of blueprint for how to build a government.  However, people who somehow have a utopian vision of human civilization reasserting itself in peace once the collapse has come and gone are sadly mistaken -- even without saving knowledge about the development of political power and governments, I think it's realistic to assume that it would redevelop somehow.  The best option seems to be able to provide cautionary examples and some guidance on how to provide a safe and just society for those interested in implementing it.

Trade, Barter and Money
Civil Rights
Organization of Government
Market Economy and Forces
Supply and Demand
Diplomacy and Intercommunity Relations
Parlimentary Procedure
Criminal and Civil Damages
Class Structures and Conflict
Group Organization and Leadership

Yet More Living Arrangements

Winter seems to have come a little early to the nation this year, with much of America in the time-worn cliche of the "Deep Freeze."  The weathermen/women/eunuchs are happy to talk about snow and bitter cold, because it's bad news that people can't get yelled at for delivering.  I think that most people who work in the media have to bite their tongues from time to time when talking about economic recovery, crowded shopping malls, and so on.  With the exception of a half-hearted Black Friday, the malls and stores don't look all that busy from what I've seen.  A lot of shelves that would've been empty by now in years past are still mostly full.  People seem to be putting up fewer Christmas lights.  No one's giving holiday greetings.  While I prefer not to exercise conspiracy-minded thinking as part of the Leibowitz Society, I am suspicious of rosy sales figures in a time when close to twenty percent of the nation is either unemployed or working two or three minimum wage jobs to subsist.  Anyone who asks "Cui bono?" should look directly to politicians who don't want to have to explain away bad news, a media which is founded on advertising or stock traders who know people will shy away from throwing their money into a market that is built on quicksand.

Getting away from current-day commentary, I've been thinking lately about our housing patterns and where/how we'll live.  Suburbia is really not viable in the long-term as a dwelling place.  Consider that most subdivisions, for example, are as spread out as a small-to-medium size town, but not as logically structured.  Most small towns in the past grew organically outward, with workplaces logically located within a reasonable walk of dwelling places.  There was fresh water usually available centrally and the entire community was surrounded by agriculture lands.  In other words, using a comparison to the natural world, it was a complete social ecosystem with balance and interaction.

Modern-day suburbia is a complete contrast.  If a small town was an organic ecosystem existing in the wild, then the subdivision is the equivalent of a zoo -- people are packed at regular intervals into houses which are flimsy, require a lot of upkeep and energy to keep them maintained and occupiable.  While a lot has been made of this in recent years, I think it bears repeating.  For example, people really need to cars to exist in suburbia, because markets are not nearby.  Most people work the equivalent of half a day's walk from their homes.  The houses themselves are not designed to operate without electricity -- most require fan-blown warm air to be habitable.  There is no pump in the backyard for fresh water.  And so on. 

As we slip into the new Dark Age, it seems clear that living space is going to have to be considered.  People will be changing where/how they work, as well as what they are producing.  Many will be going back to mass labor-intensive agriculture, while some work as craftsmen and a few work as doctors, teachers, or other specialist occupations.  The old small towns still have many buildings that, while they may need repair, are still more habitable than the modern suburbs.  Think of them, if you will, as being hollow trees or caves in the forest that currently have no creature in them.  They are ready for people to move in, to fix them up, to make them home once more.  While I don't offer investment advice, I foresee a time when people start purchasing blocks of nearly-abandoned buildings in small towns, that have been forgotten in favor of vinyl and plywood shacks, and start creating viable living and business space out of them once more, not just for antique galleries or photo studios, but real stores and crafting facilities.

Friday, December 3, 2010

More Living Arrangements

I ran across the Tiny Houses concept the other day ( for the website).  It seems increasingly likely that large one-family multiple-bedroom houses are going to be a thing of the past, or at least out of the reach of most people, as time goes on.  Home loans are going to be harder to get and homes are going to need to be usable by larger numbers of people, both in terms of providing shelter for multiple generations or branches of a family, or for renting out to tenants in return for barter or whatever serves as currency.

The other option is to go small, as Jay Shafer has done with Tumbleweed Houses and built a business around it.  While the homes he builds are beautiful, they are expensive and probably beyond the reach of people who are strapped for cash as it is, but it does reflect an interesting trend moving back in the direction of taking up less in the way of resources and space.  In a time when fewer and fewer people have much, doesn't it make sense that our living arrangements would also reflect the need for less? 

Obviously, while there is still a glut of modern-style homes on the market, there's not a need for new construction, but as those homes wear out, burn down, are located in areas which are increasingly isolated from centers of commerce, it stands to reason that new construction will occur.  Of course, even if there are still modern-style homes available in areas close to commerce, there remains the issue that they are getting more and more out of the reach of many people.

The other option is for people to look at providing unconventional shelter.  After all, if we consider what we really NEED, as opposed to what we WANT, in terms of a house/home, then we can considerably narrow down what is going to fit the bill.  It boils down to having a place to get in out of the elements, sleep warmly and safely, possibly with space to bathe or prepare food, maybe storage for a few essentials.  Alternative homebuilding techniques, using materials that others might see as "junk," or are readily available, is one choice.  With some manual labor and minimal resources, it's possible to construct a decent, liveable home.

Another possibility that someone mentioned to me a while back was to purchase a storage shed and use this as a home.  Obviously, it wouldn't be up to code as a dwelling, but as fewer and fewer people care about those regulations, it may be a possibility for some.  Most of those buildings need insulation in even temperate areas, possibly a couple of small windows for light, etc.  Any provision for heat is going to have to be carefully considered for safety reasons, as are sanitary considerations.  On the other hand, it would beat living in a tent or a box.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Living Arrangements

Not long ago, I met with my cousin, whom I hadn't seen for a couple of years.  We talked for a bit, catching up on family news and so on.  Our conversation turned toward employment, and how it was getting to be increasingly difficult to find meaningful employment with a humanities degree, how many of his friends and classmates were in the same boat, and so on.  Likewise, there was a headline in the last couple of days about there being 100,000 applicants for 1000 flight attendant jobs, a soberingly dispropotional response.  And, waiting in the wings, is the increasing number of "99ers" -- people who have run out of unemployment benefits.

As the world slowly sinks into a new dark age, it is clear that the most useful metaphor is "the bubble." We've seen the technology bubble burst in 2002, the housing bubble burst in 2008, the dollar bubble probably bursting in the next several months.  Lost in the cracks is the "standard of living bubble."  While is alluded to from time to time by apocalyptic writers and in shows like Downsized, the impending end of the consumer economy (and all the associated service jobs) are going to cause some serious changes in the expectations of people, as well as how they map out their future existence. 

One response to this has been for people to move back home to live with parents, or perhaps siblings or other relatives, when they can't find work, the work doesn't pay enough to support an independent existence, and so on.  This is fine for the moment, but what becomes of these people when their parents and relatives themselves find that they are in financial trouble, that the home is being foreclosed on, or one of the many traditional forms of wealth drain strikes?

There are three forms of living arrangements which I expect will emerge over the course of the coming years.  The first of these is likely going to be a greatly increased servant class.  As middle class wealth drains away, there are going to be people who have social backgrounds of good standing, but little in the way of family or friendship ties, nor will they have the means to obtain good employment, if it can be found.  Even minimum wage jobs may face fierce competition.  As a result, I expect that people who still have some means will be looking at the glut of labor in the nation and realizing that there are quite a few people who would be willing to be domestic servants in return for room, board and a small stipend.  While this may seem like a return to a demanding and harsh existence, consider that the alternative (starving in the cold) is going to be worse. 

The second, I believe, will be the emergence of clans as a social, economic and political structure.  While the traditional clan has largely been organized family groupings and common ancestry, I think the near-future equivalent will involve people who have a common social positioning, shared viewpoint, and so on.  Additionally, not all members would necessarily be related, as shared interests would at some point lead to social bonds that could be recognized to be as strong as what biological relatives share, if not stronger.  This type of arrangement will likely grow out of the need to establish some sort of mutual defense or order in an area, as well as simply banding together to be part of a larger bargaining/social unit.  Given that law enforcement funding has been on the decline, this type of arrangement seems inevitable.  Some of the advantages are sharing resources, a stable form of leadership in an area, and a sense of community which might not otherwise occur.  Obviously, disadvantages would exist, too, especially for those who were on the outside of a clan arrangement and looking in.

Last, I think that communes could be expected to grow in number and importance to people as they find a need to share resources, living space, and so on.  While I think communes might mimic some characteristics of clan arrangements, I expect that they will have looser ideological ties and will not be as rigid in terms of who belongs, who doesn't, and will likely not exert much social, political or economic influence outside of a very small area.  Far from being places for organized slacking, such as during the 60s, they will fill an important role for people who need to find some means of cooperative living.  As an aside, while monasteries somewhat mimic communal existence, they tend to be highly ideologically united and marked by a lifestyle of discipline.

Obviously, while we would like to continue living the lives which post-World War Two society has provided for us, the troubling economic times are going to force us to consider other ways of living and doing things.  While I don't necessarily consider these arrangements to be ideal, I think they are definitely going to evolve and become recognizeable components of human society once again as we descend into the new Dark Ages.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


The fifth knowledge area of the Leibowitz Society is Science.  The area of Science is the theoretical companion to Civil Engineering, covering everything from Biology to Meteorology to Physics and Genetics. 

Science has the potential to be a controversial subject area at some point.  Scientism, the idea that science can provide all answers to life's questions, or is the ultimate authority in all areas, is really no more welcome as a worldview than is dogmatic religious fundamentalism.  As Einstein said, "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind."  I think, in essence, what Einstein was attempting to say is that we cannot take a wholly irrational approach to matters, but that we also cannot take a singular approach to matters that also involve consideration beyond simple, objective analysis.  Obviously, we would not choose to consult a priest, rabbi, guru, etc, when it comes to particle physics, as these people do not normally study this field to any level of expertise.  At the same time, why would we consult a scientist on matters of philosophy, ethics, etc, when they also do not study these fields on a professional basis?

This aside, no one can look at the accomplishments and contributions of science to the development of the modern world, and the progress of humanity, and in turn argue that we should not study and preserve scientific materials with the intent of letting our descendants build on the works of our ancestors.  As always, suggestions on how to modify or improve this list are welcome.

Arithmetic (up to Algebra)
Mathematics (Algebra to Calculus)
Alternate Mathematics (linear math, binary trees, decision matrixes)
Time, Including Basic Estimation
Measures of Distance, Weight, etc.
Electrical Theory
Species Classification
Psychology and Personality Typing