Friday, January 7, 2011

Dealing with the Devil

As the modern world system slowly collapses under its own weight and a lack of will to make effective transitional changes, there is a lingering question of what is going to emerge on the other side to replace our current system of governance and authority.  This isn't an academic question -- as people struggle during and after a global collapse, there will be a scramble to try to find a stable position in a radically different sort of world.  There often seems to be an unwritten assumption that people will be able to live in a relatively autonomous state of existence, made possible by being relatively self-sufficient (growing their own food) and relatively able to defend themselves (having some rifles and ammo stored away).  After all, this was the case at least part of the time on the American frontier, which was itself a relatively authority-free place.

Building on this assumption is the idea of an "us vs. them" mentality, where people who aren't savory are going to either be shunned or disposed of outright as their base impulses outweight the "frontiersman's" tolerance of their existence.  In other words, part of the post-collapse existence is expected to be a removal of people from the earth because they are not the kind of people you'd invite to a backyard barbeque.  Unfortunately, I don't think the reality of the situation is going to be that simple.

For people who haven't yet read James Howard Kunstler's "A World Made by Hand," I strongly advise that those people purchase a copy and give it a read.  While people have differing opinions on the quality of the story (I personally thought it was a good read and finished it more quickly than I do most fiction), the genius of the book was, I believe, in how it represented the clash of five different possible emergent cultures in a new Dark Age -- the townies, the religious movement, the neo-feudal estate, gangters running a town, and the "outcasts" -- the people who ran the scavenger dump in town. 

While it's been a while since I've read the novel, the outcasts were the people who most closely embodied the trope of the "Mutant Zombie Biker" -- lawless people who tend to live violent, hedonic lifestyles and care little more than what's going to happen in the here and now.  Their form of entertainment includes drinking, drugs and live sex shows on a makeshift stage, as well as kids hammering out acoustic version of Metallica (with less skill that Apocalyptica, I would guess).  In effect, they had become a new culture, a modern tribe, if you will.

What was interesting in JHK's novel was the fact that the outcasts were also the same people who were able to provide nails and other building supplies, metal, spare parts, glass bottles, whatever, even if they lacked the technical skill to maintain and run internal combustion engines.  The great irony of course, was that society had cast off these people both as garbage and the garbage that occupied the dump, yet were now coming to depend on them.

This was a fictional example, of course, but it raises a good question -- at some point, as the collapse intensifies, are we going to be put into a situation where we are trying to preserve our ideological principles and social class orientation on one hand, and on the other hand, trying to do what we need to do to survive by being forced to interact with people we do not particularly care for?  The fact that we are going to see many new subcultures emerge, as the ability of the global media to maintain and propagate one cultural norm vanishes, means that this will no longer be an academic question, but one which needs careful examination as we slowly move forward into a new world.


  1. One of the good things about the area we live in is that we manage to ignore political, class and cultural divisions in order to help the local community. The Elks, the Grange, the New Agers, Veggies, Greenies, Republican Ladies Auxiliary and the Uppity Wimmen's all fund raise for the High School, Library or EMT service. It's rare in the U.S., but not dead yet.

  2. Humanity is far too self-centered, short-sighted and ignorant to continue for very much longer. We kill off species (by the way we live) at an astounding rate and don't even think about the consequences of our actions. It's all about "money" which, as we will shortly come to realize, is a fiction and means nothing. If most of us lived like the Amish we might have a chance at survival (they don't even use electricity), but for the great majority of humans we're on a collision course with the coming bottleneck and few will survive (in fact, life will become so hard that those that do survive may wish they hadn't).

  3. Its not that "the Amish" don't use electricity, indeed many do. As a function of their devotion to their heritage and piety they eschew elements of modernity that would propel their communities beyond their measured and purposeful lives. And in that is a lesson for those who become disheartened with nihilism. Focus on your purpose; we all have one.


  4. This is an interesting range of comments and I think somewhat of a barometer of where people stand on life, as well as the issue of collapse. I tend not to exactly be a "doomer," the way the second poster is. After all, the human race, depending on your scientific and religious orientation, has been around for quite some time and will probably be around for quite some time longer, even if we're forced to part with rapid transportation and central heat. The question is, once the collapse occurs, which direction do we as a species and culture take? Continuing the slide into barbarity that has been the trend for the 20th and 21st centuries or taking a step back and realizing that we're doing something wrong and that we need to rethink things in addition to crawling out from the rubble.

    From a practical perspective, we all face personal doom in just a few decades, give or take. Cancer or a burst blood vessel in our brains might speed that process up drastically. At the same time, many of us are also going to wonder exactly what legacy we are leaving to our descendants, even as we realize our own time on earth is limited. Much of the problem with where we're at in modern society is that on one hand, we forget that we are living on what our parents and grandparents built, and on the other hand, not realizing that we do have something of a responsibility to try to leave things better than we found them, if possible.

    This does lead into a long philosophical discussion, but I think it's probably a safe generalization to suggest that people know how they think on the subject one way or the other -- if they have hope, or if they don't have hope -- and that their views on the future are essentially determined by those thoughts, regardless of present circumstance.


  5. The problem with living by hand is that the basics require a lot of time and energy. Sure I could weave my own cloth, but it's a real pain in the ass in terms of making something wearable. I'd rather find a great bargain at a thrift shop.

    I also learned to can produce. So I tried a garden. I am, however, too arthritic to bend down and too distracted to tend the potted plants properly. It's easier to buy a ton of "seconds" at a farmers market instead. But the physical canning procedure, while not hard, takes many hours.

    What I'm trying to say is that this new trend back to pioneer living ain't so easy.