Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Brother Against Brother

As part of writing this blog, and researching much of the material which goes into it, I've had the opportunity and need to talk to a wide range of people with an equally wide range of opinions.  This includes people who either back the Tea Party viewpoint or the pro-Obama viewpoint. 

The thing which stands out in many of these discussions, is that there is no reconciliation between one viewpoint and another.  People on the right accuse people on the left of wanting to use government to oppress them and destroy them financially.  People on the left accuse people on the right of wanting to "take over" the system and trample freedom in the name of some hidden agenda.  The facts no longer matter, the notion that each side genuinely believes it is trying to do what is best for the nation, is lost on the other.  The hatred between each camp is palpable and is not decreasing.

Things like this get glossed over in the good times, when there's no real pressure and competition for how to distribute limited resources.  When everyone is fat and happy, there's no need to worry about who's fighting over scraps.  Now, however, with uneployment and despair reaching catastrophic levels, a president with no ability to lead the nation out of the mess, a congress which is paralyzed by partisanship and whoring after lobbyist dollars, the pressures are growing until the inevitable is going to happen, a spark of some sort, the first rock through a window, which is going to set off a spiral of violence until a de facto state of civil war exists.

The first American civil war came perilously close to tearing the nation apart and has had repercussions that have not stopped to the present day.  This was in a time and place when there was a giant western frontier for people to escape to and rebuild new lives in a place of plenty.  Now that there are no ready-to-exploit frontiers left, no safety valve for radicals of both sides, what is going to be the end result?  A nonstop grind of civil conflict until there is not one stone standing on top of another?

It is in times like these when knowledge is lost and ideas die, in favor of the daily struggle to survive.  Look at any of the "third world" nations wracked by civil wars in recent decades.  What is there except using food as a weapon, making homebuilt AK-47s in the basement, and getting high in between clashes in the streets between one "militia" and another?  Do we think that we're any more immune to this than any other nation or culture?

While it doesn't necessarily seem that civil war and collapse would necessarily intersect with the storing of knowledge for rebuilding in the distant future, consider that the Khmer Rouge made a habit of putting plastic bags over the heads of people who wore glasses or didn't have callouses on their hands.  Would a few bins of carefully packaged books be enough to condemn someone?  Even if that were not the case, do we expect that anything resembling a public library would survive civil upheaval, or would they be torn down and disposed of along with all other institutions, such as universities, that one faction or another saw as objectionable? 


  1. It's not 'left' & 'right' that would be fighting a civil war.

    It would be regular citizens against a tyrannical,fascist government. A government who employs goons that can't make it in private industry, goons that seek to enforce the propping up of the corrupt banker class.
    A banker class that will go to any lengths, any evil (e.g. 9/11) to retain power.

    That's what it comes down to.
    No need to get all cerebral about it.

  2. I don't think we are heading for another civil war, but I wouldn't be surprised to see something that looks alot like Mao's Cultural Revolution here during my lifetime.

    It has struck me that its gotten pretty much impossible to have a political discussion even with fairly intelligent, well meaning people because the whole notion that your opinions have to at least fit into a set of commonly agreed on, objective facts has been thrown out the window. Everyone, though this happens most often on the American right, has their own personal set of "facts" that they pull out of God knows where and use as a trump card in any argument. They simply won't listen when you point out that the "facts" they are using to prove their point are pretty much made up. Its gotten worse than discussions about religion. I've seen this plausibly blamed on popular acceptance of relativism, but it means that when someone starts talking about politics its seems better to let that person blather on until he or she runs out of steam, as opposed to engaging him or her.

  3. I think there's a contradiction of sorts in your post. On one hand, you expect civilization to come down, yet on the other you write as if there would be enough energy available for people to keep on driving around and fighting each other, and as if the Nation and national politics could survive a collapse of civilization.

    If you look closer to your surroundings, I think it becomes much more helpful to think of a) what any future economy in your area is likely to revolve around and b) who are going to try to take it over locally and to serve whom. What kind of material flows would you expect? What kind of rivalries would naturally arise? For a smaller place what centers would your local bosses serve and export to and for a bigger place, what would be your resource base.

    I'm sure there will be quite a lot of fighting, but even the DRC would probably look very different today without the mineral demands of the high-tech industry. Since you live in the US, the country will change from an overall big importer and general consumer to something else. Maybe the useful scraps will be exported, maybe some centers will keep on attracting imports of this and that kind, but the overall functioning will stop. People will lose interest in national politics insofar as national politics loses its relevance. There will be less to fight over and maybe more chances of being left alone, yet basic survival is going to be a huge challenge and a majority will not survive.

    If, on the other hand, the picture that you're painting is one of a very slow burn kind of crash, then why don't you do something about it, because not one of us humans is going to survive that type of attrition and that type of damage to the biosphere.

    There's no point in being generally anxious, especially over something you can't influence, or anxious between the lines. Be frank about what causes you anxiety and why, so you can plan against it or accept it and get over it. Find more important stuff to concentrate on than anxiety. If it's the left and the right as you see them today fighting each other to the death you fear, you can stop losing your sleep over that one. And if there ever is a cattle car you're supposed to get on, be mentally ready to never to allow yourself be led anywhere near it, whatever the immediate risk of doing otherwise may be.

  4. Hide your books, hide your intelligence, they rapin' e'erbody out here!

    I have books but I also have callouses, so I guess I'm ok.

  5. Shannon -- in a day and age when people are killed for wearing the wrong color t-shirt in some parts of a city, do you realistically think that people are going to behave any more rationally when food, energy, are growing scarce?

    Ed -- I absolutely agree. When there is no room for discourse (even if people disagree), then it starts being possible to dehumanize anyone who doesn't agree with one's positions. This is reflected in the whole right vs. left arguments lately, where each side tends to think of the other as being "thugs and trolls."

    Anonymous -- I'm not sure why you're spouting platitudes without going back and reading some of the early posts which define the Leibowitz Society, which is my effort to do something about what is more and more likely to be a coming collapse. Also, I don't make any assertions one way or the other about energy availability or the survival of the nation during civil conflict, but will only point out that the last civil war wasn't fought with the internal combustion engine, either.