Monday, December 19, 2011

Deep Kimchi

Every year about this time, we're treated a stoned-out montage of images from the past year, of celebrities who have died (can't think of any...did Amy Winehouse die this past year?), natural disasters (expect plenty of Japan and Fukushima here), various images of wars and other crap. I don't know, maybe it's a handy milestone for some people, a chance to encapsulate all the pointless things they were ignoring for the past solar orbital period.

I think the highlight of the reel this year will be the death of Kim Jong-Il, the man who has ruled over North Korea in a way that would make even Vlad Tepes a little uneasy. Therefore, expect the year-end montage to include images of America's Least Visible War (tm) -- Korea -- to dominate the cycle this go-round. Cause of death was a heart-related ailment. I'll let everyone speculate on their own about the nature, timing, and cause of it.

I've always wondered about the North Koreans, though, what their actual state of mind is. The North Korean broadcasters announcing his death were in tears, but are they crying because there is a soldier offstage with a loaded Makarov who may prove to be their harshest critic, or did they genuinely love the man and buy into the vision of the world which has been pomulgated in North Korea since the late 40s, of the God-hood of the Korean "Maximum Leaders?"

We would be tempted, living in the West, which has generally been free of such delusions since the Enlightenment, to suggest it is fear that keeps people in line and spouting such nonsense, but the Middle Eastern nations have been run by people no less brutal than Kim Jong-Il and have seen one uprising and coup after another since the Cold War. Clearly, some people take to the brainwashing a little better than others, but David Halberstam's The Coldest Winter does a good job at offering insights into the North Korean mindset at the time, and probably up to the current day. Poor, rural, once a great kingdom, but now sandwiched between the warring powers of Russia, China, and Japan (and also the United States, to some degree, now), it's not hard to see how the nation became what it is, after taking a different road from South Korea.

I'm not sure that North Korea isn't necessarily not a blueprint for the future in some cases, especially as modern civilization continues down the road to a new dark age. The siege mentality due to circumstances beyond anyone's control, the tendency to elevate a person to a semi-divine status if they cleverly position themselves as a "savior," ignorance of the wider world as isolation grow and communication breaks down, all seem like ingredients which might be far more common in the future than anyone might guess at the moment.


I want to take a brief moment to wish all of you a Happy Holiday, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, and so on. Whatever we are going to have to deal with in the future, and whatever the circumstances of our daily lives, we need to reflect and remember that we still have reasons to celebrate and things to find joy in, even in the commonplace. Take a few days off from thinking about where we're going and just appreciate where we are and where we've been. Hug your spouse and your kids. Give your dog or cat an extra scratch behind the ears. Enjoy the days. The best to all of you and your families this year.

Monday, December 12, 2011


There's a few items of note in the news lately. One is that Europe has basically recommitted itself to the idea of the European Union, while Britain has increasingly chosen to turn away from it. People are afraid that the job losses we've suffered are permanent. The Republicans cannot really define themselves as a party of opposition, and Obama cannot define himself as a president. Hollywood is tanking again (gas for the week or go to a movie? You decide). Modern industrial civilization seems to have finally lost its way, getting someplace, and not knowing whether to go forward or backward, all the while not understanding that it's on an iceberg that is slowly melting away.

All bets are off, anything is fair game, the ball's in play. These cliches sound good until you realize that apathy is the order of the day. Nothing's getting solved, nothing is being really analyzed. Or, if you want, it can be boiled down to "If you're looking for meaning in the world that has been built over the last hundred or so years, you're wasting your time." It's with this that I want to keep moving forward and exploring where we are going as a civilization and what we do after we get there.

There's been a lot of talk between a slow-crash scenario and a fast-crash scenario in the past, revolving much around what people's perceptions and attitudes are, as much as anything to do with what case is actually mostly likely to happen. We look at the somewhat linear graph of oil availability, point to a definite peak, and assume that since we've gradually built up to this point, that we'll gradually descend on the other side of the slope, giving up plenty of time to make adjustments and see ourselves through.

The problem with this hypothesis is that it shows an ignorance of the theory of complex systems. While I don't want to go to deeply into it, complexity theory generally tends to consist of an energy input into a closed system, such as oil into the system of human civilization. It's a little like running a current through a tube filled with neon gas. All of a sudden, everything is very bright. We also see spontaneous order, in terms of people aligning their economic activity as part of this system.

What is sometimes forgotten, and what is most important for this discussion, is the idea of "feedback." Feedback, in this case, tends to function as a self-correcting mechanism that tends to sustain the system longer than it would potentially otherwise persist. Short-term substitutes are found for oil, there are other ways of working around it, maybe nuclear or solar picks up some of the slack. Think of it as borrowing on credit cards to not only keep the party going, but to build it up bigger and better.

The problem with complex systems is that they also collapse suddenly. The classic example is a traffic jam which creates itself for no reason, leaves us stuck for half an hour, then suddenly dissipates. We drive by, expecting to see construction or a wreck, or something, but there's nothing. It just happened and then it just vanished. (If you want to be really philosophical about it, the same thing is said of the beginning and end of the universe.) So, while we expect that we might be able to see an orderly "powering down," I think the odds of this happening are much, much lower than the odds of seeing everything come to a grinding halt in relatively quick succession.

What this really means for people is that anyone who tends to think that there's plenty of time to figure things out as they happen may be in for a rude shock as people begin to rapidly unplug themselves from the "complex system" and start looking for other ways to get by. In other words, there would be negative feedback on a massive scale, as opposed to the positive feedback (in terms of sustaining the system) that we've seen for years.

A possible example might be with the airlines. Business slows, and ticket prices rise due to fuel costs, so air travel slows. A person working for an airline as a mechanic, for example, might see the writing on the wall and look for something else to make a living at. In turn, this reduces the number of people working on planes, driving up the price for maintenance for existing planes, making air travel even harder to do. More airlines go under, demand for surviving ones rises, putting the ticket price out of reach, etc. This ignores the possibility of cheaper competition jumping into the game, but the barrier to entry for an airline startup is very high, especially when lending has dramatically slowed and investment cash is scarce.

This thinking is obviously open for debate, but it should color how we view the future and how we expect that things may play out. Obviously, an orderly transition to a sustainable world would be best. However, when you've built on top of a house of cards, it's not likely you're going to be taking the stairs out the front door when the winds begin to blow.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Foundation

I've decided to get away from writing about current events for a time and return to the original purpose of this blog, which was to prepare for the coming collapse, not on a short-term basis, but on a long-term generational survival basis. There is always an awful temptation to get caught up in the matters of the day and treat them with the utmost importance. Sometimes, it feels like there is a collective desire among all people to be commentators and "armchair quarterbacks." The problem here is that it leads to putting far too much weight on even the most trivial of news items as people search for the "key" to find meaning in all of the noise out there.

The reality is that we have past history and future change occur as glacial shifts in human action and activity. For example, if you really look at the origin of the problems of modern Europe, they lie in the inheritance custom of the Franks and how the descendants of Charlmagne split his empire into three chunks. Likewise, our decision -- as a collective global human civilization -- to go down the path of letting rates of material consumption define our "success," has doomed any chance for carrying that civilization into the future. We worship things instead of ideas, pastimes such as sports over weighty things such as philosophy. Ignorance is a virtue and learning is a vice. Don't believe me? Try quoting Plato or try talking about quantum physics around a demographically average group of people. Farting loudly is usually far more acceptable in most circles.

But it is the fact that we have chosen poorly that will eventually destroy modern civilization. The seeds are already planted, it's built on shifting sands (cheap energy availability), and it's a matter of time before we see the supports truly taken away. The paradox is that the more we struggle to preserve it through war and spending, the quicker the end approaches. If people have just stumbled across this blog and are not convinced, there is plenty of information available to confirm this and doesn't need to really be discussed further here.

Now, the question is what do we really see as the future, once the modern world has exhausted itself and died? What foundation do we really want to build on? Science, before it became another politicized cultural weapon, offered a glimpse into a world where objective empirical thought would reign. Philosophy, likewise, before it became a tool of oppression, offered a chance to redefine ourselves through ideas and reason.

Maybe this isn't a question which can easily be answered, but I think one thing comes to mind -- beginning to understand that we are not isolated and that survival likely depends on reversing the trend of becoming more fragmented and individualized. At this time of year, people give to charity because it is something which is supported by religions, or they help out in soup kitchens and so on for the same reasons, and many people find great satisfaction in doing this. The reasons they give when asked "why?" are water-thin, however, and are usually a barrage of platitudes.

I tend to think that the real reason is that by helping another person, we are forming a connection to them, when our actions and thoughts are no longer oriented solely around ourselves, but become part of a larger community. We instinctively know that this makes sense, that we don't exist as a vacuum, but as part of a larger world. The isolated animal becomes sick and despairing. The isolated human becomes much the same way, even if that isolation is self-chosen and occurs while surrounded by millions of people.

Instead of becoming isolated, we need to understand that the times which are coming are going to require us to once again become more than just ourselves. I've written some on the importance of this, but I think it's more essential now than ever. I don't mean become part of a group -- groups are always about benefitting one or two at the cost of the many, but I mean, build bridges. Don't be afraid to get to know people or work with them. There will be a time soon when we must do this to survive and it's better to start now.