Wednesday, January 12, 2011


A reader named Suzanne posted a comment earlier, but unfortunately, it looks like her comment was only copied to my Email and not posted, so I'll repost the link to her site, Friendly Aquaponics.  While I have only had time to skim the site, their approach looks quite interesting, especially to people who are exploring new models of food production in a post-collapse era. 

I ran across this site, Porta-Bote, this morning while checking my mail.  I don't know enough about the product to be able to speak for or against it, but the idea of having a boat which can break down into a small package for transportation and storage makes a lot of sense.  Having mobility across water can be invaluable, especially in an era where land travel may become increasingly more difficult due to a decaying infrastructure, etc.  It may also open opportunities for food gathering that are otherwise not available.

This is an interesting story about how the Fed's quantitative easing is actually done, along with an admission that it's basically a "Hail Mary" to try to alleviate the problems with the economy right now. 

Finally, I saw that LATOC's Breaking News section has been archived and no new content is being posted.  While Matt Savinar was a little hysterical when summarizing the articles (ie:  the jackass who blew through a 30 million dollar inheritance was classified as an example of people being forced to downsize due to the economy, not due to stupidity), he was a good aggregator for collapse-related news.  If anyone else knows of a site with similar content (lots of links to current news stories about collapse), I would like to know about it. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Well Done

A reader (whose name I will withhold to protect his privacy -- if you want to have this find attributed, please let me know) recently contacted me about a book that he had found among his things, called the Encyclopedia of Practical Receipts and Processes.  (find it here)  In short, this is a book from the 1870s which details a huge variety of chemical and industrial processes for all kinds of products from soap to electroplating.  In short, a snapshot of what pre-modern industrial technology was like.  (One caveat, of course, is to be sure to investigate the safety of any chemicals and processes before using them and to abide by all applicable laws)

Finding this kind of work is of great important to the purpose of the Leibowitz Society, for obvious reasons.  After the collapse, communities are not going to be able to pick up the phone and call the chemical supply house, or pharmacy or hardware store for the things they will need.  What new materials they have are going to have to be made by hand or possibly traded for, and it seems implausible to assume that there will always be the option to trade.
The primary intent of the Leibowitz Society has always been to store humanity's accumulated knowledge and use it to rebuild on the other side of what is increasingly seeming to be a certain collapse of the modern industrial world.  No one really knows what form rebuilding is going to take, nor if people will be any wiser or more moral once that rebuilding begins, or even if it would be possible to exceed or approximate what has been done in the last century and a half. 

At the same time, it's clear that once the dust has settled, people are still going to have a need to pick up the pieces and try to create a functional world, whatever form it takes.  A significant part of that is going to be works like this which allow people to have at least some idea what direction to take, even if there are many other gaps to be filled in.  Again, thanks to the reader who tipped me off to the existence of this historical work.

Monday, January 10, 2011

No One Need Apply

Last week's jobs report confirmed what a lot of people have felt on a gut level, that the various programs and packages which were designed to boost the economy and cut unemployment really aren't working as intended.  The unemployment rate is still very high and there is mention of "structural unemployment," even though this is disputed in the political circles.  Again, one's gut is the guide here -- if the economy has changed in such a way that the current level of unemployment is due to profound changes in the economy, then it's likely that we're seeing the birth of a new social class of permanently unemployed people.  The problem is not simply one of making a few tweaks to tax rates or changing trade policy, but instead a widespread lack of recognition that the economy itself is in such rough waters by now that anyone who falls over the side of the boat is likely lost. 

What is also unwritten is, if the current unemployment crisis is due to a mismatch of jobs and worker skills, do we reach a case where, no matter how good or diverse our skills are, that the jobs simply do not exist any longer?  In other words, if no jobs exist any longer, then everyone is going to be suffering from structural unemployment.  Part of the reason for this is the lack of hiring due to a lack of consumer spending, according to the official line.  Again, a little insight would probably suggest that this is likely to be a cascading cycle, where part of the consumer base reducing spending due to the inability to do anything more than survive leads to more unemployment and less spending by others as well. 

From the perspective of witnessing the arrival of the new Dark Age, this is just one more piece of evidence in the case for collapse.  High unemployment was a serious problem in ancient Rome, where slave labor displaced paid labor, and much time and energy was spent trying to deal with the social problems caused by the large class of the unemployed.  Likewise, as unemployment reaches historically high levels, the resources of the modern governments are going to be stretched even more in an attempt to try to deal with what is going to ultimately be an unsolvable problem -- having too many people and too little work for them.  This leaves national leaders with two unpalatable choices, either going broke in an attempt to provide a social safety net for steadily increasing numbers of unemployed, or face serious social instability as people no longer have even the barest guarantee of any kind of sustenance.

On a personal level, it's truly difficult to talk to a person who has been unemployed for an extended period of time, much like talking to a person who has a terminal disease.  You want to give them some sort of encouragement, a sign of hope, but the simple fact is, there are not many prospects for improving one's employment situation these days.  Even people who have jobs are simply trying to hold onto them and not find themselves out the door as their company downsizes yet again.

Given that the economy is probably not going to fundamentally improve, it's critical that we have some idea of how to deal with the situation on a personal or private basis, as part of our overall efforts to preserve and protect knowledge.  After all, if we're trying to fill our stomachs, then anything else takes a back seat.  I've written a bit (Living Arrangements) about what I think are three likely scenarios for some trends that are will occur due to changing social patterns, part of which will be caused by high unemployment.  However, to avoid being in this position, or suffering unduly from it, we need to plan ahead.

First, it's important that we do not look to our current employer, or even field of work, as being what we are going to be able to count on in the future.  There is simply too much uncertainty by this point to put all our eggs in one basket, be it an individual employer or one skill.  If we lose a paycheck, what then?  Do we have a plan in place or are we going to take unemployment and hope that the government checks don't bounce at some point down the road?

Second, we need to take a serious look at our own lives and determine if there are things we are doing which are wastefully expending resources that we could save for a future crisis.  I'm a big fan of recreation which is free, or costs next to nothing to do, for this reason, and shake my head when people engage in ultra-expensive hobbies such as automotive restoration.  Often, we can combine recreation with something which is also a way of creating a new source of income in a post-collapse world, such as brewing, sewing, building repair, intensive gardening, etc.

Third, we need to plan out a second skill or way of providing at least some income, especially in a society where the dollar (or euro) has ceased to exist.  What skills and goods can be traded without needing to go through some sort of financial system?  It may not provide a great living, but might be enough to either provide some food or fuel, or get a position working for someone who still has some resources.  It goes without saying that people should not necessarily be studying something which requires high technology to work, or a working power grid, or functional economy, etc. 

While we are entering a very rough period of human history, we at least have one thing going for us -- we understand what we are facing and can start readying ourselves for making the inevitable adjustments.  For people who still believe that currencies don't collapse, that empires don't end, the transition to a post-collapse economy will be even more vicious that it has been for those who are already in the limbo of unemployment.  We need to strive to make sure that we are able to provide for ourselves and those around us as we seek to preserve, protect and distribute knowledge.

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.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Feedback is an important concept in many systems.  Paraphrasing Wikipedia's definition, it's when past occurrence in a closed system will affect future occurences.  The example people are most familiar with is what happens when a speaker is placed too close to a microphone and there's an indescribable, ear-shattering noise.  Another less familiar example is the management of wildlife in an area.  If there are plentiful food resources available one year, then it's likely that animals that use those resouces will increase.  Unfortunately, what happens next is that the past events -- available food and an increase of animals -- puts a strain on the system, resulting in starvation and a reduction of population until the number of animals is roughly in line again with what the ecosystem can support.  In drastic cases, feedback can result in the destruction of a system, as the system becomes unsustainable.

Likewise, the global economy has become a closed system, subject to feedback as well.  Key to most discussions about the collapse is the availability of oil or other resources which power an energy-dependent economy.  Part of the root of the current economic crisis, in addition to the hollow housing bubble, was oil being nearly $150 a barrel, with an increase of gas prices to four or five dollars a gallon in many places.  At this price, economic activity drastically slows, as businesses find it more expensive to ship, more people have to spend a greater proportion of their income on fuel (especially people who live in rural areas which are already often poor), and people simply shop less because they're less willing to go fill up their car to shop.  On top of this is all the cost which is past on due to higher delivery and production fees because of increased fuel prices.

The global economy has shown a few signs of stabilizing, if not recovering.  Now, oil is nearly a hundred dollars a barrel again, because there is increased demand.  So, what we now have is a feedback loop setting itself up -- oil price and consumption is a closed system, so therefore, when the economy is bad, oil prices are low because consumption is down.  After a time, because prices are down, people will be able to use cheaper oil to stimulate economy activity.  After a time, consumption will rise, the price of oil will go up, and we'll be back where we began.  So, in other words, the feedback loop of oil price is going to be another factor which limits any kind of rebound the global economy, showing that the "recovery" is going to be nothing but a figment in the minds of people who desperately want to reassure the public.  What this means is that the predictions made by "doomsayers" in years past are coming true and that we need to be mindful of the need to get ready for steadily worsening conditions.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Unhappy New Year

The turning of the year is a time for many things -- optimism, reflection, melancholy, a chance for renewal or regret.  Somewhere, hidden in all the messages that bombard us during this time of year, there is one unwritten one -- the assumption that things will be okay, that we'll be here again next year, once more drowning the unpleasant thoughts in bottles of cheap champagne or randomly mixed drinks that are only slightly less toxic than if they were made with antifreeze instead of Everclear. 

The problem with this message is that it's absurdly, completely, patently wrong.  There are many parties complicit in spreading the message -- the media who increasingly see their role as mood management of the public, the advertisers whose support the media depends on, the people in government who have no real idea how to steer us out of this mess, and most of all we the people who lie to ourselves about our rosy future and how people are looking out for our best interests, much like a women whose husband comes home at two in the morning smelling of gas station perfume tells herself he's really working late every night.

The simple fact is that we've basically run out of manuvering time and space.  Much like a plane that just lost an engine, is sinking slowly, and can't maintain altitude long enough to reach a runway, our modern global industrial civilization has become boxed into an envelope of increasingly shrinking options.  Our ability to steer our way out of the mess has vanished under a massive, international case of self-delusion and political paralysis, where the honest men who tell the truth are branded as fools and nutjobs, people to be laughed at instead of taken seriously when they deliver warning after warning about where we're headed.

We could have once corrected the course, but that time is past.  Even now, with the writing on the wall for our civilization, we can look at the next bizarre round of political infighting between the Republicans and Democrats that's about to occur, like two people wrestling for a silver-plated candleabra as the waves wash over the ballroom deck of the Titanic.  The real lesson to be learned from this is that there's no real chance for any meaningful change in the country, guiding things to a somewhat softer landing as we readjust to the new realities of living in a post-collapse world.  Instead, when we do hit, it'll be far harder and worse than anything people might've once expected or hoped for.

So, it's the time for New Years resolutions.  Instead of resolving to lose some of those holiday pounds, to quit smoking or whatever else comes to mind, I suggest an alternative -- resolve to start using the time, energy and resources we have now to prepare for what's coming down the road for us all.  Make sure we have a way of making a living that will survive the collapse.  Make sure we are able to protect our health when the system of modern medicine fails.  Make sure we have friends and family that we can depend on -- and let them know they can depend on us, even if the subject of collapse never comes up.  Get involved and give back to the community when you can.  Finally, resolve to keep preserving knowledge for the future age when humanity crawls out from the rubble and decides to take another crack at getting it right. 

Happy New Year, everyone.  Let's make the most of it.