Monday, July 2, 2012


One of the issues that confronts people grapping with how to prepare for the coming collapse and new Dark Age (or how to deal with it, now that it's here, depending on how you measure things), is when to make that jump from a citizen of the modern industrial world to a tribesman of the post-collapse, post-industrial world. Humans are binary thinkers, so it all-too-often becomes an "all or nothing" affair. In other words, people might stock up on some supplies, but continue living the SUV McMansion lifestyle. Or, they may sell off anything of value in the modern world and start raising their own free-range bean sprouts and using nothing more technological than a candle.

One reader recently pointed out that the real issues is "timing" when to go all-in with preparing for collapse. Others have pointed out that our collapse is gradual in nature, maybe taking a generation or more to complete (although, there are plenty of Black Swans flapping around all over the place to definitely wreak havoc with whatever plans we've made regarding collapse). It's really not a trivial question. If we don't match our efforts to the current reality, we are setting ourselves back in one direction or another. The person who refuses to accept the idea of collapse, or who waits too long to start dealing with it, is going to be living an obsolete lifetyle, while the person who jumps in with both feet at this point is risking losing access to resources that they would otherwise have been able to use.

My general rule of thumb in life is that you between two extremes, you can generally count on the middle interpretation to be right. For us, using that idea means that we accept the reality of looming collapse, but try to take advantage of what the industrial world still has to offer, with the recognition that it won't be around forever. This means that we have to start planning for the post-industrial world, as well as the role of our lives in it, and how we plan to adapt to it. While this may come on a slower pace than some expect, we're four years on into the first great upheavel related to Peak Oil and Peak Wealth, and the flow of good economic news like in years past has instead become a thin trickle of perpetual promises and little in the way of delivery on that hope.

While things look bleak at the cultural level, we can start adapting and making changes in our lives. People have kicked around the term "downshifting" before, and I think it's a nice metaphor for what we're doing at the end of the Peak Age. But the question always remains of how to define it and how to practice it.

Most activities in our lives can be categorized into things we have to do and things we want to do. While people may argue the point that we have to work (sometimes, quite successfully), most people reading this have or have had jobs at some point. A modern job is usually directly tied into the exploitation of surplus which has been the economic model of the world for the past two hundred or so years. Short of changing or abandoning our source of income, there's not a lot we can do to "downshift" in that area without being considerably creative. On the other hand, everything we do outside of work is a good candidate for reexamination into how we could begin to adapt our lives into a post-Peak age.

Sports is one area which comes readily to mind. Widespread, well-organized team sports are a child of the industrial age. The leisure time needed to play them, plus the manicured facilities and equipment, plus the accepted risk of debilitating injury, means that they are probably going to get increasingly scarce as times goes on. Other sports like golf require precision equipment and dedicated grounds to enjoy (although I can see "rough" golf persisting, like the way the game was originally played, the other point of downshifting is to prepare for the new Dark Age while still finding a niche for these activities in our daily lives). If we still want to participate in sports, what can we do to "downshift"? For the person who wants a more intense and physical activity, I would suggest participating in some form of martial arts or historical fencing. These skills are going to be useful down the road, and a person could conceivably be able to barter some teaching time in return for lodging, food, or other compensation (this was the case back in the Middle Ages and even earlier). If a person doesn't want the intense workout from martial arts, backpacking or hiking is basically golf without the fancy drivers and the drinking, usually costing a lot less and providing better exercise.

Food production is another area which comes to mind. People like to garden as a hobby, but how high are their energy inputs and are they gardening with the idea of transitioning to subsistence food production? Most people are going to be personally a lot more involved in agriculture, so practicing this now is a good idea, but do we do it in a realistic manner? Gardening is labor-intensive, but we can begin to use organically fertilized raised beds and other high-yd techniques to cut down on the labor or industrial tool input we would need. When we're growing plants, do we choose things which have good nutritional value or do we grow things on a whim? Are we practicing our food preservation techniques on the surplus? And do we practice seed saving instead of buying seed packets each spring?

Speaking of food, cooking is another area where we can downshift and begin to practice for a post-collapse world, while still living in the Peak Age. Do we know how to make cheese from excess milk? Or how to make wine or mead from excess honey and fruit? Are we familiar with how to smoke or salt meat to preserve it? And how to cook on a wood fire instead of a stove?

Reading comes to mind, too. We can choose both the content and the medium of what we read. The battery lifespan of a Kindle or Nook is limited, and won't run without power in any event. Downshifting here means going back to paper for our books. And what do we read, anyway? Techno-thrillers where the world is nearly saved by the last page, or books that will teach us how to prepare for the new Dark Age? And do we have books of quality that we can pass onto the next generation? (acid free paper, etc)

If we choose to watch TV, are we watching gossip programs and sports, or are we watching programs which will educate us?

When we think of purchasing firearms or bows, are we buying higher-tech items, or are we thinking about the long-term? Modern firearms are very complex and would be difficult to service or repair, plus ammunition will grow increasingly scarce (or simply become non-functional with age). Building and learning how to use flintlocks would be a good skill to have, plus these items can be passed down to the next generations. Likewise with bows -- do we buy compound bows or do we buy/learn how to make odler bow designs?

Housing also comes to mind. I've written previously about how ill-suited modern houses are to being used in a post-collapse world, plus they often come with an unusuable amount of ground. For people who are considering buying a home, building, or relocating, are we moving to someplace that will be untenable in the days ahead when the power grid eventually begins to fail, or is it someplace we will be relatively comfortable and self-sufficient in? Is there room to do some small-scale agriculture, and so on? For people who want to remodel, likewise, why not do it in a way that will serve you well when the lights go out and candles are the primary form of illumination?

There are some areas which absolutely cannot be translated to the coming collapse, and we just have to recognize that we are wasting time and money on them if we engage in them. Among them are video gaming (hard to run with the power off and I'm skeptical of arguments like "Fallout teaches me how to survive in a hostile world"), expensive vacations (going to Vegas, Europe, etc), wealth building through investments (the only safe investment these days seems to be hard goods like gold and silver and even these cannot be translated to useful items in a post-crash world), and collecting otherwise worthless items (stamps, baseball cards, etc). I'm sure readers could name several more complete wastes of time and resources, too. If we choose to engage in these, we have to do so knowing that we're not ever going to see a return on them.

Downshifting is a rational response to the changing world. When we do this, we're like the animal who is growing a thicker coat in response to cooling weather, or the tree whose leaves are changing colors. We know what's coming, and what we need to do to prepare for it, but we also recognize that we are still part of a different world, even if it's one which is coming to an end at some point, to be replaced with something completely different. We don't have to lose hope, but just have to recognize where we can make changes that will make sense for us in this generation and our children in the next.


  1. when you finish your downshift and look up, you will find yourself at the place that i call the muddle in the middle. we live in a quantum mechanical world and downshifting is a linear solution. i didn't understand this either until i did the work to build Existence - which is a guiding path - a play-by-life game of downshifting.

    Once i finished the theory, wrote the website and the book and got to the experiment of application, i realized that the surrounding humans were all pleased to look at what i had done and all accept credit for the little pieces that they helped to refine - but otherwise business as usual. I needed to self-publish and play the game one against many.

    After i downshifted, then i howdt shifted. i learned that there is no way to get there from here, we need a new weigh. we need a different game based on a new model. the new model is quantum mechanics and i am currently working on falling up. it is a different approach and i am creatively measuring the items i need to tell me whether it works or not. You are invited to play. (If we measure performance like sports do, we have a working tool for a meritocracy already at hand)

    To measure your score - go to the google analytics page of your blog - then go to stats. enjoy yourself looking around - there are some interesting pictures. Count the number of comments that you had this year from January to the end of June. This is a number that i use to measure. Also - where do your readers come from? top five.

    You can also give me the post counts - track them on a daily basis. Use a table - today - yesterday - month - historical - add one for time - use the military clock and record. I started measurement at the Zone in March - i have some very interesting analysis which is going into my book, as opposed to coming out at the zone.

    wow - i didn't mean to use a lot of your space, but this is the new media Howdtside Da Baax - we have to cross promote the thinking people and their words. JHK has the standard for reflectory participation right now, but that comes and goes depending on the relevance of what we have to say.

    thanks for pleighing my weigh. If my numbers are to be believed from the first runs, then the period for change will be an instant, not a long drawn out run. But keep thinking about the manifestations of the run, and it becomes self-fulfilling prophesy. We live in whatever whirled we choose to live - i like my world a lot right now.

    namaste' doc

    PS - will cross-post at the Zone - let's think about cooperative competition.

    1. I feel the need to put my speelycaptor in the jeejah and take a drives around, documenting the lives of the slines. ;)

      The implication has always been that the Dark Age is a time of anti-learning, but the point that people forget is the difference between the quantitative and the qualitative, or the empirical and the rational. Empiricism is energy-dependent, but rationality is bounded only by literally our mind and imagination. If we can process information, we can diassemble and reassemble it.

      Referring my first paragraph, I thought that Anathem was a brilliant work, not simply for the story, but because it was a defense of the practice of rationalism, not just rationalism itself. We may at some point lack the tools of scientific research, being denied them or simply losing them, but we don't need to revert intellectually, or even stand still.

    2. Read Anathem for the third time at the beginning of the year - would be nice to live in the mathic world. I have a place that may work as a monastery/work-shop.

      We need many more models to be able to work from. Stephenson is probably the 'go to' dude for Science Fiction - but there are some other that play with time very well. It almost seems like we have access to past time periods (via remote viewing - in a very different form than what most people think RV is?)

      there are a lot of interesting slines out there who have stories to tell - i wish to hear none of them. I like sue's theory - come sail away. Just think if a 13 year old had a chance to make it to sue's 'pirate' sailing school as a middle school/high school/lifestyle commitment. Camps based on adventure - with a real share of the booty (and risk).
      dagmar was the pirate that came to mind, swashbuckling and all. I wonder how we could turn the common idiocy into absolute fantasy. Beats a trip to Euro-less Europe.

      n' doc

    3. I'm about to reread Anathem again. Probably the finest speculative fiction written in the last decade.

      The medieval village seems to be the best model for the future that we have right now. Most villages were built around sustainable food production (though the concept was not in mind at the time), with perhaps one or two specialized industries represented (cloth making, for example). Trade was common and widespread, and few villages were truly self-sufficient in terms of higher material needs.

      I think some sort of monastery model will become the center of learning again -- the intense dedication to knowledge is an industry unto itself, but one with a value that is not necessarily comprehensible to the average person (which is why it's usually a sheltered and disciplined environment), although it should be remembered that many monasteries were relatively open in their dealings with the wider world, including owning considerable lands.

      When I hear "interesting," I'm often reminded of Fight Club and the "single serving friend" concept. Interesting to me implies an incorrect filtering of information, where all information becomes interesting, without regard to meaning or substance. "Oh, wow, you lost 300 lbs! How interesting!" What Sue posted, in contrast, is genuinely interesting and useful, not trivial. When we see the world through a lens of apparently unlimited energy and leisure, we can afford to take in everything, without regard to meaning, because it has no bearing on our existence.

  2. Interesting comments about organized sports! Obviously there were organized sports in Greek and Roman times, (the latter sometimes very rough sports!), and mostly for the enjoyment of the elites. Even after that, it was largely sports that were spin-off of war and important commercial activities: including transportation - horse sports, sailing and rowing.

    I highly recommend rowing and sailing as recreations. If you live near water, put your kids into sailing camp. (Especially the girls. The last thing we all need are more timid "pink princesses" with no skills and a fear of physical activity.)

    As a young woman I was intensely sceptical of organized sports - they all seemed pointless. A week at a community subsidized sailing camp got me hooked for life, though. (And you meet such interesting "characters" all of whom can actually make things and have travelled widely. Nothing like a cruising sailor for self-reliance...)

    Then I discovered rowing at age 50. The aspects that used to be called "character building" are in fact true, ability to cheerfully suffer discomfort (rain, heat, cold, pain), being reliable - to keep coming back to enable your team mates to row. And it's great exercise.

    I imagine that in the future, the so-called "forwarding trade" will arise again - the storing and transfer of goods from one type of transportation to another, water to cart, sailing vessel to canoe or horse pack, the logistics of past generations.

    The skills of navigation, piloting, chandlery, rope-making, rigging, boat making in general will all come back in demand. In the meantime, one can cater to the tastes of the elite recreational sailing and boating types and make a good living. Shipwright may be a dying trade, but it is a lucrative one...

    There are free or cheap courses with many rowing clubs (including dragon boat racing) and with the US and Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons that can get anyone started. And you can learn to swim with community programs in many do live near navigable water, don't you?

    1. I have been meaning to address water-borne transportation for some time. I'm amused to be reminded that the original "intermodal transportation" was a guy offloading crates and barrels from a barge onto a horse-drawn wagon.

      Water itself is an easy medium to traverse in some ways, and people have done their level best to use it as much as possible. When wind and muscle are the only practical option, they'll do so again.

      Canoes were popular in my neck of the woods for quite a few centuries now and are still popular exercise and recreation. I see them for sale all over the place, people who buy them with good intentions and then don't feel like using them. These days, they'd probably go for pennies on the dollar.

  3. I agree with most of this, however as someone who is planning a European vacation this summer, I wanted to say it's a "this might be my last chance to see these places as they are, pre-collapse-ish," sort of thing.

    I'm just hoping that the world remains propped up in the barely-stable anti-foundations of widespread illusions that have sustained it for the past decade or so, at least long enough to get back home... :-)


    1. Yeah. I think there are a decent number of people who are living in that one last gap, fin de siecle type of mindset. Every meal tastes a little bit better when you know that you may well never been in that place again. After all, people make up a bucket list when they think they're going to die (at least in the movies). What kind of bucket list do we have when we think our civilization is going to die?

      I think you'll be safe about getting back home. If not, I'd migrate my way to Ireland. :)

    2. I just got back from a trip to Great Britain and there is much to learn about downshifting in an older culture. The way of life in a pre-industrial society is well preserved and remnants of it continue in modern society there. You have practical examples in the architecture, the house boats traveling the rivers with locks systems, how small towns are physically organized, etc.

      Yes, international travel makes a lousy carbon footprint but it can be an amazing educational experience. After all, Britain was a functioning society in the "dark ages". You can also see the very beginnings of the industrial age and see how they fit the pieces together - things that were beneficial and other things that unleashed unintended consequences. They knew the power of a simple steam engine in transportation and production. These are things we need to understand.

      Plus, in the act of traveling you open yourself up to new possibilities. You see that folks do things differently than our country, and it works out! It is good practice in flexibility and adaptation. And you get to depend on the kindness of strangers!

    3. What has always been interesting in the contrast between America and England (and I suppose most of Europe) was that America was largely built in a time when transportation was beginning to be more powerful and far-ranging. Obviously, the area of the original colonies is a little different, but even there, you see the mindset of unlimited space and growth at work (by 1628, for example, population was already remarkably widespread in Virginia as the American Indians were pushed back).

      Life will eventually find an equilibrium after collapse, of course. The question is what form does it take and how far things fall before then. The transition period will be telling and difficult, as people are forced to make drastic changes like retrofitting modern buildings to support electricity-free living (consider not only no light, but also no running water).

      The "atomic lifestyle" and "nuclear family" is going to also be gone, as they were only a product of exponential resource use. People will go back to being part of a community, as survival will be very difficult otherwise.

      The adaption to this type of lifestyle is not going to be a peaceful transition (as in not easy or fun, not necessarily widely violent). One of the things that will be first to go in this change is the accumulated learning of the species over the last couple of thousand years -- too much of our information is now on electronic media and most people have lost any kind of historical sense, which is why it is essential to preserve knowledge now for when the dust settles.

  4. Sorry Leibowitz Society, but you haven't convinced Bruce to forgo his stuff-white-people-like trip to Europe.

    1. I think I'm speechless for the first time since I started this blog.

  5. A few points that I don't see addressed on either this blog or the survival/prepper blogs.

    1) alternative energy systems (e.g. solar panels, wind generators) feed into battery banks. The life span of a battery bank is approximately 5 years/500 moderately depleted cycles.
    Aside from the problematic nickel/Iron "Edison" batteries, one can't plan on long term 12 volt power being available. Darn, that rather limits an semblance of modern life.

    2) Politics. This collapse isn't happening in a political vacuum. The U.S. is fast becoming a fascist police state so as to protect & support the bankster elite & its minions. Likely it simply will not be possible to live undisturbed by government goons & cronies no matter how far off grid one is (the drones will find you and the tax collectors/regulators will show up). True, government might be hard pressed to muster the resources to maintain its former empire, but rest assured the core will squeeze the very last drop of blood from the periphery before it accepts any loss of control.

  6. The last comment by Anonymous on July 9th makes sense, though I can't gauge the speed of the political transition in the US. But if its in a fascist direction, what I find alarming is the global reach of the American government. Nowhere may be safe.

  7. Anonymous, I don't have the money for solar panels, wind generators or even a regular generator. Nor am I likely to invest in physical gold. But I have been prepping in terms of emergency survival.

    I've got propane heaters and cook stoves, battery-run radios and lights, lanterns, candles, blankets, etc. I also got a friend to teach me food canning, and I grow vegetable plants in pots on my deck. (I'm not physically able to do regular gardening.)

    Now as to other survival skills, I know how to spin, weave and dye wool, plus knit and crochet, so I could make my own clothes, but let me tell you, it's a lot of work. So is canning. Going back to the old pioneer ways is something not everyone will be willing to do. They're more likely to just steal what they want.

    The only reason civilization isn't falling apart faster is that governments are supplying food stamps, disability, social security, school lunches, unemployment, etc. The minute this stuff is cut back because of austerity, you will see TSHTF.

    1. sharon

      Propane heaters and stoves? Battery run gear (not even rechargeable)?
      That's your achilles heel.

      How long will your propane & batteries last, and then what? Do you have a 20 year supply of candles? A wood stove and access to wood. An outdoor solar oven perhaps?

      I say this not to alarm you but the fact is, about no one is able is live as a 9th (or even 18th) century person.

      No worries, chances are that the collapse will be gradual. Prepare best as you can, hope for the best.

      Life goes on regardless. Anyway, it's not like our individual timeframe is more than 80-90 years ... at the very most.

  8. I see your points about England to a degree. However living in Wales( the bumpy bit on the left hand side of England) the one thing that worries us enough leave the country( we are emigrating to new Zealand) is the simple fact that the UK cannot feed itself. The cities are so densely populated that without an oil based economy it will be impossible to transport enough food in even if we could grow it. This means by the second week or so of no oil the cities will empty. Wales has a very low population but we a barely a few days walk from some of the UKs largest cities. Birmingham alone contains more people that the whole of Wales. I have a woodland business and my brother is a farmer. We are prime targets for the walking dead as we call them( within a few months they will all be corpses). Even though as firearms license holder we are heavily armed by UK standards we would need an army to fend them off. We have bought a farm and are in the process of buying 900 acres of woodlands in the north part of south island. Even with the earthquakes the low population makes it very attractive. Not to mention high gun ownership, tons of wild game and best of all a poor road and train network. We already have family in the area and are trying to get the sale of my business completed asap. Fingers crossed the big euro collapse will hold off another couple of months!

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