Monday, February 11, 2013

Edge of Reality

I won't spend much time commenting on the news, but wanted to mention the manhunt for Christopher Dorner. The whole episode itself is surreal, something lifted from the pages of a Hollywood screenplay, not necessarily entertaining, but still capable of capturing the attention of the nation. However, the deeper meaning is lost in the media shuffle. When a society begins to fail, events like this seem to become more commonplace, as the shared reality that people operate under begins to evaporate. In other words, when truth is sufficiently lacking, anything that was fiction can become reality. While Dorner will probably wind up cornered someplace, and will either be shot down by police or end up killing himself, the fact that this episode has happened in the first place means that there is a growing gap between what we know and expect, and what we're likely to see happen down the road. What's next? The collapse of the dollar under unprecedented debt? Another gross failure of technology like Fukushima or the Deepwater Horizon disaster? A state or states declaring independence? Whatever it is, we won't see it coming, and will be not be able to respond any more effectively to it than we have a rogue ex-cop who has decided to go out in a blaze of glory.

Instead, this week I wanted to focus on a couple of more practical topics. The first is the adjustment of our attitudes toward what is coming our way. This is a crucial step and one which seems to be lost in the fascination of people with the latest bad news, and personal attempts to "tread water." While this is something which lends itself to a lot of black comedy speculation, such as a person endlessly fiddling with a TV, trying to get it to come on, when the rest of their house is lit with torches, the point remains that people are clinging to a past which is increasingly vanishing. Structural unemployment is, of course, one example of this -- people who have lost jobs that will never return. Yes, arguments are made to the effect of "We don't have buggy whip manufacturers anymore," but this misses the point that there are no substitutes for the jobs that were lost. Quite literally, being out of work at this point means potentially never being able to work in a substantive job again. There are other things, too, such as increasing prices and increasing undercertainty that we are all facing.

This question has been addressed by a number of people, though.  One article which I thought was particularly good was posted by Dave Pollard a couple of years ago, entitled Ten Things To Do When You're Feeling Hopeless. While I don't have as pessimistic a view of the world as he does, I think there are some very good points here, starting with the argument against hope. Hope itself tends to be socially-acceptable daydreaming -- we hope that we will hit the lottery, while ignoring our own overspending. We hope that we can go on vacation, while ignoring that our roof needs to be fixed. And so on. In a way, Pollard's post reminds me a little of the Zen koan of "How does one become enlightened?" Answer: "Eat your dinner, then wash your bowl." Like most koans, this one needs to be taken in context (this was the daily practice of monks, so becoming enlightened was to live as a monk), but even the literal meaning serves us -- how do we adjust to the continuing collapse of society? By taking care of ourselves, those around us, and what little things we can in fact do to endure.

The other topic was that of sustaining ourselves. While quite a few readers are already aware of the need to be multi-dimensional in planning their food production, newer people may be getting introduced to this topic and settle on having a garden as a "buffer" against the inevitable disruptions in food supply. This is a noble idea, but the reality is that while most hobby gardens will produce fresh vegetables to give away to friends and neighbors, they will not provide complete nutrition. People need protein, pure and simple. The choice is to either suppment the gardening with raising some form of meat (rabbits or chickens), or to plan for a nutritionally-complete garden.  One good write up of how to do this was done by Jonathan Knight, detailing Albie Miles' work in trying to provide a complete diet for himself through gardening alone. While not an exciting diet, it apparently was enough to provide a sustainable calorie intake and presumably leave energy for doing other tasks.

I was interested to see this topic does seem to be filtering into the mainstream. While at a hardware store the other day, in between the books on landscaping and bath remodeling, there was one on self-sufficiency. In it was very practical advice on providing water, caring for animals, shelter, etc, all with what looked like a relatively low-tech approach. Maybe most of society is still concerned with the iGadget, but at least some people are minding a little. In time, dealing with reality is going to become unavoidable as we enter a new Dark Age.

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I would be interested to hear from readers about what topics they would like to see discussed in a blog post, if any. There is plenty of fertile ground out there and I expect that I've missed some things that people are curious about. Let me know via comment here and I'll get to them in a future post.

8 comments:

  1. Six years ago I wrote about entering a new era of enlightened capitalism. Sadly the time has passed without many lessons learned from the Wall Street Meltdown. And so my dire predictions have now been manifested. We needed to change the way the world does business from one of power, corruption and greed to purpose and profits with integrity. However, just like "greenwashing" , we are now witnessing "sustainability washing" and "ethical washing". A company says all the right things, but continues to do all the wrong things. Unless, Buddha is in the board room, nothing much will change. My writings can be found at www.buddhaspeaksbiz.blogspot.com

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    1. Unfortunately, corporations in many ways become sociopathic entities, because the single motivation is to survive and profit at the expense of everything else. This doesn't lead to a really great track record on long-term planning and sustainability. Worse, it's a "prisoner's dilemma" of risk from changing ways vs. trying to maximize profit. It's not true across the board, but often enough to basically result in a "tragedy of the commons" for the business world.

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  2. I have been watching, listening, reading, training, preparing for several years. The scary truth for me seems to be that no matter what you do... the Government, be it City,State,Federal, or local Township... wants to collectively make sure that their jobs,and existence continue at the slow but continual expense of your quality and ability of living. Backwards real estate taxation is one example (value goes down as taxes go up), I would like to think that if my family of 4 works hard enough...we could somehow feed ourselves, but if there are no jobs... then the County will eventually, unapologetically take my home. I think a complete governmental collapse is the only chance we have of surviving the new dark age.

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    1. Political organization will probably always exist. The idea of government will probably never cease to exist, even if it's very informal and very localized. Humans seem to be hardwired to accept at least some form of pack/tribal authority. That said, it's going to be interesting to see what role politics plays as it become increasingly clear that we are fatally stumbling, as a civilization.

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  3. What is scary to me is that I do not think our society will complex so much as step down, very gradually.

    This could be worse.

    While our resources are becoming scare when spread among billions around the globe trying to live suburban lifestyles, there is no reason the same amount of resources could not support centralized, large cities, for a very long time. Such cities could trade, and they could control the countryside.

    We tend to forget, there were great empires before the combustion engine, the Romans even had a sort of secret police. Hard to imagine secret police in a world without phones, computers, etc....but they existed.

    I really fear an ever more controlling gov't could continue to exist for some time.

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    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    2. "complex" should be "collapse." and "scare" should be "scarce"

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  4. From Robert (qslv)

    Cannabilism and the Zombie Apocalypse?

    Got your attention? LOL Should we be concerned about roving bands of starving people with no hunting or farming skills? Offer them a head of lettuce and a few carrots, perhaps a pot of squirrel stew?

    Food for thought.

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