Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dark Thoughts on a Bright Morning

I'm suffering from cognitive dissonance. I log onto the web and read in the blogs of people like Dimitry Orlov, John Michael Greer, and James Howard Kunstler that we are already well into national collapse and that our economy will only get worse, much, much worse, never, ever to recover. Then I turn on the TV and everyone, from the President to the man-on-the-street, is talking about 'things getting back to normal' with the question being 'when,' not 'if.' I look outside the window and the world looks the same today as it did yesterday. I go to Wal-Mart and the shelves are stocked, people are buying, and we are still a nation of abundance. Kids are going off to college and getting degrees in public relations and business administration. The neighbor ladies are planning their shopping trips as if they were mini-vacations. Golf courses are selling memberships, Creekstone is selling multi-million dollar mansions, and the stock market is selling stocks. Have I bought into the insane ramblings of fringe kooks? I ask myself that question almost daily and every time the answer is the same: our whole economic model is based on an absurd fallacy of infinite growth in a finite world. We may be able to eke out a few more months, even possibly a few more years, of business-as-usual, but business-as-usual cannot last much longer. So it isn’t what the pundits are writing that convinces me, it is the truth as I see it. I admit to the possibility of being wrong, but until convinced otherwise, I must live within the parameters of this reality.

Why this obsession of mine? I am trying desperately to understand where we are and where we are headed so that I may make intelligent decisions in the here and now. Three questions remain – how bad will it get, how long do we have, and what can I/should I do? I don’t have the answer to any of these questions, but I spend an inordinate amount of time reading what others have to say and considering their take on things.

Dimitry Orlov uses the collapse of the Soviet Union as a model for what’s to come, but I think the differences are as important as the similarities and if he addresses those, I haven’t yet found it.

I believe the collapse of the United States will be worse than that of the Soviet Union for many reasons, the first of which is widespread gun ownership. In the USSR, guns were in the hands of trained professionals. These trained professionals, after the collapse, became a danger to society, but they were limited in number and they were for hire. In the US, guns are in the hands of petty thugs, organized crime, militant survivalists and AngryWhite Men. Cities will be hardest hit, but small towns won’t be immune. The bloodbath is likely to be horrific. In the beginning, I see the National Guard and local authorities being used as peace enforcers, but as collapse accelerates, they are as likely to become part of the problem as part of the solution. In cities, violence is likely to be random and chaotic in the beginning, but becoming more organized as time goes on. Thugs will form gangs, gangs will organize into competing Mafiosi, Angry White Men will shoot anyone who comes to the front door, and all the elements will be at odds. Sarajevo comes to mind. In the small towns, it may be just loonies who go on shooting sprees. But in some towns, there will be local thugs who band together to grab power and take control of dwindling resources. Angry White Men will stand in opposition. In some places, thugs will win. In others, they will be wiped out and Angry White Men will take control, which may or may not be any better. And in still others, coalitions will be formed. I don’t think national and state governments will disappear entirely, but I do think they will become increasingly irrelevant. Who ends up in control of the towns’ daily life and resources will depend on the comparative strength of local groups and their respective willingness to work together in peace.

Another reason the US will be worse off than the USSR is the old adage, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” The average American lives a life of much greater ease and prosperity than the average Soviet ever did. We have farther to fall, so the trauma will be that much greater. Adding to that is the American sense of entitlement and invulnerability – “it can’t happen here” is so basic a belief as to be almost unshakeable. The Russians, however, have a fatalistic mindset. They see life as struggle, and, indeed, their history has been one of constant struggle. So, not only will we have further to fall, we are psychologically ill-equipped to deal with harsh realities. Nor are we equipped to deal with the physical realities – public transportation is all but non-existent, supply chains are long, and farming has become, for the most part, agri-business. Rare is the family farm with horses and oxen or the blacksmith with fire and forge. The Soviet Union had not advanced so far as to have almost obliterated the old ways of doing things.

Moreover, the collapse of the Soviet Union was a rather isolated event. While their country was imploding, the rest of the world was going its merry way. It won’t be that way with the collapse of the US – in part due to a global economy that relies upon American consumerism and the American dollar, in part because the international web of finances binds our fates together, and in part because we share a common, fatally flawed economic model. The poor countries may fare the best – once we stop exploiting their resources to feed our insatiable appetite for stuff, they may have a chance to recover what they have lost. I hope they do. But it won’t be a collapse of the USA, it will be a global collapse with much more dire consequences.

The energy equation is also significant. Russia had enough oil and natural gas to supply not only its own needs, but to export in exchange for hard currencies. The US has no such luck. Not only is our own supply of cheap, abundant energy insufficient, but the global supply will soon become increasingly tight and expensive. As the shortfall becomes more and more apparent, the nations with oil are likely to begin hoarding it for their own use or selling it to the highest bidder. And when it is gone, it is gone. We’ll find some alternatives, but nothing will replace what we have squandered.

And lastly, the collapse of the Soviet Union occurred during a time of relative peace, prosperity, and climate stability. The collapse of the United States will occur during a time of potential resource wars, global poverty, and climate instability. Everything will be falling apart at once. Epidemics are likely to sweep across the world, natural catastrophes are likely to accelerate, and the food distribution chain is likely to disintegrate at a time when the world is not able to respond.

There are, however, some ways in which the US may fare better than our Soviet counterparts. For one, we are not an uneasy collection of conquered nations – we are truly a united people with a united fate. For another, our politicians are elected, not selected, and we do have more freedom than the average Soviet ever imagined. We have churches with a long tradition of reaching out to those in need, and we have a heritage of pioneering spirit. I watch Americans pull together to fight a flood, to rescue a community torn apart by tornado, or to comfort the victims of random violence. I see the upsurge in home gardening, the renewed interest in raising chickens and keeping bees, the inventiveness of earthships and alternative housing. I sense that there are great untapped resources in America just waiting to be unleashed. I think Americans, not all, but a significant number, will rise to the occasion in ways that will surprise everyone, myself included.

To be continued . . .


Theo_musher said...

Living in the future causes anxiety.

A lot of this stuff, from the people you are reading is just based on projections that may never come to pass.

The only think that really exists is the present moment. That's why the birds are outside chirping instead of worrying. Because they live in the present.

gaiasdaughter said...

Theo_musher, while I agree with you in principle, every moment of life involves choice. How do I choose wisely unless I take the future into account?

As I look at the world, I see the ways we have chosen to exploit our natural resources, the ways we have chosen to exploit one another, and the ways we have chosen to waste and squander the abundance we've been given. This way of life cannot be sustained indefinitely. While I realize the people I'm reading could be wrong, and I could be wrong, we do seem to be on a path to catastrophic change. And I believe we are so far down that path that avoiding the consequences of our choices is no longer possible. You know the cartoon where the coyote has run off the end of the cliff and is standing in mid-air, legs churning, not yet aware that he has no ground beneath him? I believe that is where we are. We are about to take a real tumble and there is nothing that will prevent it. But I also believe that where we will end up will be a much more real place than where we now are. I think we are headed toward lives where people do real things that matter and where the cycles of nature are respected and where every individual has something of importance to contribute. I just think the transition may be really rough.

As for the birds, we have laughing gulls where we live and I often find their laughter ironic. They seem to be mocking our busy, hectic ways. So I do try to bring myself into the present whenever my overworked imagination allows.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

Theo_musher said...

Well, I think those guys are wrong. Especially that Arch druid guy, he tends to talk in terms of the next 100 years. I think he should pray the the serenity prayer. Its not that there aren't serious environmental challenges ahead but also opportunity. Opportunity for the world to get better. More like a Garden.

But anyway, the world doesn't run like clockwork. There are all these humans running around with free will. No one can predict the choices everyone in the world will take, definately not 10 20 30-100 years from now.

Don't know if I ever heard a laughing gull. Sounds funny!

Theo_musher said...

You have a really good blog here btw.

gaiasdaughter said...


gaiasdaughter said...

"Well, I think those guys are wrong. Especially that Arch druid guy" -- that, by the way, is where I was headed next . . .