As many of you know, I’m watching Foyle’s War, kind of the way I watch things these days: when I need to iron, or do something else that occupies the hands but not the eyes (much) or the mind (at all) I turn on a couple of episodes (thank heavens for Amazon prime. I remember being very much broke and not having cable – as we don’t now – and not being able to watch anything. With Amazon prime and the stuff free for kindle, I’d have had a much easier time of it.)
I’ve before talked about sudden insights, things I’ve known all along, but which suddenly seem fresh and new. Like “they didn’t know they were going to win.” It also started me reading about the World Wars again, which means eventually there will be some blogs related to that, but I need to be more “with it.”
Today is the first day I don’t feel I’m at least partly dead or about to fall asleep in… over a month. OTOH I forgot to bring my computer to the office, which is why this post is so late. (Don’t even ask.)
The most amazing thing of all, though, is that despite all the restrictions they lived under, the rationing, the coupon books, the collecting of every piece of scrap, most people lived as though the war weren’t happening. (I’ve often considered, too, that while the idea of rationing was completely wrong-headed economically and might have FED scarcity, it might have been the right thing to do PSYCHOLOGICALLY creating that sense of unity of purpose. I’ve also wondered if the problem was that after 9/11 we weren’t asked to plant victory gardens or buy war bonds, but simply to “go shopping.” Yes, I know it was sound in many ways, but it might have made a difference psychologically if people felt they were contributing. Or perhaps not.)
Of course the series is a mystery series, and there is usually something involving the war – because that’s how they sold it to the producers – but you sort of catch glimpses of people around, and you get the feeling most people were… what was it people were doing while Noah built the ark? They were marrying and being given in marriage, having babies, worrying about where to live. Even when the war affected all of those, it wasn’t the main concern. The main concern was everything else: who loved whom, who hated whom, what the crop was going to be, and why the kid was acting weird. All this without knowing if they’d win or lose, or what the next year (or month) would bring.
Right now, sometimes I feel as though this is what the whole world is doing around me. They’re making plans, getting comfy, settling down, fixing what’s wrong with their lives – or perhaps trying to survive unemployment, illness, other life stuff.
And then periodically I get together with a friend, or sit down with an old acquaintance and I hear how much more seriously they’re preparing. It’s all guns and canned food, and why am I still living in an urban area, have I gone nuts? And don’t I realize it’s time to set aside the writing/publishing thing and worry about preparing to survive the collapse.
And then I feel like it’s me who is going about every day life, unaware that there’s something big coming down the pike.
I am aware there is something big coming down the pike. I think even those who “aren’t” or who deny it, know it at some level. There is a … tense feeling in the air, and everyone is sitting on the edge of their chairs. There is a suspended-breath feel – waiting for the next shoe to drop.
The thing is that no one knows what the next shoe will be. A light sneaker? An army boot? A baby bootie?
Each of us has a mental image of disaster, mine formed by experiences (and books, and movies) and other people’s by THEIR experiences and books and movies.
The problem is no one knows. This has never happened before.
And before you start screaming at me, that of course it has happened before, that even recently the USSR folded like a pack of cards, that we know exactly what collapse looks like… sigh. No we don’t.
Oh, sure, we can look back to say the French revolution and see what happened when the leading power of the day got buried in deficit and went mad. We can look at the collapses in Argentina, and… everywhere else in the 20th century. But the parallels aren’t right.
If you go back far enough – the French revolution – you’re dealing with a completely different state of affairs, not just mentally but also at the economic/material level.
You see, America has changed the game, both ways. I remember hearing it mentioned that the USSR still commanded loyalty because peasants STILL lived better than under the Tzars. A similar thing was said here about Scandinavia and socialism. Their life improved. And the same could be said about Portugal under its strong-man regime. People can point to how poor Portugal was, but we thought we were rich. As a child, I always wore shoes, for instance, even if the summer “sandals” were the shoes that had stopped fitting in winter strategically cut. I had winter coats. We had coal delivered. I didn’t have to do what mom did and go, barefoot, along the train line, gleaning coal dropped by the trains. I got Christmas gifts, usually a variety of plastic stuff. It wasn’t just “we’ll have some fruit for desert and that’s how we know it’s a holiday.”
This was because things that started in America – including the improvements in agriculture, the new processes and new materials – allowed a level of prosperity that was still better than anything the world had known before. Even in countries doing their best to slit their own throats, the easier ways of producing things and the abundance of food made a difference. Things got better. (And everyone got used to thinking that was the way of the world. BTW I’m aware this process didn’t start with America. It started with Great Britain and the Industrial Revolution. But then the torch got passed and things accelerated.)
The other part of this – influencing all collapses in the 20th century – is that America tends to support other countries in trouble. This is a double edged blessing, btw. There is reason to wonder if the USSR would have survived nearly as long, with its dysfunctional regime, without the grain we were willing to provide at bargain basement prices… because we had it.
We don’t have an America to bail us out, and we don’t have an America to keep innovating as we collapse. We ARE America, and there is no one to pass the torch to.
Please, please, please, don’t tell me that Brazil or China stand ready… Brazil is in a pretty good place now, partly bolstered by our petro dollars, but let’s not kid ourselves. Until they fix their political culture, they’ll continue going through the boom and bust cycle in a way we can’t even imagine. As for China… China will not survive our collapse, and as it cracks it will show us what a crack up really means. All of those who are my age and were astonished that the USSR didn’t fight like a wounded bear as it died, might yet get to see this process.
By the time Great Britain started its self-inflicted decline, the US was already well on its way to moving into the lead industrially and agriculturally. There is no country in that position. There are countries that can pretend to be in that position, but not when you look at internals.
So, what will the collapse look like?
I don’t know. And you don’t either. All we know, because we can feel it, like sand grains shifting on a dune in the first movements of something that is not even fully visible, but which will suddenly remake the landscape, is that we’re already in the process of collapsing. For a definition of collapsing.
What I’m betting on, of course, is a collapse that collides full-on with the catastrophic innovation of tech. What this will look like is like an accelerated version of what we have right now, and, to an extent of what Portugal had in the seventies. The old ways and those in control of them at all levels – from education to production; from politics to news – will be collapsing but at the same time they’ll be each day less relevant, as they get replaced.
This is sort of – if you need a visual – like making a train into an airplane while it is running. It’s chaotic, very scary and not painless. Some people will get crushed as gears get moved, and some people will fall out by the wayside and die as the shell is changed. And some others will fall from great height, even, as the plane takes off.
Or, to leave the overstretched metaphor behind:
It won’t be pretty, and I advise to have prep stuff on hand – you know, guns and canned, and such. Whether to move to the city or rural is something else. Yes, I know what you guys hear – and the instinct to “go and hide.” But I’ve read accounts of Argentina’s collapse, and the worst stuff happened in the countryside, where isolated farmhouses were raided. If you were in the city, for the most part, you were all right. (Which I’d say was more likely if your city has military presence.)
But again, there is no way of KNOWING. All you can do is sort of guess and sort of prepare, and of course, ideally you’d have a town residence with a rural getaway, or vice versa, but not if you’re as broke as I am.
HOWEVER because you expect the new to emerge from the old, with preparing for the collapse of the old, for interruptions of supplies, for disruptions in electricity, etc, if you believe this is the sort of collapse that’s coming, you’ll be doing what you can to prepare your profession for the new order. In my case, this means getting as much as I can up electronic, so I might have at least some income should paper distribution collapse. I don’t know what it would be for your profession, but if I were a computer-person, I’d be trying to establish the ability to have different contracts on the side. (If your current employment contract allows it.) As we’ve spoken of before, what you should be trying for is as many and as varied streams of income as you can. If you’re a writer not making much, yet, married to someone in a traditional industry that’s going to get whacked, I urge you to do what I’m doing, and write like mad and put it up as much as you can, in as many genres as you can. (Though I’ll note, for me at least, bubblegum seems to sell best.)
I’m doing this because I don’t believe we’ll collapse totally. Can we? Well, sure. Again, as I said, we’ve never seen anything QUITE like what we’re starting on.
But here’s the thing – if we collapse totally… well… I can’t afford to buy a farm. I can’t afford to store enough food for the next fifty years. The best I can do is buy books on building log cabins and trapping animals, and supplying the kids with bows and arrows. Then if the unthinkable happens, we shall go and colonize the national forest. (No? Why not?) As long as I have some food to survive till a crop can be got in, well, it’s much like preparing for the catastrophic change – except that we never get to be civilized again and therefore all the ebooks count for nothing. Worth trying, anyway because you never know. And what else are you going to do if you’re not massively wealthy and able to prepare for the fall of civilization? Sit around knitting your total collapse blankie?
There is a third option, and for all I know it might be the most likely. It would be the most likely if we had an America to save us. It’s called the “modified hangout.” You slide and slide and slide, and there’s no ending to the slide. Africa has gone through this and Europe is heading into it (though we’re helping it by propping it up – yes, we’re still giving foreign aid to most of the world.) This is a world in which services become worse and worse starting with those the government provides, from supplemental income to mail to (where it does so) electricity. All of it becomes unreliable, untrustworthy, subject to the whims of bureaucrats and how much baksheesh you’re willing to pay. Every year is a little worse than the last. And you just… hang on.
At the end of this is the world of Heinlein’s Friday, with everyone in armored cars and people in guarded compounds, and the rest of it resembling what a total collapse would do, but crossed with the world of Mad Max.
I wouldn’t bet on this last one. It is unlikely. To get there, you need someone subsidizing you, because your society stops functioning long before this to the point where it keeps food and clothing available, much less keeping someone very wealthy. I don’t think America can keep itself on this path without outside help and – get this very carefully – there is no outside help.
At the same time, even if it happens, how do you prepare for it? Well, the best thing is to have some stuff laid by so you can protect yourself and yours and provide in case of shortages.
BUT most of all, the best thing is to be very wealthy and able to afford a private enclave.
My plan – though it’s unlikely it will bring me enough wealth – is to do exactly the same I would do in the first instances. Because if there’s any chance of my being wealthy it is to have a book (or more) hit.
So, right now, I’m very busy – which has the advantage of keeping me from fretting too much. (You should see me when I fret too much.)
The best thing to do when the rain starts falling and you don’t know if it’s just a severe shower or forty days and forty nights is build your ark.
Even if it’s just made of words and electrons.
Do go on with life — it might be important and your “peacetime activities” might yet be the most important thing in making the collapse non-permanent — but keep an eye on that rain. And prepare for any eventuality.