Okay, lately I keep running into people who say some variation of “we’re going to collapse” or “this will all have to collapse.”
Last night I realized when people say stuff like that, they’re coming from an entire mythology of collapse, that has absolutely nothing to do with the real world and everything to do with the ubiquitous messages of our entertainment, and the equality ubiquitous myths inherent in how our history is taught these days.
The messages of our entertainment should be self-explanatory. We are the most thoroughly entertained generation in hisotry. By which I mean we have more entertainment available, more hours of the day than anyone at any time in history. Even I, who grew up in a different time, with only radio and books available (and not as much as books are/were available here then) was massively entertained compared to my parents and grandparents.
What that means is that messages embedded in the entertainment we consume assume the power of reality to us. Well done story telling forms sort of false memories, which people have trouble distinguishing from real memories.
I suppose this was okay when the only storytelling were tribal traditions and epics. You want people to internalize this.
But then there is the extra added layer of visual entertainment. The reason I don’t get disappointed when movies murder my favorite books is that movies aren’t novels, in narrative scope. They are at best novellas, but really short stories.
Pride and Prejudice is a tiny novel by today’s standards, but it took a six hour series to do it justice.
What I’m getting at is that there are now ingrained shortcuts in our most common entertainment. There are things that everyone knows aren’t so but are used in the movies because it makes the narrative fit in the time we have. (Note, for instance, the way people fall in love with a single look. This happens in books too, because the real process is messy, confusing and often lengthy.)
Other things we watch that we also know aren’t so, or at least historians do are for instance that if oppression gets strong enough there is a revolution. This isn’t actually true. Most revolutions follow on a period of liberalization AFTER the real oppression.
But this is ingrained in both movies and the way history is taught in schools. Collapses are messy things; often leave no clear records. In addition, collapses are chaotic and almost impossible to teach unless you go on the micro level, which even when available is the province of serious researchers, not popular histories OR schoolrooms. So one gets “French society collapsed, and then Napoleon–”
This generates several myths, which are actually hurting the decision making people are doing RIGHT NOW.
1 Myth one — collapse creates a tabula rasa, upon which a completely different society can be built. Honestly, I think this comes from the teachings on the collapse of Rome and the truly execrable way the middle ages are taught.
First of all, once you poke closer, Rome only sort of collapsed. Depending on the place you lived in, your life might not have changed much between the end of the empire and the next few centuries. I come from a place where it’s more like Rome got a name change and went underground. In both the good and the bad, Portugal is still Rome, just Rome as you’d expect after 19 centuries of history or so.
Second the society that was rebuilt wasn’t brand new and tabula rasa but partook both of the empire and the incredible complexity of what happened during collapse.
Look, even before the renaissance there was a lot of Rome around, it was just twisted, bent, and modified in uncontrollable ways by the collapse. Which brings us to myth two.
Myth 2 – A well organized group with a vision can control the collapse and emerge from it on top, so they can create their perfect society.
This, curiously is a myth of both communists and Libertarians. I think the communists got it first and propagandized it very well, so the libertarians bought it.
No one can control a collapse. It would be like controlling an avalanche. There are two characteristics of collapse, both physical and societal: fragmentation and complexity. I.e. things break apart and therefore, within the pieces, they become very contradictory/conflicting/complex. What I was saying above. Some portions of the ancient Roman empire were Rome in all but name, but others were thoroughly taken over by the invaders, others yet reverted to pre-Roman patterns of culture and civilization and yet others were varying degrees of mixes. The state during collapse was incredibly more complex than before.
From the collapse, a more organized (and therefore simpler/less chaotic) society always emerges, but it tends to be, looking at history, a form of strong man government (perhaps because that’s inherent in human psychological evolution, proceeding from the way hominid bands organized.)
Neither the perfect egalitarian society nor the perfect individualist society emerges. Just some right bastard “brings order” and therefore creates the illusion he’s indispensable.
Which brings us to myth 3.
Myth 3 – collapse is complete and reverts to much, much earlier tech and society.
A lot of preppers seem to assume this, particularly in the States. I’ve nothing against preppers, and some of the stuff they do is on target, mind. But a lot of it makes me roll my eyes.
I’m not talking about the truly psychotic, who are looking up recipes to use on their neighbors after the collapse. Some of them might get away with that, but it says nothing about the state of society.
I’m talking about the people who say things like “I’ll be all right, I know how to spin my own cloth.” Or “I’m moving to a farm with 10 acres, I’ll just grow my own food.”
I know this is hard to conceptualize, but looking at recent collapses, say Venezuela or Argentina, or even Mexico (which is in many ways a failed state) not to mention the various grades of cluster fry in the Middle East, that’s NOT how collapses happen.
This is due to the chaotic nature of collapse. Unlike in the movies, or even the classroom, it doesn’t fold into an earlier, rougher order naturally.
Instead, it goes in patches and lurches.
Well, sure, that farm might come in handy, or at least you can have a market garden and take produce to the local market, or sell them on the black market, which will replace your job if you lost it. But don’t think yours are going to be the only produce or that people will be dying of starvation. In modern collapse, we don’t see famines. Apparently to engineer a modern famine you need a government. What we see, rather, are shortages because of distribution and disruption problems. So, your produce grown on that farm won’t be saving people from famine, but they might relieve their boredom from the month when there was only turnips in the markets. (Monorhimic supplies is something that socialists seem to generate everywhere.)
As for cloth, given today’s capacity for producing it, hand woven cloth is unlikely to become needed. There will still be factories making cloth, somewhere. Probably more lucrative to know how to do alterations on existing clothes, to compensate for those distribution problems.
But don’t expect the things you have to go away. They just become unreliable, sporadic and harder. So, you might only have electricity five hours a day, and you’d best have extra batteries for all your electronics and charge them all in that time. And if the water is likely to be erratic, you keep buckets of it around. And if toilet paper gets erratic, you need to resort to press releases by great leader and dispose of it without flushing.
There are business opportunities in every collapse too, and not the ones you’d expect. For instance, while typing the previous paragraph I thought “And within two months of erratic electricity beginning, we’d have someone marketing computer battery chargers, so you can charge laptop batteries without having them in the laptop. Probably chargers that can charge ten batteries at a time. And they’d become REALLY rich.”
It’s impossible to guess which skills will do well, so just concentrate on knowing how to do a lot of things.
Same thing with land. Collapse doesn’t necessarily favor rural locations. In Portugal the hard times prompted moves to the city, where stuff was more likely to be available, including jobs. And in Argentina, I understand isolated country properties were more vulnerable to raiders and home invaders, while in the city you were sort of kind of safe. And even in cities, people managed to grow market gardens, in balconies and backyards.
So — once you strip away the myths of collapse:
Collapse isn’t Santa Claus. Don’t count on it to give you what you want, unless what you want is some strongman with his foot on your neck. If it is, you have a pretty good chance of getting it.
Collapse is not simple, and doesn’t simplify options. It’s incredibly complex, scary and often lethal.
Collapse doesn’t regress to an earlier and simpler age. It might require some skills from that time, but mostly it just makes your life more confusing, complex and see above, scarier.
I understand the temptation to burn it all down. Things seem so irretrievably Tango Foxtrot that if it were possible to really burn it all down and start again, I’d be all for it.
But that’s not the way collapse happens, and if you set fire to what we have, what you end up with is burning patches you don’t want, perfectly all right portions you wanted burned, and those things that smolder and make further developments unstable, kind of like the scars of the French revolution burning beneath all the subsequent republics.
Does this mean it’s impossible to change? By no means. We have moved a lot away from progressive lunacy since the fifties or even the eighties. It starts with people not assuming the government is a sort of magical fairy. And I know what you’re going to tell me: people still assume that, a lot of them do, a lot more than ever before.
Well, that might be true, but only because we have a bigger population. The idea that a central government makes everything better is no longer THE de-facto idea of everyone and certainly not of anyone who is informed. Even statists try to work around the fact we can’t trust the government and everyone knows that. Or of course, in Obama’s case, he just yells at us for not trusting government. But he wouldn’t do that, if trusting government were the default position.
The big destruction and rebuilding is very tempting. It’s also a myth. It has never happened that way, and it never will.
Put down those matches and take up your hammer and nails. The only solution is to build under, build around, to teach, to learn, to change minds and hearts. The future must be built piecemeal. So… that’s what we’ll do.
It’s not fun. It’s not glamorous. It’s the only thing that can save us.
Screw your courage to the sticking place, and possess your soul in patience. And work.
Be not afraid.