The Myths of Collapse

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.

 

 

 

 

323 responses to “The Myths of Collapse

  1. I’d like to bring up another, scarier possibility: Collapse leading to/accompanied by contemporary warfare, using all that SCARY, SCARY SH*T we have invented in the last century, could lead to destruction on a scale from which recovery to a technological society is impossible – not necessarily because of the destruction itself, but because of the inability to re-engineer the earlier steps of building a technological society. Our foundations were laid a century ago out of near-surface fossil fuels and relatively easily accessible metals and minerals, which are largely gone. Now we obtain our fossil fuels through processes that require an extensive technological/industrial base to be in place already; e.g., fracking as opposed to pumping oil from much closer to the surface. Mining and refining are a lot more complex and difficult now – possible with our high technologies, but without a chance of being able to pull off without such tools What are the chances of simply having the lower rungs of the industrial ladder permanently broken, so that we can never climb back to our present level, or even the level of mid-century? (As is probably obvious, I’ve been thinking about this for some time. Maybe I’m an alarmist, pessimistic jerk, which I hope is true.) Discuss…

    • Note that we do have near-surface deposits of all kinds of useful materials: landfills. There are also petroleum deposits right underneath every gas station parking lot.

      There’s also the fact that knowledge is far more dispersed than it was in antiquity. The loss of the Library of Alexandria cost us innumerable works – and those are just the works we know we lost because of references in surviving works – but is there a publication in the Library of Congress – especially useful technical works – that isn’t duplicated in dozens or hundreds of other places?

      • You know, the Library of Alexandria is another one of those things caught up in the myths. There’s precious little evidence that it was kept up after the Roman conquest of Egypt, and no evidence at all that it survived until the time of its supposed destruction by Christians (late 4th c. AD) or Muslims (mid-7th c.). (Mike Flynn has a good series of articles on this.)

        However, the literary culture of classical antiquity did survive until the 7th century. Labour was cheap, copyists were readily available, and all the works that anybody actually wanted to read were widely distributed through the Roman Empire and its successor states. What killed that stone dead was the collapse of Mediterranean trade after the Arab invasions, which cut off the export of papyrus from Egypt. Parchment was much scarcer, so only the most important documents could be written – and unimportant documents were erased so the parchment could be reused. Hence the large number of ancient works that survived only in the form of palimpsests.

      • Note that we do have near-surface deposits of all kinds of useful materials: landfills. There are also petroleum deposits right underneath every gas station parking lot.

        Yes. A lot of “we’ve used up all the resources so we can’t recover after collapse” scenarios forget that mined and refined materials don’t just vanish into thin air; they are either recycled or are available for future recycling.

        Burned petrochemicals do literally disappear into thin air, but petrochemicals are by no means the only possible energy source — and we haven’t used up all the petrochemicals yet, by any means.

        The ubiquity of useful knowledge is also another reason why a loss of technology is improbable. Only some technology was lost at the fall of the Roman Empire — and less would have been loss had the Romans had printig presses.

        • I like this a lot, especially the point about printing presses. Stewart Brand’s project, the Library of the Long Now, would speed up the recovery from any realistic collapse scenario.

          • Another interesting project is found at the Open Source Ecology site:

            http://opensourceecology.org/

            Pay particular attention to the Global Village Construction Set. Something like this badly needs to be fully financed and developed, if only as a civilizational and technological equivalent to the Svalbard seed vaults…

        • And let’s not forget coal, uranium, and thorium. All energy sources if properly utilized.

          • If the economics change, everything changes – scarcity making petrochemicals less ubiquitous could theoretically (at very low probability) lead to the resurgence of flint-knife economics, but it’s much more likely that such a scarcity would lead to widespread fission-powered hydrogen cracking from seawater, and the synthesiing form hydrogen of suitable substitutes to feed into the petrchemical supply chain, with a side output of lots and lost of desalinated water.

            As Sara notes, the knowledge does not vanish – if a process ends up being less expensive under the new economic realities, absent counters like, say, antinuclear religious taboos from Future California’s New Green Overlords, such a technical solution will be at least be attempted.

    • I think the real problem is societal, not technological. I lack confidence in most contemporaries to have the grit and intelligence to salvage society.

      • RES, therein is the cause for hope. Given that *most* contemporaries lack the grit and intelligence to salvage society, that strongly implies that *some* do. And what is the basics of economics?

        Scarcity. That grit and intelligence suddenly becomes literally more valuable than gold. While I agree that most folks lack the grit and intelligence *now,* I believe we might be surprised at who picks up the burden of responsibility and carries it forward.

        People are lazy, generally speaking. But when it’s put up or shut up time, quite a lot of folks will fight to survive any way they can- and a good number of them may pick the *right* way. The one that gets us back on track again.

        • Free-range Oyster

          I’m reminded of Bill Whittle’s comments many moons ago about the Elect – those who will step up and do the right thing in a crisis, often unexpectedly, who often don’t even know themselves that they have the potential. You don’t know who they are until the opportunity arises and makes them known. I made particular note of it because I had seen it before… in a theological context, with a nearly identical definition and application. It was uncanny, and I’ve seen it happen over and over again in many places and ways. The best thing you can do is gather the awakened, strengthen and teach each other, and be ready to welcome the elect when they’re ready to join you. (That sounds a lot more mystical than I meant it, but I think y’all get the idea)

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      The issue is not resource scarcity. The issue is bad education and drug use pushing out good education and sober functionality.

      That scary, scary sh*t is expensive and overhyped. When used against a population, that stuff will leave survivors. You need to go in with infantry on the ground if you want to clean up those survivors. Any power that can still field such infantry has substantial technical capacity.

      Supposing that no such power exists at the end of the war, there will be survivors.

      What numbers? What kind of technical culture do they have? If engineers do their jobs well, the pre war environment can support a large clueless fraction of the population. The post war survivors come from the pre war population. Survival itself may select for competence, but it will not make engineers out of non-engineers. The fewer technically competent we have now, the less likely it will be that some surviving populations have the critical mass of technical competence.

      The correct mindset is not evenly distributed. Problem solvers tend to put themselves out of the way of foreseeable problems. Current environmental policy shows the dangers of angry clueless mobs wrecking stuff. As the population gets killed, the ability of unwise areas to impose rule on wiser areas decreases.

      • I think there’s enough people in technologically-advanced and semi-advanced industries with skills and a willingness to learn who will be able to begin the rebuilding, and the next generation will probably be given plenty of encouragement to learn to exceed their parents.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          I just had an urge to write someone post ‘collapse’ who grew up practicing a technology that is obsolete now that his area reconnected with areas that recovered much faster then his area’s planners anticipated.

        • Look at the hobbies – like steam powered engines. You can make a decent, albeit small, steam generator using a radiator and mirrors.
          A lot of hobbies will be very useful for picking things back up and getting on our feet again.

    • We might not do it the same, but we also wouldn’t HAVE to; we’d have a cheat sheet, so to speak.

    • ehh, we’ll just all hide in the Vaults.

    • Actually, there is extensive near surface coal not mined due to environmental considerations. Huge advances in mining reclamation were required for the eastern Wyoming coal boom of the past twenty years. The deposits were known but were so close they could only be strip mined and they would leave too much hole and not enough file.

      Also, some easily accessible deposits are not large enough to be worthwhile today.

      In a collapse scenario I suspect one or both of these issues might simply cease to exist.

  2. There’s a reason I say that anarchists just want to take the scenic route to feudalism.

    Part of the problem is the metaphor. In a real collapse there are only two forces at play: gravity and the resistive force of the structural members. That makes the collapse relatively simple and things like controlled demolition possible. But society has far more – and far more complex – forces acting on it, so getting society to collapse into the pile of rubble you want is impossible.

    • “Similarly, you wouldn’t have people avoid using refrigerators. If you’re limiting how much electricity you consume,…”

      Or you’ll just blow off using electric-powered refrigerators. Kerosene and gas-powered refrigerators exist, though they tend to be expensive currently. (Having just moved into our new home, which is only mostly finished externally, we got to price new appliances. And then got refurbished older stuff instead. The Dometic or Blizzard gear isn’t all that much out of line from more common domestic equivalents these days.)

      • Every so often I used to look at a neighbor’s catalogues and equipment lists for medical missionaries and others who need to have First-World stuff in third (or fourth) world places. There’s a lot of really neat equipment floating around, and clever ideas for jury-rigging “not perfect but its still working as of last week” solutions.

      • The judgement against Servel supposedly had them buying up old refrigerators and destroying them. Apparently surviving Servel gas refrigerators are popular in the Amish and Mennonite communities.

        The Dometic and German-made gas refrigerators are far outside my price range. I just need a cold box to put stuff in; I’m not making a “lifestyle statement.”

        Further investigation showed that ammonia-cycle refrigerators are DIY-able, and that such things are fairly common in the custom boat circles, where “refrigerator” might be “oddly-shaped box in otherwise-unused space.”

        When we move to the new house we’ll drag the old refrigerator with us, and then I’ll see about ripping the guts out of a dead one and doing some DIY of my own. I’ve already stubbed off gas lines at the proposed refrigerator and freezer positions…

  3. Spot-on, Sarah. Spot-on. Even the bit about laptop battery chargers; those already exist, but they’re not considered important because hey, just plug in your laptop! But if you can’t get electricity without actually going somewhere else, then of course you’d want to charge a bunch at once. Starbucks (or other coffee shops) would turn into gas stations for electricity that also sold you snacks while you filled up. It wouldn’t be hard to charge someone by their power usage, either; the only reason why we don’t bother today is that the amount of electricity used by a laptop is less than the cup of coffee they want you to buy while you’re using their WiFi. If electricity shortages happen, though, and people start limiting how much they can afford to take in, then this would happen.

    Similarly, you wouldn’t have people avoid using refrigerators. If you’re limiting how much electricity you consume, you’d install a cut-off switch in your home, and only turn it on long enough to keep your refrigerator cold. You’d probably also supplement it by buying ice from a dedicated ice-seller, which would keep your refrigerator cold longer and eventually turn into pure water you could use for drinking and cooking.

    The dystopian visuals that spark imagination are always the people who are using familiar items in strange ways. We see that in Detroit, as well as in third-world (or rather, OTHER third-world) locations. The ruins of civilization make a good backdrop; but it’s not a story until a person has to live in it.

    The prepper culture doesn’t understand adaptability in that sense. They understand self-sufficiency. That’s not the same thing. It’s only after you pay attention to stories that you start thinking of how one thing might lead to another, or — even more important — how you might affect and even effect that change.

    John C. Wright said something pithy and worthy of being remembered the other day. “Politics is downstream of culture, and culture is carried from one generation to the next in the form of storytelling. Myths, not facts, rule mankind.”

    It goes both ways. It’s not just how the stories we consume will shape how we think of the world. Dealing with emergencies and chaos requires imagination, and so a true prepper ought to be a sci-fi fan. You can’t prepare for a collapse without knowing how to shape your own myth.

    • After Hurricane, or more accurately, Charlie Foxtrot Sandy, the public library became a charging station for everyone in a neighborhood that had lost power. Its second most important function was providing ways to contact insurance companies and other relevant agencies. And the sense of community coalescing there was palpable. Adaptability is made easier when at least some public resources remain, I guess…

      • Sandy Was essentially a Charlie Foxtrot for out local governments that screwed up by the numbers, a case of bad timing and tides, along with the fact that Sandy followed a freak October snowstorm that played havoc with power lines right before Sandy.

  4. Any “collapse” whether economical,breakdown of .gov services such as SNAP and TANF benefits,or collapse of the entire political/government system,is not going to just happen all at once like the EFT stock market crash,or Wall Street in 1929,it will most likely happen slowly.
    There’s a very good chance that the GOP splits into different factions if Trump continues to get favorable polling results and wins the GOP nomination.
    That would give the Hildebeast the Whitehouse-not a good thing.
    We also have Obama,and a whole lot of Democrats pushing a new “assault weapons” ban-HR 4269- along with Obama’s promised executive orders to enact gun control by bypassing congress-which is likely to create a huge sh*tstorm.

  5. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    I remember reading that there was no “major loss of technology” after the “Fall of Rome”.

    There were situations were the “organizations” were not there to do things.

    In some cases, there may have been “why do that, we have more important things to do”.

    Of course, there was a stupid TV series where “electricity died” and while guns still worked, people were carrying/using swords. [Frown]

    • For things that required the ability to organize a large group of people for an extended period of time, after Rome left, it was “that’s nice. Now keep sawing, because we can build motte-and-baily a lot faster than you can cut stone and the Huns/Avars/Magyars/Burgundians are on the other side of the river already!” For things that just needed to be maintained, a lot of those lasted (Roman water systems) in somewhat truncated forms. Academic knowledge lapsed, but the practical stuff tended to linger, at least where you got a few breaks between the arrival of the plague/Avars/Magyars/Vikings/whoever. Things picked up in the 1100s (cathedrals, anyone), tanked in the 1300s (LIA and plague), then crawled back toward large organizations despite that “wee, minor” global disaster called the 1600s.

      • A big part of what happened to the Romans is replaying itself before our eyes, only quicker and with better technology. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

        The root of the collapse of the Roman empire wasn’t necessarily in the invasions or other external issues. The roots were back in Rome, as the sclerotic bureaucracy and tax system failed. The Roman provinces of Gaul and elsewhere were perfectly capable of running themselves, and defending themselves; the problem was that they’d forgotten how, having farmed out that responsibility to the central Roman government. And, when the need arose for them to do it themselves, they weren’t allowed to, at first, because the center saw any attempt at putting together self-defense power as being a rebellion–Which they promptly quashed. The fact that local authorities first action was often to try to go to Rome and seize the levers of power to “fix things” didn’t help. Once the provinces and other bodies that were capable of self-supporting figured out that a.) there was no benefit to them, being connected to Rome, and b.) that there was also no help coming from Rome… Well, it wasn’t long before the handwriting on the wall was read and responded to.

        What killed Rome, in the end, was the inflexibility and denial of the central government. As well, better technology led to an ability for people out in the provinces to laager up and become self-sufficient… They didn’t need the central government, so they quit paying the onerous taxes, and then the whole thing collapsed.

        We think the end of communications was an effect of the central government’s failure. I’d actually like to submit that the reason it failed was more that the locals quit seeing a benefit to being “connected” to the greater Roman empire, and did what a lot of cable TV customers are doing today–They “cut the cable”. In other words, the decay of the roads and infrastructure had less to do with the collapse of the Roman empire than we think, and more to do with the various provinces and regions deliberately reducing “connectivity” to Rome out of a sort of self-defense. After all, why the hell pay Roman taxes if you weren’t going to be getting Roman benefits?

        You can see some interesting parallels to the modern US, if you squint and look at it from the right angles…

        Self-sufficiency isn’t the only answer, here. Much of the answer to the current set of problems is to be found in resiliency and “powering down” than in centralization and building “too big to fail”. They need to be concentrating on “too small to matter if it does fail”, instead…

        • There’s a reason the chunk that was Roman Gaul calls itself France – the Franks invaded and took over. If Rome had had the coin to raise enough legions to stop everyone who wanted in at the border during the migration period, and perhaps the cultural changes to raise legions that were not mostly Germans instead of Imperial Citizens, the rest of what you talk about would have been more a matter for some internal reform rather than the energetic self disassembly that occured.

          Recall that Rome had already voluntarily split governance of the Empire into East and West, so late Imperial political theory already had the “too big to manage” concept well understood. It would have taken a strong and smart Imperator to sell a more federal Western Empire, but locally funded and raised legoins with a central reserve would have been a far more robust system.

          • Why did the locals welcome the Franks?

            Hint: Look at the difference in taxation. The Roman central government was taxing the living hell out of the area, for which the locals were seeing little visible benefit. You can’t feed your family with the intangibles of access to Roman “civilization”, and the invaders got loyalty by essentially charging less for services actually rendered than the Roman central government was demanding for not doing anything. The reason the locals welcomed the invaders had a lot more to do with the lowered taxes and greater flexibility offered up, and the fact that they were invading to take advantage of the amenities offered by Roman infrastructure.

            I think the reality of the fall of Rome had a lot more to do with Roman issues than it did external pressures. All the devaluation of coinage, the need for the Romans to go on external raids (Trajan’s invasion of Dacia) in order to fund things, and the general stagnation brought on by idiotic policies like the idea that you had to inherit your father’s trade, plus the tax issue… It all meant that there were advantages to leaving the Roman “network system” as opposed to staying with it. In a lot of ways, the various invasions of Roman territory weren’t so much invasions as semi-hostile takeovers by a more efficient and congenial set of overlords.

            • BTW, in the east the Muslim Arabs did the same. At first, their taxes were much lower than those levied by the empire.

              • Excellent point… The religious persecutions coming out of Constantinople didn’t help, either. Nor was Islam that outlandish to a lot of the “heretics” of the regions taken over in the first wave of conquest.

                The fall of the Eastern Empire had a certain “perfect storm” quality to it–If Islam had come into being a bit later, their conquest might not have gone so well, and if a bit earlier, same-same. The effect of the plague, and the other issues like the persecution of the “heretical” sects that dominated the Syrian and Egyptian parts of the empire, all conspired to make their jobs easier. Also, finances and taxes.

                It’s interesting to note that its taken until this latest period of destruction to finally destroy the fertility and hard work of centuries of agricultural development in the region. I read a study that was only available free on the classified network that went over the long-term effect of the Islamic and Mongol conquests of the region, and it was astonishing to learn how much damage has been done since the days of the Romans. Palmyra, for example, was once in the middle of a hugely productive agricultural area, one that doesn’t really exist in modern times. All it took was the destruction of the old qanat systems, and a general Islamic antipathy towards doing anything positive, and hey, presto–Desert.

        • The “fall” was simply bureaucratic inertia. I figure by the time taxes were levied, legions were selected, logistics were arranged, etc., it was simply too late.

          “We’ll be able to intercept and exterminate those invaders just as soon as the Senate approves our battle proposal, and then it’s off to the Triumph Committee to decide how to honor our leaders when we return victorious…”

        • Anonymous Coward
    • Without electricity ammunition would be much more expensive, so it would make sense to use a sword wherever practical.

      • If it’s based on that one series of books that I strongly dislike, in the books gunpowder didn’t work anymore. That was part of the reason I ended up not reading those books. I can suspend disbelief well enough to believe most anything, but once it reaches the point where only select chemical reactions stop working I get mad.

        Also, why swords? Why not all sorts of improvised weapons that are far easier to make and require next to no training to use?

        • If it’s the book series you’re thinking about, it was explained later.
          Basically, ASB.

        • William O. B'Livion

          In the series that you avoid mentioning (and I share some of the distaste) swords were (at least in one reference) made from leaf springs off trucks because it was *about* right and there was lots of it laying around.

          You can’t get around training if you want to live. For everything from stick (staff) to machetes to “real” swords there is training and practice that makes one better.

          There is a reason that we call them “improvised” weapons rather than “weapons”, and that’s because they flat out don’t work well. Pick up anything, and with a few minutes of moving and observing you can figure out how to hurt someone with it, but quite often it’s really well balanced for whatever it is the tool was intended to do (e.g. sledge hammer). But it’s HORRIBLY balanced for transitioning from a overhead blow to a block and then hit the guy to the *left*.

          A katana, or Gladius? That’s more or less what they were “designed” for (and yes, I realize the Katana isn’t what one would consider a good sword, but that’s sort of my point–even as “bad” as they are, they’re better (at least marginally) than that 10 dollar machete you find at the sporting goods store, and those (especially if trained in eskrima/arnis/kali) are better than a butchers knife or a baseball bat. Well, at least a little better than a baseball bat.

    • The most ludicrous thing, I thought, was that the electricity “died” because someone wrote a virus to shut it off.

      So naturally, all stand-alone generators and such quit working, too. That one requires such an epic facepalm that I’m not sure the entire Greek pantheon could encompass it if they all facepalmed together.

      • Makes sense, if you first posit that we’re living in a simulated universe; someone could, after all, hack the code and do all kinds of weird shit, were they able to get access to the hooks.

        Or, if we live in a consensus reality, just convince enough of the rest of us that the electricity wasn’t working, any more, and ta da, it doesn’t.

        Of course, I can think of several more interesting things to do with those imagined possibilities than merely going back to the dark ages with magic and such. I know Stirling is writing to a market, but I’ll be damned if I find it an attractive one. The success of that series speaks to the prevalence of a certain childish and naive desire to revert to what Sagan described as a “demon-haunted world”. I’m not a fan.

        • Makes sense, if you first posit that we’re living in a simulated universe

          Yeah, that’s the only way I can maintain suspension of disbelief. Maybe someone’s doing ontological experiments, trying to figure out how people would react if certain parameters were changed. Maybe it’s some kind of artwork. Maybe its an RPG and the POV characters are actually all NPC’s. But especially with those glimpses of “gods” watching the world, gods who were responsible for the Change, it really makes sense to think it’s a simulation/ bubble universe and the gods are the people running it, be they scientists, artists, or game developers.

          • Given how much history turns on ludicrous coincidence, I’m not going to be surprised if the whole mess turns out to be the product of some piss-poor graduate student’s use of the university simulator system…

            I mean, c’mon now: Just look at the number of things that had to line up for the assassination of the Archduke in Sarajevo, in order for that to happen. You really want to tell me that that whole obscenely contrived set of events was at all likely? Let alone, the chain of circumstances that led to WWI even starting?

            I’ll buy some coincidences happening. But, for the love of God, why are there so many? Honest to God, were you to pitch many actual historical events as fiction to some movie producer or editor, he’d throw you out of the office for your trouble–The actual facts are simply too unbelievable.

            So, yeah, when the universe ends and we find out we’re all participants in some knuckleheaded scholar’s attempts at coming up with a plausible historical simulation working towards some ungodly posited set of conditions, I’m not going to be surprised. We’re all probably sprites, and will meet again in the afterlife, which likely consists of some equivalent to a hard drive, somewhere in an academic setting…

            Sprite re-use would handily explain our ideas of reincarnation, now that I think of it. Either that, or we’re all students yoked into the simulation created by the lowest common denominator in our class…

            Seriously: How the hell could you tell the difference, given some of what is actual, documented history?

            • How likely is it that obscenely improbable events will NEVER occur? After all, if there are a billion chances for a one-in-a-million event to occur, you would expect about a thousand. (And then you have selection bias.)

              • What should the distribution for such obscenely improbable events be, such as those surrounding the assassination in Sarajevo?

                Without a basis of comparison, I’ve got no idea. But, intuitively, I’m of the opinion that there are way, way too many of these damn “coincidences” in our historical timeline. It just feels a bit “off”, to be honest. I would expect at least some, but… For the love of Mike, why do we have so many surrounding major important historical events?

                I’m with Einstein, in that I don’t like the idea of a God who plays dice with the universe, but when you look at Sarajevo in 1914, that damn sure starts to look like he’s playing with loaded dice.

                • Upon reading a modern release of the Los Alamos Primer, I was rather struck by how often I’d read “We got this calculation wrong. The result is really on 50% of what we thought.” only to find a page or two later “We got this calculation wrong. The result is really 200% of what we thought.” and those were for the same train of things and the overall result was the final answer, arrived at by multiple miscalculations, was at least close to right.

                  It also jarred me that supposedly the cutting off of uranium and uranium ore was bypassed as some trader/investor had bought up a huge amount and figuratively sat on it, “I thought it might be useful.” And that the list of “don’t publish stories about these elements” was used to keep articles about uranium out of publication without alerting everyone to it, also had silver on it. That makes sense, let’s not talk too much of treasure and treasury… but when copper was too precious a War Material for pennies and magnet wire, but silver was not a War Material and could be used for magnetic seperators… well, nice benefit of not raising more eyebrows.

                  • > useful

                    Uranium *was* useful. It was used for alloys for cutting tools, for lathes and milling cutters. “Uranium steel” wasn’t common, but you can still find old cutters out there if you look.

                    We use tungsten and molybdenum for that sort of thing now because the Fed makes it too much hassle to use uranium.

              • Wayne Blackburn

                Another way to put that – How many other sets of circumstances, apparently random, were in place that would have almost inevitably led to war within a short span of time? If I understand the political climate of the day at all, then it was essentially a keg of gunpowder waiting for a spark. If it hadn’t been for Archduke Ferdinand, then it would have been some other incident, and a whole different set of circumstances would have appeared to be the cause.

                As Mary said, when the actual event happens, you get selection bias. Simply because you don’t see the rest of the things that did NOT happen.

                • > powder keg

                  Not so much that, as that Wilhelm II was a total dick who wanted a nice war to assauge his inferiority complex. He was *going* to have his war, and when his staff told them the Empire’s forces were ready, he issued a press release with a convenient excuse and sent his army off.

                  If you’ve ever had trouble figuring out how the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand managed to set off WWI, it’s because… it really didn’t have much to do with it. It was just Wilhelm’s justification for his little ego boost.

                  • Yes, and Kipling wrote one of his more savage poems about it:

                    “The war was forced on me by my foes.
                    All that I sought was the right to live.”
                    [Don’t be afraid of a triple dose;
                    The pain will neutralize all we give.
                    Here are the needles. See that he dies
                    While the effects of the drug endure….
                    What is the question he asks with his eyes?
                    — Yes, All-Highest, to God, be sure.]

                  • It’s probably a bit of an over-simplification to blame WWI entirely on Wilhelm. Yeah, he helped stoke the fire, but he was pretty much the pawn of fate and circumstance in a lot of ways. The social events going on in Germany and France, along with Russia essentially forced his hand. If he hadn’t backed Austria, how long would he have lasted before someone replaced him, one way or another.

                    Let us not forget that everyone, there at the first, went off to war with a song in their hearts, and a belief that the whole thing was a grand adventure that would be over with before Christmas. Willy was a damn fool, but if the idiots in the Reichstag hadn’t backed him to the extent they did, the war would never have started the way it did. Even Wilhelm was hesitant, on the cusp, and wanted to shut down the invasion of France in favor of concentrating on Russia. He was overruled by his generals, who told him that stopping the mobilization avalanche was impossible.

                    If you believe in the “great man” theory of history, then Wilhelm makes a perfect patsy for the horrors of WWI. I’m not so sure that is an accurate way to look at history, however–There were plenty of people who could have stopped Wilhelm from doing what he did, but they didn’t want to. Look at the German Naval League, for examples of how there were these little pressure groups of German nationalists and empire-builders throughout German society. Wilhelm may have been a cheerleader for them, but they represent a pressure source that very much helped the war happen.

            • Patrick Chester

              *voice from everywhere and nowhere blurts out*
              “He’s onto us!”

            • William O. B'Livion

              > You really want to tell me that that whole obscenely
              > contrived set of events was at all likely?

              A couple of organisms evolved from self-replicating chemical chains are communicating about fantasy novels over an intercontinental network powered in large part by software distributed for free.

              What was *more* contrived about Arch Duke Fred?

              • You’re kinda making my point…

                Looking back on the entire sequence of unlikely events that result in us being here to throw electrons back and forth at each other, how the hell can anyone even start to think that it is at all accidental?

                Every time I talk to an advocate of atheism, I wind up shaking my head: Believing in “not-god” is a hell of a lot harder, and more of a leap than believing in a God being the progenitor of all we are surrounded by. Whatever his nature, he’s actually the simpler answer.

                • William O. B'Livion

                  Except for the whole “who made God” part.

                  You take one given, they take another given.

                  • Heh. A few weeks ago, I was looking at an Astronomy book, and I stumbled onto the question, “Why the heck does ANYTHING exist AT ALL?!”.

                    In attempting to answer this question, it doesn’t matter if there’s a God or not, or if we’re in some sort of giant computer simulation, because we’re now to the question of “Why does THAT UPPER LEVEL exist?!? And why is there a space-time continuum for Him or that Computer to exist in?!?”

                    For now, I’ve chosen to keep this question in the back of my mind, because I decide that this question is likely unanswerable (at least, with my current understanding of physics–and it may very well be well out of the realm of physics in general), and if I think about it too much, it makes me want to curl up into a ball and whimper…and I’d like to be functional, thank you very much!

          • You’ve seen “Dark City” then….

        • A simulation, yeah would work for that. But simple ‘convincing’? Maybe for many, but I would expect a fair amount of folks to go “Yeah, right” and realize that unless there are core changes to their universe, chemical reactions are chemical reaction and physics doesn’t change without other seriously weird effects. Though due to general public perception it might be a good idea to hide the batteries and generators as best they can.

        • This more or less explains why I ended up giving up on the series after giving it a second chance. I was willing to go past it totally breaking my suspension of disbelief with the whole gunpowder no longer working nonsense, but when society never really rebuilt and things got all weird and futile I had to put the book down before I threw it. I love post apoc as much as anyone, but my favorite part is the people pulling together and rebuilding, which didn’t seem to be happening in that series.

          • Is this the series where some island disappears or is time-traded? I’ve read the first book with the island sent back in time, but none of the rest. What I read about that series left me figuring I couldn’t suspend disbelief enough to enjoy it. I can deal with the (completely different but for the time-swapping) Ring of Fire (1632) stuff as that posits only one true “pull a rabbit of a hat” bit and goes on.

            • I think the reference was to a recent tv series. the guns largely disappearing was yet another reason i didn’t watch it… that and electricity magically not working at yet somehow the human nervous system still functions…

              • Ah. Interestingly even my Christmas visit to my sister’s place didn’t have the TV on for TV shows. Someone was playing some Star Wars LEGO video game, and while I am not a gamer and not a Star Wars fan, it was still better than having some TV show on.

            • Orvan, the 3 book series you refer to (Island in the Sea of Time) sent Nantucket back to the Bronze Age. The Change series of novels, as I understand it, postulates that the future which lost Nantucket lost it because of a fundamental change in the physical world that threw Nantucket back as a “side effect”. Thus gunpowder and a few other things not working the same.

              The original Island series was readable; the Change series was most emphatically not.

              • Yeah, the book I read was alright, though not enticing me enough to read more. The other part of the thing, as you say, stretched things too far. If gunpowder doesn’t work, I’d expect a lot of death from nitrogen chemistry no longer working.

        • Have you read L. Jagi Lamplighter’s Rachel Griffin series? It has the masquerade of magical beings in an world (not ours!) filled with Muggle-types. The magical beings think they keep magic secret both to keep the unmagical from bothering magical beings that will only leave them alone if left alone, and from gaining magical powers by making deals with beings such that — it’s really better all around that we don’t make deals with them.

          But in the course of the books, we learn that there is another reason. You might find it interesting.

  6. But SARAH! Holding those myths makes me feel so warm and cozy!

    Besides, Western Civilization has been collapsing for 240 years now — ever since those crazy colonials got the idea they didn’t need a king, they could ruin society all by themselves!

  7. OK, help me out here, somebody. Monorhimic? There are only two hits on Google for that word. One is for an Esperanto translation of a Wikipedia article, and the other links right back here.

    • Monorhyme is a rhyme scheme in which each line has an identical rhyme.
      In this context I believe Sarah is using the term to illustrate the regrettable tendency of controlled economies to present consumers with little if any choice. Ie, this month the government farms are all producing turnips so turnips are what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And don’t forget those delicious turnip chips from the collective kitchen for a tasty midnight snack.
      Side note, during glastnost we had periodic visits from Soviet/Russian technicians. A trip to WalMart was always a treat, just to see their jaws drop at the (to them) incredible number of choices for each commodity. Interestingly, the two must have items were blue jeans and hypodermic needles.

      • Jacob Davis (who successfully marketed his new denim pants to Levi Straus) is one of the biggest unsung heroes of the common working man.

    • It can mean a collection of all look-alike objects. It’s extrapolated from self-rhyming poetry.

      • Fair enough. But where on earth did you get this word? It’s not in any English dictionary I have access to.

        • I ran across it last week in a Commentary article. And I knew it from Portuguese. Sorry. It’s such a nice word.

          • Go ahead; use it.

            As a native English speaker, I hereby authorize you to do that, in the long-standing tradition of English following other languages into darkened alleyways, knocking them over the head, and then rifling their pockets for useful vocabulary.

            Portuguese was asking for it, after all, wandering the streets with such apropos and pithy words, after all. The language equivalent of dressing in scanty clothes and wandering through all-male prisons…

        • The OED online gives only monorhyme (noun & adj., also monorhymed) from the French monorime. It appears even as late as the 1990s only in reference to (implied, less interesting to stultifying) lyric poetry. Also as monorhythem (older by about 100 years and rare/obsolete)

          My dear huns, and hoydens, we may have here a genuine neologism.

          Who’s up for a game of Frindle?

  8. Sarah, please quit reading the textbook over my shoulder. More or less, it runs as follows: bad government –>famine–>National Assembly–>Great Fear (because of threats to N.A.)–> Brave New Egalitarian World. Then Bastille Day–>irrational and insulting warning from Austria–> war–>Terror.

    • Remember to write through Fire I spent two years living the French revolution?

      • Yeah. It’s not your fault that I spent the lat two days alternating glowering at the text book with snarling at the text book. This is also the same author(s) who say that the Constitution gave the US (19th C) liberalism and nationalism. Um, nationalism? No source or detail listed, of course.

        • idiots. nationalism is baked in.

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            Well… In the early US, there was an element of your nation was first your State and second the United States.

            There were concerns that the original Thirteen, that had united to fight the British, might exist as separate nations not creating a permanent union of the States.

            So it could be argued that the Constitution created *one* nation out of thirteen separate nations. Thus “nationalism” for the US not “nationalism” for the separate “States”.

            • It’s a little bit of rhetorical slight of hand. The Constitution created the American nation, so it created American nationalism – never mind any sense of nationalism that existed before – and as the 20th Century Germans taught us, nationalism is a Bad Thing – never mind that German nationalism was a small and nowhere near odious part of the Nazi platform – so the Constitution must be a Bad Thing.

              Holding the child responsible for the sins of the father is dumb. Holding the father responsible for the sins of the (grown) child is even dumber. But to hold people responsible for the sins of those separated by 10 generations and four thousand miles requires Progressive-level stupidity.

            • They authors are referring to European style nationalism – blood and soil – that arose thanks to the French Revolution and Napoleon.

              If they meant nationalism as you describe, Paul, then they edited out the definition, or that chunk got left out in the transition from talking about European nationalism to something different with a similar name. Neither of which would surprise me, but it is going to confuse the heck out of the students.

              • Yeah – nationalism. For certain values of nationalism, mostly which are not the values of nationalism the word conveys today. They’re engaging i the type of rhetorical sleight-of-hand more commonly deployed in calls for “common sense gun laws” which are not your Founding Fathers’ common sense (theirs tended to be more along the lines of you killed it, you eat it.)

                • My version (and my mother’s, and my grandmother’s) is “You killed it, you clean it!” Eating it is taken for granted.

                  But I get what you are saying. If the Founding Fathers could see what has happened, and is happening, to this country, they would have screaming conniption fits (except that I think they were too well bred to do such a thing). Or curl up in a corner and cry. That’s what I feel like doing sometimes.

            • It wasn’t until Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address that we “evolved” from the United STATES of America into the UNITED States of America. (Or should that be the other way ’round?)

              • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                I’ve heard it worded “Before the ACW it was The United States *are*; After the ACW it was The United States *is*”.

                However, around the time that the Constitution was being written, there was serious thoughts about the Thirteen becoming completely independent of the other “States” or about the Thirteen become several smaller “unions” of States.

                Part of the Federalist Papers discuss these ideas and (obviously) speak out against those ideas.

                The writers of the Federalist Papers believed that only a Union of all of the States would prevent the Major Powers from meddling in North America’s affairs.

  9. There is of course the disturbing truth that certain elements of our infrastructure are incredibly vulnerable to breakdown either from attack or natural forces. Our power grid, just look what a few tornadoes can do let alone a coordinated attack blowing up a few key feeder transmission lines. Food distribution is another soft target. I’ve heard it said that any major city is precisely three days away from hunger should the trucks no longer run. Even more worrisome is the gradual breakdown of the rule of law, once a bulwark of our American society. Peter expounds at length over on his blog about both the Ferguson effect and how the rare but still far too common abuse by law enforcement are well on the way to destroy peoples’ faith in fair and equal treatment. Once upon a time we taught our children that if lost or frightened to seek out a police officer. These days it’s more like, unless you know them personally you cannot assume that law enforcement has your best interest at heart.
    Slightly different subject, but on the point of so many in our society knowing what simply isn’t so, I am both encouraged and concerned by recent reports of large increases in the number of gun owners in the US. Encouraged because I firmly believe that a well equipped citizenry is our ultimate defense against both crime and terrorism. Concerned that there will inevitably be those new gun owners who’s entire knowledge of firearms stems from what they’ve seen on TV and in the movies. May the good Lord save and protect us from such as those.

    • Let’s back this up a bit:

      Why are the police organizations less trustworthy than they were? What is going on here, that so many of our social institutions are becoming untrustworthy, in any meaningful sense?

      I’m not talking just in terms of security-oriented social functions, either. Why aren’t things working, anymore? Why are there teacher’s unions defending the indefensible conduct of their members, which is against the stated direct function of the organization, which is to do a better job of teaching kids? Why don’t these people, running those organizations, suffer cognitive dissonance when they simultaneously state that they’re trying to help the kids, and then do their best to prevent their incompetent peers from being canned, and even defend teachers that are charged with pedophilia?

      The one major lacking I see around me, in US society, is any sense of responsibility to self-police in a lot of our organizations. That cop up in Illinois, the guy who staged his suicide as “three guys with guns that killed him in the line of duty”? You can’t tell me that his peers didn’t know what the hell he was doing, as he was embezzling funds and so forth from the Explorers. You can’t hide that shit, and a lot of people had to be looking the other way while he did it. Organizational corruption–Mary Kay Letourneau had dozens of peers and parents who were saying “WTF?” well before she got caught, but nobody did anything about it.

      Self-policing and integrity are things that don’t happen in modern America. Why? Answer that question, and you’ll be a lot further towards answering why we’re having issues at all levels of society and government. Something is clearly not happening, in terms of acculturation and standards-setting, and I suspect that this is the key problem. It may be a scaling effect, as many people don’t see cheating and stealing from big entities as being the same as stealing from people they know…

      Responsibility towards others is lacking. Had a conversation with an idiot a few weeks ago, in reference towards a house he wanted to build. First, he’s building it up in the hills around here, in amongst the trees. I pointed out to him that a.) he was at a significantly higher fire risk there, and that b.) his failure to knock down the “pretty trees” to create a fire break and chose construction materials and methods that reduce fire risk meant that his dream home was going to be red-tagged during the next major fire event, and that the Forest Service wasn’t even going to bother to try to defend the place. His response? “That’s what insurance is for…”.

      I pointed out to this asshole that the effect of what he was doing was going to raise insurance rates for everyone else in the area, as the risk would be spread out to people who didn’t deliberately take the risks he was taking. He didn’t care, it wasn’t his problem.

      This is what is lacking, in most people, and cannot be instilled by external means: A sense of moral responsibility for their actions. I suspect this is a side effect of the creeping socialism and diffusion of responsibility. If we didn’t have insurance, and people had to suffer the consequences of their own actions, we wouldn’t be rebuilding in forest fire zones, or New Orleans. Subsidize those costs? Idiots with no sense of personal accountability will freeload off the system until it breaks down under the load.

      • In part this is a consequence of infiltration of Marxian analysis throughout society: Laws are enforced for the Haves and against the Have-Nots. Community activists are particularly aggressive in fanning this particular flame, and having them in the White House and working the MSM (“schlonged” is vulgar but “tea-bagger” is amusing) further fosters this polarization and delegitimization of Rule of Law.

        Thus we see a President who routinely demonstrates the principle of Law as an exercise of the will whim of the powerful and government departments recognizing no contrary interests as having any validity. Disenfranchisement of people breeds disrespect for systems in which they perceive no place for themselves, and, while pleasing those who had previously felt themselves ground under the Law’s boot does nothing to invest in them a respect for the role of Law in preserving society.

        • Again, back your analysis up a bit: Why the hell are the victimized parties putting up with this shit?

          We have a system going where the rank-and-file IRS employees feel like it is perfectly acceptable to either cooperate and/or look the other way when their superiors use the organization as a political tool to victimize their opponents. Even as recently as the early 1970s, this wasn’t possible; remember that Nixon could only be charged with trying to suborn the IRS for political purposes, because the IRS commissioner told him to go pound sand. Like as not, had someone pulled that BS back then, and the commissioner tried to actually put Nixon’s desires into action, there would have been hell to pay as the rank-and-file rebelled.

          Notably, the source of Nixon’s problems were from the FBI permanent bureaucracy trying to revenge themselves upon him for putting an outsider in charge of the FBI, instead of the internal apparatchiks who thought they were entitled to the job. Why the hell Congress didn’t move heaven and earth to find that character, and then pillory his ass, I’ll never know. Mark Felt’s activities basically amounted to a slow-motion coup against the elected government by the permanent bureaucracy, and should have been dealt with accordingly. Because they haven’t…? Yeah.

          Our Praetorians aren’t in the armed forces; they are in the unelected permanent bureaucracy in Washington, DC. We are probably never going to wrest power away from these people, until after the current system collapses. Which it will, under the combined weight of things like the EPA, the Department of Education, and a whole host of other agencies whose power has been corrupted and abused.

          And, the root of the problem is that these people feel both entitled and obligated to abuse this power they’ve fallen into. Why? That’s the question–Where does this hubris and will to illicit power come from? What shifted, in society, to where the UAW is more worried about keeping people from moving desks and furniture than with policing its own ranks for bad actors that don’t give a damn about the union’s long-term viability, which is rooted in the success of the company they all work for?

          Something is seriously wrong with US culture, in this regard. You go look at the difference between things like the Swiss Army NCO professional organization, and the US equivalent, and you really start to wonder where the hell we went wrong.

          The Swiss Army NCO Association worries more about professional standards and knowledge, agitating for better training and publishing numerous defense-oriented books. I have one of their seminal works by Hans von Dach, Total Resistance close to hand–It’s basically one of the most cited resistance and guerrilla warfare manuals available in any language.

          The US equivalent? The NCOA? Yeah… Standards? Professional knowledge? Not so much–They’re more worried about lobbying for benefits than anything else. You’ll look long and hard for anything relating to professional standards for NCOs in anything they do, which is really the entire basis for the SUOV, or Schweizerischer Unteroffiziersverband.

          Like I said… The US has been off the rails for a long damn time, in this regard. We’re only beginning to reap the seeds that were sown, back in the day. Fix it? I’ll be damned if I know how or what–I know it’s possible, but I’m not sure what the hell the mechanism by which it could be done would work. We need a damn Renaissance, here.

          • Want examples of the differences? Contrast these sites:

            US NCOA:

            http://www.ncoausa.org/

            See anything there that indicates they pay more than lip service to the ideas and ideals of professionalism and organizational standards? Yeah, not so much.

            Bern chapter of the SUOV:

            http://www.vbuov.ch/schiesswesen_ausser_dienst/index.html

            Watch the video; paying particular attention to the startling differences between US and Swiss culture. In Switzerland, the reservist keeps his weapon at home, and the SUOV is publishing and promulgating a video telling that reservist how to prepare for and conduct himself on an SUOV-sponsored range, which I believe operates and builds such things, in order to improve professional standards. Care to imagine something similar, in a US context? With our current public culture, I cannot imagine such a thing happening.

            • At a guess I am going to say that Switzerland has a far more homogeneous population than the does US, as well as a greater tradition of everybody serving the national defense. Couple those with a much smaller population than the US (around 8 million, not 320 million) and you might get at the root causes of the differences you observe.

              • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                One other difference is that all parts of Switzerland are close to potential invaders who, in theory, could cause massive problems for them.

                Very few in the US live that close to potential invaders.

                • I think that Dallas is about 8 hours by car/truck from Mexico.

                  • You can go the entire length of Switzerland by car in under 6 hours. Not even remotely comparable.

                    • There was a story (that is too good to fact-check) that the Swiss had to negotiate airspace usage treaties with the surrounding countries so that their fighter jets could turn around.

                    • In reference to both this and TXRed’s note about Swiss airspace usage: when I was briefly working in Israel a few years back I was told by coworkers that the Israeli air force does a lot of its training over the Mediterranean since since by the time a fighter reaches full speed after takeoff it would of necessity have crossed one of their borders.

                      The US isn’t the largest country in the world (we’re actually 4th, after Russia, Canada, and China) but except for Russia none of the European countries make the top 40 (France is #41 by size) – and the largest Mediterranean rim country is Algeria (in 10th place by size, but not exactly even a regional power).

                      We’re big, and our nearest neighbors (#2 Canada and #13 Mexico) are also big. Which may play a major role in how well we grasp things like blood-and-soil nationalism, or what living in a war zone would really be like.

              • The US Army NCO memetic underlayment was assembled learning to hammer 1st or 2nd generation immigrants into troops to fight hot wars, with long periods of frontier or garrison duty with very small cadres between. Switzerland, on the other hand, has a very long tradition of being ready enough to cause potential invaders to think twice, but the last hot war in which Swiss troops were involved was when Napoleon was still only First Consul of France, and that was in defense of an invasion (because the French invaded everybody).

                Now your underlying contention that the Swiss model, especially at the NCO level, is actually a better way of doing things than the US model, is interesting, but I’d like to look deeply enough into how they do things to try and determine how the Swiss model would deal with a mass call-up at the scale of the modern US, which at the base is what the US model is still aligned towards, as well as the standing-start expediationary warfare stuff that the US Army has been doing pretty consistently for the last century.

                I could certainly be wrong, but I have a feeling that the Swiss model is perhaps over optimized for their particulars, and would fall apart if pressed beyond local defense.

                • Arrgh…

                  You’re missing what I’m getting at, with this. The SUOV is an organization that is focused on enhancing professional standards and better training. The US version of that, the NCOA, is more focused on getting better benefits out of the government for its members.

                  In other words, a huge ‘effing difference in focus. Why is one organization concerned with rent seeking, and the other with professional standards?

                  That’s the thing I’m getting at, and the syndrome is observable across the vast range of public organizations here in the US. Name one damn union, outside of a few minor craft unions, that has or enforces professional standards: Think the IRS union gives a damn about the members that violated their oaths of office? How about the unions that those guys behind Fast and Furious belonged to?

                  These organizations basically have as their focus getting goodies for their members, instead of instituting and enforcing standards; the education unions actually actively block anyone doing anything about bad teachers and criminal pedophiles in their membership. Is that what they should be doing? Are those activities likely to produce a positive effect for the greater community and nation? Do those rat bastards even give two farts and a damn about the fact that they are actively inimical to the stated purposes of their organizations?

                  • As best I can tell, the Swiss NCO union is part of the official military, while this advocate group is an advocate group.

                    Try the Air Force NCO academy (Which is also labeled “NCOA”.) for a compare and contrast.

                    • Nope. Private organization, with extensive hooks into the official military. Think combination NRA and professional standards organization.

                      We had a Swiss exchange officer at one unit I was working with, and I had a very interesting conversation with him over this very issue. He was rather aghast at some of the crap that the NCOA was involved in, not the least of which was the family advocacy BS and conventions they held.

                      Someone should be doing dependent and family advocacy; I’m just not sure it should be something calling itself the Non-Commissioned Officer’s Association. Nor should that entity be turning itself into a benefits-centric rent-seeking advocacy group, either. You look at some of the crap NCOA has been lobbying for, and I just have to shake my head at their priorities.

                    • It’s a free country. They can call it whatever they want, even if you’ll have to add me to the list of NCOs who hasn’t heard of them and doesn’t care.

                      It’s the same way I don’t go after every group that sticks “Veterans” in its name.

                    • Fox, you’re missing the point: Why aren’t there any US organizations that address the idea of maintaining professional standards in the US NCO Corps?

                      We all knew there were scumbags out there, ones that managed to evade the attention of those higher in the food chain. Why is it that few of their peers ever stood up to be counted, and called them out? Hell, the few times I had an occasion to do that, the matrix of other NCOs around me and above me were all like “Why are you making this your business? Why should you care, what this guy is doing?”.

                      And, the frustrating thing I could never communicate to these guys was how much damage these clowns were doing to us, as a corporate whole. Take the average guy who’s exposed to the military for a single enlistment or so: He comes away from that disenchanted. Talk to him, and you’ll find out that 90% of the time, that stems from his experiences with one bad NCO. Never mind the nine or ten other ones he had direct experience with that did the right thing, he’s going to remember that one SOB who swiped his field gear and sold it.

                      Something is “off” in our culture, something that’s getting worse: Cops don’t turn in other cops, when they see them doing wrong. Their unions? They do their best to protect bad cops from the consequences of bad behavior, instead of actually doing the hard work of policing them themselves. Why? A functioning society should have institutions that self-police; a dysfunctional one does not, and requires massive intervention to fix issues that should be dealt with automatically by the rank-and-file.

                      This is why the NCOA we have disturbs me, on a deep and visceral level. Somebody ought to be the voice of reason, and take up advocacy of professional standards. Nobody does that, across our society–Much to our detriment.

                    • Fox, you’re missing the point: Why aren’t there any US organizations that address the idea of maintaining professional standards in the US NCO Corps?

                      I get your point, I just don’t agree that the two groups are in any way, shape or form SUPPOSED to be the same, no matter if there’s a slight similarity between the names.

                      It’s not even apples and oranges, it’s oranges and tennis balls.

                      First off, we’re a LOT bigger than them– a standard for Army is going to be horse dung for Navy, by and large.

                      Our military, both in a mass or individually, is radically different from theirs.

                      Our world view is, as Sarah often points out, even more radically different.

                      I mean, holy shit, what kind of military has such a problem with professional standards that they have to form a private group to encourage them?!? That’s like a bank needing to form a Math Club!

                      Talk to him, and you’ll find out that 90% of the time, that stems from his experiences with one bad NCO. Never mind the nine or ten other ones he had direct experience with that did the right thing, he’s going to remember that one SOB who swiped his field gear and sold it.

                      Talk to him a bit more; if he tried to report it and got smacked, that shows that your private enforcement of standards would not work because even enforcement with criminal liabilities isn’t. If he didn’t report it, find out why– either his friends assured him he shouldn’t, or “I just didn’t, back off.” (With profanity as needed.)

                      I know an awful lot of the reason that I got out was because of the private enforcement of standards… AKA, exercise of power they didn’t have, without accountability, that just amazingly always turned out to be in the direction that was handy for them.
                      Wow, fallen world, who knew?

                    • “Why aren’t there any US organizations that address the idea of maintaining professional standards in the US NCO Corps?”

                      There are, but they’re organic to the service, not a separate organization. Trust me, the Chief’s Mess does quite a bit to maintain standards in the US Navy.

                    • Jeff, you’re also missing the point, which is the contrast between the two cultures.

                      Why does the US version focus mostly on rent-seeking behavior?

                      Similarly, why do US unions mostly focus on what they do, which again, is rent-seeking from private business?

                      These are expressions of something in the national character/culture. What the hell is it, and how do we fix it?

                      Again, the point is the question of “Why don’t our social organizations and government entities self-police?”.

                      To a degree, I think it stems from the loss of a connection to the old idea of a craft or trade guild. US unions started out as a means to extort better working conditions from what were perceived as predatory firms, and we’ve remained locked into that static mode of thought/conduct ever since. If you ask a typical union member what responsibility he has to his company or his company’s customers, they’ll usually just look at you as though you were quite mad. The very concept that they have a return obligation versus what they’re owed by the company doesn’t even register, nor do they care when the fact is pointed out.

                      We’ve got this adversarial, non-reciprocal approach baked into things, and it is both unnecessary and counter-productive in today’s world. US labor could easily do the things that our multi-national companies are doing overseas, but with the current mentality? Those jobs are simply not coming back, probably ever. It isn’t worth it, either economically or socially.

                    • These are expressions of something in the national character/culture. What the hell is it, and how do we fix it?

                      Private organizations form to provide what isn’t already there.

                      Our organization doesn’t inherently offer this junk, so the people who want it have to form up on their own.

                      I don’t think that’s a bad thing…..

                    • @Kirk “We’ve got this adversarial, non-reciprocal approach baked into things, and it is both unnecessary and counter-productive in today’s world.”

                      You know, when I was a graduate student who was required to be a part of a union (being in New York State), I couldn’t help but notice that everything that the Union did was cast in this light. It weirded me out.

                      It didn’t help that, by being a graduate student, I was in this quasi-teacher-student state: I was being paid to teach, to grade papers, etc, but I also had tuition that was waived as part of my service. When a new contract was negotiated on our behalf, I couldn’t help but think, “You know, raising our stipends is going to mean that our student tuition is going to have to go up…and that means my own tuition as well…”

                      I also had the impression that our Union “representatives” weren’t really graduate students, but people who worked full-time doing Union stuff. That vibe kindof weirded me out too…

                    • I also had the impression that our Union “representatives” weren’t really graduate students, but people who worked full-time doing Union stuff.

                      Generally true.

                      This is why non-business-specific unions are generally Lawful Evil.

              • You miss the point: In Germany, as another example, you screw up as an employee or steal from the company, your main worry is not going to be what the company does about that, but what the union equivalent does to you. I was friends with a guy that owned and ran a small woodworking factory with about twenty employees. One of the new guys was caught pilfering from the company, and not being conscientious on the job. The union essentially dealt with that whole issue, and even if my friend had wanted to, he couldn’t have brought the kid back. He was basically blackballed from ever working in any way, shape, or form as a woodworker in that region, because the union that controlled that trade had his number, and basically said “You don’t meet our standards…”.

                Which kinda sucked for my friend, because this idiot kid was his wife’s cousin, or something, and he took considerable grief from her and her family over it. But, the craft union guys took the issue out of his hands, and held to a set of work standards that meant “No job for you, dirtbag…”.

                Here in the US, such policing of the ranks simply doesn’t happen. Most of our unions treat membership as being akin to being a “made man” in the Mafia, and you become untouchable by anyone. In parts of Europe, there are still strong guild influences, and you have to meet standards, or your peers will deal with you, not necessarily your employer.

                Here, not so much–And, that’s the thing I’m getting at. How many dirty cops get turned in the first time their peers observe them doing wrong? How many get dealt with, by their unions? None? Probably–Every single case of a cop turning another one in for misconduct that I know of came after a significant history of screwing up, and usually after it was so egregious that nobody could hide it, anymore.

                What I’m getting at with this whole thing is that we’re transitioning from a society where people took the attitude of “Not on my watch, buddy…” and “See something wrong? Do something about it…”, and going towards one where the morality is only imposed from the top-down. Remember the words of Franklin? “A democracy–If we can keep it…”. The will to make a stand, to do the right thing in all situations has been eroded by something, and I’ll be damned if I know what. We used to see a lot more average people making stands, but these days, it sure seems like there are more and more American citizens who are willing to “go along, to get along…” than ever before.

                Grappling with why this is so is maddening. I can’t point to any one reason that this has happened, but I think a very good case can be made that it has. We’ve always had this issue, but it has gotten a hell of a lot worse over the last few decades. Why?

                I’m pretty sure it’s not just my perception, either.

                • “Remember the words of Franklin? “A democracy republic –If we can keep it…”.”

                  FTFY… and the difference is crucial.

                • I’m not confident that the “Not on my watch, buddy” attitude as you describe was ever prevalent in the United States, and nothing historical comes to mind in support of your thesis. Most of American is highly laden with exactly the sort of self-dealing and interest-protecting behaviour you denounce — and we seem to have prospered in spite of that. Does the phrase “ring-knocker” suggest anything? How about we review the history of the US Quartermaster Corps?

                  Were men angels we would have no need of government.

                  Perhaps the real cause of the problem you perceive is that with the Federal government camel having its nose, ears, and fore-quarters into the tent the benefits of corrupting that government are unrestrained? When businesses are competitive their unions have every reason to remain reasonable in their demands and restrained in their devotion to their membership. When the government puts its ham-hock hand on the scales and forces consolidation to survive (e.g., insurance companies and regional hospitals in their various mergers to best achieve the economies of scale required to remain afloat while the Leviathan thrashes about) then those entities will invariably seek ways to curry favors from the behemoth.

                  • The UAW did a fine job of killing Nash and Studebaker with a much smaller federal government. The problem we have in this country is that unions are monopolies in the labor market, especially in closed shop states. And as any economist will tell you, when there is a monopoly prices go up and quality goes down.

                  • No, you’re quite in error.

                    It wasn’t as prevalent as it should have been, but the old-school ways included that ethos and mentality in a lot of trade and craft situations.

                    What you miss is that it wasn’t formally taught, enforced, or discussed, but it did happen.

                    My maternal grandmother was a teacher, back when that was one of the few reasonably prestigious options for a woman who didn’t want to be solely a housewife. In those days, in the early decades of the 20th Century, the profession policed itself quite brutally. All it took for someone to be permanently blackballed from teaching was for the other teachers to reach a conclusion that the subject of said blackballing was not meeting the standards of conduct and professionalism, and bam, they lowered the boom on her. She might get a warning, she might get a second chance, but in the end, if she wasn’t flying right, she was out on her ass. Purely out of selfish self-interest, I might point out–The women were harsher than the men, in this regard.

                    Much of this stuff was informal, and only happened in areas and communities with functional positive social mores and values. Police work was somewhat similar, in that if you were an officer “doing wrong”, in a lot of cases, it would be dealt with by your peers. The scenes in the Stephen King movie, The Green Mile, where the other guards are locking up the young punk guard who mistreated prisoners ring pretty true to me, in regards to the general attitude and manner of doing business that I picked up from talking to the old-timers of my grandparents generation.

                    Like a lot of things, much of this was never formalized, nor was it institutionalized. Mostly, because the people running those institutions never grasped the reality of what was going on out on the factory floor and stockyards, and so discounted the things that made the “old ways” work. It’s taken us a long time to get to the point where we’re at, but we’re here, nonetheless. How to get back to where properly functioning social organizations don’t require top-down micromanagement? Good damn question, and one I’m still trying to answer for myself.

                    A lot of this ties into the reasons so many in our institutions are more comfortable with things like zero-tolerance policies for this and that: They don’t trust themselves or others to exercise judgment, so the remove the requirement to do so. All of these trends are symptoms of what I’m talking about, and are indicative that something is very wrong and/or dysfunctional in our society today.

                    • The answer to your question, Kirk, is esimple, and therefore, like all simple answers, extremely hard.

                      “A law in every heart or a policeman on every corner.”

                    • You have not refuted my examples by your counter-examples, merely demonstrated that the US is a complicated landscape. For example, there were ample instances of corruption in provisioning the troops in nearly every war through the Second World War. Police corruption in NY, Chicago and pretty much every other American big city has been found at one time or another since the establishment of the nation. Look at Chicago in the Twenties or NY in the 19th Century. For over a hundred years many metropolitan areas have been run by political machines, from Boss Tweed’s Tamany Hall to Kansas’ Pendergast machine to Chicago’s Daley. [see; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_machine#Political_machines_in_the_United_States ]

                      Corruption in the federal bureaucracies was so rife that the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act (ch. 27, 22 Stat. 403) of United States was established in 1883 to decide that government jobs should be awarded on the basis of merit instead of political affiliation.

                      The act provided selection of government employees by competitive exams, rather than ties to politicians or political affiliation. It also made it illegal to fire or demote government officials for political reasons and prohibited soliciting campaign donations on Federal government property.
                      per Wiki

                      Review the contemporaneous testimony of such films as Mr. Smith Goes To Washington or The Great McGinty as evidence that the public was willing to accept the presentation of such corruption as credible. heck, for that matter review I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang for proof of public recognition of a self-serving “Justice” system. For that matter, what do you think was the basis for the nickname given Eliot Ness’ crew: The Untouchables?

                      Look at the history of the land battles in the American West for proof that self-interest was often the primary interest and that the law was owned by those willing to purchase it.

                      There may have been local instances of the sort of public-interest self-policing you describe, but there is ample evidence that it was not nation-wide. For that matter, read some of the memoirs of people involved in the public school system in places like Appalachia and you will find evidence aplenty that local politics and church affiliation often had as much to do with a teacher’s employment as did teaching ability.

                      I am not saying it hasn’t gotten worse in the last half century, but that is largely a result of political polarization and its attendant rent-seeking — a trend exacerbated by the growth of large institutions responsive only to the memberships’ baser interests.

                    • I’m originally from NYC. There were political machines but they worked. It was value for value. They made sure things got done and were taken care of.

                    • Police work was somewhat similar, in that if you were an officer “doing wrong”, in a lot of cases, it would be dealt with by your peers.

                      There are some quite famous examples of where the officer was “doing wrong” and was punished by his peers, by doing his job and enforcing law against those who’d paid to have it otherwise.

                      Most famous in the darker Gotham settings for Batman.

              • Switzerland is -less- homogenous. Four Languages, if I’m not mistaken, but their federal union is much more anti-Federalist in nature.

                • Four languages — but racially and culturally homogeneous, which is much more important.

                • Bear in mind that the US has zero official languages, but nearly every language spoken on the planet has at least one enclave somewhere in America.

                  • The “United States” may have no official language, but its various member states – each with its own Constitutuon, laws, and government – sometimes do. About half of them, last I looked.

                    • Nevertheless, you’ll find far more linguistic, cultural, and economic diversity within the US than you will in Switzerland.

              • “Switzerland has a far more homogeneous population than the does US” — with THREE major and one minor official languages and a huge number of immigrants, it doesn’t seem homogeneous at all. I have to agree about the quality of their army culture.

                • Oleg, seemed homogeneous to me, despite the languages, when I was there. Of course, I was young and stupid.

                • They may have four official languages, but the Swiss have been living together as a nation for more than five hundred years. A lot of differences get ironed out in that time.

                  Don’t confuse accidents with essences. Swiss nationality is not a matter of language.

            • Well, as a former NCO (Navy FC2) this is the first I’ve ever heard of the NCOA and I still have no idea why I would want to have anything to do with them. Just because an organization claims to represent some people doesn’t mean they do.

          • The IRS had been perfectly happy auditing the enemies of LBJ, JFK and FDR; it was doing it for the benefit of Nixon that caused the blowback. Similarly, the tape recording system for the Oval Office was not installed by Tricky Dick.

            As for the other matters you cite … “It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury.” The administrators of any bureaucracy know that whatever the lip service paid to “the Public Interest” the way to protect your phoney baloney job is to keep the membership sedated pacified.


            Harumph!

            • Patrick Chester

              I sometimes wonder when that film will be banned by the SJW crowd. That scene above might be the real reason if it ever is.

            • Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower recorded some important meetings. The “record everything” system went in during the Kennedy administration.

              archive.org, among other places, has downloadable collections of Oval Office recordings.

              Sampling various Presidential meetings, I found the lot of them to mumble, repeat themselves often, and have a bad case of potty mouth…

              “Law and sausage…”

        • Actually, I had never heard the term “tea-bagger” before liberals started using it to describe the Tea Party movement. And I’d be just as happy, if not happier, if I had never heard it and therefore was unaware of the practice. And they claim that conservatives lower the quality of social discourse… Which brings up a BTW- Trump is not a conservative by any stretch. But since I would vote for Joe the Syphilitic Camel before I’d vote for Monica Lewinsky’s ex-boyfriend’s wife, I’d vote for Trump over her. So, “schlonged” used in political discourse cannot be blamed on conservatives, though it will be.

          • They would never have had to deploy that vulgarity had not conservatives forgotten their proper role of paying for progressive fantasies. Thus it is the conservatives’ fault that their bad behaviour forced progressives to lose their tempers.

            First rule of Progressivism is that They are the Boss and the Boss is never wrong.

            Second rule of Progressivism is that whenever anything bad results from their attempts to violate laws of causality, gravitation, economics, common sense or practicality, see Rule 1.

      • > Why are the police organizations less
        > trustworthy than they were?

        Are they? Or are we just better informed?

      • I would say one of the underlying causes is inculcated into us in early childhood: the “don’t be a tattletale!” rhetoric. Sure, there is that one kid who has to whine about absolutely *everything* the other kids do…but setting that one kid aside, how often does a child go to an adult with the information that somebody is doing something bad and is admonished–usually by that selfsame adult–not to be a tattletale? Add into that the peer-level social punishments (which are not stopped by adults, who have bought into the ‘tattling is bad’ thing, and so turn a blind eye to the–in their eyes–“just” punishment). We are told almost from the moment we set foot into school/preschool that you should not report your peers for bad behavior, that it is socially unacceptable, and that you will not be protected if you do so. Because being a tattletale is a horrible, bad thing that will ruin your life forever.

        Problem is, I think too few people look at the long term consequences of that. Yes, fine–you don’t necessarily want all children to turn into “that one kid” who tattles (ie, whines) to an adult whenever things don’t go his/her way–but how many kids subsequently keep their mouths shut then about dangerous bullying? About assault? About theft? The list goes on. And that social training doesn’t magically disappear with adulthood, and so you have adults who see a coworker or other peer embezzling or stealing or so on, and keep their mouths shut. It doesn’t help that–despite all the insistence that “whistleblowers are protected” people who actually *do* blow the whistle, be it in private business or government, are usually punished. And even if the exposed wrongdoing is (eventually) investigated and/or punished, those who blew the whistle in the first place and who suffered for it are almost never offered recompense or apologies, or even congratulations. Instead, there is always that sneaking, underlying stain of “tattletale.”

        • I’ve been known to rip into people who scold my kids for being “tattletales” when they tell an adult important information.

          It makes my job even harder, because then the kids are confused about the difference between whining and sharing information; I do need to know that Joseph is climbing on top of our play equipment, or that Suzy is jumping up and down on the toys, or that Mike is saying things that make the kids uncomfortable*.
          I do not need to know that “Katie thinks (extrapolation that may have nothing to do with what was said)” or “Thom crossed his eyes at me.”

          Guess what? Kids don’t come with that installed in their little heads, you actually have to work to teach them what is important information and what isn’t.

          But nooooo, people have to take the lazy way and call call information sharing “tattling.”

          No wonder they have to lock guns away with a bio-safe.

          *This is called teaching your child judgement; they need to learn the difference between “do not agree” and “lewd suggestions” or “criminal harassment.” Instead a bunch of lazy idiots teach kids to ignore their instincts, then whine because the kids have untrained or ignored instincts for actual predators.

          • In my experience, these are the same idiots who declare fatuously that “children are the best judges of character” and “children never lie/children are so honest.” Sadly, many of these people actually *have* children (or work with them) and still believe all of this garbage…

        • I’ve seen commentary on another blog about this issue. There is a natural line between “Sure, he’s doing something illegal, but hey, it’s a stupid law” and “Hey, he just murdered someone! But do I tell anyone about it?” I wish I could remember the issue being discussed (and it was probably something to do with gang violence, if I recall correctly).

          I do remember a good suggestion for a line to be drawn, though: if the activity hurts someone–murder, certainly, but also theft, embezzlement, or serious threats to life and limb–then telling someone, and certainly telling the authorities, is something very appropriate to do. If it’s an activity that is harmless but illegal, say, picking up scrap metal on public lands, for example, then there really is no reason to report the activity.

      • I’m going to make a point that I hope isn’t made in your responses, because while I want to read the responses, I also want to make this point before I forget it.

        While it’s true that this is what insurance is for, this is also what *high insurance rates* are for. If you want to have trees close to your home, knock yourself out: *if* I sell you insurance, you’ll be lucky that I *only* charge an arm and a leg for it.

        Of course, Government in its Infinite Wisdom (and due to its tendency to listen to the People, and be “nice”) will then require that insurance rates be “fair”, ie, to be as low as your neighbor’s rates, who chose to keep their area clear of trees and build on high ground to avoid flooding.

        And then, after sufficient complaining from the neighbors, the Government will say, “Hey, you can’t play nice, so we need to pass Zoning Ordinances” that will require the neighbors to cut down the nearby trees…and *then* the Environmentalists will say “But you’re destroying Gaia!” and thus Government will require that no tree within 5 feet of a structure will be cut down without a permit…

        And thus we see government meddling ruining perfectly good feedback loops that would keep things largely in balance…

        • “In economics, moral hazard occurs when one person takes more risks because someone else bears the burden of those risks. A moral hazard may occur where the actions of one party may change to the detriment of another after a financial transaction has taken place.

          “Moral hazard occurs under a type of information asymmetry where the risk-taking party to a transaction knows more about its intentions than the party paying the consequences of the risk. More broadly, moral hazard occurs when the party with more information about its actions or intentions has a tendency or incentive to behave inappropriately from the perspective of the party with less information.

          “Moral hazard also arises in a principal–agent problem, where one party, called an agent, acts on behalf of another party, called the principal. The agent usually has more information about his or her actions or intentions than the principal does, because the principal usually cannot completely monitor the agent. The agent may have an incentive to act inappropriately (from the viewpoint of the principal) if the interests of the agent and the principal are not aligned.”
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_hazard

          Under the principle of popular sovereignty, the people are the principal, delegating certain specific powers to the government as our agent.

          “Moral hazard can occur when upper management is shielded from the consequences of poor decision making.” (Op.Cit.) See: Present White House Administration for specific examples.

    • The effects of an electric grid breakdown are generally overstated. The grid isn’t a thing per se, but rather a system of systems (of systems…) that on the whole is fairly robust. An attack on the grid might result in a lot of people losing electrical power for several days, but it would not bring about widespread collapse of civilization.

      I was at prototype in upstate New York for the Great Blackout of ’06. The site lost external power, but by the time I got home from work power had been restored to our house. The site had power back by the time I got to work the next morning. New York City was without power for several days. If the large feeder lines are attacked, places like California and large cities would be without power for some time, but places like Colorado Springs would be just fine.

      The same is true with food distribution, though that is even more distributed. If something shuts down the major hauling services, independent owner-operators and other individuals would pick up the slack. And of course if food distribution to cities were to become unreliable, people would move themselves out of the cities (though large groups of those who only know how to live in a large city – especially those dependant on the welfare systems – migrating across the countryside would be worrying and for the core of my most-likely worst case scenario.)

      • We’ve got a chunk (small – 250 customers) of Amarillo that was without power as of 1000 today. I suspect a single sub-line got clobbered by a falling tree or other wind-blown debris, or someone slid into something (again). If I had not looked at the outage map, due to morbid curiosity of the BTDT kind, I’d never have known, even though its less than a mile from where I sit typing. The fault is routed around and as soon as it is safe (if not already), it will be fixed. Ditto the other outages in the area. 75 mph winds do tend to make the electron carriers go “ping.”

        • Wayne Blackburn

          I’ve been rather dismayed at the number of locations in my area where small dead trees are actually resting on the lines, and have been for over a year in some places. Seems like a break waiting on a good solid wind to come by.

          • Our local power company used to be on top of that sort of thing; they maintained their rights-of-way, kept trees trimmed back, etc. Then they got bought out by some conglomerate whose idea of maintenance is “hire someone to come and fix it if it breaks.” And they closed all their local business offices; their only method of contact is a telephone number in another state.

            “Go, Customer Disservice!”

        • that pretty much happens to my neighborhood every year. The santa ana winds kick up,, and the local substation goes boom (sometimes literally) and we have no power for a few days… usually at least two but it has been as long as five-six ish (power came on while we were sleeping so we dont know what point it came on))

          At least here in SoCal, its more of a power tree than a power grid.

      • May have posted something about this before. About 15 years ago (time files) a large ice storm took down most of the transmission lines in central Nebraska. No electricity for several months. The feds showed up with portable generators to create powered shelters in local towns, then tried to talk farmers into moving into them. They didn’t have much luck – the farmers just kept on going with their farm houses.

        • The farmers probably had their own gensets. Probably better than the ones the government had. If there was gas on the property, even if the well was supposedly tapped out the likelihood is 100%. That’s what my relatives did.

          • Aye. Some years back a more-nasty-than usual blizzard hit north/western Minnesota and took out electrical transmission lines. It took considerable time to restore them, but even before there was any attempt at government action “generator gangs” formed up and went from one farm to the next to supply electricity to run equipment, each in turn.

            • When Sandy hit my brother’s neighborhood on coastal Long Island got pounded. Power went out, to include the power to run the gas pumps. My brother and his neighbors responded by pooling the gas in their boats to keep their generators running on a rotratying basis. When the cops told them, you’re on your own the shotguns came out and looting Did Not Happen.

            • One a certain Saturday every month (usually the first, IIRC), all the big dairy farmers in the southeast part of SD pull off of the regional grid and run their generators for at least a few hours. Keeps the equipment in decent shape, lets them find problems before the fit hits the shan (also known as Winter), and the power coop doesn’t get surprised. When storms do hit, they just send Ole or Juan out to flip the switch.

              • “…fit hits the shan…”

                I know it’s a Spoonerism, but I now imagine a particular pony having a seizure.

                • I did a triple-take when I encountered that line in Zelazny’s _Lord of Light_. Though it made me laugh, it took a while before my willing suspension of disbelief recovered.

            • In 2007 a chain of tornadoes tore up Northern Arkansas. I had a delivery run through there the night after. Some hospitals and nursing homes were lit. Nothing else… except at the Wal-Marts, which were fully lit, parking lots and all.

              [at least some] Wal-Mart stores can run off the grid. Who knew?

              • Also common in winter type tourist towns– you can make a LOT of money off of being the only place with frozen stuff that stays frozen; some of it off of your competitors, if you’ve got the freezer space to lease.

          • I don’t know about that specific case, but I do remember some talk in ag circles about the habit of “we’re here to help you” tending to want to take the generators and fuel from the ranches or farms of those they “help.”

            It was to the point of there being helpful hints like not running the generator when rescue groups were in the area.

      • “If something shuts down the major hauling services, independent owner-operators and other individuals would pick up the slack.”

        We should all hope that the current crop of terrorists never learns as much about infrastructure as this group does. If a bunch of us were to get together to bring the system down, we’d succeed.

        • Forgot to add- it’s easier to destroy then to build.

        • Maybe. Knowing how to bring down a system and having the resources to do so are two completely different things.

          • It is a bit like Anarchy. Those who are REALLY good at it tend not to like it all that much. Like many hard core preppers, the hardcore anarchists tend to not be as good as they think and the anarchy set it means no good for much more than being asses and breaking things. If they got their way, they’d mostly end up being the first to go. Even low levels of anarchy against them makes them cry like babies, and there are those who, if it came to cases would make it their business to ensure those who started it were not around long to enjoy their work.
            The folks hereabouts would be able to drop many systems like a stone if it came to cases and we had reason to act. We also tend to be able to make stuff. lots of stuff, often not having a thing to do with their “title”. So you get people who know what to target. But it would take a very good reason for any of us to do so.
            The group here has the resources to tear it down because we know much of what is needed to bring it up

          • Actually, I think that nobody really knows all that much about the infrastructure, which is kind of the point. That information is distributed among the thousands of people whose job is to extend and maintain it.

            Look, the global technology net upon which your life depends is not supposed to fail ever for any reason at all. There are people whose job it is to think about the worst thing that can possibly happen and then imagine a way of dealing with it. I’d have to say that they’re pretty good at it by now.

            The overriding design philosophy is “fail in pieces.” Each of the pieces of the technology net is designed to fail in such a way that it isolates itself from the rest of the network, and doesn’t drag other parts down. Looked at in that fashion, the device that symbolizes modern technology is nothing more than the simple fuse.

            Of course, if you have a disaster that is damaging enough that happens quickly enough across a wide enough area, then the technology net might not recover. I don’t know what would cause that, though. Perhaps a global thermonuclear war. Perhaps not.

            Lest you raise the objection that it’s designed to handle accidental events and not deliberate damage, the whole point behind the US’s strategic bombardment effort in WWII was to shorten the war by attacking the infrastructure at a weak spot. That weak spot turned out to be oil, but it took a long time to find it and took quite a bit of effort by one of the major combatants to disrupt, and that was only partly successful.

            A few guys with 22’s can cause some transformers to fail, and the system administrators I used to hang with talked about the magic backhoe that went around cutting fiberoptic cables, but causing the whole network to fail? It takes more than that. How much more is pure speculation.

            Not that there isn’t a weak spot, but even if it exists, finding it will take some looking. I certainly don’t know where it is.

            • Free-range Oyster

              Hmm, hadn’t really thought about that: I, Pencil as applied to infrastructure. That’s encouraging, in context.

            • Wayne Blackburn

              It’s the big transformers that people mostly worry about, because there aren’t many replacements, and even without disruptions, new replacements take a lot of lead time.

              Then again, they don’t generally take into account how Americans step up their game when there is an emergency. I recall a story about a ship that got damaged in a big storm, and repairs included a replacement for a (IIRC) 3000lb gear. Normally, the lead time on orders for that gear was about two months. The foundry that made them had a new one cast, machined, and delivered to the ship in under 20 hours.

            • Infrastructure isn’t hard to learn about, it takes time and dedication. Awareness of critical services is 2nd hat to those in emergency management. Or certain military types.

              I had an XO that was a SEAL. Given Y number of men and Y number of dollars he could do Z amount of damage. He didn’t think very highly of US infrastructure, Z was extraordinary high for small numbers of X and Y. Fortunately he liked civilization.

      • The biggest issue I see with the food distribution is the fact that the majority of our food sources are congregated into single areas (like California or Florida), and have to travel long distances to reach the markets. That leaves places like where I live–southeast Wyoming–as food deserts. Yes, there is food supply in Colorado, but if the distribution chain broke down, I would bet Colorado supplies Colorado first and foremost (which only makes sense). This is why I personally would like to see a return to more locally-sourced food. Not because of hipster-foodie status points, but because it makes more sense. There are varieties of wheat and so on, and many varieties of fruits that could be grown even in this godsforsaken arctic state–but there is no incentive to do so, alas. At least, not on a bigger-than-individual-needs scale.

        Seriously, though, when I-80 spent the better part of two weeks closed recently…the few grocery stores in the area were very bare indeed. And while I come from a long line of people who believe in shopping for several weeks-months of supplies at a go, there are a lot of folks even in the wilderness here who shop almost every day and keep very little on hand. Things were getting a little worried-looking around the edges before the DoT opened up the interstate long enough for supply trucks to get through…

        • The reason why food production is concentrated is because that’s the most efficient way to do it. And I wouldn’t worry about the general distribution infrastructure, any event large enough to significantly damage it is going to greatly reduce the demand for food.

          Now, those who live out on the end of the narrow twigs of the network are a different story, and they need to either protect themselves from supply interruptions or move to where the network is more robust.

          • Of course, I can’t help but wonder: is this the most efficient way because California and Florida are really the best places to grow things? Or is it because it’s the most efficient way to get around all the silly regulations?

            I’m sure the answer to the first question is, “well, duh!”, but I sometimes think we underestimate the costs imposed on us by regulations as well. Sure, Big Gov types will insist that we should have local food…but do their rules match their professed beliefs?

    • Thankfully, it’s really hard to actually stop all trucks in and out of a city for even one day. Ditto for wiping out power for an area entirely.

      The rule of law issues can be fought with truth… although you’ll get a lot of folks being nasty when you bother to research a case and find out that the “horrific abuse” is something other than what it was portrayed as.

      • 9-11 stopped them, cold.

        Would they move if people weren’t getting paid? How would the producers, transport companies, and stores pay if the banks were shut down like in Cypress or Greece?

        Read some of the CDC’s pandemic section on their website, and the business continuity section. A virulent communicable disease would shut down movement of people and goods. How do the distributors, producers, and stores function if only 20% of their staff comes to work?

        Or if snipers start shooting truck drivers from the freeway overpasses. A couple of wrecks in just a couple of places would cause gridlock in most urban areas, especially those that are near gridlock on a normal day. Shut down a couple of bridges, or a tunnel or two…. Manhattan is an ISLAND fer pete’s sake.

        5 major roads into Vegas.

        5 into Denver.

        On and on. and on.

        I can game it, so others with more knowledge and info than I can do it too.

        nick

        (not saying it wouldn’t take WORK, but it’s not hard to imagine it happening.)

        • 9-11 stopped them, cold.

          People choosing not to drive is an utterly different subject than people stopping the trucks, and if you think Manhattan Island is in any way normal, well…..

          The theory might work, but the reality is different. People simply aren’t that mechanical.

          Does anyone even remember when Seattle was basically an island for about a week? Short version, flooding took out the passes, and swamped the roads in. I’d suggest studying that for an idea of how one of the less “prepper” friendly areas deal with stuff. Can even account for the military stuff.

          • You’re absolutely right. But…

            Posit a few things that aren’t fixable, like that quake we’re all talking about happening out on the coast by the fault lines. How well does Seattle function, for example, when those lines of communication are broken and not quickly repairable? When the entire surrounding region is also equally broken?

            Some disaster scenarios just aren’t going to be quickly fixed or dealt with. Myself, I think that people wouldn’t go all Mad Max, but I also recognize that there is going to be some serious, serious triage that’s going to happen when it is the entire region that’s fuxxored. That earthquake that happened back in 1700 or so, and produced a tidal wave in Japan that was almost as devastating as the most recent one they went through? I’ve heard credible discussion that indicates the result of that thing repeating itself would leave most of Western Washington and Oregon looking a lot like the Oso slide site. Just about all of our overpasses along rural parts of I-5, for example, are not rated to withstand an earthquake of that magnitude. We’re a little better off in the urban areas, but those don’t really matter for lines of communication resiliency, sadly.

            Some scenarios aren’t as bad as the worst case, but it’s still going to be ugly. My mind keeps rewinding to that geologist I spoke with, who was blithely talking about his coring samples on the eastern shore of Lake Washington–The ones that kept showing a recurring cycle of salt water, brackishness, and a return to fresh water. Then, I remember what’s in between Lake Washington and the Puget Sound, and I’m left in awe of what must have happened to make that happen. I’m also left with absolutely no desire to be there, when and if it happens again…

            Dude recounts finding signs of ocean-shore life, like salt-water plants and animals on something like the eastern shore of Lake Washington, and you remember that, I’m telling you. Weird thing was, he was kind of oblivious to the implications. All I could envision was the size of the tsunami that could do that, boiling down the Sound. Not really interested in being there, ya know?

            • Posit a few things that aren’t fixable

              Oh heck, why not posit the SMOD or (somewhat overdue) eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera?

            • Major natural disasters will shut down a city for a time, but nature is capable of releasing energy on a scale several orders of magnitude greater than what humans can provide. Yes, a major earthquake would wipe out Seattle, just like a major earthquake wiped out San Francisco.

            • Did you think of the assumptions you were putting in to get that implication? For example, that the sea level was solid,and only small parts of land would be moving?

              I’ll have to track down the information again, but if I remember the ultimate source of the “east side of Washington and Oregon would look like Oso” quote, it was a bit of a telephone game from a statement by one of the relief agencies and was talking about the network of support, not the damage that got shown for that big slide.
              The view from a relief agency is a lot different than from folks who are looking at the actual physical disaster.

              • Ever been out to see the “drowned forests” out there on the coast? The coast basically dropped a couple of meters, in some places. Subduction earthquakes aren’t the same as the ones we’re used to. The Nisqually one in 2001 was a deep earthquake, 6.8 on the scale; the 1700 event was a subduction event, potentially rating as high as a 9.2. You want a clue for how much damage was done, take a look at the forests along the coast–The “ghost forest” thing goes from the central Oregon coast up to British Columbia. You stand out in those things, or float among them in boats, and the implications will blow your mind, once you manage to get it through your head what caused them. My mom’s a geology nut, and a rockhound; I spent a lot of my childhood out doing stuff with her, and it’s only looking back and connecting all the dots that the full magnitude of the thing really hits–All those tracts of “ghost forest” up and down the coast, all the landslide events inland that date to the same era? Yeah… The amount of ground that covers is ‘effing mind-boggling. Picture the land out there on the Puget Trough moving like waves in the ocean, which is pretty much what it did back then. I don’t think that much of the infrastructure is going to come through an event of that scale, at all well.

                Given the geology of Western Washington, I really don’t want to be there for something that can do that.

                • The coast basically dropped a couple of meters, in some places.

                  Exactly.

                  You assumed a tsunami, but we know that some areas can just…drop.

                  I’m more familiar with things like a rancher finding he’s got a crack in his land you can hide a full-sized pickup in (which is WHY that land is wide open for grazing….) but there are a lot of options besides “tsunami” to get ocean in where it oughtn’t be.

                  You seem to assume that the earth is still, unless it’s doing something dramatic– but it isn’t. It just isn’t usually big enough to get much notice unless it’s an amazingly catastrophic event, like that freak earthquake that the keep pointing to from the 1700s. Are there usually big quakes? Yes, “regularly” enough that there’s a one in ten chance of a greater than 8 in the next fifty years SOMEWHERE on that entire zone.
                  But it’s not likely to be a repeat of the one that they’re trying to reconstruct from tea leaves.

                  • LOL… I’m going to have to point out that you’re assuming I was talking “tsunami”, when the reality is that the effects I’m talking about also include minor little things like the landslides that created those sunken forests in Lake Washington. What happened at Oso is likely to be repeated at hundreds or thousands of other locations west of the Cascades, and, not coincidentally, we’ve got much of our transportation infrastructure run through areas that are vulnerable to that. In 1700, there were a lot more trees and vegetation to hold those hillsides in place. It also hit on the 26th of January, which was probably fortuitous because a lot of the soggy-ass ground was presumably chilled enough that it didn’t flow easily on the surface. Have that happen during the really wet part of the year, when everything is basically a bowl of jello? Yah…

                    It’s one thing when the population consists of a bunch of near stone-age tribes; they can pick up, move inland, and find better places to live while coping with the changed landscape. Our infrastructure is just a wee bit more complex, and far less flexible.

                    What you’re missing is that I’m looking at the situation through the eyes of someone who was paid to plan and conduct the destruction of infrastructure for years, and who got really good at it. I’ve actually driven the I5 corridor south from Fort Lewis to Portland with an eye towards disabling the damn thing in case of war, so I’ve got a pretty good handle on just what one of these big 9.2 earthquakes would likely do to most of the structures along it that we rely on, and it is spectacularly not good.

                    It’s one thing to repair a localized slide area where something like Oso has happened. Expand that to an event where those slides are spread out and distributed along the I5 corridor from south of Portland to Vancouver, BC? Yeah, that’s not getting repaired any time soon. I’m also leaving out all the other damage that one of those quakes will cause, like collapsed buildings, bridges, and other like issues. Let it hit in mid-winter, when many of the passes are closed for the year? Oh, sure, yah, you betcha–We’ll use Highway 97 to bypass all that west-side damage. Sure we will.

                    Some native Northwesterners have been fantasizing for years about having something come along that gets rid of all the migrant Californians; the event that does that is likely to do things that these folks haven’t even thought about, with regards to the implications thereof. I’m really not at all sanguine about the potential economic and infrastructure damage. The scale of the thing is just too far out of the range people think of as possible. Seriously–connect the dots for all those locations where we know the surface geology changed significantly from that one event, and then extrapolate. Those “ghost forests” weren’t confined to one bay; they were all along the coast from the central Oregon coast all the way up to the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

                    That’s bloody huge–And, with all the land shifts? There were old landslides where we used to go looking for agates down in central Oregon that I now know were linked to that event, and I’ve stood on dike banks out by the Bangor sub base that were raised ten feet during the same event, plus been up at a friends land around Marysville where you could see the vestigial remnants of the land slump that he’s dated to that earthquake via the remnants of tree stumps he’s excavated. Template that on top of our infrastructure? Crap, it’s going to take us years just to catalog the damage, let alone rebuild. Assuming anyone wants to, that is… A repeat of that 1700 earthquake is going to stick in people’s memories, for a long, long time. The Northwest is likely going to be tagged with “dangerous and inimical to life” marker for generations to come.

                    The more I look into and research this stuff, the more I think that there’s a damn good reason the local Indians developed the Potlatch culture they did–Why the hell not eat, drink, and be merry? Mother Nature is coming down the Sound to kill us all, at random intervals and with a variety of tools. If it isn’t the earthquakes, it’s the volcanoes or the weather. Anything you try to build, that’s more permanent than a log hut or a totem pole? Yeah, it’s gonna wind up crushed flat or out in the Sound… No wonder they were fatalists.

                    • LOL… I’m going to have to point out that you’re assuming I was talking “tsunami”,

                      Earlier:
                      Dude recounts finding signs of ocean-shore life, like salt-water plants and animals on something like the eastern shore of Lake Washington, and you remember that, I’m telling you. Weird thing was, he was kind of oblivious to the implications. All I could envision was the size of the tsunami that could do that, boiling down the Sound.

                      Not in the mood for dancing while you spin poetic visions of a worst case scenario that cannot be impacted even by a game-out of a worst case scenario by the people who believe it’s going to be horrible.

            • Here, these guys gamed out a worse case scenario, assuming that anything they didn’t know had already been done (including things their members were in the middle of doing when the report was written, but hadn’t yet finished) was not done:

              http://www.crew.org/products-programs/cascadia-subduction-zone-earthquakes-magnitude-90-earthquake-scenario

              They figure most deaths would be from the waves, and that is big because they’re also assuming that the worst possible pattern would happen– that it would “snap” along the entire fault line, top to bottom.

              Even then, they had to point out it wouldn’t be as much damage as Japan’s.

        • “Would they move if people weren’t getting paid? How would the producers, transport companies, and stores pay if the banks were shut down like in Cypress or Greece?”

          The truckers would sell their loads – an alternative currency, probably gold based, would be one of the first things people would invent – then use that money to refuel and buy a load for the return trip, essentially recreating the business model of 99% of the traders who ever lived.

          There are 5 interstates running into Denver, but countless small roads that could support traffic. Yes, you could invest a city, but it would literally take an army. There’s no way a handful of snipers isolates a major city for more than a day.

          • Depends on the city. Denver, being the beneficiary of geography, is not subject to effective potential isolation. That doesn’t mean that every US city is similarly proof against such things. Denver is also smack dab in the middle of some very fertile countryside, and could probably revert to some sort of regional system without a tremendous amount of grief.

            The cities we’ve built in the middle of various deserts, and at the ends of unstable river systems, on the other hand? Yikes…

            Los Angeles is an example. You have a couple of major communications links that are a lot more vulnerable to disruption than even the most optimistic planner would like, and a limited amount of fungibles on hand to support life in that area. With the history California has for spectacular natural disasters, the reality is that Los Angeles might very well turn into a disaster of truly epic proportions. A repeat of the floods of the winter of 1861-62, for example, would likely result in the destruction of the aqueduct system feeding water to Los Angeles. Further loss of communication to the road/rail network, and it isn’t long before the essentially artificial life support network that keeps Los Angeles alive ceases to function.

            An interlocking disaster where you have the necessary events happen in the proper sequence is not the most likely course of events, but it is also not something to handwave off, either. Given the modern world we live in, how much imagination would an active cell of some organization like ISIS need, to take advantage of circumstances in such a way that they vastly multiplied the effect of their attacks?

            • “Denver is also smack dab in the middle of some very fertile countryside”

              You haven’t spent much time on the Front Range, have you?😉

              As for the rest, there are secondary and tertiary levels of infrastructure that can supply a great deal, if not all, of the requirements. Levels that nobody thinks about using because the primary system works.

              • Well, actually, I have. My family farmed in the middle of the Longmont-Loveland-Johnstown triangle, and did quite well at it. Some of us are still there, still farming.

                Compared to a city like New Orleans, or a few others I can think of, Denver is much better situated to survive a bunch of things, except, perhaps, a plague of California expats…

            • How did Dallas/Fort Worth get started? The Trinity River is an assured water supply but it isn’t navigable. There are roads and railroad lines but…?

              • Trade paths and it was a middle point between the eastern woodlands, the Plains, and the coastal area. The Caddo had a village, and there was a ford on the Trinity, according to French and Spanish accounts. You’re on the eastern edge of buffalo prairies, so it made a good place to have a trade point, like the Comanche later did in the Arkansas-Cimarron uplands.

              • If the Lewisville Dam ever loses integrity in a big way, then you will see how well Dallas handles emergencies.

                Fortunately the Corps has the situation under control even though the local newspaper just told ISIS how to do 25 billion in damage with a single truck bomb…

        • Manhattan sees wrecks just about every day. A couple of snipers wouldn’t change very much before they were shutdown. And Manhattan may be an island but there are LOT of bridges up on the Harlem River.

          • Lots of bridges, sure—but do all of them together have the carrying capacity of the George Washington Bridge?

            Couple of years ago there was discussion of opening a freight rail tunnel for redundancy. At a community hearing the politicians in favor pointed out that NYC gets 90% of its commercial traffic over the GWB, with the last 10% over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and that there’s not a lot of room for expansion on the other routes into the city.

            We could survive the loss of the GWB, but it would mean almost nothing but commercial traffic in & out of the city while the bridge was repaired.

            • Actually the Commercial traffic on the GWB is heading east into New England for the most part. The connections for Manhattan for the GW are really bad, so most stuff into Manhattan uses the tunnels. And it would not be that hard to divert to the Tap and 287.

              • What you’re saying sounds right; perhaps they were referring to stuff coming in to Brooklyn & Queens rather than NYC as a whole.

                (The rail tunnel project was NIMBYed out of existence, so it was probably not after all as urgent as the Assemblyman was suggesting.)

          • Phoenix had a freeway sniper a couple of months ago, no major closures or impacts seen. (As long as you weren’t the one being shot.)

      • Depends on the city. Manhattan? Easy least. Outer boroughs? Harder, but doable. More resource intensive but the fact that all transport around NYC is focused To Serve Manhattan creates built-in choke points.

        The small Texas town I live near, OTOH, while it sits at a junction of only two main roads, also sits in a web of farm to market roads, private roads and county roads. Traffic can if needed flow around most natural or manmade obstructions. Not to mention that most folks have transport that can handle routing around roads period in a lot more places than you think.

        • I finally remembered why I had such a laugh-out-loud reaction to the idea that Vegas would be relatively easy to seal off– the guys who did security there a decade ago had a major issue (read: had to do a lot of patrols) paroling the entire area around that base, because people weren’t restricted to the roads, and it was so common you couldn’t just assume any idiot showing up had bad intent, but there’s also the drug gangs to worry about.

          • When Deb and I went to the big Tea Party rally in Searchlight, Nevada, Harry Reid’s home town, there was a huge mound of strip-mining scree behind the rally site. I climbed up there and looked out. Dust trails are coming into town from every direction: jeeps and trucks and ATV’s and UTV’s coming straight to the rally site.

            Forget the roads. They were jammed clear back to the I-15 and Henderson. People were just stopping their cars in place and trying to walk in. It was like Woodstock for people with jobs.

            • Same in the first tea party I attended. I lived three miles away, so I walked, but word was out you couldn’t park downtown, so people were parking anywhere and walking.
              I kept looking at all these people walking with a sense of purpose — I remember a young man in Native American attire and a long haired young man who could have posed for a hippie retro shot — and thinking “they can’t be going to the tea party.” Well… they were.

  10. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    I think that the greatest defense we have against a dystopic collapse is the fact that the people who want to bring it about are lazy cowards from the Ivy Covered Snob Factories and the people who want to keep things together work hard to do keep things going because they have their entire lives committed to just that.

  11. An analogy: I’m reminded of something Steve Jobs (RIP) told 0bama (whom he supported), when he asked him why not bring back Apple’s production to the USA. “These jobs are never coming back. It’s not just the production, but all the suppliers, and all the suppliers of the suppliers.” (my paraphrase). There is a scene in “The Guns of the South” by Harry Turtledove in which the Confederates want the time traveler to repair a computer that broke down, and he basically said he’d have to recreate not one layer of tech, but the layer behind it, and then the layer behind that. This is one reason why even a “dark optimist” like myself wonders sometimes if we’re in a metastable state…

    • This was also illustrated by the Time Traveled protagonist, Martin Padway, in de Camp’s magisterial Lest Darkness Fall (1939) (available in Kindle with bonus short stories by David Drake, S. M. Sterling, and Frederick Pohl, as well as an essay by Alexei & Cory Panshin, all for $2.99.)

      De Camp’s book is an example of why the SJWs don’t want you to read “Classic” SF.

    • I think that a telling part of that is that Apple doesn’t want to be a company that actually MAKES anything any more.

      • I worked at Apple early on (1979-85) and various other computer companies through 2008, and various forces moving production overseas worked against all of them. In spite of numerous efforts to keep it onshore, including increasing automation of factories.

        It’s expensive, and not just in terms of money, to set up, maintain, and run high-volume high-tech manufacturing. And it’s not just us, we watched manufacturing move to Japan, the away from Japan to China, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, … and it hasn’t stopped yet.

        Some near-future manufacturing tech might make it possible to move back to the states for more than just low-volume, high-value products, but even if it does, it won’t be in California or the Northeast.

        Bureaucrats of various flavors will strive mightily to see to that. (And complain about various “wreckers” and “saboteurs” keeping their noble efforts to help the people from fruition. Or something.)

        • I suspect that 90% of the problem is that the people in charge don’t understand manufacturing and don’t WANT to. It’s dirty and old fashioned as far as their concerned. Oh Well, I just watch Japanese manufacturing videos and cry a little.

        • About twenty years ago I worked a consultancy for a company whose entire business model was to develop the production process for manufacturing of plastic molded parts for healthcare products and plastic packaging. Once developed and running properly those assembly lines were sold out of the country to be run by other companies.

          Volume production simply cannot be done in the States for a variety of reasons, and labor cost is far from the greatest amongst these.

    • There’s a scene in that book where the Confederates demonstrate their own homegrown AK-47. It turns out that building a copy would have been within their existing OTL technology. Since they didn’t know how to make or heat treat the alloys used for the bolt and trunnion it would not have been safe to fire with modern ammunition… but the analysis and manufacture of the smokeless powder and primers was far beyond Civil-War-era chemistry. They *could* have duplicated the drawn-brass ammunition cases – or scavenged the plentiful empties from battle sides – and loaded them with black powder and mercuric primers.

      One of the AK forum members loaded up a bunch of black powder, cast lead bullet 7.62×39, took it to the range, and video’d the results. A few mags later the AK was still rocking on, filthy but functional.

      I wouldn’t have wanted to clean that thing after it was done, but it was still working when they ran out of ammo, much to the surprise of the “it’ll foul too much to cycle after a few shots” crowd…

  12. The thing about the battery chargers brought to mind this: Any technology with which you are reasonably familiar, you might want to pick up some reference materials that will let you work on prior generations’ versions of it. Example: electronics. There’s not much we can do without huge labs with clean rooms and expensive equipment to replicate most of today’s electronics, but a lot of the supporting equipment can be made from older basic ingredients, such as using discrete resistors, capacitors, inductors, and diodes, transistors to build the battery charger. But if you have a memory anything like mine, you’re not likely to know the circuit for building that charger, so you would want a reference with a ton of circuit diagrams.

    • Reality Observer

      Hmm. You have an excellent point, sir.

      I no longer need feel guilty about hanging on to books from my youth. Although I don’t know how useful the ones with vacuum tube circuits are going to be…

      • A halfway competent glassblower can make vacuum tubes. Crafting transistors is a bit more challenging.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          True, but scavenging transistors from existing circuit boards is not TOO difficult, even though you have to be pretty careful so you don’t overheat the transistor while you do it.

      • Vacuum tubes might be easier to make than integrated circuit.

        • Will Martindale

          Here’s a great video of a French HAM (F2FO) making a vacuum tube in his own shop. It looks like his spot welder and vacuum pump are homemade as well.

      • Just make sure you store as much of the circuit diagrams and production methods on technology that will remain accessible after the Fall — like 5.25″ floppy disks!

        • how about laminated paper? Or could go really low tech and use bricks.

          • Perhaps cunning arrangements of menhirs, say arrayed to serve as calendars and astronomical observatories? Maybe set them up as henges?


            Nyahhh – that’d never last!

      • Every once in a while I will point out to someone a couple facts they find jarring. Consider that WWII, the war of early computing machinery, jet engines, atom bombs, radar… ended in 1945. And the transistor was invented in 1947. “How?!” “Vacuum tubes and slide rules work.”

        And in 1969 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left some boot prints on the moon. And the first primitive 4-bit microprocessor wasn’t made until 1971.

        I think I’ll hang on to my old copy of Elements of Radio. And I have a slipstick or two, too.

        • My old slide rule needs a glass-fronted frame with a little brass hammer on a chain.

          “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass.”

          All you need for a slide rule is light. And for that matter, they used to make Braille slide rules…

  13. What collapse at least in its early stages looks like is an unstoppable gas fire smack dab in the middle of one of the richer neighborhoods in Southern California multiplied by a hundred spread over years.

    However its not “implode to Mad Max” that should concern folks but someone pushing far too hard and the push back ending up turning the USA into Yugoslavia.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Yes. Parts of the country are robust enough that you won’t see Mad Max. It’d take infantry to knock them down. It would be logistically difficult for most foreign powers to supply that infantry.

      An internal slaughter that kick starts endemic internal bloodletting could be a problem.

      • It wouldn’t be endemic. The maker subculture would very quickly eliminate or expel the taker subculture.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          If that is where the lines are drawn.

          We can speculate that that is the likely line. We do not know.

          It could easily be messier than that.

          • That’s where the line will bring drawn, but they won’t be contiguous. Things will get messy for islands of takers surrounded by makers and vice versa.

    • Which is what almost always happens.

  14. Bjorn Hasseler

    Well said, Sarah.

  15. Sarah and JcCarlton, I “partially” disagree. From the standpoint of someone who grew up in Florida (1955-70), and studied collapses for most of hus life, it won’t be an overnight/worldwide collapse. More like a quick/slow fall. The world is far too interconnected to remain standing in a “fall.” The ME is, in fact, experiencing just such a “fall.” Pockets hang on, and “make it through,” where someone (ISIS/Assad) isn’t pulling them down.
    For example, Most of the NE coast (Va North to ME), and the Southern West Coast (Only Northern Ca. won’t) all the way to Wa. State, cannot maintain status quo. Neither can Chicago/Detroit, as being too badly run. Too large a % of pop. is dependent on “Social Services and Gov’t (food stamps, housing, etc.). Another _large % is an absolute _blank_ on how to survive without supermarkets and restaurants. Steaks come from cattle, not a package? Food doesn’t come from a can, already processed? =8-0
    The problem is not that it will be triggered by a *deliberate* action, but that *sheer _stupidity_* will set up an inevitable avalanche. A country can’t pay for what it needs, and so “goes to a ‘limited’ war to get what it needs. Causing a “domino effect” of others trying to “protect” themselves. Some *idiot* decides attack Israel in the confusion, and sets off a Jewish/Muslim _Nuclear_ war, followed by Muslim/Christian Civil War in Europe/Russia.
    ISIS will then attack the Great Satan, thinking it can conquer us. Meanwhile, Black/White Lunatics will try to set up a “perfect country,” by collapsing the infrastructure.
    *If,* the pustules of Liberal stupidity in “Flyover Country” don’t poison too large an area that’s where the “recovery” will start. Mostly because of the “cold, dead fingers attitude” that is many times the Coastal %. Except for the “lack of electricity” Stirling’s Dies the Fire, is a good “blueprint for recovery.”
    The “Green Beans,” Liberal Progressives, Communists, etc. will die quickly, without Gov’t to control things for them. If the “controls” are no longer “connected” knowing them will do no good.

    • Turning and turning in the widening gyre
      The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
      Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
      Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
      The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
      The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
      The best lack all conviction, while the worst
      Are full of passionate intensity.

      Surely some revelation is at hand;
      Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
      The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
      When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
      Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
      A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
      A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
      Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
      Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

      The darkness drops again but now I know
      That twenty centuries of stony sleep
      Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
      And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
      Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
      William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), THE SECOND COMING
      http://www.potw.org/archive/potw351.html

    • As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
      I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
      Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
      And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

      We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
      That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
      But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
      So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

      We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
      Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place;
      But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
      That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

      With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
      They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
      They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
      So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

      When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
      They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
      But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
      And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

      On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
      (Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
      Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
      And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

      In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
      By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
      But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
      And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

      Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
      And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
      That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four —
      And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

      . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

      As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man —
      There are only four things certain since Social Progress began: —
      That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
      And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

      And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
      When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
      As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
      The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

    • Wayne Blackburn

      I don’t see how you could read what Sarah wrote as describing an “overnight/worldwide collapse”. For one thing, I think she’s describing primarily the American collapse that may happen if we don’t straighten up soon (the worldwide part will happen simply because it’s American prosperity largely propping up the rest), and for another, she pretty much explicitly described it as not overnight, but “instead, it goes in patches and lurches.”

  16. Sarah, your prose might help start a new enlightenment.

    • er… what? Only if people get the urge to set it on fire!😉

      • Well, you’d need something to light the way forward…

        • “Vileprogs roasting on a Hoytprose fire….”

          Never give a filker ideas….

          • We seem to have spawned one such. This year’s brain worm Christmas filk:

            The police have my dad,
            The police have my dad
            Because he did something really bad…

            I wanna wish you a happy jailbreak!
            I wanna wish you a happy jailbreak!
            And a head start on the coooooops.

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        The Hoyt Enlightenment (2015-2035) – Period of Middle American history marked by a return to libertarian principles of common sense, bad puns and threats of carping.

          • Christopher M. Chupik

            Carpsats with orbit-to-surface kinetic fish loads.

            • Carp-bearing drones, carried on constant surveillance, ready to strike at any sign of somebody attempting to force others to lead the lives they deem “moral.”

              Soon, proglodytes began to develop extensive underground warrens to allow them refuges into which they could dive at the first sighting of an approaching drone. Their constant nervous tic, scanning the skies while maintaining awareness of where the openings for their underground refuges soon became known as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

  17. I am somewhat anxious about a different sort of collapse. More like Rome with the 20 year cold the Arthurian cycle calls “The Wasteland”, followed by the loss of the Mediterranean shipping lanes to the Muslims. The economy collapsed and did not recover for generations. America and the West in general has lost confidence (or even the knowledge of) its cultural inheritance. Such a situation is ripe not only for a very substantial economic shrinkage, but replacement of the West with some other worldview combined with tyranny, the normal condition of mankind. I don’t recall any dystopian novel that follows that pattern.

  18. It would be well for the enthusiastic preppers to remember that whatever the government wants to take from them, an armed gang probably will too. There’s less paperwork with the gangs, usually, but also fewer survivors. All of the accounts I have read from people who actually lived these sorts of scenarios (like Bosnia…) you need other people around to survive. Isolated farms are NOT the way to go, unless you have an armed clan there already.

    • Precisely. What you need is functioning community, more than total autarky.

      You want to survive the dark, you’d do well to make friends with a bunch of common-sense Mormons. If darkness does fall, I personally project that the revival of civilization is likeliest to start here in the Western US with the Mormons. They’ve got the best shot at developing a functioning network of communities. I just hope they have the sense to incorporate the more sensible non-Mormons in their midst…

      • People have got to sleep sometime, and time spent on guard duty at night is time not spent farming & doing maintenance during the day.

      • At least that’s the way Card laid it out in his eerily convincing post-nuke stories in the Eighties. “Folks of the Fringe.”

      • Speaking as one of those Mormons, Kirk, you’d be welcome in my community. There are a few I go to church with who would beg to differ…but they’re idiots and likely would not survive long (being that their attitude of clannishness has alienated pretty much everyone, Mormon and not). Most of us, though–yeah, we know one cannot survive in a vacuum. And God knows you wouldn’t want me in charge of anything requiring serious mathematics.

    • Or can hire mercenaries who are out of work and hungry. Kurosawa’s great movie “The Seven Samurai” is about a farm village during Japan’s Warring States Period who inadvertently find out the bandit gang is going to raid them soon, a disaster they barely survived last time. So they hire six Ronin, Samurai who lost their posts in the confusion, and a comic would-be Samurai who tags along with them. It’s a plot that can be used in almost any background.

  19. My feeling is that during the ‘collapse’ most folks will just keep on keeping on, doing what must be done to take care of their families and friends. A “Keep Calm and Carry On” sort of thing. Of course, I may be incredibly optimistic.

    • See also Ringo’s The Last Centurion for examples of life during a hard time. It wasn’t a collapse but things were bad. cf. Fallen Angels.

  20. Life in PNG shows what a collapse will look like- in a strange way, the country is both building and collapsing at the same time.
    -Law enforcement: expect to see a rise in private security companies as the official police become more inefficient. Here, we don’t dial 911, we call the company’s Quick Response Team.
    -Gated communities: the typical urban house in PNG will have a fence topped with razor wire, bars on the windows, lighting, and even a guard in the evening. The better houses will be in a proper gated community with a guard force and the rest. A community backup generator and water supply is pretty much a given.
    -Infrastructure breakdown: much of the infrastructure here (roads, power, hospitals, government buildings) is the relic of the Aussie years, and much is in poor shape. New construction does happen, and is trumpeted to the skies, but basic maintenance is neglected. Small potholes are allowed to become massive, and power outages are common- usually 3 a day on a good day. Pretty much every computer and server is on a UPS, and every business on an automatic backup generator.

  21. The creepiest post disaster movies are the non-nuke, less than apocalyptic type. “Night of the Living Dead” has the shambler zombies, and the movie ends with the cops and armed volunteers cleaning up the Zs, and it’s a sunny day, just not for the not-smart-enough gang we’ve been following. “Mad Max” is about a social, economic collapse in which the town in the Australian Outback is almost as bad off as current Detroit. Both of those movies spawned sequels that were total apocalypse, but not in a convincing way. “Road Warrior” was still not post nuke, but it had flaws like, so they don’t know if the civilized city is still there, they are doing remarkably well for themselves, can’t someone build a radio? “Thunderdome” and the recent reboot were total nuke, and T was not better for it, and “Fury Road” turned off every reviewer I like, “World War Z” movie went fast zombie because the novel and the Romero sequels just weren’t able to sell everyone on the idea that the shamblers would end the world. And “The Bedford Incident”, movie and novel, is the nuke story that has the lowest death rate and is the most sobering and convincing.

    • I haven’t watched “Fury Road” mostly because I kept asking myself that if civilization had collapsed where did all those shiny new roots blowers come from and how come all those engines weren’t leaving rods and cranks all over the sand.

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        Clearly, the real reason gasoline is so scarce in the Mad Max universe is because all the lunatics use it up in their high-speed chases across the Wasteland.

        • And the concept of “minefield covered by overlapping fields of fire, both machine guns and various flavors of artillery” as a defense against what’s basically nomadic motorized light cavalry is obviously on of the things that’s been lost.

          • Christopher M. Chupik

            That assumes they have landmines. They use crossbows more than firearms, after all.

          • If you were to bring people from the post-war boom in the 1950s to this present, they would think the collapse had already happened.

          • One of the things I liked about the Wearing the Cape series was that the military had figured out that minefields and other area defense are excellent against speedsters.

            • They had military Supers. Super Seals, Super Rangers but the Supers in NYC were cops. Also the El Paso guys. keeping the border safe.

              • I note that at one point, the three responsibilities of cape teams are listed. Crime is only the last, and it explicitly describes them as helping the authorities with super-powered criminals.

                • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                  Nod, the teams are basically “Crisis Aid and Intervention Teams” not “Crime Fighting Teams”, except where Super-Criminals are involved.

  22. The reason I don’t get disappointed when movies murder my favorite books is that movies aren’t novels, in narrative scope.

    I had a home schooled friend who had become a fan of Gregory Peck after seeing Roman Holiday, she was looking to see every film she could with Peck in it.

    She found out I had a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird and wanted to see it. I told her that she had to read the book before I would let her see it. After reading the book she told me that she could not imagine how anyone could possibly be adapted into a movie. Then we sat down and watched it. No, the film is not everything the book was, but it is a mighty good movie.

  23. Recently someone told me a joke that she had heard Amy Schumer tell about birth control. The joke went on at some length and once the punch-line came I drew a blank. I simply could not figure why anyone thought it was funny. The Spouse not only didn’t find it funny, but found it irritating.

    She told it again in another setting an it dawned on me. The whole thing was based on the worst of feminist propaganda, the premise was outlandish, full of wrong suppositions, and the punch line was based on an utter falsehood. When I mentioned this to the teller she simply dismissed it, believing the problems in the joke were exaggerations of the truth for effect.

    Its what we know that ain’t so that often gets us into trouble.

    • ok, should not have gone and looked it up, because there are bad things in that ‘joke’ (apparently a video that she made) that make me need to vent

  24. I’m not talking about the truly psychotic, who are looking up recipes to use on their neighbors after the collapse.

    “Charlie, it’s Billy Henderson at the gate with a cake pan.”

    “Get the guns! He’s bringing over another fruitcake!!!”

  25. You gotta admit, though, the myths of collapse are a lot sexier than the reality. They make for better stories. That’s probably why the entertainment industry has latched onto them. It’s just hard for the average person to realize that it’s fiction. Fun fiction, but still fiction.

    • This. I cannot imagine Hollywood making a “pretty much the same as now, just more power outages, and the stores don’t always have Chilean Avocados in wintertime” societal collapse movie.

    • Not really. They’re just SIMPLER. To write a true collapse you need a book series, not one book.

      • I’d like to postpone the collapse until after I’m dead. I really don’t want to see my husband die from lack of insulin and pancrease. I take lots of meds too.

      • See Harry Turtledove’s “Supervolcano” series for a more likely view of how a collapse might be responded to today.

  26. Christopher M. Chupik

    You know, almost every fictional universe I’ve created lately has a big collapse somewhere in the backstory. Signs of the times, I guess.

  27. Another factor- within the past century, we have seen the collapse of the Russian Empire, Ottoman Empire, Austrian-Hungarian Empire (itself raising from the ashes of the Holy Roman Empire), German Empire, Chinese Empire, Japanese Empire, British Empire, and the Soviet Empire.

    • Consider we don’t have an empire.

      • Tell that to the nimrods on Facebook.

        • if I paid attention to the nimrods on Facebook, I’d also know that airplane fuel doesn’t melt steel and that Obama is the best president ever, eleventy. So, screw them.

          • And we’d have the idea that we could grab everything in Haiti and have it our benefit for almost no cost when in reality it be a waste of time and money and military and good will and we could get the same result by… having even our current crappy economy run for, oh, 30 to 60 minutes and generate the same amount of wealth – without all the hassle.

          • Don’t forget that Bernie Sanders will be the next President.

            • Since I’m not slowly exsanguinating in a warm bath, you can tell I don’t buy that one.

              • Sarah, let’s be honest here: The real worry is not that you’d ever be exsanguinating in a warm bath, but that you’d be doing one of those deals where you set up a scene in real life to match an old portrait.

                Namely, The Death of Marat, with Mr. Sanders as the centerpiece…

              • You seem more likely to berserk than commit suicide.

              • Bernie’s latest: “families are paying six, eight, ten percent on college loans, and people are paying three percent to refinance their mortgages, what’s wrong here!”

  28. Consider this: We already have a model for social collapse, and it is going on as we speak–Detroit.

    That’s the pattern, that’s the template for how it goes, and what it will look like. Detroit, on a national scale.

    If you brought someone forward from say, 1950, and showed them what Detroit looks like now, they’d think we held WWIII, and lost it. They’d never believe that the city got where it is as a natural product of Democratic government…

  29. Here is a very similar opinion, from the opposite side of the political map. http://hipcrime.blogspot.co.il/2012/04/what-if-collapse-happened-and-nobody.html .

  30. How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse

    Step 1: Stop (re)electing the zombies.

  31. This is a reply to Kirk to reset the thread limit.

    “Jeff, you’re also missing the point, which is the contrast between the two cultures.

    Why does the US version focus mostly on rent-seeking behavior?”

    Because the US military itself handles the standards enforcement and professional development. An outside organization with those goals would be redundant. On the other hand, the military is traditionally barred from politicking*, so outside organizations such as the American Legion and VFW are needed to lobby Congress.

    As for union behavior, that’s largely because labor relations were legally ossified during one of the high-water marks for Progressivism and so reflect the Marxist assumption that workers and management are in competition with one another.

    *Yes, it does happen, but quietly and by a very small number of senior leadership. Publicly, the military is expected to salute and execute the decisions of the politicians.

  32. There’s just too much here to unpack, but I didn’t find this essay totally persuasive. Much like contemporary comparisons between the US and other countries fall short for many reasons, so do comparisons between past and future collapses. I think this essay is a little too hung up on semantics.

    Sure, the popular culture and low info types may view this hypothetical collapse simplistically, but no serious person does. It’s more “Decline and Fall” per se. And there are many serious-minded people who can argue persuasively that we’re witnessing a decline. Will it lead to a fall? It’s tough to say, but the current course doesn’t seem to be changing or even changeable. How fast would an actual collapse occur? If comparisons to Rome are valid, then collapse in the US could happen as fast as its rise to power did in comparison to Rome’s.

    Modern day “collapses” of smaller states are mitigated by their current interconnectedness to the greater powers in the global network. But when those greater powers collapse and no one is around to bail them, out, what happens? We have no current examples of a modern first world state “collapse”. Germany wasn’t allowed to fail after WWII despite being a hollowed-out shell. The former USSR was somewhat saved by getting hooked up to the global network.

    The US supplies one quarter of the world’s wealth. Modern technology requires vast amounts of wealth and infrastructure just to maintain. An economic collapse of the US would have a devastating effect on the rest of the world. The global network just isn’t capable of sustaining a US economic collapse. China would follow very quickly, and then the EU.

    The ability to sustain the infrastructure and flow of capital to maintain modern technology would quickly fall apart. Laptop battery charging is probably going to fall pretty far down the priority list. This isn’t antiquity or the middle ages when a relatively small community had the technological capacity to produce damn near everything that community required for survival and entertainment. You can have the world’s knowledge at your fingertips (unlike our ancestors), but without the technological skill, infrastructure, and capital required for modern amenities, there WILL be a reversion to older tech depending on the length of collapse. Will it be Mad Max or Monty Python level mud farming? I doubt it, but it also won’t be pretty either. Ultimately, we don’t really know since there is no good comparison.

    One nit to pick on this essay is about people wanting enough land to farm. I think people who do this mean to farm for subsistence, not to sell at market. In this respect, rural people can do very well. My grandparents’ families in rural Mississippi during the Depression did remarkably well with subsistence farming.

  33. Anyone on list who lives in or a suburb of Abilene, TX? Bonus points if you live in Hamlin.

  34. Due to life and other hindrances, I can’t read your blog as regularly as I’d wish. This bothers me, and posts like the above are the reason why.

    Very well done. Very well done, indeed.

    : )

  35. One unpleasant scenario: “Their enemy told the Sleepwalkers, in escalating words and deeds across decades, that the endgame was to convert and kill them all. They heard these promises only as faint susurrations saying he simply wanted to be left alone with his “peaceful” god. He offered them death by fire and decapitation and they were lulled and responded with “What is wrong with peace, love and understanding?”

    RTWT

    http://americandigest.org/

  36. Barring hunger, thirst, disease, cannibalism, war lords, radiation, ethnic cleansing, religious fervor, narcissistic personality disorder, and a general lack of common sense needed to perform basic skills to live from one day to the next, some people might consider themselves lucky to see the next sunrise. But that manner of thought might simply be oblivious to many as it may be too realistic.
    Happy New Year🙂
    Hello 2016 🙂
    Hope we see 2017 🙂

  37. Nice piece – you make a number of good points. Your collapse by “patches and lurches” sounds pretty close to J.M. Greer’s “catabolic collapse”. Both make a lot of sense to me.
    RE entertainment, I sometimes want to ask my TV-phile friends, “How much of what seems like your life have you actually lived, and how much came from the imagination of some screen writer?”