“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
– Dylan Thomas
The poet was talking of old men, but the American Global Capitalist Empire seems determined to follow his advice. It will not to go gently, but like old men, it will go. We pretty much know what to expect when a person dies, but what can we expect when an empire dies?
Quem deus vult perdere, dementat prius – and the madness is well underway.
The history books tell us how empires fall apart, but they tend to focus on the effect on the ruling class, the loss of control by the central government, the barbarians at the gates. Life among the hoi polloi is usually expressed only in statistics: so many starved, this many migrated, that number died of disease. Drought and war have always led to large migrations and the current situation is no exception. Migrations place significant stress on the economies and capabilities of target destinations, and this stress may well show up as social & political unrest. Resource wars and race wars will be added to the existing warscape.
The decline of America will be more traumatic and the trauma more widespread because we are more powerful than any previous empire (the bigger they are, the harder they fall?) and our influence is global. To make matters worse, the world has less flexibility to absorb the upcoming shocks: much larger populations; fewer areas to provide ‘sanctuary’; climate change and associated severe weather; lack of wide-spread knowledge/skills for functioning without the supporting infrastructure for production, transportation, healthcare, etc.
Throughout most of history, surviving the fall of kingdoms and empires was mostly a matter of not getting killed by one army or the other, not starving to death because the combatants had stolen or destroyed the crops and not succumbing to the diseases which increase under war conditions. In other words, being lucky. But if one was lucky enough to survive, one went back to doing pretty much what one had done before and what one’s parents, grandparents, etc. had done for 1000 years, maybe in the same place or maybe in a new country. Today, most people in the Developed World haven’t a clue about surviving the fall of Empire, much less prospering.
And all the ‘survivalists’ with their high-tech gear and backyard gardens in remote locations are going to be in for a rude shock. I told one such friend that it is pointless to install solar power when the equipment hooked to it cannot be serviced/replaced. His response was that he would stockpile spare parts, lightbulbs, etc to last out his lifetime (and by implication, screw the next generation). I suggested that instead of installing solar panels, he should learn to live without electricity. He was stunned at the idea.
In some ways, 3rd World denizens – if we haven’t killed them off in our death throes – may actually be in a better position to deal with the demise of the American Empire than are Americans. 😀
It’s Hard to Know Steeleweed…,
just what to try to prepare for…, financial collapse, gas shortage, climate change, world war? It’s daunting when you think about trying to prepare for all at once…, but taking incremental steps is at least somewhat soothing to the soul. And you learn a lot from the effort…, like last year…, I learned that potatoes love the horse manure compost pile. This year I learned that trying to hill up those potatoes with fresh manure is a no, no, no. And I have always know that after a few tough hours in The Garden…, I am really going to miss ice cold Hamm’s in The Saddle Bar. But those inspiring hours have got me to thinking that I would really miss my music the most. A small windmill though…, might spin a salvaged Toyota alternator enough to charge a 12 volt battery enough to run a salvaged Toyota CD player. And we have quite a collection of those Toyotas here on The Ranch to salvage from if it goes that far 🙂
Right on partner…, write on.
The Quillayute Cowboy
“…dependent on anything you cannot produce from the natural world around you.”
Even if I ‘cheated’ by starting out with things I could not make – weapons, shovels, axes, saws, hand-tools, etc. I’m nowhere near ready for true off-grid life. I’d have to acquire a lot of stuff and the ability to use it. Don and others who work the land and livestock are way more knowledgeable, but I’m sure he is all too aware of what he doesn’t know. I recall him commenting once that he had “more than we need as long as the trucks keep coming, but when the trucks stop coming, it won’t be near enough”.
When it comes to required knowledge, on a scale of 1-100, I’d rate the average farmer in 1800 at 90 and myself around 5 – and 95% of Americans about 1. Some like the Amish rely more on basic skills, but even they don’t function entirely outside the corporate world.
My best guess is that Don is correct about off-grid life being unrealistic for the huge population we have today. In 10000 B.C. a tribe of 200 people could move a couple hundred miles to better territory and survive or 2000 people could migrate 1000 miles. I don’t see 200,000,000 people moving anywhere, certainly not without complete chaos.
Don is also correct that so-called off-the-grid living is not really independent of the wider society. In 10000 B.C. or 1000 A.D., the requisite skills were universal and life was supported by nature, not by the products of society. You’re not ‘off grid’ if you are dependent on anything you cannot produce from the natural world around you.
In 2015, 99.9% of what 99.9% of Americans know won’t provide them with food, shelter and protection. I have no problem with learning the new but I have a big problem with forgetting or never learning the old. Modern life in most of the world is a matter of luxury and has been for so long we have lost the ability to fully grasp necessity.
Orlov & Kunstler and the entire apocalypse crowd may be correct as to the collapse but their advice on how to survive it is questionable. The fact is that when it finally hits the fan – climate change, collapse of the American hegemony, massive global pollution – most of the human race will not survive.
I’m not talking about 30 million Chinese or 20 million Russians starving – China and Russia survived that. I’m talking billions, worldwide.
Yeah. I get that. I think the people that write the CIA World Fact Book, the Department of Energy, the Pentagon, and the NOAA get that too, as do the people who rely on those institutions to make decisions. Do you ever get the feeling that the ostensibly counterproductive policies they advocate are really just a means to slowly ease us down to the stone age while maintaining the prerogatives of those at the top of the social pile? The best way to maintain social order in a world of rising population and dwindling resources, it would appear to me, would be to avoid sudden cliffs that lead to revolutions against the ruling class. Maybe it appears that way to the ruling class too; there are no limits to the amount a QE program might print in order to postpone or mitigate the inevitable. No cuts to food stamps will be unreasonable and no Farm Bill will be passed when there isn’t any gas to plough a field or water to irrigate it. If Iran has no nuclear weapons program, they will find another causus belli to invade, because oil is what it’s really about, and by oil, I mean survival. North Korea has no oil. But they do have nukes.
In the past, American diplomats may have taken years, decades even, to create conditions in geographically strategic countries like Syria where we can build pipelines. Shortcuts like the 1950’s coup against Mossadegh in Iran only work for a couple of decades. Now, there is a sense of panic. It may not matter to them that bombing Syria and/or causing a regime change that makes that region so unstable that an indefensible 1000-mile natural gas pipeline has no chance; American policymakers’ backs are against a wall.
History shows that revolutions aren’t triggered by a straw that broke the camel’s back but by a slight easing of conditions after hard times. Evidently, when things just get progressively worse, nobody sees any light at the end of the tunnel, but given any reason to hope, they explode.
There is a lot of this kind of reasoning going around; it’s the zeitgeist. One would be well advised to read the works of Dimitry Orlov and James Howard Kunstler. Although I can’t endorse all of their prognoses and prescriptions, they appear to have correctly identified the data that are relevant for an intelligent discussion of what the future holds.
The name of Robert Malthus never seems to come up in these discussions. He posited that a world of finite resources would dictate the limits of population growth. When I was growing up in an era of relative abundance and technological solutions for steadily improving agricultural yields–even after the energy crisis of the 1970s–Malthus’s theories were only ever discussed as having been flatly wrong. Certainly, advances through scientific research have led to a better understanding of our world and technologies to better manipulate it to our advantage. But the dreams of futurists never seem to resolve themselves with the very basic premise that the lynchpin for our ability to accomplish work quickly has been energy abundance, more specifically access to easily exploitable–and finite–oil resources. In a recent podcast from Virtually Speaking, Jay Ackroyd made the observation that soylent green is not people. Oil is people. Without diesel to run combines, people do not reproduce, they starve. If an entire society was dependent on the availability of a dwindling supply of oil, what would the initial stages of a sudden paucity of oil look like? Would we mistakenly identify the causes of banking and financial crises, unemployment, desperate and widespread poverty, and resource wars, instead of the realization that no part of our economy, our society, can operate without the fundamental factor that is our abject and utter dependence on reasonably priced oil?
One blind spot that Orlov and Kunstler both seem to share, or perhaps prefer not to contemplate at any great length, is the effect of a large number of desperate, starving people, especially when those people are seemingly as well armed as Americans appear to be today. There is a saying that eludes my ability to pin down on the internet with any certainty, but as I recall it is Jewish, and goes something like this: “Do not hate your enemy too much, because one day you will become him.” I wonder if some day in the not too distant future we will be reduced to conditions not unlike those in Afghanistan: scratching out an existence on a dog patch as goatherds, a rusty Enfield or M-16 slung over our shoulder, dying slowly from pellagra or scurvy or typhus or an infection, with the keening cries of our starving children ringing in our ears.
Unfortunately, most people in third world countries also have left the farm, succumbed to Wal-Mart syndrome.
I’ve lived off grid a couple of times in my life and I know it can be done, however, it cannot be done with numbers like those currently inhabiting this planet. There are at least three cities in Latin America with populations larger than New York.
Even when I (we) lived off grid, I benefitted from materials produced by a functioning economy; fuel, seed, medicines, equipment, parts and basic food-stuffs.
In most catastrophes, there’s an initial period of panic. About the best a person can do is to keep provisions for short term survival (weeks, months). After that it will take retooling and improvising. Friends and knowledge will be worth more than hoarded goods, long term.