If you’re paying attention to forecasts in the blogosphere, you’ve no doubt seen James Howard Kunstler’s projections for 2009. As always, Kunstler’s writing is humorous and provocative. The forecast is a bit vague and bloated, but we’re halfway to the Dow 4,000 Kunstler predicted more than a year ago we’d hit by the end of 2009.
But I don’t think Kunstler understands the consequences of Dow 4,000. Yes, it means massive unemployment. Yes, it means continued contraction of the industrial economy. Yes it means spot shortages in the supply of gasoline (as the country has experienced during the last two years). And it means plans to develop infrastructure by states seeking money from the federal government, will have to focus on a lot more than just highways. But I think it means a lot more, all of it dire for civilized humans and optimistic for other species, other cultures, and future humans (none of whom, apparently, have entered Kunstler’s mind).
When the Dow dips down to 5,000 or so, traders will simply cash in, as they nearly did twice in September and once in November (when the Dow far exceeded 5,000). When that happens, the entire industrial economy brings down with it our entire way of life. Forget about the something-for-nothing culture we’ve come to love, even as it fades away. Spot shortages in gasoline will seem like good times indeed, when gasoline is not available to anybody at any cost. Ditto for electricity, food at the local big-box grocery store, and water coming out the taps.
And, as I’ve indicated before, I worry how hyper-indulged Americans will behave when the economy to which we’ve become
accustomed dependent fails. I fear American exceptionalism will turn quickly into exceptional ugliness toward one another.
Let me put it another way: If you believe clean water is a gawd-given right, and you believe “your” clean water originates at the tap, you’ll defend to the death the system that allows (insures?) clean water coming out the tap. Unfortunately, very few Americans understand where their food and water actually come from.
Will we transform immediately and totally into ill-behaved rats, clustered in a cage without food? Perhaps, at least in the cages known as cities, particularly when the food runs out, along with the water. But people in the “tribes” known as neighborhoods and communities will try to get along, at least for a while, at least while we’re all suffering more-or-less equally. Small communities will be particularly well-suited for the hard times ahead. The neighborhoods of suburbia, on the other hand, are particularly poorly suited for neighborly behavior of the Mr. Rogers kind. Indeed, sprawling American suburbs seem to have been designed specifically for anonymity and therefore uncaring, unfriendly neighbors.
Which brings me to the mud hut.
As I’ve intimated, it’s quite rural. The nearest town of 10,000 is more than 30 miles away, the nearest real city 200 miles. Within a mile, there are 50 people, maybe 100. We’re alongside a road to nowhere — it ends a couple miles beyond the hut, at a poorly maintained, little-used campground. We know the neighbors, and they know us. We get along, in large part because we’re willing to help each other. And generosity is a trait we’ll be using a lot in the near future
Will we see marauding hordes in the months and years ahead? I doubt it, even though the nearly perennial nearby river is reasonably well known by people in the region. And at least a few people know my thoughts on the matter, and are likely to try to find me and “mine.”
On the other hand, people are likely to remain firmly entrenched in denial, at least while the revolution is televised. And every day in denial, wishing it’ll all work out, is a day removed from being able to escape the deathtrap known as Suburbia, USA. By the time Joe and Jill Sixpack put the kids into the SUV and head for the wilderness they fear lies beyond the city limits, it’ll probably be too late to organize anything resembling a horde, marauding or otherwise.
So forget about Joe and Jill. But what about Single Bill and his buddies? Well, maybe they’ll get their collective shit in a sock, load up the truck with supplies and ammo, and make their way toward the mud hut. But so what? Will they make it? If so, do they think the neighbors won’t notice?
I’m betting we won’t see any pitched battles in the front yard. Rather, I envision two scenarios. Either Bill and his buddies will employ the element of surprise and simply kill us, unannounced, or they will grab the five-year-old playing on the property and ask us to leave. Given a choice between the two, as if I have one, I’d take the latter over the former. Then, proverbial gun to the head, we’ll leave. Quickly.
If we’re so lucky, we must then ask the ecologically literate question, the one that should follow every decision important humans make: “And then what?” What will the “takers” do, considering they can’t milk a goat or grow a potato? And what will we do, recognizing that some futures are not worth experiencing?
Taking the property back entails an entirely different scenario than a pitched battle on the frontier. It requires planning, practice, and stealth. Needless to say, I’ve been working on the plan while trying to convince my neighbors about the importance of planning, practicing, and stealthing.