Some doors are closed. We will no longer observe long-term growth of the industrial economy. In fact, any growth reported by the government or media is suspect at this point, and probably a result of the age-old fudging-the-numbers trick. We have entered the age of contraction. The days of access to the inexpensive fossil fuels that fueled American Empire are waning.
But if the government would get out of the way or, better yet, serve as an inspiration and provide resources, we could shape our society to deal effectively with economic contraction. We could focus on the delivery of water, the production of food, and maintenance of public health with a substantially re-localized, and significantly more durable, set of living arrangements. The alternative we are currently pursuing — a last-ditch attempt to maintain the impossible dream of endless suburbia followed by a rapid trip to the post-industrial Stone Age — is an unmitigated apocalypse in slow motion. I feel as if I’m watching a cheesy 1970s disaster film, waiting for the director to yell, “Cut!” so we can all go back to our pre-HFCS cheese doodles and soda pop.
Assuming we all jump on board the contraction train, we have several options at our disposable. I’m a fan of one of them, and I’ll present an alternative likely to be more appealing to most readers. These two routes are simply points along a continuum from (1) the omnicidal, destined-for-disaster business as usual and (2) its attendant massive die-off of humans as we enter the Stone Age without advance planning.
Route number one is such a durable outcome we did it for two million years. That’s essentially the entire human experience. We had easy lives, characterized by a few hours of work each week to supply our hunted-and-gathered food. We spent a lot of time communing with the natural world, and creating art that reflected our time with nature. We were a bit too spiritual for my own personal tastes, but that spirituality was rooted in ignorance. Now that we know better than to believe in spirits, the next trip to the Stone Age can be characterized by rational thought, free inquiry, intelligent discussions, and strong communities rooted in place.
Our lives will be short, relatively speaking, but they will be far from the Hobbesian wage-slavery in which we’re currently mired. All aboard the peace train, everybody.
The next stop is agricultural anarchy, in the spirit of Monticello. I know Thomas Jefferson’s model was built on the backs of slaves, and I know about the horrors of patriarchy. But again, we know better this time. The local, organic production of food will once again form the center of commerce, and also our lives. The animals we respect and nurture will provide power. We will honor soil as the life-giving entity it is.
If we pursue the latter route, we’ll need to abandon the cities en masse. We’ll need to develop a crash course in country living. If you think it can’t be done, you haven’t been reading this blog. Believe me: If I can develop the attitude and skills I’ve developed within a year, after spending an entire life as an imperialist educator, just about anybody else can, too. Surely people with fewer than my 49 years can do this, and without the physical pain that results from heaping large doses of physical abuse onto a long-neglected body. Had I known how long I was going to be using these old bones, I’d have taken better care of them, back when I was younger.
There you go, then: Two possibilities for a future with infinite possibilities. Neither involves long-distance travel, but the recent luxury of overseas, overnight is a big part of the problem. Ditto for the summer driving vacation and the long-distance commute to “live” in soulless suburbia.
Yes, we’ll need to work out myriad details. The transition will not be easy. But it will not be lethal to a majority of people in industrialized countries, either. Many other advantages come to mind, in addition to the ones I pointed out a few months ago. For example, we might not have to prepare for civil war, and we won’t be all atwitter about which bubbles are about to burst.
That’s my two cents, undoubtedly overpriced. And you?
This post was inspired by a comment from vera.