The risks of fiddling

American Empire provides bread, circuses, and all the toys we (think we) need, stolen from other countries and future generations. I can understand why people are reluctant to abandon the empire. In exchange for inhabiting a cubicle, you get to harvest the fruits of empire while avoiding any steps toward self reliance. You get to shower in the morning, kibitz at the water cooler with your friends, flirt with the hot thirty-something in the next cube, and dine on Thai take-out. What’s not to like, especially if, like most Americans, you couldn’t care less about the people we oppress to do your bidding or the costs to the living planet?

Immorality aside, there is a risk. The risk comes in two flavors. One flavor is the opportunity cost of abandoning the empire too soon. The other flavor is the bitterness that comes when you realize you waited too long to abandon the empire, and you are suffering and then dying as a result. And surrounded by a bunch of ugly boxes we call suburbia, no less.

If you abandon the empire too early — before the lights go out, before the shelves are bare in the grocery stores, before the water stops coming out the municipal taps — you’ll forgo some of those imperial fruits. On the other hand, you’ll be ahead of the curve with respect to self reliance, you might ingratiate yourself into your community, and you’ll learn how to live on little. We’re all headed that way, with the ongoing economic collapse likely to be reach your house within two years and perhaps much earlier.

The second risk is the larger one, and also the more tempting one. It is based on your proclivity for dining on the fruits of empire a bit too long. I hate to get biblical, considering my beliefs, but if you hang on to the easy life in the city too long, the wages of sin is (sic) death. To take a more secular approach drawn from popular culture, try this line from No Country for Old Men: “This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.”

So far, this country’s been very easy on people (especially Caucasians), one of the consequences of ready access to inexpensive oil. But that’s changing, and it’s about to change much faster. You can either get in front of the changes or you can let them roll over you. Think steamroller, and you’re a duck in a leg-hold trap.
photo courtesy of

Would you trade your human community for an online community? Some people with whom I speak are so reluctant to give up their 16 daily hours on Facebook they’ll gladly sacrifice human interaction for the joy of electrons. They will be hammering away at the keyboard long after their “friends” stop answering, long after the batteries run dry in the laptop, long after the grid has failed. Waiting, waiting, waiting until there’s nothing left to wait for.

Would you trade virtual reality for reality? Some people with whom I speak are so reluctant to give up their television shows they’ll willingly sacrifice human interaction for the feel-good dumbassery of television characters. They will be wondering what happened to their “friends” on television long after the television blinks out for the final time. Then they’ll wait for a studly hero to save them. He’ll be otherwise occupied.

Would you give up living because you fear the future? Some people with whom I speak are so unwilling to give up the notion of marauding hordes they’ll turn away from personal preparations for a decent future because they fear their preparations will be insufficient. Such a decision thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: The collective unwillingness to prepare . We make our own futures, albeit constrained by reality. But some people with whom I speak are unwilling to make changes in light of a changing world, thereby ensuring change will happen to them instead of with them.

Would you trade your life for health medical care? Some people with whom I speak are so reluctant to give up their employment “benefits” they will work until the industrial age ends. And then work a while longer, hoping insurance will cover their trip to the clinic for a flu shop. All the clinics will be closed.

Would you trade your life for a night on the town? For me, it would have to me a helluva night. Some people with whom I speak are so reluctant to give up eclectic and inexpensive (sic) restaurants and nightclubs they’ll keep their date with Destiny’s Child, thus sealing their own destiny.

Would you trade your life for a few bucks? How about for a lot of bucks? Some people with whom I speak are so reluctant to give up their puts and contracts in the markets — after all, there’s serious bling to be made off their expansive knowledge of peak oil and the financial markets — they will be trying to make money off their next trade long after the lights go out, thus precluding electronic trading in the belly of Wall Street’s beast.

Would you trade your life for the industrial economy? Some people with whom I speak are so reluctant to give up inexpensive (sic) groceries they are waiting until the industrial economy finishes its collapse. Then they’ll move. Or, more likely, they won’t.

Would you risk your life on the Technomessiah? Some people with whom I speak are so reluctant to give up their easy lives in the city they’ll bank on the ability of technology to bail us out of our dire economic mess. They fail to recognize that inexpensive oil is the Technomessiah. She died a few years ago, but she’s walking around, zombie-like, to save on funeral expenses. Burying a messiah isn’t cheap, you know.

Would you risk your life on the government? Any government? Some people with whom I speak are so reluctant to give up a high standard of living at low (sic) cost they’ll count on the ability of the government to keep the current game going toys and jobs coming, courtesy of American Empire and its militaristic reach.

Image courtesy of
image courtesy of

Would you trade your sense of humanity — your ability to become a human animal in the real world — for meaningless chit-chat at the water cooler? Some people with whom I speak are so reluctant to give up interpersonal interactions in the workplace they’ll gladly forgo the wonder of the human experience in a human community. They willingly, gladly, purposely hang onto a murderous way of living in exchange for the good life.

Would you risk the lives of your progeny, and all future humans, for the comfort of inexpensive (sic) fossil fuels? Some people with whom I speak are so reluctant to give up happy motoring and central air conditioning they’ll gladly ignore the cultures and species we destroy on our imperial path. By their actions, if not by their words, they demand a personal IV of cheap oil, just as this country mainlines crude.

What will it take before you notice the warning shots? If you think the empire cannot fall within a couple years, you’re reading a different set of tea leaves than the dozens of petroleum geologists, social critics, thought leaders, writers, historians, and economists to whom I’ve been paying attention.

What will it take before you notice the moral imperative? I’m not thinking about the morality of attending church services or donating to the community food bank; rather, I’m thinking about the real costs of everyday choices based on cheap living within the mainstream culture of the industrial economy.

What will it take before you begin preparations for a world of your own making? The real world awaits, beyond the edge of empire. And if you don’t think the United States represents an empire, then I don’t think you understand the meaning of the word.

Rome is burning. Why are you fiddling?


This essay is dedicated to the many people who will die in ignorance, apathy, or continued pursuit of the American nightmare. It is permalinked at Counter Currents, Island Breath, CFB483, and Insurance Today.

Comments 26

  • I saw your site link on and thought it might be informative (after all what did I know?). The sick thing about it is you are actually rooting on the collapse of civilization to get rid of as many humans as possible through death due to starvation, pestilence, etc.

  • You want sick, Richard? I’ll give you sick.

    You and just about everybody else I know are rooting on the continuation of civilization. You’re rooting for an industrial economy that is making us crazy and killing us. You’re rooting for further ecological overshoot in an over-populated world. You’re rooting for more people to die from starvation, pestilence, etc.

    I want to terminate the industrial economy and western civilization now, while we still have a chance to save the living planet on which we depend for our very lives. I do not want to continue baking an over-heated planet while billions are suffering and dying young. And you call me sick?

  • Hey Guy,

    Don’t you just love it when someone stumbles in, oblivious of the foregoing years of thought, struggle, analysis, and commitment to sacrifice, and generously offers up his diagnosis of what’s wrong with your thinking? I like the testy response though.

    On the subject of emotional appeal, I want to congratulate you on your rhetorical skill. For me, the term rhetoric is not a bad one. I come from the southern fundamentalist religious tradition, and have been deeply formed by african american preaching, both of which pay close attention to “the way” something is said as much or more than to “what” is said. I don’t think we should abandon substance for style, but good substance (the truth) can be served well by aiming it at the heart. You even close your piece with an appeal; dare I say alter call?

    I think a number of people who care about peak oil(the oil drum)and climate change are coming to grips with the impotence of their own (imagined) rational supremacy. We are in a fix that is going to offer little consolation for being right. The Greeks knew something: eliciting action requires that information be addressed to the emotional as well as the intellectual center of a person.

    Sorry to go on about one of my pet concerns, but I believe your tack is right.

    I just seeded tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and a summer mesclun blend for fall transplant here in Texas. We can actually grow a better garden in the fall than in the summer, when it’s too hot and dry. These things will spend then next month or so in the shade.

  • Thanks for your affirmation, John L. Stanley. When I write, and especially when I speak, I try to emulate great speakers. I was especially impressed with Bill Clinton’s skills when he was president — his rhetorical skills, shaped by southern Baptist preachers, but not his presidential skills.

  • The hard part is “trying to do the right thing” while the status quo conspires against you at every turn. Building codes, zoning laws, public health and safety regulations — you name it — are all in place to enforce the status quo. So even if you do “get it,” and are willing to make all the “right” choices you outline, modern civilization makes it oh so easy to slide into the status quo.

    We could use some help here. But we can’t find enough people with resources who are willing to buck the status quo. Perhaps its the accumulation of resources itself that makes this difficult.

  • I was doing a lot of fiddling five years ago, in August ’05, in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. After the storm passed (it took almost twelve hours for it to rage its massive bulk over us), we were without power for two weeks. In Mississippi. In August. There was no phone service. (We still had water, thankfully.) Gas stations were unavailable; even if one had fuel, downed trees blocked roads everywhere, including the Interstate. People were effectively marooned in their homes, from the middle of the state to the Gulf Coast.

    But we got to know our neighbors. We played Scrabble and drank wine by candlelight. We slept outside in a tent at night, since it was too hot to sleep indoors; and with the lights out in our small Southern town, I was able for the first time to see all the stars from our home. I heard mockingbirds singing in the distant darkness, as they are wont to do; normally the roar and whine of I-59, less than a mile away, drowns out the subtle sounds of nighttime outside my house.

    I don’t “fiddle” much, anymore. I feel sometimes that I am being paranoid, but I don’t want to get caught just fiddling, ever again. At first I sought to stay prepared in the event of another monster hurricane. Now, I seek to stay prepared for the End of Oil; and I have actually come to welcome that time. It will be hard, impossibly hard, unimaginably hard; but I live for the day when the interstate is quiet again, and I can once more see the stars from my back yard.

    I personally am “rooting on the collapse of civilization,” as the first commentator said, but not with the end he imagines. I know there will be much loss of life, but it is to be hoped that the life remaining will have meaning above and beyond what we’ve been conditioned to believe. There is much to be said for hearing mockingbirds at night, in the ancient light of impossibly distant stars.

  • Very well said, Chris. I like your blog, by the way. For those who haven’t yet found it, it’s here.

  • Guy,
    humbled and left (almost) speechless by the profound eloquence of this piece…thank you.

  • Being a person who has at times disconnected from the matrix to see the essence we have omitted in this long, rampant race we call modernity and technocracy, I understand many of the points raised in this article regarding the emptiness of ‘western’ lifestyle. I also understand the concerns raised over the US Imperium, for when a country outreaches its homeland for a number of reasons, an Imperium it becomes and concern it does raise.

    But I also understand that history prescribes adjustment and evolution. While evolution does not necessarily stand for ‘more complex’ or ‘more technological’ – ‘simpler’ sometimes being the way forward – adjusting by letting acquired knowledge slip away is not only unwise but also unreasonable. To return to Walden and an age of self-sustenance, where no organization exists on a greater scale, is not only improbable but also self-serving, not to mention riddled with emotion and anachronistic – for Emerson did what he did to prove points within a system rather than exemplify the destruction of one. Once organized, structure is hard to forgo. Everything acquires meaning from within, as a means of improving the system, or at least improving our standing in it. Criticism pertains to development, amelioration, convalescence; and in the case of downfall to amendment and restitution. Reading the signs and preparing for the fall of Rome is one thing; to advocate the end of civilization is quite another. To speak of technology as if it is a scourge on earth is to surrender to ignorance – albeit a green one. Let all those who feel truly terrible about the killing perpetrated by humanity stop mourning or castigating fellow humans – and humanity in general – with depressive rhetoric; let them retire and never be heard of again; let them attack humanity and try to put a stop to its vile plans; or let them kill themselves in protest. It would be highly courageous, a true statement, like the monk who sets himself on fire at the beginning of Ingmar’s ‘Persona.’ Or let them do the real gutsy thing: declare themselves meta-human, or over-human, creatures that have evolved and are no longer homo sapiens. That way they will at least be true to what they say; their disappointment will be well-founded; their rage appropriate. Let them speak their harsh, embittered words with purpose, waging war on humanity for being the killing machine that it is – and have the moral right to do so. Let truth lend weight to their sharp emotions by adding true detachment from what they so zealously denounce, finally justifying the polemical and deprecating attitude they carry forth every day. Let them do so, now, while the world is in upheaval, or forever hold their peace.

    Humanity may indeed be a killing machine that has to be curtailed – or managed, or improved and reigned in, depending on the point of view – but that is exactly the point: humanity. Not any nation in particular. Blaming the US for humanity’s shortcomings by calling it the root of all evil and assigning all the world’s problems to it is misguided. If there is one thing that needs to be blamed for the overkill taking place on earth, it is humans. Not just Western humans and Western way of life, but Eastern too, and not only: from the billion plus Chinese who consume at will with no regard for individual life – human or otherwise, for their culture does not sensitize them to such notions on the grand scale, religious particularities not taken into account – to the billion people in India proliferating like jackrabbits and claiming middle class livelihood, buying cars and burning energy and adding their two bits to the strain on the system, to the billions of people in Africa and Latin America who will promptly follow suit. So let’s take the hate-lens off the West and hone in on humanity instead – if we are to be true to the fervor of the anti-establishment word. Let’s call things by their name, and stop scapegoating the US and the West. Let’s just call humanity a cancer on this planet and be done with it – if we are to be true to the insights afforded to us and the signs all around.

    On the other hand – and in a slightly more positive tone and outlook – we could do something else. We could acknowledge the voracious nature of our system and accept it for what it is. Not give into it but understand it as part of life. A system that needs to feed off life to sustain itself – like all systems do; a part of life dynamics, in need of sustenance – which it gets by killing. If anyone knows of any other way to live, or of a humane way to kill – do not mention Halal, lest you wish to make a joke – please, that is the delusion. To live one must eat, simple as that. And to eat one must kill, whether animal or plant, or bacterium in your intestine. One kills constantly, from exogenous microorganisms – invading your body in search of nourishment – to endogenous cells. It is a continuous process, and very impersonal. Some of these cells – many of them our very own – die during flushing processes of the lymphatic systems. Some are killed in great immune-system catharses, attacked by phagocytes, who are commissioned to take out all threats, collateral damage notwithstanding. Some are clinically terminated by their surroundings because their time has come to be replaced by newer cells. Scratch your arm right now and you have killed thousands of your own skin cells. This is the way of the organism. The way of living systems. If earth is to be considered an organism – as New Age purports – and humanity just an organ among many, let us take heed and accept the brutal realities of organic – or organismic, to be more exact – life as part and parcel of the living system, without scapegoating specific nations just because we have grown tired of them, or because they have overplayed their hand.

    Most importantly, let us comprehend that if this is the way of life – hinged on death and brutally impersonal – then we ought not to justify this process, lest it gets away from us. Hitler attempted it and look where it got everyone. It is a dangerous insight to internalize. But one which we, nevertheless, need to come to terms with, quietly, with respect. With understanding for the great dynamic of life itself. Once we do, we will rid ourselves of the blinkered and partial morality that comes in many forms and guises, at different eras, via various colorful advocates, and understand that if we truly want to evolve, if we are to escape the deadly trap we – as a whole, as humanity – are digging ourselves in, we ought not to take to the woods and become woodspeople. At least not all of us. Some of us may do so, and so they should, for that will most probably be part of the restitution. A reconnection with nature. To do so will be a blessing for those who do, and a foot in the door for those who wish to follow in their footsteps. But that is not the ‘be all end all’ of the future, nor should it be. Others need to do other things: work on the technology we already have and improve it instead of casting it to the fire; redesign urban settings so as to make them more self-sustainable; create monitoring systems for our industries, our businesses and enterprises, so as to uphold the rule of law, so as to enforce regulations that serve the environment; create awareness in all people, slowly and dutifully, in lines with true enlightenment, from the grassroots up, regarding the fact that we live in a finite and interconnected system which ought to be minded like a house and where no action is unaccounted for: an eco-system… an Eco-logical dynamic.

    The above propositions are arbitrary. I do not aim to prescribe a proper or comprehensive list. I just mean to point in the right direction, the direction of perseverance and improvement versus that of surrender and deprecation. And if our environment has been damaged irreparably, let humanity, or at least some of us, develop the means and technology to step outside, in search of new lands, new stations, new platforms. Let the inventors capable of building the apparatus for this great leap heed the luminaries who envision and dream of worlds beyond our own. Together they can create wonders, applying practical skills to visionary ones, mapping a route out of this world, into a new one. That is the only answer to a cul-de-sac. If the way forward was for everyone to pack their bags, go for the woods, and wait for the system to collapse, we would not have discovered America. We would still be living off the soils of the post-Rome medieval old world, exchanging myths about the great collapse, pointing out what went wrong and praising ourselves for our ability to survive, thinking we were the lucky ones, while a new world awaited on the other side of the pond, promising, challenging, and still undiscovered.

    We have the skills to discover a new New World. We have the means, the capacity, the technology. We have the inspiration. Why waste it praising the Apocalypse? Why burrow in the shadows? If Armageddon is upon us and the end nigh, let us at least embrace it as best we can while at the same time preparing for the new beginning that lies at the end of that end. For there is no beginning and there is no end. There’s only potential. The only limitations we face are the ones we impose on ourselves and our vision. If we dare dream further, then further we shall go. Why stop at self-sustainable farms and mass exodus? Why not dream the resurrection, the evolution, the new beginning? Even Socrates, the prophet of doom of all prophets of doom – and with his finger on the pulse – did not surrender to the end, instead hinting at a light at the end of the tunnel. His last words were: “Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.” Words acknowledging the continuation of life, despite his surging death and the impending fall of Athens. Words that extended into the future. We are still here, aren’t we?

  • Chris, Peter, and Nicolas, thanks for your first-time comments. I appreciate your thoughts, and especially the extensive thought you put into your comment, Nicolas. I agree with just about everything you say. But I’m picking a nit on this point: “Let’s just call humanity a cancer on this planet and be done with it.”

    We lived the first two million years of the human experience in relative harmony with the planet. We spent that entire time avoiding ecological overshoot. Along comes civilization, a mere 10,000 years ago. The rest, as they say, is history. Humanity is not the problem. Civilization is, and the worst of the sorry lot is today’s industrial economy.

  • Hi Guy,
    Great piece today on fiddling. I’ve been following peak oil and many other natural resource issues, climate change, and the general insanity of our industrial economy for about a decade now. Further, I’ve known it cannot continue indefinitely (although I continue to be surprised at just how long the demise is taking…and admittedly a bit frustrated by that delay).

    The problem is that I, like virtually everyone else who glimpses the unsustainability of our current living arrangements, feel caught in a trap. I know things are going to go to hell, maybe quickly but probably in more a long descent as described in the excellent J M Greer book. I want to get the hell out of Dodge but I have this damn middle class lifestyle, kids in college, a house in the suburbs that isn’t selling, etc… I’m sure you and your readers get the picture.

    The fact is, I’ve finally bitten the bullet in a couple of ways. The house is up for sale, which is a small step in getting out of suburbia as we have been looking for property in the Willamette Valley that we have modestly farm. Second, and more important, I am in the process of putting together the rudiments on a business plan for building a small rural community of family, friends and like minded individuals in some kind of a co-housing arrangement.

    What I have determined over the past year is that while getting out to a rural area (yes, it will be close enough to Portland for some folks to commute and continue generating income from their current paradigm), its not enough to just get out. Having a community around you is a critical part of the equation. And bringing along fellow travelers who aspire for more meaning, simplicity and inspiration in their lives is a great way to kickstart that local community. Still have loads to do but taking the first steps is often the hardest part of a journey into the unknown.

    Your site, and your actions in building your own little “community” have been a great inspiration. Thanks.

  • Jan Steinman Says:

    “The hard part is “trying to do the right thing” while the status quo conspires against you at every turn. Building codes, zoning laws, public health and safety regulations — you name it — are all in place to enforce the status quo.

    We could use some help here. But we can’t find enough people with resources who are willing to buck the status quo. ”

    I know exactly what you mean, and have noticed many others have the brought up same problems.

    Maybe there are times we need to reconsider our chosen locale. One of the times we should reconsider is when we find we cannot overcome the obstacles the locals put in place.

    We can stay and try to changethe minds of our current locals, but it seems to me that usually turns out to be just another form of “fiddling” or “bargaining.” It might be a “worthy cause,” and you might help “save lives and our community,”or mor likely you are just wasting your time and the time of others – but at least you feel good while you “do something!”.

    Maybe we should use our local regulations, and/or the lack of enforcement thereof, as a guage to determine when we are a “safer” distance from this industrial disease we call civilization.

  • One of the features built into our self-destructing civilization is learned helplessness. Self-sufficiency is an alien concept, as is self-determination. Even paying as you go as a society is considered unnecessary because taxation is considered bad and (as Guy pointed out) the burden of today’s lifestyle is deliberately handed off to future generations by accumulated debt at the personal, local and national levels. This debt is now literally so large that it cannot be conceived by the human mind and is now represented in terms of multiples of the entire gross national product.

    All that is asked of the populace is to consume and spend. Furniture stores and appliance dealers will sell you that huge screen flat television for no money down and payments starting twelve months after purchase in some cases.

    Economist Michael Hudson has clearly demonstrated the sinister nature of a financial system that massively transfers wealth from bottom to top on a relentless basis and with the rapidly emerging prospect of debt-ridden former consumers of future debt peonage and worse as their ability to repay even portions of personal debt erodes with the faltering of the entire system.

    Remarkably, the media “watchdogs” keep focusing on some alleged “recovery” to former economic levels, which cannot ever occur and will not occur. Meanwhile Obama continues his pretense of “problem solving” with borrowed money and false hopes rather than attempting the disastrous sort of “reality checking” that collapsed the “far too honest” presidency of Jimmy Carter in a precursor period. Obama is still working to delay the onset of panic, but each failure of his promises works out to the eventual public realization that the American Dream and the American Empire is as good as dead.

    More and more people are a few hundred dollars away from personal encounters with destitution. I continue to expect that an eventual suspension of easy credit card purchases of essentials like food and fuel will signal full-scale panic.

    Sadly, it is too late to reform this doomed civilization. The Titanic has already taken on too much water and will sink. But some lives can be saved yet if lifeboats are engaged and right now it is the duty of each passenger to identify the lifeboats available to them and disengage from the cruise with the knowledge that their planned destination is no longer possible.

    Of course, Guy has said this all in his own eloquent way and continues everyone to pursue survival now that luxury and decadence are no longer feasible for most of us.

    Stan Moore

  • Guy,

    It is clear in your response to Nicolas that you did not read his comment. What he said was that you, Guy McPherson, don’t understand anything about the world. In fact Nicolas pats you on the head, in effect, and sends you off into the other room with the children while the adults remain to consider adult things. He relegates you to the forest of post Roman Europe spinning tales of survival, while he boldly goes where you fear to tread. He will use technology to journey off the planet into new habitats constructed by the wonder of our intellect and the power of our technology; first to space stations orbiting earth, then to new worlds, expanding unrestrained into the far corners of the universe.

    He further points out that you are wrong to blame the US and other developed countries for the current state of affairs here on earth. Using only a flimsy veil to cover his distain for people of color he fixes equal blame for the world’s problems on the lowliest dirt-poor farmer in the global south and those living the energy intensive life style of the hyper-technology world he reveres.

    Your choices are wrong-headed and cowardly according to Nicolas. Mankind should be striding into the future, head up, chin outthrust, (blond?) hair flowing in the breeze, not hiding in some hole (“burrow in the shadows”) telling stories about the end of the world.

    We are living in the series “Star Trek.” Nicolas insists we have the skills, means, capacity, technology, and inspiration to be or do anything. How could you not understand that technology will save the world? How could you not see that?

    Pay attention! Listen to Nicolas when he says, “I just mean to point in the right direction.”

    Michael Irving

  • Michael Irving, thanks for imploring me to re-read the comment from Nicolas. Now that I have viewed it through the lens of techno-optimism and never-ending progress toward peace and prosperity, I see the error of my ways (not to mention those of Nicolas). The nit I picked was a good one, but I certainly didn’t take it far enough, that is to its logical conclusion: The industrial economy is doomed, and that’s a very good thing. Having made that point about a thousand times already this year, I simply took it for granted that everybody was on board with it.

    Live and learn. Or, for most of us, just the former.

  • Has anyone thought about what will happen if everybody “gets it” and abandons the city to try to get ready for the collapse? There is just not room in the country for EVERYONE to get their mini-farms and become self sufficient. Those of you who are already out there had better be praying that the majority of the human population continues to fiddle around because if they don’t your piece of the world is going to get awfully crowded.

    It seems to me one should be encouraging steps to be taken within the city limits to prepare the populace for the collapse. The city is already a “community” which is important in this upcoming world event. I look at my city block and see the tremendous gardening potential. I ponder the question of “just how much food could this neighborhood grow if everyone got together to do it.” I don’t have any answers on how to get it done, nor do I have the desire to invest the energy into getting the ball rolling because my thoughts and desires urge me to flee this place of mass humanity and oppressive government control to a place where my neighbor isn’t looking over my shoulder to make sure that I am not bringing down his property values because I want to have a huge humanure compost pile and 100 rain barrels. Of course I am just echoing comments by Jan and Navid. It is my opinion that the cities are doomed because of aesthetics. Of course I will admit that there is a lot of things that I don’t want my neighbor to be doing either!!!


  • The basis for the differentiation of the myriad forms of life has been the setting up of fences, from the first cell membrane to national boundaries. With the fences came the paradigm of “eat or be eaten”, from the unicellular level to blocks of nations. For all of this time, stability required that ecological cycles be maintained: every eater ultimately had to be eaten to complete the cycles. A violation of this, as in the case of overshoot, was soon (hours to days for microbes in puddle) corrected by a dieback: the time frame could perhaps be a century or two for industrial civilization

    Characteristics adaptive to longer term survival, even if acquired in such an overshoot & dieback, were not necessarily lost, nor need they be lost now. Much (hopefully most?) of today’s scientific and technologic knowledge might be preserved in the hope of modified use through low-tech applications in the future..

    Forgiveness occurs when even the perception of something to be forgiven does not arise. Otherwise the idea that “something was “forgiven”” remains as a scar on the individual or collective psyche. There are no such things as “sins”; only maladaptive characteristics (in an ecological sense) or ignorance (in the Buddhist / Jain / non-dualist Hindu view).

  • Robin,

    I must have a thing about my teeth. You said, “Much (hopefully most?) of today’s scientific and technologic knowledge might be preserved in the hope of modified use through low-tech application in the future…” When I read that the first thing I thought about was “germ theory” and then, “What about the dentist?” I think it’s because I hate going to the dentist and the depiction in movies of dentistry in the mid 1800’s makes me shutter (this from an old guy with, according to his dentist, great teeth). Civil war era surgery was not pretty either.

    I can only second your hopefulness. I too hope for the retention of knowledge. However, when I review the techniques of farmers living in this area about 100 years ago, I find that much the knowledge they’d amassed has been misplaced over time. Maybe replaced would be a better term. They had a lot more respect for gravity back then, understanding it as a power source as well as a potential problem. Hence, gravity flow irrigation systems and flat winding roads along the edges of the valley floors (avoiding swamps and hauling horse-drawn wagonloads of freight over hills). Only the advent of unlimited cheap energy has allowed us to ignore gravity (skyscrapers, deep wells, straight roads, etc.). We’ve lost much from the past that could have been used in the near future. I’m afraid there is much from our present that will be lost to mankind’s far future.

    Your wonderful comments about fences, overshoot, and sin generated multiple thought pathways for me. I agree and disagree with your statement. Yes, there is “ignorance” but I would suggest that in the case of overshoot much of that has been “willful ignorance.” One of the principles of the “Eightfold Path” is “Right Action.” If there is right action (not harming sentient beings) there must also be wrong action (murder, stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, dishonesty). When overshoot comes to our door we will each have some deciding to do. Do we just roll over and allow the maladaptive characteristics to have their ignorant way with us? Or do we struggle to maintain the integrity of our boundaries? I’m reminded of Robert Frost’s Mending Walls: “Good fences make good neighbors.”

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Michael Irving

  • @ Carrie

    First, I *think* history suggests that during times of decline/collapse, the authorities do just about everything humanly possible to keep the cities civilized – even at the expense of rural people’s welfare.

    I don’t worry about everyone “getting it” and moving to the country.

    I suspect that emigration from city to country-side might become a trend, and it might be a good trend in terms of employment (human labor replacing at least some mechanized agriculture due to rationing/shortages of fuels).

    In an emergency, if your locale experiences acute shortages of fuel, necessity might require unskilled city folk to work fields manually (heaven forbid !! ;).

    City gardens might be useful in some locales. Places like Detroit may be blessed by the relatively slow decline they have experienced, allowing time for a somewhat clumsy transition to urban agriculture. But in many urban areas “gardens” just will not be able to produce nearly enough to feed everyone, and might attract (human) pests.

    Some cities in geographically strategic places (e.g. water ways) might be relatively healthy or even prosperous during much of the collapse/transtion.

    The good thing is we have time now to consider options and begin to act – to become less “at the mercy of” the markets and governments. But as Guy points out so well in this post, we also have time to fiddle, time to be distracted and entertained and complacent.

  • Robin & Michael:

    I think you’re right about teeth. I can’t find the reference, but I can remember reading in an archaeology journal that sepsis from tooth infections was, at some time in human history, what killed most people. As it was, the Wiki article about impacted wisdom teeth convinced me that a set of 19th century dental tools and a dental textbook might be the path to becoming a valued and protected member of any post-collapse community.

    Extending that logic further, paramedic or PA or vet-tech training might be a relatively quick way to increase the odds for one’s family or affinity group when the medical system either is unavailable or counterproductive (soon if not now).

    The discussion of walls and boundaries reminded me of a summer I spent gill-netting in Alaska, where you had dozens of single-minded anti-communitarians in boats, all trying to get more of the catch than anyone else–until someone got into trouble. Then a temporary community would flash into existence. Mortal enemies would risk their lives for each other.

    If you got into trouble in those circumstances, your final dreaded option was to ask a bunch of extreme individualists for help, and they came, knowing that next time it could be them. The tribes in those circumstances were the massed crews of the anchored tenders, who were never asked for help because they didn’t understand the ethic and weren’t able to imagine themselves in your circumstance, didn’t have the equipment, and so on. But you never asked for help except as a last resort, and there was a strong sanction against those people who called for help more than once because they were damned fools. Forgiveness didn’t exist for them.


  • I’d like to point out I have no disdain for people of color. If it so happens that a critical comment targets (and please do not read into the ‘lethality’ of this word) Asian and African areas, then so be it. I do not believe in glossing over a comment just because it may appear racist. Those who care for the essence will see the wood for the trees and not get snagged on tidbits. Two billion people consuming and burning energy are two billion people: a lot of consumption and energy. Pointing it out is hardly bigotry. Had they been white, blond, albino, or fluorescent, with pink polka dots on their skin and milk for blood I would still say the same thing. Numbers are numbers. Problem is, we are fast in accusing extremists when they brand criticism un-American, unpatriotic, un-this and anti-that. But we are equally fast in taking all criticism coming at us and branding it racist, uncivil, un-this etc etc. Zealotry and indignation are universal symptoms, and they appear in times of stress, in all fields and sides. Those who say otherwise are lying through their teeth and two steps closer to reining their minds in.

    My point is we ought not to get carried away. There’s more to blaming one’s own side all the time. Or taking the high road to deliverance (pun intended, see movie). The picture is wider. Evolution is underway (don’t read ‘eugenics into it, I’m speaking of good old evolution, the kind nature promotes, homegrown and hearty and likely unstoppable). Can we embrace the fact, or accept the possibility, that ditching all knowledge and every achievement we have made so far may not be the way forward? Can we entertain the thought of expanding our horizons and discovering new New Worlds? Is that so ridiculous… so Star-Treky techy stupid? Dissing it as such is hardly the response and attitude one would expect from belief systems associated with opening one’s mind to the truth and seeing the wood for the trees, engaging in groundbreaking change, changing the world, setting the foundations for a new one etc etc.

    In my opinion all options are on the table. Walden is just one of many. Being monolithic about civilization and wishing its destruction is, well, monolithic, and as reprehensible as the monoliths we are criticizing and trying so hard to circumvent. I’m offering alternatives (with sarcasm, yes — I felt the thread and its author could take it, he seems tough enough to me and no fan of mollycoddling or bland political correctness, so I used none). I’m looking to point in the only direction left: straight ahead (I hope this covers the direction puns and everything that can be read into them, and that we can now proceed to dealing with the issues at hand), with mind open — and less vitriol toward our legacy, warts and all. A safer and more healthy way to go, one that does not involve so much acerbity — which, as everyone knows, serves to only invite more of it, corrupting the way ahead. Self-hatred is not an attribute that fares well in the avenues of progeny. It has a way of tainting the waters and biting its own ass. If a new world we will make, let’s make it with more respect for the achievements of all those whose spoils we are now enjoying in varying degrees. Don’t wear the clothes but curse the weaver — and the art of weaving, and the business of it, and the transportation that brought it to you, and you see where this is going. Let’s just mind the millennia that have preceded us, and be aware of what they have taught us — so that we may mind the ones ahead. All in good order and balance — balance being the key word. And respect. Those who teach it ought to display it — for more than just one position. They ought to display it for the bigger picture. For the totality of existence, our legacy included (no I am not making undercurrent allusions to totalitarianism, although… here’s a thought: I cannot envision a more totalitarian system than a natural organism, where the brain is supreme boss, the boundaries set, the roles assigned; where health and harmony is upheld with measures that includes ruthless tactics and collateral damage of the body’s own cells — as I mentioned in the previous comment). Now that’s a thought that troubles me: if earth is to be an organism (as many support), and we on organ on it, cells that live in harmony within it, are we prepared to do anything it commands us to so as to maintain its body in good health and shape? Just a thought.

    Here’s what I propose: brace for the worst but don’t glorify the trigger, or the kill — lest you condone it. Our civilization may be faulty, but it’s our platform, our roof and fortification in this jungle of an organism. It’s our identity within it — and perhaps the only means to define ourselves and not be swept away under a savagely totalitarian natural regime that ruthlessly minds the health of the body to the expense of the cells that make it up. I do not like watching nature abused as it is, nor do I condone it, but I don’t want to overshoot — in the name of correcting an overshoot, of all things — and hand human (my / our) existence and self-determination to the earth on a platter. Not unless I truly embrace the earth as such and accept Gaianism as the natural step to evolution: Earth as the new multicellular super-organism rising from the slop, made up of a variety of cells, among which are we, for her to do as she pleases on her long way to developing herself into a fully fledged life form.


  • Nicolas,

    I’ve been thinking about your last comment and I think we agree that evolution is alive and well.

    Michael Irving