Friday, 28 December 2018

Responding to Collapse, Part 5: finding a small town

Driftwood accumulating on the beach

In my last post I started talking about moving from the city to a small town as a way to make adapting to collapse easier, and I listed a number of criteria for choosing a small town. Today we'll be looking at some of those criteria in greater detail.

As before, credit goes to Don Hayward, Joe Clarkson from the comment section of this blog, and, new this time, to Category 5, from the Dark Green Mountain blog and the Doomstead Diner.

Looking back on the criteria I laid out last time, I can see that I should have divided them into two sections— picking a town where you can live while BAU is still working and then picking a town that will also be livable after BAU is no longer capable of supporting us. For the next while we will find ourselves living in two worlds—trying to make enough of a success of life in BAU so that we can afford to disentangle ourselves from BAU and get something started to replace it.

So, to get started, just exactly how far from the city do you need to be? I am very much a "shades of gray" guy, so my answer will be in terms of a spectrum rather than a single hard number. Here in rural Canada we tend to talk about distances in terms of driving time. I would guess that an hour amounts to around 50 miles. I live about three hours from Toronto, around two hours from many other cities to the south and east of here, and about an hour and a quarter from the small city to the northeast. I am not considering a move to get farther away, so if pressed for a definite answer I would say somewhere between an hour and two hours is a sufficient minimum distance. To be cautious, err on the long end of that range, and of course I'm not saying you shouldn't be more than 2 hours from a city. On the other hand, you may find you need to be close to a city for a while yet and accordingly place yourself at the lower end of the range, while remaining aware of the greater risk that probably entails.

Many cities are quite close together and there are whole areas where there is nowhere far enough from a city to meet my distance criteria. Moving away from your current city but toward another one clearly won't help.

By the time collapse has progressed far enough for this distance to be a real concern, transportation fuels will be in short supply, either because of genuine shortages, market malfunctions or supply chain breakdowns. Initially they will be "rationed by price" to the point where they are not affordable for most of us, or they will be outright rationed by the authorities. Then there will be intermittent interruptions in the supply. And at some point beyond that these fuels will not be available at any price. So the distance from the city would have to be covered on foot or bicycle, making it, in effect, considerably longer. That two hour drive would be a multi-day walk for most people, if they could manage to do it at all.

There are several reasons for wanting to be this far away:

  • in the city there are limited opportunities for adaptation in the face of infrastructure and supply chain failures—the resources you need are just not available locally. You need to be far enough away from population centres that the local resources can support the local population
  • there will be social unrest and civil disobedience (much of it justified) in many cities—violence that you don't want to get caught up in
  • as conditions worsen in the cities, there will occasionally be waves of refugees fleeing from them. I think the aim of people in small towns like mine should to help those refugees, but if there are too many we won't be able to help them and things will go badly for both them and us. So, we want to be far enough away that the distance acts as a filter and reduces their numbers to something manageable.
  • it seems likely that there will epidemics from time to time, especially as public health systems start to fall apart. It would be good to have some distance between you and any city that is being ravaged by an epidemic. A sort of geographical quarantine.

But the main reason you're moving to a small town is for what's there, not what you are trying to get away from.

What size of small town you should be looking for?

Zero is the wrong answer. As Douglas Ruskhoff says, "being human is a team sport." You can't accomplish much, especially in the long term, as an isolated individual or family. Even a group of a few families will find themselves struggling just to survive. In my opinion, remote, isolated survivalist compounds or even lifeboat eco-villages have little future. More people means a greater range of skills and talents and more redundancy in the support systems you need to set up.

I don't think there is much hope of retreating to the wilderness and surviving by hunting and gathering, either. There is very little wilderness left and what is left is not so completely untouched as it once was. The effect of this is to make hunting and gathering more difficult and it is, in any case, a skilled and demanding lifestyle, especially if you weren't born to it. Learning those skills, when you aren't living in a group where most people already have them, would be very challenging.

What you really need is a community that is viable now, as part of "Business as Usual", and which can adapt as collapse progresses and then still be viable under post collapse conditions.

Now I will agree that for some activities a lone individual is best, and for others 2 to 5 people is ideal. But these are specific, short duration jobs within a larger context.

At this point some of you are probably thinking of "Dunbar's number"—"the cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships—relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person." That number is somewhere between 100 and 250 people, and there is definitely something to the idea. But I would say that this is more like the lower limit on size for a viable community. Larger communities are made up of smaller, overlapping circles of people who know each other in the "Dunbar" sense.

The upper limit on the size of a viable community is determined by how many people the surrounding geography can support without fossil fuel powered agriculture and shipping. Typically that would be a few thousand people, possibly as many as 10 to 20 thousand in ideal circumstances. A counter example would be Edo (now Tokyo) during the days of the shoguns, which grew to over one million people without the benefit of fossil fuels or modern technology. But these days climate change is reducing the carrying capacity of almost every area, and you must remember that the size of small towns will increase first as former locals return from the city and then again as refugees arrive. Set your upper limit around ten thousand to begin with.

So, distance and size will help narrow things down somewhat, as will the climate change based criteria I mentioned previously. But still, which town to pick?

Probably the most important consideration is connections in the community. If you grew up in a small town, if you still have family there, or even close friends, then that town has to be very high on your list of places to consider. If you have limited resources, those connections may prove vital in making your move possible.

Next, I think you have to be looking for a place where you can find accommodations and earn a living in the short run while "BAU" is still in operation. As Category 5 suggests, once you have found a likely looking small town, it would be a good idea to live there in rental accommodation for a year or two in order to get to know the place better. It takes more than a few brief visits to really size a place up and figure out how to fit in. And for those with limited resources, renting on an ongoing basis may in any case be a better alternative than taking on a mortgage you can't really cope with. In today's uncertain market, it's wise let your landlord take the risk of investing in real estate.

Financial considerations also have to be very high on your list of priorities. Eddie at the Doomstead Diner has written an excellent article entitled "Some Inconvenient Truths About Collapse Economics". He challenges the idea, common among kollapsniks, that the only things worth investing in are preparations, gold, silver and farmland. At some point in the future that may be true, but you have to have a plan for surviving in the meantime, and that will likely involve taking part in an economy that you know has a limited shelf life—even putting some of you money into conventional BAU style investments in the short term.

I'll be going into more detail on this in a future post, but some degree of preparation is a very good idea and you should spend some money on it, but not every cent you have. It is also good to have some ordinary cash on hand, and even some actual physical gold and/or silver carefully hidden where you can get at it if you need it. Farm land, while it is tempting, is currently very expensive per acre and since it comes in large chunks, likely to be out of reach for most people. Remote farms may cost less, but leave you too isolated.

When I talk about "collapse progressing", it may sound like I am envisaging a uniform run downhill, but my regular readers will know this is not the case. Collapse progresses unevenly, unsteadily and unequally. This is good news if you are thinking of moving, because there is likely some place where things are better than where you are now, especially if you are flexible and willing to adapt to a new situation. There are "eddies" in the stream of collapse, places where things occasionally stand still or even improve somewhat for a while.

I think this is very true of both real estate and employment considerations.

A great many cities are experiencing real estate bubbles today. Accommodation costs a lot to buy or rent there and the situation is only getting worse. This is less about the demand for housing and more about malfunctioning markets and people with money trying to find somewhere to invest it at a good rate of return. But since there is no real demand to justify those real estate prices they will eventually decline, and decline precipitously. The trick is to get out with your assets intact before that bubble bursts.

Aside from high prices caused by investment bubbles, there is also often a clear relationship between distance from good employment opportunities and the cost of housing. Housing in small towns away from big employment centers (which are almost always in cities) is very likely to be less expensive. So if you don't mind a longer commute, if you can telecommute, or if you can make the big leap of finding work away from the city, you will likely find housing that costs less.

But I've read that in the United States towns with more affordable housing also offer jobs that pay less, so moving there may not solve your problems. It seems to me that this will be determined by what level the minimum wage is pegged at, if there is one. So states (provinces here in Canada) with a decent minimum wage would be a good place to look for work.

Handymen and skilled tradesmen are most always in demand, as are skilled professionals. Even small towns have a few relatively unskilled jobs in service industries and there will be seasonal work in agriculture and tourism. One of the few justifiable reasons for delaying this move is to find a job to support you in your new location. Just don't make this an excuse for not moving.

I live in a small town that is in an economic eddy, being a bedroom community for a nearby nuclear plant which employs several thousand people. (It's one of the largest nuclear generating developments in the world.) This is "energy sprawl", where lower EROEI energy sources require a lot more infrastructure, and just happen to create jobs building, operating and maintaining that infrastructure in the process. So such opportunities do exist.

How you approach these opportunities will largely depend on your own personal circumstances—your socioeconomic class, in particular.

The Upper Class

If you are a member of the upper class—the "one percent"—you can do as you please, at least for the moment. But in a really serious financial crash, your wealth is likely to evaporate, and you probably don't have the sort of skills that will be needed in the aftermath. For all I care, you can jump out a fortieth floor window and end it all quickly. But if you hope to survive, you'd better be prepared to fit in and keep a low profile, among people who are likely to be resentful of the rich, who they see (correctly) as responsible for the mess the world is in.

No doubt though, you will be focusing on ways of keeping BAU rolling along and maintaining your status within it. Good luck with that.

The Middle Class

Indeed, a willingness to let go of BAU should probably be seen as the distinguishing difference between the middle and upper classes. Though currently, especially in the U.S., many middle class folk mistakenly think that if they support policies that benefit the upper class they will themselves eventually be able to ascend into that class. Of course, the upper class does everything they can to encourage that attitude, with no intention at all of benefitting anyone but themselves.

There are two traps here: one is thinking that you have much chance of joining the upper class and the other is thinking that it would do you any good if you did. If you're currently in the middle class, you likely have enough resources to respond to collapse in a fairly effective fashion. Don't miss the opportunity.

If you already own a home or at least have quite a bit of equity in it, you may well be able to sell it, buy a house in a small town and still have enough cash left over to retire early and invest in preparations. You should do this soon, before the real estate bubble bursts. If you are already retired, you can probably do the same thing and end up in better financial shape than if you'd stayed in the city.

If you are middle class but younger, you are likely working at a job that is keeping you in that class, and this will make the proposition of leaving the city much harder to consider seriously. But perhaps you can commute or even telecommute from a small town. Or find a small town with a local industry that needs people with your skills. If you are renting or have only recently bought a home and don't yet have much equity built up in it, then renting in a small town may cost you substantially less than your current rent or mortgage payments. Don't make the mistake of believing that real estate prices will keep going up forever.

All middle class people should look ahead to days of further economic contraction and consider taking a "deliberate descent" approach to life. That is, learn to live with less, so that when that is all you have left, it won't be so much of a shock. As John Michael Greer has said, "collapse now and avoid the rush." And of course, living frugally will make your resources last longer.

The Lower Class

It can be difficult to see where the line should be drawn between the middle and lower classes, so I am going to simplify things and lump everyone who has a somewhat decent, secure job with benefits, and who owns a home or is renting while saving with a reasonable expectation of being able to buy a home in the foreseeable future, into the middle class. We'll leave other assets and debts as an issue for another day.

Below that is the lower class which for the purposes of this discussion includes, at the upper end, those who have a job and can afford accommodation and a vehicle to drive to work, down through those who have to choose between accommodation and a vehicle, and may end up working but living in a vehicle, through to those who are jobless and homeless. The majority of these people, if they have a job, are members of the "precariat". That is, their job is not in any way secure and does not pay enough to make the rest of their lives secure either. If you are a member of the precariat, you don't need to be told about "deliberate descent"—you're already living it, though I would guess not willingly.

No doubt it is somewhat presumptuous on my part, as a relatively "fat cat" middle class guy, to offer advice to lower class people. Though I did grow up on a small family farm in a family that was just barely middle class at best. And my kids have certainly spent their share (and more) of time in the precariat. But I don't really have a lot of experience at being poor and when I have problems, I am accustomed to using money to solve them. For people in the lower class that’s rarely an option.

Nonetheless, I have a few things to say that I hope may be of help. Lower class people are, I think, farther along the collapse road than the rest of us, and may well be less bothered as things fall further apart—it will all just be more of the same shit to them. Psychologically they are quite resilient but, materially speaking, they have very limited resources to deal with specific problems as they arise, and in that sense they will be harder hit. So, for lower class people, the need to get out of the cities is no less, but the challenge of doing so may be greater.

Many of the problems faced by people in the lower class come from the degree of isolation in which they find themselves. I think there are great possibilities for small groups of disadvantaged people to get together and share housing, food, transportation and so forth. Sadly, we have largely forgotten the skills for getting along in such circumstances, or have been convinced by those who are in power that such skills are worthless. The neo-liberal approach of using money to mediate all relationships between people leaves us at the mercy of those who control the money and that of course is exactly what they want. I think there is a lot of potential in various sorts of co-operative ventures to break out of this trap.

I've been doing a bit of reading at Sharable, a website that "aims to empower people to share for a more resilient, equitable, and joyful world". This is essentially what I am talking about here. It would certainly be a move in the direction of the adaptations we'll have to make down the road in order to succeed in small isolated communities.

Well, I think that's enough for now. Next time we'll continue with this, looking closer at criteria for choosing a small town as place to live as BAU goes further downhill and we can no longer rely on it completely for the necessities of life.

Links to the rest of this series of posts, Preparing for (Responding to) Collapse:


Joe Clarkson said...

Good advice indeed.

I think your proposed plan for people to move to a small town and keep one foot in BAU and dip the other into serious collapse prep is a good one. As economic times become hard and BAU ends in small towns, jobless residents can drift into the countryside nearby, if only on a daily basis, and become farm workers, for whom demand will increase steadily as high-energy supply chains, and the machines they supply, steadily decline in capacity. The only better place to be would be on a working farm, but industrial farms don't need many people so there are very few places available now.

I would have categorized your three levels of financial affluence in strictly monetary terms rather than 'classes', mostly because the word "class" has a long history of pejorative use. But your main point is spot on; having more money gives one more power to make a significant change in circumstance, if not the desire to do so.

But you may be selling affluent people short. I know many people who are wealthy enough to buy some acreage in Hawaii, where land is not cheap, but who would also have the experience and attitude to organize as much food production as possible when it becomes necessary. Many of them are my neighbors. It should also be remembered that old time farm families, many of whom have debt free land, would be members of the 1% by net worth yet also have most of the skill set that will be needed in the future. I have plenty of neighbors in that category too.

Although I agree with almost all of your post, I am curious as to why you think an eco-village 'lifeboat' community has no future. I would think that a communal group of multiple families, organized around subsistence agriculture on a decent sized piece of land, would be an excellent way to prep for collapse. What am I missing?

Joe Clarkson said...

I checked out the Sharable link. Of the top ten stories of 2018, three were related to urban cooperative housing, which is OK but scarcely resilient to the end of the global market economy. I clicked with anticipation on the story titled, "Little Italian villages show the way to a cooperative economy", only to find that it was about turning an entire village into an Airbnb destination.

The story about sharing tools (also in an urban environment) seems to be relevant to rural food growers at first, but a little caution is in order. Sharing of equipment can lead to transportation of fungal, bacterial and insect pests from farm to farm if people are not careful. Here in Hawaii we are struggling against the spread of fire ants and a fungus that kills a widespread native tree (ohia), meaning that transport of even small amounts of organic matter between properties is dangerous. I own a 6" capacity wood chipper that I have shared wirh neighbors in the past, but can never do so again without the risk of importing fire ants when it comes back.

I think the most important kinds of things people can share relate to knowledge, skills and physical labor. Amish communities are a good example. Sharing of capital assets makes sense from an economic standpoint, but it is fraught with emotional and interpersonal danger, hence the adage, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend.”

FrankSchoenburg said...

Hi Irv,

Are you concerned about living next to a nuclear plant?

I was thinking about living in a forest and transitioning to a hunting and gathering lifestyle a while back. The thought that environmental degradation would make that lifestyle and transition much harder today than in the past snapped me out of that daydream. I feel vindicated in my own thought process when I read your viewpoint since it is similar to my own in that regard. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I enjoy reading your blog.



Irv Mills said...

@ Joe Clarkson

Yes, when fossil fuels are no longer readily available, farms will soak up a whole lot of manual labour, even just to supply the local area with food. Forestry and fishing as well. And there will be lots of jobless, hungry people, eager for the opportunity.

The reason I didn't organize my class division based on monetary terms is exactly because I too realize there are well off people who aren't completely selfish, and who have valuable skills and experience. If they also own farmland they have an important role to play in our future. But will they be able to accept collapse and adapt to it successfully? That's harder to say.

There a a couple of reason I'm not sold on the lifeboat community idea, even though it does sound good on the surface.

First, it's expensive. It seems to me it would cost several millions of dollars to acquire the land and set up the physical plant necessary for such a community. Then you'd have to find something profitable enough to do to at least pay the taxes even if you could manage to be completely self sufficient otherwise. Which you likely couldn't.

Second, the organization of such a community would be a huge challenge, not because I think it's inherently impossible (far from it) but level of co-operation and just "getting along" is something typical modern people have no experience with and would be hard pressed to learn, especially as long a BAU provides an easy alternative when the going gets tough. Easy enough to get people to join, hard to keep them once they see what's really involved.

Third, the kind of people who want to take part in a lifeboat community will likely have an ideology that I crudely refer to a "crunchy", or more politely, "counterculture". Large parts of this ideology are badly out of touch with reality, to the point where they won't survive contact with harsh realities of what they are trying to do. This is great pity, since other parts of that ideology make people willing to leave BAU and try alternatives.

At Sharable, I would recommend the Response podcast,, which talks about people getting together to help each others in disasters. Not easy to find from the front page of that website, I'll admit.

The pitfalls of sharing you mention are certainly the kind of thing people need to be aware of, and that only old hands like you, who have learned the hard way, are experts on. And yes, definitely, labour, skills and knowledge are the low hanging fruit when it comes to sharing.

Shareable's downfall is it's focus on urban environments, I would agree.

I do believe we are going to find ourselves clumping together in groups larger than just single nuclear families, and those clumps clumping together into communities of a few hundred to a few thousand people, in order to cope with collapse. And all that organized from within, voluntarily (also out of necessity), but not dictated from above by any higher authority.

Irv Mills said...

@ Frank Schoenburg

Thanks for the kind words. I am glad to have been able to vindicate what you were thinking.

In fact, I am not very concerned about living next to a nuclear plant. Of course I have a healthy respect for the hazards presented by radiation, but I am not nearly as afraid of it as many people are. That fear largely arises from ignorance and innumeracy. Small doses of radiation really aren't dangerous.

The CANDU reactor design includes a vacuum building which helps control releases of radioactive material in the event of a catastrophic failure, and in any case I live several miles south of the plant along the lake, and the prevailing winds are from the west.

Safe longer term storage of spent fuel and high level waste is a concern, mainly because those motivated by fear have so far been successful in blocking perfect workable plans.

In the comments to my last post this was discussed at some length:

Stop Fossil Fuels said...

Couldn't find a contact form or email address for you, so posting here: your sidebar link to the Archdruid Report goes to his old site, and can be updated to

Thanks for your work!

Mike said...

Hi Irv, great article, but mate, living near the biggest nuke in the world is not a good idea! WTSHTF, they wobwo be maintained and are all likely to melt down at dome stage...

Kevin Hester said...

I live on an island with 21 residents.
I don't prep, I won't want to live on a planet without the birds and the bees bathing in ionising radiation.

Irv Mills said...

@ Stop Fossil Fuels
I was a big fan of John Michael Greer when he was writing The Archdruid Report, but Ecosophia doesn't impress me at all. So I'm sure not going to put a link to it on my site. Fortunately, there is a "mirror" site which has all the content of the old Archdruid Report. I have changed the Archdruid link in my Blog List to point to that.

Irv Mills said...

@ Mike
Mike, I have a lot more respect for you than you are probably aware of, but nuclear power is one area where it seems we have different opinions. Maybe also the likelihood of a "When the Shit Hits the Fan" event that would see nuclear stations abandoned and left to fail ungracefully.
The people who run the local nuclear station mostly live within a few miles of it and have a huge incentive for making sure it gets shut down safely when that becomes necessary. If they hang in there and don't just walk away at the end of the shift, I have good reason to expect that it could be shut down safely and cooled off in a few week to the point where a meltdown would be pretty unlikely. Even if the rest of society has pretty much given up the ghost.
That would leave us (and I do mean the local population) with the problem of what to do with all the fuel, spent and otherwise.
Joe Clarkson and I had a good discussion of this in the comments section of my last post, part 4 of this series:
There is a fairly low tech solution to that problem, if one can only get the approval to implement it. Politically speaking, it would be easier if the rest of society had given up the ghost.

Irv Mills said...

@ Kevin Hester
I had a look at your blog and I am familiar with most of the articles and people you refer to. I even agree that the collapse of our current industrial civilization is inevitable.

But short term human extinction seems very unlikely to me. Cockroaches have nothing on us, and I think there is excellent reason to believe some people will survive, probably about 10% of us, once the dust has finally settled. That kind of a decrease in population, along with a similar decrease in consumption levels should significantly reduce the stress on the environment.

All kinds of people say they don't want to live in a post collapse world, usually because they can't imagine having to give up their toys. It sounds like you've set your toy threshold way lower than most people, but the principle is the same. You say you are not into prepping, but at some point I'd bet you will regret that. Especially since it sounds like you are already in a pretty good position. Sure, the going is definitely going to get tough, but those who have prepared, and are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, will do much better than those who have thrown up their arms in despair and given up.

As a friend of mine says, perseverance is key.

Perran said...

I enjoy reading your blog Irv. I've always thought that in a world that is collapsing you are much better off broke and living in the right area than rich and living in the wrong area. You've more or less confirmed that idea.


Don Hayward said...

Irv, you give good advice.
“...picking a town where you can live while BAU is still working and then picking a town that will also be livable after BAU...”
I think yours is a sensible approach and I agree hunting/gathering and living in isolation will not work for long. As I am fond of saying, we are in the “want to” respond stage and most people won’t consider doing anything until they “need to”, which of course comes after the end of BAU. So we are thinking of the minority who not only understand the looming crisis but have decided to prepare in some way. I’m dividing my thinking into four short bursts below, some of which speculates on what divides the minority of “wanters” from the rest, no need to talk about motivation in the “need to” stage.
Understanding – people need to understand the looming disasters and that first means getting their attention. That is one reason I decided on fiction to crack open some doors for the vast majority that won’t read dry blogs and data essays. At least my fiction raises questions and possibilities. I think most people wanting to act now already understand so my effort is to help more see when the crisis is hitting given the absence of aliens, zombies and vampires making it obvious and suggest positive responses. (Mostly group/community based). Planning for the future is problematic except for general community principles. Every place will be different.
But why will the majority of those who already see not act?
Hindering factors
Reluctance to leave the familiar, we feel safer on familiar ground
Financial anchors: no money, a job, mortgage and other debt
No portable skills
Illness: Chronic sufferers are the most vulnerable in our society
Family commitments: for the young, raising children and for older wanting to be near family. However, one important factor is that when people mate they usually won’t have discussed responding to collapse. One mate may not understand or want to act.
I think one category needs to be looked at separately below.
Hope and optimism
Ironically, these two feelings work for and against responding.
Negatively, we get religious hope that just trusts in magical solutions or the fulfillment of scriptures. This group is mostly beyond help and we need not waste time sermonizing. Some may respond in the need phase but likely that will result in some strange things.
Other limiting hope is in the form of “fighting back”; against climate change through environmental action or politically against collapsing capitalism. This engages action that deflects away from an early response to what I see as the inevitable disasters. Much of this will delay response even after the crisis is obvious. Of course, hope and optimism lead many activists to deny that any real crisis is coming.
However, to take action now, as you describe in your blogs, hope and optimism is also necessary, and likely few hopeless, pessimistic people would bother to try. We hear, “We are all going to die anyway.” commonly touted as justification for doing nothing.
Alternative to immediate relocation
We need to keep in mind that there may be urbanised locations that will be sustainable, but not many.
There could be a transition to outright moving. That is, doing the searching you suggest and becoming familiar and building some sort of presence in your preferred future location without relocating. This is not as desirable as your suggestions but could serve to overcome some of the hindrances I suggested above. This would require having a good idea of the events that would trigger your immediate flight from an urban area. Many of the blocking factors may not be overcome, even then. We won’t know until after what the “too late” point was.
An added reinforcement to your thoughts, once in safety people will need to meet later refugees intelligently. I believe I present my thoughts on this in my novel, After the last Day.
Keep writing Irv.

Irv Mills said...

Thanks for the kinds words. I'm glad to have been able to confirm your thinking. Over the next few months I'll be continuing with this training thought.

Irv Mills said...

@ Don Haywrad
I was out walking my dog Monday evening and slipped on a patch of ice. Bonked my head pretty good and so I've been taking it easy since then and am only now getting around to responding to you.

First I'd like to talk about something you brought up on Facebook--a YouTube video interview of Noam Chomsky talking about anarchism. I find these comments often end up being useful in future blog posts and they are a lot easier to find here than on Facebook.

Chomsky is a linguist and sadly his main contribution to the field, the idea of a universal grammar, has been largely discredited during the last few years. His political opinions, though, are pretty astute and he makes a lot of good points during this interview.

I've been partial to the ideas of anarchism since reading Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" in high school. But once I started working and joined a labour union I became more of an anarcho-communist than a libertarian like Heinlein. So much of what libertarians today support is what I would call "billionairianism"--whatever is good for billionaires. Mainly reducing government regulations and letting them have their way with the economy so they can continue to get richer, without any regard for how that might effect the rest of us. Chomsky uses the term "industrial fuedalism" and I think that is quite apt.

But to get back to your comment on the interview, which as near as I can remember was about not setting down precise predictions about how society should work in the future. Chomsky does mention this in the interview, in the context of not forcing people to follow one such prediction rigidly, but rather letting people try many different approaches. And, Of course, I agree with that--it's what I call dissensus, the opposite of consensus, where you let other people go their own way and wish them luck with it, even going to far as to help them, and they extend the same courtesy to you. Or since we are talking abut society, I mean groups of people rather than just individuals. We really don't have a clear idea of what will be the best response to the challenges we face, or what is the best way of organizing the kinds of small communities I think we are going to find ourselves in. We need to try many different approaches, which will work or not work to varying degrees, so that at least some people will make it through. If we try only one approach the odds are that it won't work and no one will make it through.

Having said that, though, I feel very strongly that this is no an excuse to not think about the future at all. All of the different, "dissensual" approaches I refer to have to be though up by somebody. A lot of work needs to be put into this, so as to be as well prepared as possible. I am not about to spend much time arguing with those who come up with different ideas than mine, but I am very critical or those who say there is no hope, throw up their arms in despair and go off to waste their time on whatever sort of idle pursuit they prefer.

I guess I should make it clear that none of this is directed at you, Don. Just taking the opportunity to blow off some steam pointed in other directions. I'll be back in a moment in another comment, to actually respond to your comment on this blog post.

Irv Mills said...

@ Don Hayward
Well, I printed out your "you give good advice" comment and sat down and read it carefully. A lot of meat in there, ideas that sparked chains of thought that will be helpful in my writing.

And interestingly, I think that Chomsky interview applies to much of what you were saying, at least his frequent references to the degree of effort that is being made to keep people "brainwashed" (my term, not his), and trapped in the system. Most people don't understand what is happening because a huge amount of effort spent to stop them from attaining that understanding, to keep them functioning as good consumers.

Of those who have some understand of what is happening, many do not act to save themselves because they are concerned about giving up the opportunities promised by BAU. And in one sense there is something to this--for as long as BAU is capable of providing a living, you'd might as well take advantage of it, or at least not give it up to the extent of rendering oneself destitute. But I think many people could manage the sort of move that I am recommending, without entirely giving up what little BAU has yet to offer.

The rest of the reasons you list are valid and it is sad that not moving will leave them in a really bad spot, which many will not survive.

Hope is a word that has been badly misused to the point where it is not clear to many people what it really means. There are those who would have us "wish upon a star" and tell us that if we believe enough we'll get what we want. This sort of hope is false and cruel--when it doesn't pay off it blames the unfortunate individual.

I would say hope is what you do when there is nothing left to do, when you not longer have any agency left to solve the problems you face, when there is nothing more to do. And many times just the act hoping, of not giving up, will lead you to some sort of solution. But at the same time, you have to keep a clear view of what your agency is and not stop working when there are still things to be done which will help, keeping an eye out for opportunities that may crop up unexpectedly.

As you say optimism, if not tempered by realism, can do more harm than good. As with so many things, it is a matter of keep a certain degree of balance.

Because I am recommending relocating soon, I don't want to say much about alternatives. People are so eager to hear of a way out that means they don't have to change their way of life, that they will grab onto any faint hope and ignore everything else.

I have written that there may be a few areas that are particularly blessed in terms of energy sources and agricultural potential that they may be able to come through collapse largely unscathed and maintain a fairly high level of technology. But as I have looked more closely into what will likely go on in the cities as collapse progresses, I've found it harder to imagine a sustainable urban location of any great size. As well as location and resources, it would require the sort of extensive preparation and organization that no one seems interested in doing.

But perhaps you have some insight that has eluded me....