So said Jean Paul Sartre, and on occasions I’d be inclined to agree with him. For the purposes of this blog, however, I’m thinking that it especially applies to people in collapse scenarios. Well, not all people of course, but SOME people.
I don’t know about you, but when I was young – young as in pre-adult – we lived in fear of nuclear annihilation. Growing up almost next door to an American forward strike base near Oxford practically guaranteed that me, my family and my trusty bull terrier Brutus would go up in a puff of smoke if the Ruskies pressed the red button. At the time we were told that we’d have a four-minute warning, meaning we would have four minutes to prepare to be turned into shadows. What the hell are you supposed to do with that kind of information?
Naturally, my peers and I had our own plans for what we would do during those four minutes (it never occurred to us that we might not be stood next to a radio or TV set when the warning was issued and might never get the full 240 seconds). Sensible people might be expected to drop to their knees in silent prayer, or perhaps hug their nearest and dearest as they prepared for the next life. But we were not sensible people – we were schoolboys and we had different plans. These plans tended to involve freaking out – or more specifically, freaking out in a way that ensured none of us died a virgin (even if Madame Burke, the French teacher, was the only nearest available female).
So from this we can deduce that a sudden scare like, um, an imminent nuclear holocaust has the power to turn a group of angelic-looking choirboys into psychopathic wannabe rapists. Of course, had the unthinkable actually happened I’ve no doubt that the lot of us would have fainted dead on the spot, evacuating our bowels as we slumped gibbering to the floor.
So, it’s a moot point whether certain types of people will freak out when they realize the direction industrial civilization and all its benefits is heading – especially if a black swan event has just appeared on the event horizon. Images of ravaging mobs and flesh-eating zombies are not too hard to conjure, but those were not the kinds of people I was thinking about when I picked this week’s provocative title. No, the people I was thinking about are a lot closer to home: your family and friends.
I was spurred to think of this because I got an email from a reader who, having read up on peak oil and all that, is facing the familiar dilemma of where best to position himself to avoid the worst for when the airborne faecal matter impacts on the rotary ventilation device. I imagine plenty of people are thinking the same kind of things as Jim – I know I am. Anyway, here is what he wrote:
I've lived a very stable life. My job as a web developer at a Canadian federal agency has lasted almost eight years now. I fell into it mostly out of convenience and because of the money and benefits. As time progressed I became less and less enamored by the job's "golden handcuffs" and I've been feeling the urge to expand my horizons. Maybe that's why I found the concepts of peak oil and the de-industrial future so compelling. In any case, this spring I went on a sabbatical to pursue my passion for drawing and illustration.
Things were going quite well until I stumbled upon JMG's blog and finally took notice of the serious predicaments our societies face. Now, all of a sudden, spending all that time becoming an artist didn't seem like the wisest choice. I spent my sabbatical instead learning gardening, volunteering with a local community co-operative, and reading about the topics that your blog and JMG's talks about. Since I was no longer studying art, I felt I had to return to my job and cut the break short. I've regretted that choice ever since.
To adjust to the reality of our situation, I sold my house that I built myself last year, moved to an apartment downtown that's within walking distance of my job, and sold my gas guzzling mustang. I've also started selling/donating all of my stuff that I don't use anymore that's been taking up space in a storage rental. The strange thing about all of this is that it felt so right doing it. I really do enjoy living simply, and I'm at a point now in my life where I have maximum flexibility to basically do whatever I want; that's where I'm stuck.
Everyday is a battle in my mind about where I want to live and what I want to learn as a vocation going forward. Currently I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba; it's the geographical center of North America. It's also one of the coldest places to live in the winter with -20C degree weather being typical for January to March. I have family here, and a lot of friends that I've made over the past 12 years or so. All that being said, I've always been in love with British Columbia. That's where my family is originally from, and some members of my family still live in various cities there.
Considering that I have nothing really tying me down here, I've been giving serious consideration to moving out there for the improved climate, and because my instinct says it's the right thing to do. Any time I stop to consider our declining future it scares me away from moving. It's safer to stay in a place with a large network of friends and family, right? I think that's the part of me that's driving me crazy: always wanting to play it safe instead of going for what my gut is telling me is the right thing to do for me.
You've moved a lot, often to very different places, and I can't help but feel I'm missing out on valuable life experience. Travel is going to become more difficult and expensive over time as well, so I can't hum and haw about it indefinitely. Maybe I'm subconsciously asking for permission, I don't know. What are your thoughts on moving away from what you know to align your life with your beliefs?
Finally, I've been trying to summon the courage to leave my federal job for a few years now. I'm stagnating there, growing neither professionally nor personally. I am certain that defined benefit pensions will be long gone by the time I retire (that would be 28 years or so from now). I still secretly hope that somehow I can make a living drawing and illustrating, but that seems to be a fading prospect as well.
I've considered and tried blacksmithing, which I enjoy, but the question remains whether that will be a viable career during my lifetime. I noticed your work experience varies quite a lot, and perhaps you'd have some insights to share about what pursuing jobs or careers will be like in the near future. Sometimes I feel like I put too much weight on the particulars of what I want to do for a living, rather than focus on staying flexible.
I really appreciate you taking the time to read my ramblings. It's been difficult finding others to connect with who share a similar outlook as I do. As close as I am to my family and friends, I feel there's a divide now because I've moved away from the faith of progress. I can never go back to that again because it would be tantamount to willful ignorance. I'm rambling again. Any insights or thoughts or opinions would be wonderful.
Naturally, it’s nice and flattering to think that someone would seek my advice on something of such life changing importance, but as to whether I’d be the right person to ask, well … my experience of Canada is limited to spending a couple of weeks paddling around Algonquin Park in a kayak, trying to avoid bears and moose. So instead of offering sage advice on where or indeed if to relocate, I thought I’d proffer the one thing I did learn when I experienced my warm-up collapse lite in Spain five years ago. And that involved people.
Yes, people freaking out when the chips are down is something we are going to have to learn to live with. Because, in my experience, when things go wrong, the immediately noticeable human reaction is not to try and fix it but instead to start pointing fingers and jumping up and down on the spot shouting ‘It’s YOUR fault!’ over and over again.
And if they are not blaming you they are quietly trying to screw you over and make sure the same fate doesn’t await them. I know this sounds pessimistic, and I’m not a pessimistic person, so I shall balance it by saying that we’ll also get to see the best of people too. There will be people who will be willing to help you out, listen to your woes, offer a cup of tea and a shoulder to cry on, and fix your car when you can’t afford a mechanic.
The trick is to figure out in ADVANCE which type of person will be good in a crisis and which will not, and start being nice to the former right now. It’s not really that hard to figure out. I’ve identified four basic types, based on my own experience:
- People who are vain, shallow and financially successful, will tend to be looking out for numero uno when TSHTF. That’s what they are good at. These are the kind of people who will take snide pleasure in seeing you failing because it boosts their own sense of being better than you. They might even take you for a ride, lending you money at inflated interest rates and pretending to be concerned about your welfare. Steer clear of these types – let’s call them predators. They are recognisable right now because they will collect interiors magazines, send their children to expensive music academies and possess spotless shiny cars. The men will have partings and firm opinions on sound investments and the housing market. Avoid.
- The second type is the flake. They are probably lovable and witty in normal circumstances, but when circumstances stop being normal they go to pieces. Suddenly, their knowledge of computer games, iPhone apps and the plotlines and actors in every boxed TV series and Hollywood movie released in the last 25 years will be of no use to them and they don’t know what to do. Given that they’re generally quite harmless, you might want to stay friends with flakes, as long as they are not eating all your food and begging for favours all the time without giving anything back. If you can, try and train your flakes to be something useful.
- The third type is the robot. These are the oil age people who have been programmed to expect no deviation from business as usual. Having never spent more than 30 seconds contemplating their own existence they just assume that business as usual is the only modus operandi of the entire human race. Their religion, although they don’t know it, is scientific progressive materialism, and their cemented minds are incapable of accepting any alternate reality* [see footnote]. If the mythic narrative instilled in them by society and TV is interrupted for some reason, then it must be somebody’s fault and somebody had better punish somebody else so that business as usual can resume. These are the kind of people whom Dmitry Orlov memorably said would sit in their darkened houses wearing dirty clothes waiting for the lights to come on again - until they shiver to death.
- The fourth type is the type you should not just befriend but actually aim to BE. These are what you might call genuine people. They are down to earth, empathic and practical. They share what they have and are good company. They are probably hopeless at financial matters, which is why they are already quite good at being poor. These are people who are not materialists or conservatives, in the sense that they already see the world in many shades of grey and are not hopelessly hooked on the naive assumptions and alleged benefits of industrial society – so when bad things happen, they’ll just sit back, take a toke on their woodbine and tell you they’ve been expecting it for a long time. This is why they’re already multi skilled and living in small insulated houses surrounded by organic vegetables and genuine friends rather than living alienated lives in McMansions surrounded by plasma screens and fake predator friends. They are easily recognisable because they will probably be wearing hand-knitted and brightly-coloured sweaters and will have laughter lines, sparkly eyes and a collection of mongrel hounds which they’ve rescued from various unpleasant fates.
So, having just neatly divided all of your friends and family into four basic categories, I’m now going to tell you the bad news. The bad news is that quite a lot of your friends and family belong to the first three categories. Hopefully none of your friends will be ruthless predators, although you’ll doubtless have some relatives who fill that role. Most of them will in all likelihood be flakes and robots, and this is where things can get painful because in the case of robots when business as usual is interrupted they will be looking for someone to blame, and that person might just be you. Yes, in their minds, all that talk you had been spouting about financial meltdown, oil crises, and their pensions being worth nothing has actually CAUSED it to pass. By refusing to believe in the mass hallucination of the modern consumer lifestyle, you and people just like you went and caused it to disappear. And for that you shall be punished!
So there’s my advice in a nutshell. My internal jury is still out on what John Michael Greer calls ‘collapsing in place’ (surely if you live as an outsider in a tinder box inner-city area this is not such a good option?) but you can at least surround yourself with people who are not likely to freak out during the long descent. Luckily, if you look around, there are plenty of places with an above average number of category four types. I know I have certainly found one, which is where I was last week sans-internet.
Which would imply that the robot personality is a victim of him/herself, although in my opinion for practical purposes that doesn’t necessarily excuse them.