Wednesday, June 7, 2017

P is for Patience

Image: Sarolta Bán

Patience is something I got a lesson in recently when I almost sliced my hand in half with an angle grinder. Minutes before my little accident I'd been sitting at the dining room table with my wife, discussing the jobs that needed doing before summer. Spring was in the air and I felt full of pent-up energy after the winter. I wrote a list of all the various renovation projects that needed doing on our old house, the tasks that needed to be completed in our woodland to ensure a supply of firewood, charcoal, mushrooms and fruit for the coming year, and the last-push that needed to happen to get our polytunnel producing food during the main growing season. Yes, there was a lot that needed doing, but I felt equal to the task and was impatient to get on with all the jobs.

Twenty minutes later I was walking to my local hospital - which, luckily, is only five minutes from home - a blood-soaked pillow case wrapped around my hand and arm. "I'll be alright," I was telling my wife. "It's just a cut — we'll stick a plaster on it and it'll heal." Luckily, she disagreed with my prognosis and prodded me along to the hospital emergency centre.

An operation under general anaesthetic was performed that saw surgeons digging chunks of abrasive disk out of my metacarpi and sewing severed tendons back together. When I came round and saw a plaster cast from my elbow to the fingertips I began to realise that my list of jobs might just have to wait. The hand doctor gave me the bad news. "You won't be able to use the hand at all for a month, and it'll be three months before you can do any manual work with it."

And so that was that. A right-handed person losing the use of their right hand, albeit temporarily, is severely limiting, to put it mildly. There was no chance I could complete any of the jobs I had set down on my list. I couldn't drive, I couldn't cook, I couldn't open bottles or jars, get my clothes on or off, or eat food that wasn't already cut into small pieces. I managed as best as I could with my left hand, but I'm not ambidextrous and it's pretty hard to do things such as type or brush your teeth with the hand you're not used to using. I became like a big baby — almost totally helpless when it came to doing simple tasks.

Now, three months on, it has completely healed. I have an interesting scar that I can show to people at parties, and I can't make a 'thumbs up' with my right hand, but otherwise there is no sign of my injury. I got off pretty lightly, having heard some rather gruesome stories from others (walking around with a power tool injury seems to attract a certain type of man who is keen to show off his own power tool injury scars.)

But apart from teaching me that angle grinders are dangerous (something I had known on a theoretical level but now know on a visceral one) my mishap did teach me about patience. Sitting around for a month with nothing much to do apart from read books and reflect made me realise that in the seven years or so since I first learned about the fate of the industrial world, how delicate is its mode of operation and how dependent we all are upon it, I have been engaged in constant hurried preparation for its demise. I'd downsized from my job, moved the family out of a city and country to somewhere less risky, bought a piece of land, learned a few skills that might be useful for when the current economic model has a seizure, and spent countless hundreds of hours filling my questing mind with books, blogs and media trying to figure out what the hell was going on with the world and what an appropriate mode of living might look like in response to it.

And over those seven years I've seen the majority of collapse pundits repeatedly get their predictions wrong for when 'the big one' is coming. Well, so far, 'the big one' hasn't hit us in our cosy first world bubble, but there are plenty of signs of carnage and chaos if one cares to look. We have various failed state countries, including Libya, Syria, Venezuela and Egypt. Each one of these countries was relatively prosperous and stable a decade ago, and yet now, life for many people living there has become a mad scramble for survival amidst political turmoil, hunger, rioting and civil war. Mainstream news media doesn't often report on what is going on within these countries, so it falls to independent observers to go out and look at what is happening on the ground and spread their info using social media.

On the finance and economics front we have basically seen the death of economic growth, in any meaningful sense. Sure, there are lots of figures and factoids flying around about 'full employment' and 'economic recovery' and the like, but scratch the surface and you'll find a dispiriting reality of millions of unemployed but uncounted people, people working minimum wage jobs on zero hours contracts and GDP figures that are almost entirely comprised of central bank generated debt. The debt bubble has ballooned to epic proportions, but again, the media doesn't seem interested. Debt allows countries, institutions and people to look good in the short term, while at the same time sacrificing the longer term.

On the energy front there is a sustained and continued fall in the density of the supplies available to us as a species. We consume something like five times as much oil as we discover, and whatever new stuff we do discover tends to be so challenging to extract and process that we have to expend huge amounts of our remaining energy just to do so: translated, this means that we might as well not bother. It's as if we have been at a rambunctious frat party and the parental liquor cupboard has been smashed open and drained. All that remains are a few empty bottles lying on their sides and some really horrible sticky orange-flavoured aperetifs. The party looks like it's about to fizzle out when someone discovers several crates of booze in the basement. Party on! But wait, it's just shandy, but who cares, it looks like beer and it comes in bottles that look like beer bottles. And all the time new guests keep arriving and demanding booze...

To make up for the inconvenient truth that we are running out of the highly-concentrated fuels our industrial civilisation needs to run, we have a loud cacophony of techno-optimists who insist that business as usual can continue if we just build enough wind turbines, or solar panels or propagate algae in the sea that we can turn into diesel. All of these schemes look great on a computer screen and it is easy to get uninformed people to believe that they are indeed feasible, but none of them ever consider the mechanisms — financial, political, economic — that would be needed to scale them up to a level where they would make much of a difference to offset the diminishing conventional fuels. We seem to be lost in a dreamlike state of demented unreality, like blindfolded people wandering around in a maze shouting hail Mary through gritted teeth. The sad truth is that the smartest people among us are those who capitalise on this madness, amassing huge personal fortunes by promising the moon (or Mars), just so long as the government subsidies continue rolling in.

Aside from all this we have ten different shades of crazy running through our societies. Some mischievous demon somewhere decided to lob a bomb into our carefully ordered political consensus of what constitutes left and right, good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate. This has given the chattering classes, who thought they had it all sorted out, a bad case of the vapours, and turned many of them into little more than drooling basket cases who become psychotic when presented with images and words that go against their programming. Thus we have people who identify as 'liberal'  throwing their allegiance behind billionaire financiers and politicians promising endless war, and those who identify as 'conservative' being generally in favour of conserving nothing except for their own privileges at the expense of everyone else.

On top of the above factors, we've also got a few new wars, environmental problems that are getting steadily worse, the drumbeat of Islamic terrorism that is getting closer to home, and there are now half a billion more people in the world than when I first started writing this blog, some of whom are refugees heading this way.

So, when you look at the past seven years, a lot has changed. Even if it doesn't feel like it on a day-by-day basis, the world is going through a profound readjustment. Sure, at some point, something will probably snap. Maybe it'll be a financial crisis that pops the debt bubble and ends up bankrupting entire countries as bonds get slaughtered. Maybe it'll be a war confected by the deep state and the western military industrial complex — that uber parasite on mankind — and we'll all be lying flat on our backs not knowing what hit us. This time next week/month/year we could all be dead or starving, or eating each other's brains for breakfast.

But here's my simple take on things: to give in to such depressing thoughts is to deny ourselves the ability to lives our lives in the best way that we can. Surrender to the fact that there's nothing you can do to 'fix' things, other than making yourself and your loved ones as secure as you can, and try to make the best of the hand you've been dealt. Create stuff, love people and life, try and make things a bit better for others and keep laughing at the absurdity of it all. The universe doesn't owe you a safe passage — there is no other way.


  1. Fair enough. There is still joy and gratitude for being here. But these are, by Gawd, interesting times!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jim. Interesting and strange times indeed.

  2. Hi Jason,

    Really glad to read that you have recuperated. How is the load bearing activities on the hand? I hope you are doing your rehabilitation exercises young man!!! Hehe!

    My mind dwells for a moment upon your injury every single time that I pick up an angle grinder - as I have to do later today. I'm constructing another free standing solar panel mount. Good stuff, who doesn't love steel as a quality material? It is a bit of shame that it won't last in the long run, but I'll extend the life of that stuff as long as I am able to.

    Mate, I'm not much given to introspection - there is just too much to be done, and also life is in the living! ;-)! Too much introspection can be a slow death of the spirit. Anyway, I always make a regular weekly trip to the local pub and I ask you this: Who can argue about a pint of mysterious (the beer and cider list is constantly changing) quality local brew and a good feed in a warm and cosy atmosphere? They even had a dessert stout the other week, and it was very good.

    I rather fancy that the whole thing will end with a whimper rather than a bang. Mind you that does not mean that it won't be a very rough road ahead. Wealth inequality is increasing here and that has meant that a certain meanness of spirit has crept into the general social ether. I don't reckon that it is a safe time.

    Cheers and I enjoy your writing as always!


    1. Hi Chris. Thanks - the hand is doing well, although I must admit that I didn't really bother doing many of the exercises they told me to do, I just used it as much as felt safe to do so and it healed very quickly. The doc was most impressed, so I guess I am just lucky.

      Angle grinders are, I'm sure, pretty safe when used correctly. My mistake was to use it in a confined area (behind a tell pipe in the back yard), causing it to bounce out of my hand when it grazed a wall. Saying that, I have two friends who have both ended up in hospital having slivers of steel extracted from their eyeballs, so best to wear goggles as I'm sure you do.

      I'm totally with you on quality brews in convivial surroundings. The pub near my woodland has started doing a new local stout on draught and it is fantastic. I shall miss such things if and when they are no longer available.

      And I do prefer whimpers to bangs. Excitable people love loud bangs, but the best thing I think we could hope for is a very long whimper that gives people time to adjust on the long descent!

  3. I'm going to be extra careful, two-hands on the angle grinder careful, next time I'm operating power tools.

    Nice summary of what we need to do: drop the illusions that we have any real power over the big things and focus on the things within our control.

    1. Indeed - power tools are great until they turn on you!

  4. WTF...the Universe doesn't owe me safe passage? That's not what my Life Coach said!

    Very pleased to see that you've recovered from your nasty injury...I've missed your commentary. I read Seat of Mars during your absence and enjoyed it very much. Curious to see what you'll come up with for the letter Q...querulous, quotidian, quixotic?

    As far as the various collapse predictions not having come to pass, please remember the wisdom of Yogi Berrananda: "It's difficult to make predictions, especially about the future!"

    Cheers, and welcome back.


    1. Hello Jim - alas, the universe doesn't even offer life coaches a living :)

      Glad that you enjoyed Seat of Mars. I haven't really had much feedback from it, so assumed it had vanished beneath the waves - but then, a few days ago, I happily found out that sales have been quite strong recently. Given this, I'm now turning my thoughts to book two, which will be set a decade or two ahead of the first.

    2. I see where Jim Kunstler has turned to publishing on Amazon for his latest book. Also glad that Seat of Mars is selling. Jim Kunstler is also getting support from Patreon as is Dmitry Orlov. Both of them seem to have enough of a following in the collapse sphere to get some support from their readers in addition to whatever book sales they have. Of course, money making schemes like Patreon are not resistant to fast collapse but seem to be able to exist in a slow collapse world.

    3. I'm weighing up my options with this. To charge people money for your output you have to be offering something of value, and be consistent with it. If I choose to go down that route then I'll be upping my game considerably.

  5. Glad you had access to good medical care. I have been using power tools for a number of decades and have had some close calls. I guess the best thing that can happen to us is to have a sufficient number of close calls to imprint on us what not to do but not so many that our luck runs out. I am always amazed that I am still alive and grateful for it.
    Re the fast vs. slow collapse, when I first became aware of peak oil a decade or so ago, I used to go around muttering, thirty more years, thirty more years. My wife got tired of hearing me say it so I stopped. A decade has passed and I could go around muttering twenty more years, but have learned to keep quiet.
    One of the benefits of a slow collapse is that in spite of doing nothing much useful, the money I have access to, lets me buy food and pay for shelter. I am also fortunate to have a wife with social skills that have provided us with friends. In addition, we know how to throw a good party and both of us are good cooks, competent gardeners and I am a pretty handy fix it guy. We are also honest and dependable. What we have in social capital makes up for what we lack in financial capital.
    We are currently living on a friend's farm, taking care of her vegetable garden and house and the farm pets while she toils at her job in the city to finance the needs of the farm. I am enjoying the heck out of farm life. Lots of physical exercise, fresh air and good food.
    Fast collapse of the kind that would cut electricity would do us in, this being central California which in the summer has a desert climate where the miracle of electric water pumps is the thing that makes agriculture possible. Absent electricity we would be hauling water in buckets from the river or possibly trying to find a gasoline powered pump which would of course require gasoline which is pumped by electric pumps which would be just as dead as the electric water pump. So I'm willing to put up with the intellectually more frustrating slow collapse over the more gratifying, I told you so fast collapse. Gives us more time to transition to a more off the grid lifestyle.

    1. Hi Wolfgang. That's great to hear you have carved out a niche for yourself on your friend's farm. I've seen for myself living in marginal places - even in the rich world - that those who make themselves useful are never short of a hot meal, even if they appear materially less well-off than most others during normal times.

      I, personally, have changed my tactics - albeit temporarily. With two kids to support and a real need for some cash to pay for things at my woodland and upgrades to our house, I've taken on employment again. As a matter of fact, I now have three jobs. The main one is as a barman in a local hotel - and this is augmented by me selling my woodland produce to their kitchen. Win-win. I also clean and manage holiday properties for a company, and may have another job in a cafe (now I'm a trained barista!).

      The extra cash is very welcome, although I have no idea how long these jobs will last. There's a tourism driven economic boom in the area I live in as people have become too afraid to go abroad due to terrorism. At least that's what I hear. I enjoy having the structure of work imposed on me for a while .. and the best thing is knowing that all of my trees and the forest garden I have planted at the woodland are growing and becoming more productive even without me being there.

      Of course, a lack of electricity or petrol would kill off this tourism boom in an instant - the places I work at are highly dependent on laundry services, JIT deliveries and all the rest of it - but at least I'm aware of that fact.

      As for slow collapse over fast collapse - I wonder how many days it would be, if there was a fast and sudden collapse, before the feeling schadenfreude wears off, and is replaced by sheer terror? I'll take a slowly moiling degradation of industrial civilisation over a zombie apocalypse any day!

    2. I might add that I also take away all the used coffee grounds from my place of employment and use it as substrate for mushroom cultivation - potentially to sell back to them as high grade gourmet mushrooms. I'm sure the other staff think I'm slightly quackers ....

  6. This article on Chris Martenson's website does a good job of illustrating the extent to which central-bank-printed money has been the main thing keeping the game going since the start of 2016. Dmitry Orlov recently stated that we are approaching the point where ten dollars of debt is needed to create one dollar of economic growth. If the central banks have to dump three trillion dollars a year of printed money on the world financial markets to stave off deflationary compression, then I have little difficulty believing Dmitry's claim here.

    Countries to keep an eye on in terms of possible financial destabilization are Spain and Italy. I suspect that the economic troubles of Spain, Portugal, Italy, and to a lesser extent Greece have a lot to do with the price of oil deflating in recent years. At any rate, the European Central Bank has been printing up money like crazy to keep the governments and financial systems of Spain and Italy from going royally tits-up, so southern Europe is potentially a flashpoint for now.


I'll try to reply to comments as time permits.