Sunday, January 31, 2016

An Alternative View of China

A lot has been written lately in the financial press and in the "doom-o-sphere" about the supposed implosion of China's economy.  If you read sources like the Wall Street Journal, or listen to people like George Soros, the current deflationary financial crisis which is sweeping the world is supposed to be hitting China especially hard.  Yet there is an alternative view.  Remember that China, like Russia, is one of the last large nations which is fighting to maintain its sovereignty in the face of efforts by the Anglo-American empire to wreck and subjugate it.  Remember also the attempt at a "color revolution" which was staged in Hong Kong in 2014.  I am also thinking of a podcast which I heard in which the speaker suggested that the West might try to punish China for its support of Russia during recent Western efforts to wreck the Russian economy.  It stands to reason that the attempted punishment of China would be performed with the same tools used to attempt to punish Russia.

To be sure, China's economic policies could stand a bit of correction.  It's not a sustainable policy to try to get something for nothing by attracting foreign investors to bet on perpetual economic growth in a finite country on a finite planet.  A much better policy at this stage of the game is to voluntarily transition one's country to the kind of society that can function well and sustain itself even in an age of scarcity.  That way, other countries can't hold you hostage.  Nevertheless, I would not be willing to bet that China is ready to collapse.  That doesn't seem to be a safe bet.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Relevant News, 29 January 2016

A couple of links to news stories of interest:
  • Stupid Goes All The Way To The Bone: "Staff At Paris Airport Angry After Finding Fake Bombs Ordered By American Embassy".  The comments are especially helpful in seeing how the rest of the world sees us.  Read them, if you dare.
  • Long Spoons In Hell: "В Польше избили украинских гастарбайтеров (ВИДЕО)"  ("Ukrainian Migrant Workers Beaten In Poland (Video)")  (It helps if you are fluent in Russian, but if not, Google Translate is much better than nothing.)  Basically the story is that even refugees from the Ukranian crisis are facing hostility in some of the countries to which they have fled.  In the incident described in the article, the Polish police decided not to charge the perpetrators.  (Update: other sources are suggesting that charges might actually be pressed.)  I guess in some places, the moment you become a refugee, you lose a lot of your social acceptability, no matter how light your skin color.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Breakup of Pathological Spaces

Today, I am offering a re-post of "The Breakup of Pathological Spaces".  I want to add a couple of clarifying comments.  Some might read this post and think immediately of how the European Union is currently under attack from those who want to secede from that union.  Many of the "secessionists" in this case are fascist ultra-nationalists motivated by a strong racial pride and a strong desire to exclude refugees who are entering European nations from Mideast nations which the EU has helped to destroy.  Hence their love for border guards, walls and fences.  While I agree with them that the EU as currently constituted should die, I question their ultimate motivations.  They should be careful, lest they succeed in breaking free from one pathological space by creating other, smaller pathological spaces, which is what they would turn their countries into by pushing their agenda.

In thinking of a "healthy" breakup, I am reminded of "Third World" countries which have managed to escape from the larger pathological space created by the earth's dominant nations.  I think of Cuba under Fidel Castro, Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe, Venezuela under Hugo Chavez (while he was still alive), and Bolivia under Evo Morales.  These leaders have all had the same goal: namely, to return sovereignty and self-determination to their own people, and to end the exploitation of their people by Europe and the Anglo-American empire.  Each of these countries has had varying degrees of success in achieving that goal, and each of these countries had to pay a price for setting that goal for themselves.  But each of these countries is still standing in some sense as sovereign nations.   Their citizens have not been turned into refugees.  Over the last decade, they have been joined by Fiji.  (See this also.  The "undemocratic" rulers of Fiji have an approval rating of at least 66 percent, due in part to their policies to help the poor and to reduce ethnic conflict.  How many people have to like you before you stop being "undemocratic"?)

To be sure, in the West, there is a much more negative view of how well these nations are doing, and how well their leaders have done for them.  The negative Western view is promulgated by Western media and Western "journalists".  But is it not obvious by now that most of these "journalists" are liars?  (See this also.)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Inevitable Osmosis

(First, many thanks to commenters.  I apologize for being slow in posting comments.  I had a gnarly homework assignment to finish, on top of working nearly full time.  Sleep will taste really good tonight...)

Let me start this post with a slightly loopy analogy.  And as we begin, we must define two terms.  Osmosis (as defined by Wikipedia and others is "the spontaneous net movement of solvent molecules through a semi-permeable membrane into a region of higher solute concentration, in the direction that tends to equalize the solute concentrations of the two sides...Osmotic pressure is defined as the external pressure required to be applied so that there is no net movement of solvent across the membrane."  Let's unpack that definition a little.  Take a glass jar, and divide it into two halves by inserting a watertight semi-permeable membrane down the middle.  Fill one half of the jar with pure water, and the other half with salty water, and wait a while.  What you will eventually see is that the liquid level in the pure half of the jar has gone down and the liquid level in the salty half of the jar has gone up.

Osmosis illustration courtesy of OpenStax College, Anatomy and Physiology.
What you've just witnessed is osmosis.  You started with two liquids, one a pure solvent (water in this case), and one comprised of that same solvent in which a high concentration of impurities was dissolved.  The molecules of the solvent were small enough to flow through the molecular "holes" in the semi-permeable membrane, and they did so, diluting the concentrated salt solution as they flowed into it.  The process continued until the mass of diluted solution grew to an extent that it was able to exert a force on the membrane equal to the osmotic pressure, at which point the flow of water from the pure to the salty side of the jar stopped.  Note that the salt ions could not flow from the salty side to the pure side of the membrane, because they could not fit through the molecular "holes" in the membrane.  Osmosis happens spontaneously whenever there is a pure solvent separated by a semi-permeable membrane from some of that same solvent in which impurities have been dissolved.  When the net concentration of impurities in a solution is equal on either side of a semi-permeable barrier, there is no net natural tendency for osmosis to take place.  Lastly, it takes the input of energy (usually applied through a pump) to use reverse osmosis to extract a pure solvent from a solution in which impurities have been dissolved or suspended.

So it is with nations.  In a world in which everyone had equal access to natural resources and everyone enjoyed the same standard of material wealth, there would be no large-scale tendency for people to emigrate.  After all, if you had everything you needed right where you were, what would be the point of moving?  But alas, that's not the world in which we live.  Quite apart from the situations of wealth or scarcity caused by the vagaries of nature (drought, famine caused by crop failure, bumper crops caused by very good weather, etc.), there is the little matter of our fallen human tendency to rob each other.  Some people are better and more ambitious robbers than others, and some of these people become heads of nations which become really good at robbing other nations.  Thus we see the ever-increasing concentration of wealth in these robber nations and the ever-increasing impoverishment of those nations which are their victims.

This leads to a situation not unlike that which exists in our osmosis jar: a huge concentration of solute on one side of a semi-permeable membrane and a large body of pure solvent on the other side.  Except that in this case, we have a huge concentration of wealth on one side of a national border and a huge mass of people who have been "purified" of their possessions on the other side.  In this respect, the robber nations serve as "reverse osmosis" devices whose components consist of armies to rob other nations with, and border guards and fences and walls to keep those whom they have robbed on the outside.  Of course, all this machinery requires energy and other inputs, because the natural tendency is for good old-fashioned osmosis to occur: if you concentrate all the world's best precious things in the hands of a few nations and leave the rest of the world to either starve or try to find a few crumbs by emigrating to the "favored" nations, you can't grumble if a few of the rest of the world's citizens show up at your doorstep.

The picture of osmosis has thus helped me to see the rise of far-right ultra-nationalist movements in the United States and Europe from a different perspective.  And that can be helpful, just as looking at another planet through lenses designed to filter or transmit certain frequencies of light can help us to see things we might have missed if we had viewed the planet through visible light only.  I've been looking at the behavior of nations through the lens of narcissism lately.  Let's try out a different lens tonight.

So we have a bunch of ultra-nationalists and proto-fascists who have become rather well-known lately.  In Europe, there is the Golden Dawn party of Greece, there is UKIP in Britain, and there is the National Front in France, not to mention the Ukraine or the many Eastern European countries which have taken a hard right ultra-nationalist turn recently.  And then there's the Republican Party in the United States, and its Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump.  And I'm wondering how it is that those who might in any way have been called "left" or "left-leaning" in any of these nations have been totally eviscerated so that the only "alternative" we have to what some call "the extreme center" is a bunch of people who want to insist that they and their nations are All That And A Bag Of Chips, and that the rest of the world can go to blazes.  And all this bluster and bravado is being built on a history and tradition of having made a home stuffed full of precious things at the expense of the rest of the world. 

Note: Some of these people try to base their nationalism on their interpretation of Christianity.  But the Good Book states clearly in both the Old and New Testaments that the Lord's chosen people are to be hospitable to strangers, and are forbidden from oppressing the stranger, the orphan or the widow.  Now I know that there's not really any such thing as a "Christian nation" in the world, and that expecting nations to model this kind of hospitality is sort of like trying to teach pigs to fly - it wastes your time and annoys the pigs.  But at the least, the nations who consider themselves "special" and "precious" could leave off robbing other nations, don't you think?

And the robbery is what enabled these special nations to make their nations a home of all precious things.  But now, on the far side of Hubbert's peak, not only with regard to shortages of easily extracted oil, but with regard to a host of other natural resources, those precious things are being threatened.  And the machinery of reverse osmosis (or, robbery) is being strained to breaking.  The rise of fascist ultra-nationalism may well be the fearful response on the part of some very wealthy people and their mouthpieces in politics and the media to that breaking, and to the increasing likelihood that they will be forced to share their stash of precious things with the people from whom those things were forcibly taken.

One last thing.  There has been a lot of demonization of the Syrian refugees and others who are fleeing from the destruction of their countries which was engineered by the U.S. and its allies.

Drowned refugee child on a beach in Libya.  Image courtesy of U.S. Uncut.

One of the latest accusations against these refugees is that they organized a mass rape of "pure," "innocent" European women in the city of Cologne on New Year's Eve.  At first, I was inclined to believe the accusations, but now that it has been reported how systematically the attacks were planned and executed (for instance, the attackers supposedly coordinated their attacks by means of social media like Facebook and Twitter), the story is starting to stink - and I'm not the only one who notices the smell.  Why use attacks like this to seek to demonize and implicate refugees and aliens?  I think the answer is not just narcissism (although it is certainly that), but that there is a much more practical reason.  If you build your nation by robbing other nations, and the people of the nations you robbed emigrate to your nation and become citizens, they may have strong objections to you embarking on future robbery sprees.  Racist uber-nationalism is the perfect ideology for a nation that wants to exalt itself by conquering and plundering other peoples.  (That, by the way, explains a lot of European history and culture.)  Pulling such shenanigans is a lot harder to do when you are the head of a multicultural nation.  Also, excluding others from your stash of loot leaves more of that loot for you to enjoy.

The eventual end of robber empires is that they themselves get robbed, or their machinery of reverse osmosis breaks.  For instance, the reverse osmosis pump consisting of armies to rob other nations starts to cost more than it takes in, and the semi-permeable membrane consisting of border guards, walls, and barbed-wire fences becomes too expensive to maintain on a large scale.  Then everyone gets poor more or less equally, including the citizens of the formerly "special", "precious" robber empire.  Once that happens, there's no further point in fascist ultra-nationalism, is there?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Culture-Wreckers and Culture Repair, Part 2

I'm glad that many people read my last post.  After I wrote it, I was a bit embarrassed, as it seemed to me that my thinking wasn't as clear as it could have been.  After all, TV isn't the only way of wrecking a culture, and it isn't as if the culture of the United States hasn't been seriously ugly in serious ways from the very beginning.
Still, it is useful to consider the theme of that post, namely, why cultures are perverted, who does the perverting, and the means they use to do it.  That can lead to an exploration of the self-organizing cultures that might likely arise in a society whose masters are losing their grip on society because their tools are losing their effectiveness.  What happens to people who no longer watch TV, who don't even have Internet access at home (see this also), who have also begun to be cut off from access to the American orgy of consumerism - for instance, people who don't drive or own a car because they can't afford to?  How do they respond to attempts to inject free-market, greed-is-good, Dave Ramsey-"Financial Peace" propaganda into their brains?  How do they respond when they begin to realize that none of what they see in real life matches anymore the TV commercials showing the perfectly manicured "American Family" with their 2.2 kids in a McMansion in the suburbs, SUV parked in the driveway?
I'd like to do a series of posts exploring these questions, and to expand on the theme of culture and the difference between healthy and perverted cultures.  I'd like to finish by addressing whether there's any hope for the redemption of mainstream American culture.  Such an exploration would take in a few other sources, such as Soong-Chan Rah's book, Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church.  (Dr. Rah said something fascinating a few years ago, namely, that while every culture is fallen, every culture is redemptive.  It would be interesting to test his statement against American culture as it now is.)  Such a consideration would be especially interesting in light of the culture of violent narcissism now being promoted by the wealthiest members of American society.  I am thinking especially of Donald Trump and Cliven Bundy.
The trouble is, school has started again, and I need to think about some other things for several weeks.  So those posts on culture may be slow in coming.  In the meantime, here's another example of culture worth enjoying.  (I told you I've been picking up some good music from churches outside the American "mainstream"...)

Буду петь Господу

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Culture-Wreckers and Culture Repair

It can be devilishly easy to wreck a culture, and devilishly hard to clean it up afterward.  If you want to wreck a culture, it helps to be very rich and to own most if not all of the main voices in the culture you want to wreck.  Those who have to clean up your mess afterward are usually people without a voice in the culture, and they find themselves facing the same set of issues, regardless of where the wreckage occurred.  So it is with those who have to deal with the messes made by the United States in various places.  For the Ukraine and Eastern Europe, the question is how to de-Nazify these places.  That Nazification took place over a period of several decades, amply funded both by neocon elements in the United States government and by some of its wealthiest citizens.  A key element of that Nazification was the wide dissemination of propaganda through various media outlets.  That process has resulted in a wrecked Eastern European country, and a number of other countries who have a dangerously inflated view of themselves, and who thus may no longer be able to live at peace with each other.  A similar process has taken place in Syria, where a culture has been partially wrecked by means of the funding of foreign rogues by the United States and its allies as they attempted to overthrow the government of President al-Assad.  The toxic culture created by the ISIS and al-Qaeda "moderate freedom fighters" funded by the U.S. and others has begun to damage even some Syrians.  It too was helped by American funded mass media.  The question, both in the Ukraine and in Syria, is how those who remain undamaged can clean up the toxic culture created in these places by foreign intervention.

But a similar question awaits those who seek to heal the culture of the United States.  For a lot of money, time and effort has gone into poisoning the culture of our nation.  Contrary to the propaganda many of us learned in grade school, the culture of the United States was never very virtuous.  But it seemed that during the late 1960's and 1970's, this country was stumbling toward the first grudging acknowledgement that all humans are created equal and ought to be treated as equal, regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, country of residence, or economic status.  However, there were people at that time who regarded such an acknowledgement to be an intolerable threat to their self-created identity as masters of everything, "more equal" than everyone else.  So these people began working to create a toxic culture which glorified the wealthy, the powerful, and the Anglo-American at everyone else's expense.  They began with people like Wally George and continued through the building of the radio empire of Rush Limbaugh and the rise of the media empire of Rupert Murdoch.  By now, their control over most of the organs of mainstream American media is nearly complete.  And they have done a really good job of poisoning the culture of this nation, having accomplished the revival of a sort of ugliness that hasn't existed since the Jim Crow days of the American South.

Cultural messes are created by people who want to legitimize the raw use of force to achieve selfish ends and to victimize the powerless.  And when cleaning up a mess, the first thing that must be done is to put a stop to whatever is making the mess.  If the pipes burst in your house and the floor gets flooded, it makes no sense to grab a mop and bucket until you've shut off the water.  Similarly, it may not be too useful to have public and private employers host "equity workshops" and "diversity trainings" for people who will simply turn around and sit in front of a propaganda-spewing TV set when they go home.  Maybe the first thing to do is to stop the river of sewage flowing from the outlets of mass media.

The thing is, it looks like that stoppage may be happening in the United States, and that it may be the result of the choice of an increasing number of people to get rid of the sewage outlet in their living room.  I've been reading lately about the increasing numbers of Americans who are going without TV, and the increasing number of households who do not even own a TV.  And while some analysts blame the decline in TV ownership on Internet entertainment and live movies, there are reports that revenues from online entertainment and live movies has also been dropping.  Here are a few links to what I'm talking about:
There's plenty more where that came from, but I'm sure you get the point.  These articles don't even touch the subject of the growing number of people who are not watching any kind of electronic media, or the increasing number of people who no longer go out to watch movies.  One of the primary means of wrecking a culture has been to buy up all the voices of mass dissemination of that culture.  But now, an increasing number of people in the culture are no longer listening to those voices.  The average age of the typical broadcast TV viewer is now over 50.  The empires of Rupert Murdoch and people like him are becoming less and less effective, and people are starting to engage each other in the face-to-face creation of cultures of their own.  This is a hopeful sign that a safe space may be opening for those who want to create healthy cultures.

Yet all is not rosy.  There are other ways of creating a cultural mess besides the use of legacy broadcast, cable and print networks, and these ways are being exploited by the supremacists who are behind the great American culture-wrecking project.  In the age of the Internet, our best weapon against such people and their tactics may well be to display an unwavering decency, both in realspace and in cyberspace.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Words of Explanation, and A Word of Thanks

I have noticed a rather drastic increase in my blog traffic over the last few weeks. (I like that a lot!) It's good to know that posts which require research (and a little blood, sweat and tears) are appreciated. However, I think it might be good to provide a word of clarification regarding my last post. It occurred to me that some who read my criticism of the “zombie apocalypse” approach to our present societal problems might conclude that I am minimizing those problems. In fact, I am not; the problems and issues faced by our global industrial society truly are serious. The consequences will in many cases be dire, unless action is taken to intelligently adapt to the depletion of natural resources and the creation of environmental consequences which has already occurred. For the age of consequences has already begun. And “we” especially in the U.S. have refused to adapt.  To me, the problem with the "gold, guts and guns" approach is that it seems people who adopt this approach have found in the issue of resource depletion and climate change the perfect excuse to act out elements of selfish psychology which have been part of the American "culture of the cowboy" from the beginning.

As far as blog traffic, I want to extend a welcome to those of you who have joined in reading my posts. I noticed that a lot of you are from outside the U.S. A large number of readers have come from Russia.
  Спасибо и Добро пожаловать! I hope I can continue to provide you with analysis, research and perspective which you will find useful, as well as providing you with yet another window into the United States.  If you have any questions or topics you want me to cover, feel free to let me know, and I will try to do my best.  If you ask me a question in Russian, have mercy on me; Я знаю немножко русский язык, но мои русский есть плохой.  If I survive graduate school, I hope to take time to become more fluent.  As for me, I have been enjoying a blog named The Vineyard of the Saker, written by a team that includes a Russian who calls himself the Saker and who is now living in Florida.  I like the fact that the Saker brings a spiritual perspective to the present geopolitical situation, and I like his perspective on the United States.  Check out the guest post titled, "The Volga flows into Barada" to see the sort of soul to which a people ought to aspire.

I'll end on a spiritual note.  Over the last few months, I have stopped going to American churches altogether on Sundays, and am now exclusively visiting immigrant churches.  This is the culmination of a process which had been going on for the last few years.  (More on that story in the future, if anyone wants to hear it.)  Along the way, I have picked up some good music.  One day I'll post a link to an Oromo Ethiopian church song.  It'll get your feet moving for sure.  But for tonight, here is a link to a song which has become a favorite of mine: 

I like the fifth verse especially:
Не надейся ты на праведность свою;
Все грехи в смирении принеси к Христу.
Жаждущий иди ко мне и пей,
Так сказал Господь
наш в милости своей.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Living In A Place Named "Predicament"

Explosion Kitty walking away from the Zombie 

And now in this post we return to the roots of this blog (and we show how a discussion of national and cultural abnormal psychology relates to those roots). This blog began as a diary of my observations of the changes in mainstream American society which are being caused by the decline in energy and natural resources needed by the global industrial economy. Personally, I think some of my earliest posts on the topic were rather amateurish, due to the fact that I didn't quite understand at first everything I was looking at. (Petroleum geology, in particular, is not my forte.) But even people who were born yesterday can catch up a bit by staying up all night studying. ;)

When writers seriously discuss resource depletion, climate change and their likely effects on the global industrial economy, some readers tend to react as if they'd just met a conspiracy theory/zombie apocalypse nut. But these subjects actually have a very solid technical background. Let's explore that background for a moment.

First, there have been thinkers from way back who understood that the earth is finite, and who accepted the possibility that humans might one day bump against the limits of the earth's resources. Two 19th century names come to mind: Thomas Malthus postulated that the human population could grow to a level that would not sustain extravagant lifestyles. Svante Arrhenius postulated that human industrial activity could release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in such quantities that it could cause significant long-term changes to the global climate. Malthus and Arrhenius did not have the benefit of computer modeling to validate their assumptions. But in the 1970's, there were scientists who did have that benefit. A group of these scientists assembled under the auspices of the Club of Rome to study possible future scenarios for the global industrial society from the 1970's to 2100. They discovered a number of scenarios in which the industrial economy would run into hard constraints related to the amount of virgin resources which could be extracted, and the amount of industrial waste which could be dumped into the environment without serious side effects. Running into those constraints would lead to economic contraction and population distress. Their findings were published in a volume titled The Limits To Growth, which has been periodically updated to the present. The First World in general, and the United States in particular, did not heed the warnings of The Limits To Growth, and so now we see the beginnings of our society running into hard constraints.

One of those constraints deserves special mention. In the 1950's, M. King Hubbert, a petroleum geologist for the Shell Oil Company, derived a simple formula from calculus to model the flow rate of an oil field as a function of its proven reserves. (See this also.)  The implications of this formula led Hubbert to conclude that production of conventional oil in the United States would peak in the early 1970's and enter into irreversible decline thereafter. He also postulated that production of conventional oil worldwide would peak some time in the early part of the first decade of the 21st century and enter into irreversible decline thereafter. He published his conclusions in a prominent peer-reviewed journal and managed to make his Shell Oil bosses very unhappy. The trouble was, he was right.

Hubbert's assumptions were validated by Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrere in an article titled “The End of Cheap Oil,” published in Scientific American in 1998.  This article provoked a flurry of both interest and controversy and was a catalyst in the formation of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, or ASPO in short. The Oil Drum website was also born, as well as organizations like the Post-Carbon Institute. A child lately born among this brood was the Energy Watch Group which began as a collection of geologists and other scientists sponsored by the German government under the leadership of Hans-Josef Fell of the German Parliament. (The Energy Watch Group correctly stated that the peak of global conventional crude oil production (excluding shale and tar sands) had already occurred by 2008.) All of these groups were characterized by strong technical leadership consisting of scientists with strong technical backgrounds who were well-qualified to discuss the field they were addressing, namely, the likelihood of near-term declines in global conventional oil production.

The discussion of the likelihood of near-term decline in the availability of cheap oil naturally led to the discussion of the likely impact and effects of such a decline on First World economies. This led to the generation of a number of scenarios. At first, those producing the scenarios were strongly technical types very similar to the people who were studying the possibility of production rate declines. For instance, the United States government commissioned a group of respected scientists led by Robert Hirsch to study the likely impacts on American society of permanent near-term declines in availability of oil. The results of that study were published in 2005 in a document now known as the Hirsch report.

The Hirsch report predicted major disruptions to industrial society unless preparations were made sufficiently far in advance (as in, 20 years) of the peaking and decline of conventional oil production. Hirsch, et al, did not exactly talk about zombies, but the impacts described in the report were dramatic enough to inspire a number of other people (including several people without technical academic degrees) to start mapping out possible scenarios. These scenarios tended to fall into two general categories: a “fast crash” case and a “more nuanced” case.

In the “fast crash” camp were such people as the creators of the World Without Oil website, a supposed reality “game” in which people could explore the impact of a sudden drop in oil availability. (I discovered the site in 2007, and noticed that most of its scenarios tended to be variations on a violent “zombie apocalypse” theme. But I'm getting ahead of myself.) There was also Matt Savinar, a blogger who formerly devoted himself to covering the impacts of peak oil on industrial societies. Matt earned a degree in law (and thereafter started calling himself the “Juris Doctor of Doom”) while trying to build a business selling what I would call “doom preparation kits” of emergency rations and other “collapse preparation” supplies. But there came a point in 2010 where he suddenly felt “led” to switch from collapse preparation and law to astrology. Among the ranks of “fast crash” writers were also people like Guy McPherson who is trying to build a career as a traveling doom counselor, Michael Ruppert who reportedly shot himself in 2011, and James Howard Kunstler, a former journalist and writer of fiction who used to regularly predict at the beginning of each year that the stock market would crash to a level no greater than 4000 points in that year.  Over the last few years, Mr. Kunstler has expanded his offerings to include extremely racist, misogynist and right-wing statements of the sort that make it clear that he is eager to throw those whom he deems powerless under the bus if he thinks he can get away with it. 

The “more nuanced” camp also had a number of members, who generally tended to be much less colorful and much more cautious in their assessment of the future, and who also tended to be much more prudent in giving advice and recommendations for dealing with a future of economic contraction. They also tended to be strong and deep systems thinkers. Three names immediately come to mind: first, Richard Heinberg, a fellow of the Post-Carbon Institute, and David Holmgren, who together with Bill Mollison founded the discipline of permaculture (a discipline which is now being seriously taught in government-sponsored Australian universities, by the way). In looking at a future of scarcity, such people as these tended to recognize the need to play a long game.

Over the last several months, the differences in outlook between the two camps has intrigued me, not least because the way a person sees a situation tells a lot about what's inside that person. And the differences in outlook between the two camps has been interesting from a psychological, sociological and spiritual viewpoint. The key assumptions of the “fast-crashers” was that a sudden or serious shortfall in availability of the resources and consumer goods needed for a middle-class American lifestyle would result in the eruption of instant anarchy, with violent mobs (all assumed to be poor and usually dark-skinned) raping, pillaging, looting and burning everything in sight. Therefore, the proper way to prepare for such a shortfall was to buy a doomstead in Montana or some other isolated place, and to stock it with an abundant supply of guns, ammo, baked beans and gold pieces, and to outfit one's doomstead with as many trappings and gizmos as necessary to preserve “liberty!” (and a middle-class lifestyle) into the post-apocalyptic age.  (Another key to preparation was to watch the stock market obsessively every day, watching for the first sign of collapse in order to know when and how to shift one's "investments" in order to preserve maximum value.)  In such a fast-crash world, the kind of morality that regarded other lives as precious enough to share your material goods with them (especially the lives of people different from you) was to be regarded as excess baggage to be discarded as soon as possible, and the “survivors” of such a crash were exhorted to adopt a moral compass that looked a lot like the compass of selfishness that guided Ayn Rand throughout her miserable life.

One problem with such a viewpoint is that it was and continues to be contradicted by evidence from every available corner of the planet. For instance, there are hundreds of millions – even billions – of people who live in societies with per capita incomes much lower than the per capita income of the United States, and these people live quite peaceably as long as they have their basic needs met. They are not zombies. (What warfare arises among these people is usually provoked by resource-hungry Anglo-American or European powers, and not by the indigenous people themselves.) And there are a lot of poor people in the U.S. who are the salt of the earth. Who says that instant anarchy has to erupt if people don't have all the stuff that most mainstream Americans are taught to crave? Such a belief is a fallacy typical of spoiled mainstream Americans who tend to believe that if they can't have a lifestyle of “special” privilege and comfort, the end of the world must be at hand. Another problem is that people with this point of view are trying to sustain an unsustainable lifestyle by a zombie apocalypse version of hoarding, like Gollum or Smaug the dragon in Tolkien story The Hobbit. So we have people who outfit their doomsteads with several kW of solar panels and massive battery storage systems so they can enjoy all the comforts of home in case the grid goes down. (Good luck trying to get them to share any of their stash.) Why not learn to live without some of those comforts, since after all, the batteries and panels will eventually wear out?

To me, it seems that the fast-crash scenario has become something of a blank slate on which certain personalities project fantasies whose characteristics have been covered repeatedly in the psychology-related posts of the last year and a half on this blog. So it is probably not surprising that over the last few years, such zombie apocalypse/prepper thinking has been picked up by the talking heads at Fox News and similar media outlets, who have gotten into the business of hawking gold and emergency rations as part of their campaign to instill mass hysteria into a captive cult audience of aging white Baby Boomers. (That's how I knew I tasted something funny...) Another example of this is the post-apocalyptic novels of James Howard Kunstler, in which he places the survivors into ranks and social classes that suit the fantasies of Anglo-American narcissistic males. (I bought his first "collapse" novel, but I have to admit that I didn't even get halfway through it, as the prose in his novel seemed to be no better than that of the Left Behind novels.  (Although I am a Christian, I couldn't stand those books - it's a sin to make cheap art out of Scripture.)  Here are a few trenchant lines regarding Kunstler's book from a Los Angeles Times reviewer.  If you want to read some well-written post-apocalyptic fiction, I would recommend Stephen King's The Stand, although King does not deal with resource depletion and climate change.)

The more nuanced camp has thus had increasing appeal to me over the years. I now consider myself to be a member of that camp. I believe the official reports of the Energy Watch Group and of Robert Hirsch's task force. I also believe the authors of the Limits to Growth reports. I therefore believe that our global industrial society (and American society in particular) is already encountering some non-negotiable changes. But I also believe that this fact does not give us a pass to throw away our moral compass. Rather, that moral compass (and a firm grip on reality) should guide us in assessing our situation. We should be asking whether we face a problem to be gotten over, or a predicament to be lived with graciously. (I believe the evidence points to the latter.)

If then we face a predicament, how shall we address it? What are the strategic goals we should have? One reason I like people like Richard Heinberg is that he seems to be looking for solutions which benefit as many people as possible (rather than clamoring hysterically about a coming zombie apocalypse)! If helping as many people as possible is to be our goal, that goal will guide the technical adaptations we pursue. The search for technical adaptations will have to take place on three scales: the individual, the local, and the societal. And these adaptations will not be effective without first adapting psychologically, namely, in deciding whether we are willing to accept a humbler lifestyle. Dysfunctional psychology will interfere with the wise choosing of appropriate technical adaptations! Can “we” get over our modern Western, American dysfunctional psychology in an age of limits? Or will we continue to hawk the same “solutions” that got us into our present mess: guns, “liberty!!!”, selfishness, the “free market,” the exaltation of the “agentic” over the “communal” (as blogger CZBZ puts it)? The coming days will mark the end of Anglo-American “fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love,” and "we" will have to heal our diseased mindset, lest we continue to try the wrong solutions to the wrong problems. Those who keep pushing wrong approaches may end up trying to feed themselves with long spoons in Hell.  And let me tell you something.  The rest of the world will not simply roll over and die so that you can have a temporary extension of your fantasies of unlimited power.  You will have to adapt to life in a multipolar world and a multicultural society.

As far as technical adaptations, that has been my focus for the last few years, and it is the reason why I have gone back to school. I believe that the formulation of technical adaptations to resource scarcity and lower energy availability will require the presence of people with a strong background in math and the sciences. That will be the background of people who are interested in playing “the long game,” and that is the background which I have been acquiring. Those with such a background will not only be able to formulate technical adaptations, but will also be able to test and fine-tune those adaptations so that they work optimally. Along those lines, I intend, God willing, to write a post this summer about a project that I've been working on since last year. Stay tuned...